Ken Griffey Jr. is named Commissioner’s senior advisor

Ken Griffey Jr. on his new role
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“The Kid” is back, and he’s here to help bring more kids back to the game he loves. Major League Baseball announced on Friday that it has hired Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. as a senior advisor to Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Griffey will consult with MLB in a number of areas, with a special emphasis on baseball operations and youth baseball development, particularly on improving diversity at amateur levels. He’ll also serve as an MLB ambassador at youth baseball initiatives and at special events, such as the All-Star Game and during the postseason.

How Griffey inspired wearing No. 42 on Jackie Robinson Day

“I’m trying to get kids to play baseball. I think it’s the greatest sport in the world, and I want more kids to play,” Griffey said on MLB Network on Friday.

“Kids don’t think that they can make a living playing this game because they’re too small. You’ve got guys who are future Hall of Famers and Hall of Famers who are under 5-[foot]-9. It’s not the size of the person. It’s what you can do on that field. I could care less if you’re 5-2. If you can play ball, you can play ball, and I want you.”

Griffey brings credentials, passion and “cool” to the role. The 13-time All-Star became the face of baseball in Seattle — if not the entire game — during the 1990s, enhancing the brands of himself and the game at a time when the league really needed it. His highlight-reel catches and upper-deck home runs made him one of the most recognizable athlete of his era, and his fervent smile and backwards cap made him one of the most relatable.

For Griffey, it was never about his self-swag or fame. He is steadfast that his success was driven by his genuine love for the game.

“It has everything,” Griffey said. “You have to think. There’s strategy. You don’t have to be physical. You don’t have to be the biggest guy on the field. You don’t have to be the smallest guy. As long as you can run catch and throw, you can play this game. And if you’ve got heart, and that’s all that really matters. If you’ve got heart, you can play this game.”

Griffey takes on this role at a time when the league is competing for youth participation with basketball, football and other sports, which has made it one of Manfred’s top agenda items in recent years. Griffey’s kids played baseball in their youth but steered more toward football as they grew, he said Friday.

“We are thrilled that Ken will represent Major League Baseball on some of our sport’s most important stages, alongside our current and future stars,” Manfred said in a statement. “We welcome the perspective and insights that Ken gained as an historic player, as a parent, and as someone who has spent his life in and around our great game.”

Griffey also will serve as a consultant for MLB on the on-field product to help draw younger audiences. There has been some concern among those around the game about the lack of balls in play, as the Majors have become increasingly driven by home runs and strikeouts.

MLB also hired former Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein earlier this month as a consultant for on-field matters to help determine how various rule changes might affect the game. Epstein will work with the Commissioner’s Office and analytics departments for 30 clubs.

While Griffey on Friday said he wouldn’t change anything about the game, he acknowledged that change is likely coming.

“I think it’s perfect the way it is,” Griffey said. “That’s just me, but the fans right now want it quick. I think things are going to speed up a little bit. For me, having a no time limit game is what it’s all about. It’s 27 outs. That’s the beauty of baseball. It’s not who got the ball [last], the time limit. It’s 27 outs and no matter what happens in those 27 outs, it’s got to be played.”

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Griffey has had a prominent presence since retiring in 2010, currently serving as a youth ambassador for both MLB and the MLB Players Association on their joint baseball development initiatives. He’s also been a special consultant to the Mariners since retiring.

Griffey jump-started the donning of No. 42 across MLB on Jackie Robinson Day, which has become one of the most prominent dates on the MLB calendar. Since 2007, all players wear the number that was retired throughout MLB in 1997 during the annual event that honors the Hall of Famer Robinson, who broke MLB’s race barrier in 1947.

Griffey was the 2011 recipient of the Commissioner’s Historic Achievement Award, which marked just the 12th time that the honor was bestowed upon a figure in the game. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame with a then-record 99.3% of ballots cast during his first year of eligibility in 2016.

The 10-time Gold Glove Award winner was drafted by the Mariners with the No. 1 overall pick in 1987 and spent 13 of his 22 big league seasons with Seattle. He also played for the Reds and the White Sox.