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'I'm finally home'

Griffey heads to Cincinnati in five-player trade

Click here for more on this story

Posted: Saturday February 12, 2000 01:44 AM

  Ken Griffey Jr. Ken Griffey Jr. now has a chance to break Hank Aaron's career home run record in his hometown. AP

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Ken Griffey Jr. stepped behind a lectern overflowing with microphones, put on a Cincinnati Reds cap, ran his fingertips across the bill and took a breath.

"Well, I'm finally home," he said.

With one the biggest financial concessions of all time, Junior finally made it back to his old stomping grounds Thursday, reunited with his father and the city where he first developed that sweet swing of his.

The Reds ended three months of often-deadlocked trade talks by sending four players to the Seattle Mariners and agreeing to a contract extension with Griffey that fit comfortably with the team's small-market limitations.

The final piece of the deal came when Griffey agreed to a nine-year contract worth $112.5 million, the richest package in baseball history but only a fraction of what he could've gotten as a free agent. The pact covers from 2000-08, and the Reds even have an option for a 10th season.

Q&A with SI's Tom Verducci How would you assess the trade, baseball-wise, for both the Reds and Mariners beyond the obvious box office impact?

Verducci: The Reds were able to keep Pokey Reese and Sean Casey, the two cornerstones of the future for that team -- obviously Barry Larkin, players like that are still there, too -- and now they get to add Ken Griffey Jr. without losing really important parts of their team.

For the complete Q&A, click here. 
With his father, Reds bench coach Ken Griffey, needling him throughout a half-hour news conference Thursday night, Junior recalled how he had always wanted to play for his hometown team.

"The last time I put on this uniform, I think I was 8 -- for a father-son game," Griffey said, pulling on a Reds jersey at a news conference.

"This is something I dreamed about as a little kid, being back in my hometown where I watched so many great players," he said.

He got his first idea of what the trade meant to the city when he arrived a few hours after the deal was announced. Griffey was picked up in Florida by a private plane belonging to owner Carl Lindner and flown to Cincinnati, where a crowd awaited.

When the trade was announced, euphoric fans honked horns on the streets, put up "Welcome Home" signs in their yards and reveled in the moment.

"There were 200 people at the airport, which I didn't think I'd see," Griffey said. "I thought I'd sneak in and sneak out, but that was not the case."

The city hadn't reacted to a trade with such enthusiasm since the one that brought Pete Rose home as player-manager in 1984.

"His name comes up like Pete Rose's name as far as Cincinnati," said coach Ron Oester, a native who played for the Reds. "That's the magnitude he's at for Cincinnati fans."

And for all of baseball, too.

Widely regarded as the best all-around player in the game, the 30-year-old Griffey is considered a threat to break Hank Aaron's career home run record of 755. Junior already has hit 398 with his sweet, left-handed swing, and was voted onto baseball's All-Century team last fall.

Perhaps never before has such a great player been traded in his prime. Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby and Frank Robinson are others that come to mind.

Cincinnati is the only place the 10-time All-Star center fielder wanted to play. And when spring training begins later this month, his trademark backward hat will have a "C" on it.

"I didn't want to move around," he said. "I wanted to be able to stay put."

Pitcher Brett Tomko and outfielder Mike Cameron were sent to Seattle for Griffey, along with a pair of minor leaguers: infielder Antonio Perez and right-hander Jake Meyer.

"It's like being traded for Jordan or something," Tomko said.

Indeed, Griffey could be his sport's Michael Jordan. No wonder the Mariners were so reluctant to lose him.
  Click image for larger view

"We hope that Ken decides to go into the Hall of Fame as a Mariner," Seattle president Chuck Armstrong said. "We might not have baseball here except for Ken, and we might not have Safeco Field."

The Mariners, though, had little hope of keeping him after this season. He was eligible for free agency, and said he wanted to be closer to his home in Florida.

He eventually limited his list of eligible teams to one -- Cincinnati, where he grew playing in the clubhouse during the days when his father was part of the Big Red Machine.

Ken Sr. is now the Reds' bench coach and a candidate to eventually succeed manager Jack McKeon, who has a one-year contract. The son put in a plug for the father.

"He's been around baseball for 20-plus years. He knows what it takes to be a manager. I hope he gets the chance," he said.

Big bucks
Largest baseball contract packages
Name  Years  Amount 
Ken Griffey Jr.  2000-09  $112,500,000 
Kevin Brown  1999-05  $105,000,000 
Mike Piazza  1999-05  $91,000,000 
Bernie Williams  1999-05  $87,500,000 
Shawn Green  2000-05  $84,000,000 
Mo Vaughn  1999-04  $80,000,000 
Pedro Martinez  1998-03  $75,000,000 
Larry Walker  2000-05  $75,000,000 
Gary Sheffield  1998-03  $68,500,000 
Albert Belle  1999-03  $65,000,000 
Raul Mondesi  1998-03  $60,000,000 
Greg Maddux  1998-02  $57,500,000 
Randy Johnson  1999-02  $52,400,000 

Griffey turned down an eight-year, $148 million contract extension last summer with the Mariners, and trade talks with the Reds heated up during the winter meetings in December. Along the way, Griffey blocked a trade to the New York Mets.

He repeated Thursday that the money was never the issue.

"It doesn't matter how much money you make, it's where you'll be happy," he said. As recently as Tuesday, it appeared the Seattle-Cincinnati deal had bogged down over the Reds' financial concerns -- they didn't think they could afford him beyond 2000, the last year on his contract.

The Mariners resolved the impasse by giving agent Brian Goldberg permission to talk to the Reds, a move that may have violated baseball's rules against tampering.

Assured that Griffey would accept less to play in his hometown, the Reds went ahead and completed the five-player trade on Wednesday night, then asked the commissioner's office for a 72-hour window to negotiate a long-term deal with Griffey.

A contract that includes a lot of deferred payments was agreed upon Thursday afternoon. Roughly 57 percent of the contract total will be paid out over the 16 years after the contract ends.

The trade involved only Cincinnati and the Mariners, and was the first big move by Lindner since buying the Reds from Marge Schott last fall. There had been speculation a three-way deal including Anaheim was in the works.

Precocious Power
Youngest players to 350 HRs
Name  Yrs  Days  HR 
Ken Griffey Jr.  28  308  398  
Jimmie Foxx  29  216  534  
Eddie Matthews  29  235  512  
Mickey Mantle  29  266  536  
Mel Ott  30  90  511  
Henry Aaron  30  129  755  
Frank Robinson  30  234  586  
Harmon Killebrew  30  342  573  

Reds fans immediately began daydreaming of Griffey playing center field at Cinergy Field, and even a new ballpark in the new future. No telling if he'll continue to wear No. 24 -- it belonged to Tony Perez, elected last month to the Hall of Fame.

"If Tony wants me to wear that number, I'll wear it," Griffey said. "I'm not going to be upset if he says no."

Griffey is a lifetime .299 hitter with 1,152 RBIs in 11 seasons, all in Seattle. He has won 10 straight Gold Gloves.

The acquisition gives the Reds, who lost a wild-card playoff to the Mets last season, a fearsome top of the lineup. Griffey will be surrounded by Barry Larkin, Sean Casey and Dante Bichette, who was obtained from Colorado last October.

The trade also weakens an already suspect rotation. Although Tomko struggled through 1999, he remained the best young starter on the staff. Bowden tried to trade him to Cleveland for Jaret Wright during the winter meetings in December, but the Indians refused.

And, the deal brings together the game's top sluggers in the same division. With Mark McGwire in St. Louis and Sammy Sosa playing for the Cubs, maybe the NL Central should take on a new name: Home Run Central.

Related information
NL Central becomes division of power
Blockbuster Baseball Trades
SI Griffey Covers
SI Flashback: Hitting his Prime
Ken Griffey Timeline
SI's Verducci: Griffey deal a 'slam dunk' for Reds's Donovan: Cincinnati the only place for Junior
Cincinnati's Ken Griffey Jr. says leaving Seattle is difficult -- but he'll get over it. (151 K)
Griffey Jr. says the Queen City has a special place in his heart. (173 K)
Mariners team president Chuck Armstrong says it's tough to see Junior go -- but he's excited for him. (186 K)
Mariners general manager Pat Gillick is satisfied with the trade -- but admits his hands were tied. (134 K)
Ken Griffey Sr. says he's perfectly willing to pass his old uniform number to Junior. (111 K)
Griffey Sr. says Junior will help the Reds win the NL Central if his new teammates perform as well as they did last season. (143 K)
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