If ever a player deserved to be called "the franchise," the Seattle Mariners yesterday identified him as Ken Griffey.
Four months after a late-season surge that catapulted the Mariners into the playoffs for the first time and saved the franchise for the Pacific Northwest, the Mariners signed Griffey to a contract extension that is the richest ever given to a baseball player.
The 26-year-old center fielder, who is, perhaps, to major-league baseball what Michael Jordan is to the NBA, agreed to a four-year deal for $34 million, an annual average of $8.5 million.
Because the contract includes money that will be deferred without interest, the present value is an estimated $32.5 million, but even that total produces an annual average salary that exceeds the previous high of $7,291,667 in the six-year, $43.75 million contract Barry Bonds signed with the San Francisco Giants in December 1992.
Griffey, who could have been a free agent when his existing contract expires after the coming season, will receive a $2.5 million signing bonus ($1 million now, the rest next January) and salaries, beginning in 1997, of $7.25 million, $7.75 million and $8.25 million each of the last two years.
The Mariners will defer $1.25 million from his salary each year and pay that sum each year for four years beginning in 2001.
The contract is especially stunning because it was given by a team considered to be in the low-revenue class of clubs.
Griffey, a six-time All-Star starter who has 189 home runs and 585 RBIs in 917 major-league games, had his least productive of seven seasons in 1995. That was because he broke his left wrist making a spectacular catch May 26 at the Kingdome.
He missed 73 games, and the Mariners struggled through the bTC stretch with a 36-37 record. But after he returned Aug. 15, they won 27 games and lost 17.
Before signing the new contract, Griffey had complained about the Mariners' off-season moves -- not to mention Seattle's cold, damp winters.
Yesterday, he put a different spin on it.
"You're always going to be upset when guys like those type of players leave," Griffey said, referring to first baseman Tino Martinez and third baseman Mike Blowers. "With the players we got in return, we're going to be all right."
Griffey said his decision came after lengthy discussions this week with his father, Ken Sr., a former major-league player who won three World Series rings and played alongside his son with the Mariners in 1990.
"He said no other team is going to treat you like your first one," Griffey said. "He said, 'You grew up in that organization, so you won't have to establish yourself in another city. The money will be there no matter what team you're with. If you're happy, stay.' Once I had everything laid out in front of me, it was an easy decision."
Sport, Player .. .. .. .. Yrs. .. .. Avg.
Baseball, Griffey . .. .. . 4 ... .. $8.5M
Basketball, Ewing . .. .. . 2 ... .. $9.4M
Football, Aikman .. .. .. . 8 ... .. $6.25M
Hockey, Gretzky ... .. .. . 3 ... .. $8.5M
Player, Team .. .. .. Yrs. .. .. Avg.
Griffey, Sea .. .. .. '97-00 ... $8.5M
Bonds, SF .. .. .. .. '93-98 ... $7.29M
Thomas, CWS ... .. .. '95-98 ... $7.25M
Fielder, Det .. .. .. '93-97 ... $7.24M