MIAMI - JUNE 9: Ken Griffey Jr. #3 of the Cincinnati Reds runs the bases and is congratulated by first base coach Billy Hatcher #22 after hitting his 600th career home run against the Florida Marlins in the first inning on June 9, 2008 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/Getty Images)
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APRIL 20: Ken Griffey Jr. #24 of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Baltimore Orioles at Safeco Field on April 20, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Ken Griffey Jr. calling it a career at age 40

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Ken Griffey Jr. retires after 22 seasons

By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE (AP) -- Ken Griffey Jr. arrived in baseball afresh-faced teenager with a radiant smile, a carefree attitude andunlimited potential.

He spent 22 seasons becoming lauded as the greatest player ofhis generation.

Even as his career declined through injuries and age, Griffeyleft the game on his own terms and still held in the highest ofregards and one of the greats in baseball history.

Now relegated to part-time duty and with little pop left in thatperfect swing, Griffey unexpectedly decided Wednesday to retireafter 22 mostly brilliant seasons.

The Kid that once saved baseball in the Pacific Northwest withhis backward hat, giddy teenage smile and unrivaled talent, hadbecome a shell of the player who dominated the 1990s.

The 40-year-old Griffey wasn't at Safeco Field on Wednesday. Hesimply released a statement through the Seattle Mariners -- thefranchise he helped saved in the 90s and returned to for theconclusion of his career -- that he was done playing.

Griffey said goodbye before Seattle played the Minnesota Twinsafter 13 All-Star appearances, 630 homers -- fifth on the careerlist -- and 1,836 RBIs. He's an almost certain first-ballot Hall ofFamer.

"While I feel I am still able to make a contribution on thefield and nobody in the Mariners front office has asked me toretire, I told the Mariners when I met with them prior to the 2009season and was invited back that I will never allow myself tobecome a distraction," Griffey said.

"I feel that without enough occasional starts to be sharpercoming off the bench, my continued presence as a player would be anunfair distraction to my teammates and their success as a team iswhat the ultimate goal should be," he said.

Griffey was already headed to his family in Florida by lateWednesday night. His Safeco Field locker was completely cleaned outafter Seattle's 2-1 victory in 10 innings over the Twins.

There won't be a farewell tour for Griffey.

He called Mariners' team president Chuck Armstrong and said hewas done playing. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu pulled his playerstogether before the start of batting practice to inform them ofGriffey's decision.

"To play with him is a treasure I will keep deep in my heart,"Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki said through an interpreter. "I have played19 years in professional baseball and I can say he was one of mybest teammates and my best friend."

A star from the time he was the overall No. 1 pick in the 1987draft, Griffey also played with his hometown Cincinnati Reds andthe Chicago White Sox. He hit .284 with 1,836 RBIs.

But his greatest seasons, by far, came in Seattle.

Griffey played in 1,685 games with the Mariners and hit .292with 417 homers, most coming in the homer-friendly Kingdome, and1,216 RBIs. He won the AL MVP in 1997 and practically saved afranchise that was in danger of relocating when he first cameup.

Griffey returned to the Mariners in 2009 and almostsingle-handedly transformed what had been a fractured, bickeringclubhouse with his leadership, energy and constant pranks.

Griffey signed a one-year deal last November for one moreseasonin Seattle after he was carried off the field by histeammates after the final game of 2009. He hit .214 last seasonwith 19 homers as a part-time DH. He was limited by a swollen leftknee that required an operation in the offseason.

But the bat never came alive in 2010. Griffey was hitting only.184 with no homers and seven RBIs and recently went a week withoutplaying. There was a report earlier this season -- which Griffeyimplied was incorrect -- that he'd fallen asleep in the clubhouseduring a game.

The swing that hit as many as 56 homers in a season had lost itspunch and Griffey seemed to understand his time was coming to aclose.

Even though Griffey wasn't in his prime, his teammates relishedthe chance to be with him.

"It's like winning the lottery of baseball," Seattle's ChoneFiggins said. "You get to play with one of the greatest."

His career is littered with highlights, from homering in eightstraight games to tie a major league record in 1993, to furiouslyrounding third and sliding home safe on Edgar Martinez's double tobeat the New York Yankees in the AL Division Series in 1995. Hisfirst major league at-bat was a double and Griffey homered thefirst time he stepped to the plate at home.

A year after making his big league debut, Griffey enjoyed one ofhis greatest highlights. Playing with his All-Star dad, KenGriffey, they hit back-to-back home runs in a game for theMariners.

And during the Steroids Era, his name was never linked toperformance-enhancing drugs, a rarity among his contemporaries suchas Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.

"Junior was one of the finest young men I've ever had theopportunity to manage," said Cubs' manager Lou Piniella. "When wewere in Seattle together, I believe he was the best player inbaseball and it was truly an honor to be his manager."

The team put his number 24 in the dirt behind second base andshowed a 5-minute video tribute to a standing ovation

before thegame. The players said after winning their first extra-inning gameof the season that winning Wednesday night for Griffey was amust.

"It's a sad day for the Mariners, our fans, for all the peoplein the community that have loved Ken, admired him as a tremendousbaseball player and a great human being," Mariners CEO HowardLincoln said. "It's always tough for great superstars like Ken oranyone else to make a decision to retire. This has been his lifefor so many years, but he has made his decision and will supportit. We will honor him in every way possible."

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Copyright (Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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