Griffey burns Braves, returns to M's

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MLB.com reported Wednesday night that 12-time All-Star and 600-home run club member Ken Griffey Jr. has agreed to a one-year deal with his original team, the Mariners, that will pay him $2 million plus incentives tied to at bats and attendance. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had reported on Tuesday that an agreement between Griffey and the Braves was imminent, but a person with knowledge of the negotiations said the 39-year-old outfielder changed his mind after that deal fell through.

With Ichiro Suzuki entrenched in right field for the Mariners, Griffey - who has won 10 Gold Gloves during his illustrious career, but none since 1999 - will share time at the other two outfield spots with right-handed hitters Franklin Gutierrez and Wladimir Balentien and left-handed hitter Endy Chavez, but will probably see far more time in left field than in center. He’ll also get plenty of starts as the team’s designated hitter, and, of course, will boost attendance significantly. The Braves likely would have used Griffey as the left-handed hitting half of a left field platoon with Matt Diaz, and, unless they make a move before Opening Day, will likely open with Diaz in left, Josh Anderson in center and Jeff Francoeur in right.

Griffey led the American League in home runs four times and won the 1997 A.L. MVP award during his first stint with the Mariners but requested and received a trade to his hometown Reds after the 1999 season. His body began to break down soon thereafter, and he hit 30 or more home runs just three times in his eight-plus seasons in Cincinnati after topping the 40-home run mark in six of his last seven years in Seattle. Griffey was traded to the contending White Sox for last year’s stretch run but hit just .260 with three home runs in 151 at bats. He finished the season with a .249 average, 18 home runs and 78 RBI.

Griffey debuted at age 19 in 1989 and was one of the brightest stars of the 1990s, but was gradually pushed from the spotlight as injuries took their toll and sluggers like Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez took center stage. But while the some of the accomplishments of those and many Steroid Era sluggers have been discredited in recent years, Griffey’s have not, and his status as one of the game’s all-time greats seems more secure than ever. He enters the 2009 season fifth on the all-time home run list with 611, 49 behind Hall of Famer Willie Mays.

Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times. He can be reached at jleblanc@washingtontimes.com.

Photo by the Associated Press

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Jay LeBlanc

Jay LeBlanc

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