Seattle Mariners

Mariners pull out all stops in ceremony to retire Ken Griffey Jr.’s No. 24

Mariners honor Ken Griffey Jr., immortalize his No. 24

Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Rickey Henderson, Kobe Bryant and Jeff Gordon were just some of the people who helped the Mariners pay tribute to recent National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ken Griffey Jr. on Saturday at Safeco Field. Griffey's No. 24
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Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Rickey Henderson, Kobe Bryant and Jeff Gordon were just some of the people who helped the Mariners pay tribute to recent National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Ken Griffey Jr. on Saturday at Safeco Field. Griffey's No. 24

Ken Griffey’s Jr.’s Hall of Fame plaque made the trip from Cooperstown, New York, to Safeco Field. It was propped near the pitcher’s mound as the Seattle Mariners prepared to officially make Griffey the first in the organization to have his number retired.

The Mariners then pulled out all the stops Saturday to honor the former Seattle superstar and retire his No. 24 next to Jackie Robinson’s No. 42.

This was a party.

The Mariners brought Seahawks Hall of Famers Cortez Kennedy and Steve Largent onto the field, then SuperSonics Hall of Famers Spencer Haywood and Gary Payton.

Rickey Henderson and Tony Perez were there, too — both with Griffey Jr. as players who wore No. 24 and were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Griffey watched video messages from Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. And from some other No. 24s — Kobe Bryant and Jeff Gordon (no Marshawn Lynch, though).

Macklemore, the rapper and Seattle native, narrated a video tribute.

Jay Buhner, Alvin Davis, Jamie Moyer, Marilyn Niehaus and Dan Wilson were there, introduced as members of the team’s hall of fame. When Edgar Martinez was called, he walked out of the Mariners dugout with his cap turned backward and gave Griffey a hug — before Griffey playfully shoved him away.

Mariners president Kevin Mather announced that a Griffey statue will be unveiled outside of Safeco Field next year, portraying the follow through of Griffey’s swing.

“Junior changed the game, and his influence can still be seen to this very day,” Mather said. “He is, without question, the greatest player to have ever worn a Seattle Mariners uniform.”

It’s unlikely Griffey will forget this two-week stretch — first being immortalized with a plaque in Cooperstown, and now his number retired in Seattle, where he began his career in 1989 and blossomed into the most popular player of the 1990s.

“I can’t really explain what the past two weeks have been like,” Griffey said. “The fans, the people — I walk down the street and I’m getting high-fives like I just scored again. And that’s a tribute to you guys here — who treat baseball players, basketball players and football players like normal people. You make us feel like we’re a part of the community.

“I want to thank you guys for making me feel comfortable and allowing me to just go out there and do what I’ve always wanted to do — and that is play baseball.”

The speech came minutes after his daughter, Taryn, rolled up a Mariners banner covering Griffey’s No. 24 above the seats in left-center field.

Mariners players and coaches wore their hats backward and jerseys with Griffey’s No. 24 on the back during batting practice. “24” was cut into the grass in center field and painted along the first- and third-base lines.

Mays wasn’t there and didn’t make it to the Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York, two week ago, either. Maybe due to health concerns for the 85-year-old, who Griffey grew up around as a child — same with Henderson and Perez — when his father played.

Mays still had a message for Griffey, speaking through the Safeco Field videoboard.

“All I can say to you is congratulations on going into the Hall of Fame,” Mays said. “And I called you on the day you was inducted into the Hall of Fame and I wanted to say congratulations — pick up the phone, call me anytime you have time. Thank you Junior.”

Griffey immediately, sitting in a chair in front of the mound, withdrew his cellphone from his pocket to call Mays. He said he left a voicemail.

Kobe Bryant requested that Griffey assist him with his golf game. Jeff Gordon, who retired from NASCAR and then sort of unretired, wondered if Griffey couldn’t do something similar with his No. 24.

“What about you?” Gordon said. “Are you going to get your 24 back out there?”

Hank Aaron also had a video message for Griffey.

“You are exactly where you are supposed to be,” Aaron said. “And that is with some of the greatest ballplayers in the world in the Hall of Fame.”

Payton, known as The Glove with the SuperSonics, presented Griffey with a bronze glove.

So, in true Olympic-season form, Griffey now owns 10 Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, one bronze glove, one bronze plaque and a bronze statue to come.

As Griffey wound down one more speech, he directed his attention to the Mariners players standing in the dugout to his left, with Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano standing just outside it on the infield dirt.

“To the fans, keep supporting these guys,” Griffey said. “They’re trying to support this city. When you have a friendly face in the stands, that means everything. When you’re going through a bad spell and some guy says, ‘Hey, keep your head up,’ that goes a long way. We’re out here playing, but we’re playing for this city.”

And in true Griffey form, he then ended his speech Saturday as you might expect Griffey would.

“Lastly, Rickey — you were the greatest,” Griffey said as he turned toward Henderson sitting behind him.

“Today — I am the greatest.”

All Henderson could do was put his hands together and take a few bows. This was Griffey’s party.

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677

@TJCotterill

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