In his prime, Ken Griffey Jr was considered the best player in baseball, on course to rewrite the record books. Injuries derailed his chance to become the home run king, but his spot as one of the game's all-time greats is without question. Relegated to part-time duty with the Seattle Mariners and with little power left in his once-perfect swing, Griffey unexpectedly retired on Wednesday night after 22 seasons.
The Kid, as he was known, saved baseball in the Pacific Northwest when he arrived as a 19-year-old with a backward hat, giddy smile and unrivalled talent. Now 40, Griffey did not come to Safeco Field for Wednesday night's game against Minnesota. He simply released a statement through the Mariners. Griffey said goodbye after 13 all-star appearances, 630 homers - fifth on the career list - and 1,836 runs batted in. He is an almost certain first-ballot Hall of Famer.
"I feel that without enough occasional starts to be sharper coming off the bench, my continued presence as a player would be an unfair distraction to my teammates and their success as a team is what the ultimate goal should be," he said. He called Chuck Armstrong, the Mariners team president, and said he was retiring. Don Wakamatsu, the Mariners manager, called his players together before the start of batting practice to tell them of Griffey's decision.
The team put his number 24 in the dirt behind second base and showed a five-minute video tribute to a standing ovation before the game. "It's a sad day for the Mariners, our fans, for all the people in the community that have loved Ken, admired him as a tremendous baseball player and a great human being," Howard Lincoln, the Mariners chief executive, said. "It's always tough for great superstars like Ken or anyone else to make a decision to retire. This has been his life for so many years, but he has made his decision and will support it. We will honour him in every way possible." * AP