M’s roll out red carpet for Griffey, retiring No. 24 on all levels
SEATTLE — Ken Griffey Jr. paused and for a moment the joking stopped. Junior became thoughtful and reflective about the idea of his No. 24 hanging next to Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 as the only numbers retired at Safeco Field.
"Having my number next to him, I don’t think I did half of what he did," Griffey said. "Baseball-wise, yeah you’re going to look at numbers and things like that, but the way he went about his life and the things he did off the field, nobody can compare to that. He is a trailblazer in more ways than one."
Griffey’s whirlwind following his election to the Hall of Fame earlier this week came to an appropriate end on Friday night when he walked along a red carpet inside Safeco Field with staff of the Seattle Mariners lining both sides and applauding the newest member in Cooperstown.
As part of the celebration the Mariners announced that Griffey’s No. 24 will become the first number retired in franchise history during a ceremony in August about two weeks after his Hall induction. The number retirement is throughout the organization, including the minors, meaning no one associated with the Mariners will ever wear No. 24 again.
Griffey will join late announcer Dave Niehaus as the only two associated with the Mariners in Cooperstown. Griffey announced on Thursday that he would enter the Hall as a Mariner.
"He called my first home run, he called my last home run," Griffey said of Niehaus. "He probably would just say ‘It’s about time. I’m glad that you are here. You deserve it.’ He’d pat me on my head like he always did and call me son and give me a hug."
Seattle is going all out to honor its player wearing a Mariners cap insignia on a Hall of Fame plaque. A new logo was created with the silhouette of Griffey’s swing against a backdrop of the Seattle skyline. He’ll throw out the first pitch for the Mariners’ home opener on April 8 against Oakland.
And he’ll be feted during a weekend-long celebration in early August when the number is officially retired.
"I played 13 seasons here. I did most of my damage here. I was drafted here. It’s the right thing to do," Griffey said of choosing to go in as a Mariner. He spent most of the second half of his career in Cincinnati, where he grew up, and finished with Seattle.
Griffey completed his duties with the Hall of Fame in New York on Friday morning and immediately caught a flight to Seattle. The trip back to Safeco Field allowed Griffey to reminisce about his time here, the highlights of his career, and as an added bonus a chance to see daughter Taryn play basketball for Arizona against Washington on Sunday.
Griffey set a record for the highest percentage of the vote in history with 99.3 percent of the ballots having his name selected. He again dismissed any issue with the three voters who did not choose him, even if others were wondering why.
"Who are they?" former teammate Edgar Martinez questioned. "He’s a 100 percent kind of guy."
Griffey was arguably the best player in baseball during his time in Seattle, including his only MVP award in 1997 when he hit 56 home runs, and 10 Gold Glove awards. He’s partly responsible for helping to keep baseball in Seattle with the Mariners run in 1995 capped by an AL West title and defeating the Yankees in five games in the ALDS, capped by Griffey’s slide to score the winning run on Martinez’s double.
But when asked about his role in helping keep baseball in the Northwest and being the instigator in the construction of Safeco Field, Griffey quickly spread the credit.
"Twenty-four other guys that helped me. It’s not one guy that saved baseball in Seattle," Griffey said. "It was … everybody. It’s not just one person. We all had our part. That’s just how I think of it."