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Ken Griffey Jr. retires after 22 seasons

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle Mariners slugger Ken Griffey Jr., the "heart and soul" of a franchise whose 630 career home runs rank him fifth on the all-time list, retired after a 22-season career, the team said on Wednesday.

The 40-year-old, 13-times All-Star outfielder was selected first overall by Seattle in 1987 and also spent time with the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox before returning to the Mariners in 2009.

"I feel that without enough occasional starts to be sharper coming off the bench, my continued presence as a player would be an unfair distraction to my teammates, and their success as team is what the ultimate goal should be."

Griffey thanked the Mariners for allowing him to finish his professional career where it started and said he looks forward to a continued relationship with the organization.

Earlier this season Griffey denied a report that he had fallen asleep in the team's clubhouse during a game.

He ends an illustrious career trailing only Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714) and Willie Mays (660) for home runs. The outfielder also won 10 Gold Gloves.

In 2,671 games, Griffey batted .284 with 1,836 RBIs.

The Mariners said Griffey's performance was a big part in getting the team a new ballpark in 1999 and felt he was also key in ensuring the team remained in Seattle.

"Ken is truly the heart of soul of this franchise. Without his contributions there is little doubt that Safeco Field would not exist and, almost certainly, baseball would have left the Northwest," said Mariners president Chuck Armstrong.

"He always gave his all on the field, and quietly was a force for good in the community."

Griffey spent 11 seasons with the Mariners before going to the Reds in 2000. After a brief stint with the White Sox in 2008 he returned to Seattle the following season but knee problems limited him to just 11 games in the field.

This year, he was batting .184 with no home runs and seven RBIs in 33 games. (Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Frank Pingue; To query or comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)