SEATTLE -- After what may -- or may not -- have been the final game of Ken Griffey Jr.'s brilliant career, the Seattle Mariners circled the entire field, beginning down the first-base line, marching around the outfield warning track and back along the left-field line. And when they reached the vicinity of third base, several players lifted Junior on their shoulders and carried him home.
Such an exercise would have been easier several years and many pounds ago, but what the hell. Junior carried Seattle baseball on his shoulders so many years that it was about time someone returned the favor.
When Griffey arrived in Seattle in 1989, the Mariners played in the dreary concrete Kingdome, averaged barely 12,000 fans a season, had never had so much as a winning record and were constantly threatening to move to another city. Griffey changed all that, turning the team into a winner (well, sometimes) and inspiring the city's love affair with baseball. He became the most popular player in all of baseball and one of the greatest in the game's history.
Had it not been for Griffey, there is a decent chance there might not have been a major league team in Seattle for him to have played for this past season.
Griffey's return to Seattle after nine seasons in Cincinnati (and part of a year in Chicago) was largely a success. While he didn't drive in nearly as many runs as many hoped -- Junior wasn't alone on the team in that regard -- he did finish with 19 home runs, and because pitchers still pitch him carefully, he walked enough to have a respectable on-base percentage (.324). He also helped turn the Mariners' clubhouse into a much happier place, especially for Ichiro, who carries a lot of clout.
"He's always been a hero of mine,'' Ichiro said through the Mariners' interpreter. "To get to play with that hero of mine in the same uniform and in the city of Seattle, that time I got to spend together even now seems like a dream. I believe that the time I got to spend with him is going to continue. And he's a person that even if you want to forget him, you can't forget him. I imagine that this offseason, even when I sleep, he will pop up in my dreams.''
Will he return? Griffey isn't sure. He will turn 40 next month, and his knees ache enough that he played only 11 games in the field this season. Along with the 19 home runs he hit, he also batted .214 with 57 RBIs and a .735 OPS. Griffey said he has something left in the tank and can help out younger players with his experience. He said he wants to play another season, but there are a lot of factors to consider.
"I'm not going to go back and forth on it,'' he said, vowing to make a decision and stick to it (easier said than done). "I'm going to go home and talk it over with the family and figure out what's best for all of us.''
I've played baseball all my life. What comes next, I have no idea. I'm just glad I got to be here and got to do something that was important to me and important to my family.
”-- Ken Griffey Jr.
The other part of the equation is whether the Mariners will have room for an aging icon/designated hitter. Re-signing him as a role player probably would make sense because he was a good influence on teammates, and fans do really enjoy watching him (there were many Griffey jerseys at Safeco Field on Sunday). But the Mariners scored so few runs that they need more production from their full-time DH than Griffey gave them this season. As a friend remarked this week, there isn't a position for ambassador on a major league roster.
Having essentially grown up in major league clubhouses, Griffey acknowledged he doesn't know what would replace baseball in his life. "I've played baseball all my life. What comes next, I have no idea. I'm just glad I got to be here and got to do something that was important to me and important to my family.''
If this was his last season, Griffey's final home run came Saturday night and his final hit was an eighth-inning single Sunday afternoon. Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu lifted him for a pinch runner after his hit Sunday, and the Safeco crowd stood and cheered and demanded one last curtain call from the player who added so much pleasure to so many Seattle summers.
"That was probably the most nervous and emotional roller coaster I've ever been on as a ballplayer,'' Griffey said. "You never know whether it's going to be your last one.''
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.