In a rare instance of a premier player being traded in the prime of his career, the Seattle Mariners dealt superstar center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. to the Cincinnati Reds yesterday. The deal, more than three months in the making, altered the balance of power in the National League and made Griffey the game's highest-paid player.

In return for Griffey, 30, the Mariners received right-handed starting pitcher Brett Tomko, center fielder Mike Cameron and two minor leaguers--second baseman Antonio Perez and right-handed pitcher Jake Meyer.

Griffey, a 10-time all-star and a member of baseball's All-Century Team, will return to the city in which he grew up. He will be reunited with his father, Ken Griffey Sr., the Reds' hitting coach.

The final piece of the deal came when Griffey agreed to a nine-year contract worth $116.5 million, the richest package in baseball history. The pact covers 2000-08, and the Reds even have an option for a 10th season.

"I'm finally home," Griffey Jr. said at a news conference in Cincinnati last night. "I'm happy to be here. This is something you dream about as a little kid, and I finally did it."

As with any major deal in today's times, the Griffey trade was fueled and complicated by money. The trade was agreed upon late Wednesday night, but before it could be completed, the Reds had to sign Griffey--who could have become a free agent after the 2000 season--to a long-term contract. That they were able to do so within 24 hours of the deal being reached hints at how badly Griffey wanted to go to Cincinnati.

By yesterday afternoon, the Reds had signed Griffey. His deal surpassed the $105 million deal signed by Kevin Brown last winter.

The record contract marked a major undertaking by the small-market Reds, who will move into a new stadium in 2002. Griffey helped ease it by accepting $57.5 million in deferred payments, the last of which will not be made until 2024.

"The one individual who made this work is Ken Griffey Jr.," said Reds managing executive John Allen. "The key to this working was the amount of deferred money."

Griffey essentially forced the deal by rejecting the Mariners' attempts to sign him to a long-term deal. He also wielded his veto power as a "10-and-5" player (at least 10 years in the majors, at least five with his current team) to hand-pick his new team.

This was to have been the final year in Griffey's four-year, $34 million deal with the Mariners.

The trade did not include a third team, as had been reported Wednesday night and early yesterday. The Mariners discussed an additional trade with the Anaheim Angels that would have brought center fielder Jim Edmonds to Seattle, and they may continue to pursue such a deal.

In facilitating the completion of the deal, Griffey accepted less money from the Reds than he likely would have commanded on the open market as a free agent following the 2000 season. Griffey rejected an eight-year, $148 million extension offer from the Mariners last year.

"It doesn't matter how much money you make," Griffey said. "It's where you feel happy. To me, Cincinnati is the place I thought I would be the happiest."

Talks between the Reds and Mariners reached an impasse during the winter meetings, when the Reds refused to include second baseman Pokey Reese in the deal. But fueled in part by Griffey's growing disenchantment in Seattle--he claimed to have received death threats--talks heated up again over the last several weeks.

Griffey is two home runs shy of 400, and is considered the player with the best chance of breaking Henry Aaron's all-time record of 755. He is also considered one of the best defensive center fielders in history.

In Griffey, the Reds acquired perhaps the game's best all-around player, making them instant challengers to the Atlanta Braves' run of National League dominance, without destroying the nucleus of a solid, young team that won 96 games last season.

Tomko, 26, was 5-7 with a 4.92 ERA last season. Cameron, 27, hit .256 with 21 homers and 66 RBI.

Yesterday will "go down in history," Reds GM Jim Bowden said, as "the day the Michael Jordan of baseball came back to Cincinnati."