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100 Things Mariners Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Michael Emmerich
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2015 Michael Emmerich
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1995 Regular Season
The Mariners were reborn in 1995 as a source of civic pride, an institution of public good, and a guidepost in the lives of its citizens. Stadium politics, strike fallout, and fan apathy all crumbled as the Mariners bulldozed over past demons.
The baseball strike of 1994 dragged into '95. Major league owners threatened to begin the year with replacement players. Fans' disgust with baseball peaked as a result. Finally, the two sides settled and camps opened weeks late. In Peoria, Arizona, site of Mariners spring training, John Ellis, the mouthpiece of Mariners ownership, told the entire team the M's, losing money by the fistful, needed a new stadium and that winning the division would help the cause immeasurably. Without a publically financed new park, he warned, the owners would sell, likely spelling the end of baseball in Seattle. A ballot initiative for a new stadium was introduced the same month. Polls showed it losing by 30 points. "Do you know what kind of pressure that is," Jay Buhner said in 1996, "that the future of the franchise is on your shoulders? Man, that's pressure."
At first, ownership cut the M's budget. Other teams quickly inquired about the Mariners stars. Manager Lou Piniella and general manager Woody Woodward pleaded for an expanded budget, arguing now was not the time to pinch pennies. Ellis and the board eventually agreed. Then a slow start to the season became a crisis on May 26 when superstar Ken Griffey Jr., while making a highlight reel catch against the center-field wall of the Kingdome, broke his left wrist. "Just a disaster," said team president Chuck Armstrong. A few weeks later, Chicago White Sox pitcher Wilson Alvarez sized up the Mariners sans Griffey and sneered: "Who do they have in the lineup? Edgar Martinez is the only guy who does any real damage."
Martinez, for sure, but then later Mike Blowers kept the Mariners afloat during Griffey's absence. Randy Johnson also rolled. Yet, on August 2 Seattle trailed the California Angels by 13 games. Only two teams in history had ever rallied from a greater deficit. The M's familiar fate prompted Piniella to joke that managing the Mariners was like going to the dentist.
The playoffs, however, actually remained a possibility because of the wild-card, just added, auspiciously, in 1995. The Mariners trailed the Texas Rangers by just two games. That emboldened Woodward to add instead of dump in July and August. Leadoff man Vince Coleman; reliever Norm Charlton, a former Mariner; and starting pitcher Andy Benes arrived via waivers or trade, the first time in history the Mariners made midsummer moves designed to upgrade the current roster. "There's no doubt about it," Woodward said a year later. "If there is no wild-card ... [we] move some salaries and get young."
Griffey returned on August 15 to find the Mariners 111/2 game behind California but within sight of Texas. A deflating loss that night to the Minnesota Twins, who scored five unearned runs in the ninth inning to win 7–6, pierced hopes that Junior would spark an immediate surge. The Mariners won the next night in Coleman's debut with the speedster collecting two hits and stealing a base to ignite a 6–4 comeback win. The Mariners failed to build on the victory, though, and by August 24 they'd lost four of five games and trailed the Angels by 11 and Texas by four.
Same old Mariners.
After a players-only meeting, the M's fell behind the New York Yankees and trailed 7–6 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning at home. Not once in 1995 had the M's triumphed when losing after eight innings. On John Wetteland's first pitch, Griffey, still with a four-inch metal plate and seven screws in his wrist, turned on a 96 mph fastball and punished it. The upper-deck shot sent a charge throughout the Kingdome. "We looked around," recalled Blowers in 2005. "If this guy is healthy and ready to go, we had a chance ... We all smiled and said, 'Here we go.'"
Boosted by the return of vintage Griffey, the Mariners won six of eight games. On August 31, Johnson couldn't make his start in Fenway Park due to a sore shoulder. Rookie Bob Wolcott, 21 years old and with two career major league appearances, started instead and held the American League East-leading Boston Red Sox to two runs in six innings. The M's blasted the Bosox 11–2.
Definitely not the same old Mariners.
Meanwhile, the Angels started to wilt, setting up six weeks likely unequaled in MLB history for its far-reaching effects on a franchise. Down seven-and-a-half games to the Angels on September 1, the Mariners first zoomed past Kansas City, Texas, and finally the Yankees to seize the wild-card lead. As the M's stampeded over the wild-card contenders, management decided to put up flags tracking the wild-card race. After all, the Mariners still trailed the Angels by six games with 16 to play. Buhner objected: "Take that [bleeping] banner down ... Let's not settle for second best."
Buhner's bravado failed to awaken the Angels, whose slide deepened with nine straight losses in mid-September. "It was the nastiest funk I've ever seen in baseball," recalled Halo infielder Rex Hudler. "We needed our manager to step up, and [Marcel Lachemann] couldn't do it. He went into a shell."
On September 20, the M's wiped out the Angels' lead entirely. Like their crawl from deep in the standings, the Mariners kept clawing back in game after game. "Nonstop comebacks," recalled reliever Jeff Nelson. Twelve times in September the M's fell behind and still won. Four times they cracked game-tying or winning homers in the eighth or ninth inning.
Improbable heroes emerged almost nightly. Journeyman Doug Strange hit a ninth-inning pinch-hit three-run homer to tie a game, later won by a Griffey single. Coleman shocked three nights later with his first career grand slam to lead another comeback. Backup outfielder Alex Diaz added a three-run pinch-hit homer in the same game. Then on September 24, after the Angels had won to shave the Mariners lead to one-and-a-half games, Tino Martinez rescued the M's with a two-run homer in the ninth off Oakland A's closer supreme Dennis Eckersley. "I don't care who we played ... we knew we were going to beat them, because we were so confident, and had such good chemistry," said M's shortstop Luis Sojo.
Mariners fans, unaccustomed to pennant races, responded slowly. On the day the M's moved into a first-place tie with the Angels, attendance was less than 26,000. Radio ratings had started to climb earlier as the Angels' lead shrunk. But reaching the summit of the AL West standings seemed to win over the final skeptics. The next night attendance exploded and never slipped below 46,700 the rest of season. "The fans would not let us quit," said bench coach John McLaren. "They absolutely supported us, pushed us to the hilt." Meanwhile, signs reading "Refuse to Lose" started sprouting up everywhere, filling the Kingdome like boats on Lake Union for the Fourth of July. The Mariners — and entire city — adopted it as a motto.
Something else happened. Folks across the Pacific Northwest found baseball dictating their lives and schedules. Work ended sharply at 5:00, dinner was at 6:00. Appointments could wait. So could laundry or yard work. The hypnotic daily effect of pennant race baseball put the region in a trance — for the first time ever.
Winning also had the effect Ellis had hoped. King County voters cast their ballots on the new stadium initiative on September 19. Buhner and other Mariners had actively campaigned on behalf of the measure — in the heat of the pennant race — and polls revealed quickly escalating support. The morning of the 20, the day the Mariners caught the Angels, it appeared the M's resurrection had swung voter sentiment in favor of the measure. But then absentee ballots started to arrive, and the initiative ultimately failed by 1,082 votes. In the thrall of Mariner Mania, community leaders vowed to continue the fight. Refuse to Lose had passed into politics.
During the final weekend of the season, the Mariners, which closed on a 25–11 run, took two of four from the Rangers. The Angels, facing a depleted — and the Mariners complained disinterested — Oakland pitching staff, swept the A's. That meant the madcap AL West race would require an extra game to decide.
"Refuse to Lose" was not original to the Mariners. The University of Massachusetts basketball team, among others, had adopted it first. By 1995 it had been trademarked by someone in South Carolina and then, unbeknownst to the Mariners, sold to John Calipari, the coach at UMass at the time. When the M's, who thought they had all rights cleared, started using the slogan on shirts and banners, Calipari sued the Mariners for $500,000. According to M's president Chuck Armstrong in a speech at the University of Washington, Seattle never paid Calipari a dime, but Major League Baseball settled with him for $6,000.CHAPTER 2
Ken Griffey Jr.: The Beginning
As absurd — and unsettling — as it may seem today, the Mariners almost passed on Ken Griffey Jr. in the 1987 amateur draft, a year they owned the No. 1 pick. Their always meddlesome owner, George Argyros, objected to picking Griffey because the M's had been burned the year before by selecting a high school shortstop, Patrick Lennon, who had off-the-field issues. Argyros wanted a college pitcher. Moreover, Griffey didn't play baseball his senior year in high school because of grades. That raised concerns about his work ethic. Junior also stumbled on the mental aptitude test the Mariners gave him.
But Roger Jongewaard, the Mariners scouting director, remained steadfast in his desire to select Griffey. He talked to Griffey's high school coach at Moeller High in Cincinnati who assured Jongewaard that Griffey was an intelligent kid merely bored by school. Studying and academics ranked well behind Griffey's real passion: baseball. And so did the battery of tests major league teams shoved in his face. Jongewaard eventually persuaded the skeptics in the M's organization, including Argyros, that the Mariners had to pick Griffey. "George, we can't afford not to take this guy," Jongewaard told his owner. "He is that special."
Argyros relented — with two conditions. Jongewaard would pay, probably with his job, if Griffey failed. And Junior needed to be signed before the M's drafted him. After a few tense days of negotiations with Griffey, who initially demanded perks such as a Porsche, he agreed to sign with the M's for $175,000, the most the M's had ever paid a draft pick. The Mariners persuaded Griffey to sign before the draft by selling him on the prestige of being the No. 1 pick. Seattle selected Griffey over a handful of other prospects, only two of whom ever reached the majors — pitcher Willie Banks, who compiled a 33–39 record in the majors, and pitcher Mike Harkey, Argyros' preference, who appeared in 131 games.
"He has the most ability of anyone we've seen," said Jongewaard after selecting Griffey, the son of major league star Ken Griffey Sr. "He is ahead of many of his peers because he knows the game on and off the field." He also predicted Junior would move fast through the minors because of natural ability and high comfort in a major league baseball environment. "The one thing about him, which was different than other prospects, is that he never felt the pressure that other kids do to perform with scouts in the stands," said Mariners scout Tom Mooney to Boston.com years later. "He was a kid who really cared about the game and he wanted to be great. And at the time there was no better player in the country."
Three days after the draft, Griffey worked out for the Mariners in the Kingdome. The national media scrambled to book flights to Seattle, a heretofore mostly forgotten baseball outpost. Sports Illustrated, The Sporting News, ESPN, and dozens of local TV crews recorded the session. Griffey, using his father's bats, drove a number of pitches into the right-field seats. He displayed lightening quick bat speed and a left-handed swing as sweet and golden as fresh Washington corn. "I was born with it," Griffey used to say. Mariners coaches and players watched in wonder. "Wow," said Mariner third-base coach Ozzie Virgil, "Let's play him tonight."
Griffey made his professional debut on June 16, 1987, in Bellingham, Washington, in the Rookie League. A standing room only crowd of 2,516 gave him a boisterous ovation as he trotted to his position. "I wasn't expecting all of that," he told the local paper afterward. It proved to be the highlight of the day. Griffey, starting in center field, failed to get the ball out of the infield, grounding out three times, striking out once, and taking a walk. He shrugged off the stale performance, telling reporters after the game he just needed to make adjustments. Those came the next day when Griffey collected his first hit, a three-run homer.
Two weeks into the season, however, he became homesick and almost quit. Jongewaard thought Griffey, only 17, actually suffered from boredom in a league he came to dominate, a league for mostly college baseball veterans. The homesickness pangs eventually disappeared and, as predicted, Griffey blazed through the minors, hitting above .300 and showing off his diverse skills. "I'm not saying he's Willie Mays yet," said Don Reynolds (Harold Reynolds' brother), who the Mariners assigned to monitor Griffey. "But if he keeps it together, he can get there."
A loud spring in 1989 forced the M's to reconsider their plans to start Griffey in Triple A Calgary. On April 3 Junior made his major league debut in Oakland, along with rookies Omar Vizquel at short, Edgar Martinez at third, and Greg Briley in left. On the second pitch he saw, Griffey laced a double into center. Two fly outs reached the warning track, the second after Junior fouled off five two-strike pitches in an eye-opening at-bat against A's pitcher and original Mariner, Rick Honeycutt. "I threw him two sliders for strikes," Honeycutt recalled, "and then a fastball that he somehow got the bat on. Then it was slider, slider, slider, and he kept hanging in. He made some very good adjustments on me. He seems to know what he's doing." Griffey's manager, Jim Lefebvre, watched spellbound. "The kid just has God-given talent. We saw the debut of a great player tonight."
Seven days later, Griffey made his Kingdome debut, a 6–5 win against the Chicago White Sox. In his first at-bat, he flicked a home run to the opposite field. "He's an easy out for me," said Chicago pitcher Eric King defiantly after the game. "The only thing he hit off me was a mistake."
"Whatever floats his boat," Griffey responded tartly. For the next 10 years as a Mariners player, Griffey capsized the boat of many opposing pitchers, who learned "the Kid" could hit just about anything.CHAPTER 3
Junior: His Career and Legacy
Name a cliché intended to describe the matchless contributions a player makes to a franchise, and Junior's legacy to the Mariners would apply. Safeco Field is the House that Griffey Built. He's front and center on the Mariners' Mount Rushmore. M's history is measured in units of B.G. and A.G. (before Griffey and after Griffey). And he was, quite literally, a franchise savior.
From his first major league at-bat as a poised 19-year-old Griffey bewitched not just Seattle but all of Major League Baseball. That he could draw heavy attention in Seattle, a baseball purgatory at the time, was a testament to his exalted talent. "As far as I'm concerned," said M's catcher Dave Valle during a Griffey hot streak in 1993, "he's the best thing that's happened to the game in a long time. If he were in any other city, he would be the Michael Jordan of baseball."
Comparisons to five-tool Hall of Famer Willie Mays cropped up immediately: the power, the arm, the speed, the moxie. He hit long, majestic home runs. A crushed dinger in Anaheim in May of 1997, for instance, disappeared far over the fence and was never found. He hit them often. In back-to-back seasons, 1997–1998, he bashed 56 home runs each and he topped the 40-homer mark six times in a Mariners uniform. And he was money in pressure-packed situations, none bigger than his walk-off homer on August 24, 1995, that beat the New York Yankees and ignited the M's blistering late-season run. Griffey, as he often reminded reporters, was more than just a home-run hitter. Four times he finished in the top 10 in batting average and he amassed double-digit stolen-base totals 10 times.
Excerpted from 100 Things Mariners Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Michael Emmerich. Copyright © 2015 Michael Emmerich. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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Table of Contents
1 1995 Regular Season 1
2 Ken Griffey Jr.: The Neginning 5
3 Junior: His Career and Legacy 9
4 1995 Postseason 13
5 The Birth of the Mariners 17
6 Edgar Martinez 21
7 2001: Chasing History 25
8 Tiebreaker Playoff 29
9 Randy Johnson 33
10 Safeco Field 37
11 Ichiro 41
12 Dave Niehaus 46
13 2000 Regular Season 49
14 Felix Hernandez 53
15 2001 Postseason 55
16 Mariners Artifacts in Baseball's Hall of Fame 58
17 2000 Postseason 60
18 Lou Piniella 63
19 Perfect Game 68
20 Jay Buhner 71
21 Origin of Mariners Nickname 76
22 Mr. Mariner 78
23 The Kingdome 81
24 1995 Supporting Cast 83
25 Randy Johnson's No-Hitter 86
26 1977: The First Season 89
27 Ichiro's Hit Record 94
28 A-Rod 96
29 The Peanut Man 101
30 Jim Lefebvre and the First Winning Season 104
31 Dan Wilson 107
32 1993: The Culture Changes 110
33 Mariner Weird 114
34 Jamie Moyer 117
35 Rick Rizzs 120
36 1997: A Winning Tradition 122
37 Mike Blowers 125
38 Ownership Carousel 129
39 Chris Bosio's No-Hitter 133
40 Sensational Mariners Commercials 136
41 Bret Boone 137
42 1987: Small Steps Forward 140
43 Gaylord Perry and 300 Wins 143
44 Lou Piniella's Famous Ejections 147
45 2002-2003: Good, But No Cigar 151
46 The 1979 All-Star Game 153
47 Dave Henderson and the Year of Regrettable Trades 156
48 Julio Cruz 159
49 Best Trades 162
50 1982: A Mound Rising 164
51 The Inspector 168
52 Mariners Misplays and Bloopers 171
53 A Mighty Wind 175
54 2007 and 2009: Hopes Renew 178
55 Best and Funkiest Promotions 180
56 2001 All-Star Game 185
57 Father-Son Connections 188
58 1994: Longest Road Trip 192
59 Unselfish Gil Meche's Very Bad Day 196
60 Ruppert Jones 200
61 Cano and the Return of Winning Baseball 203
62 Five Managers from the Early Days 205
63 The Ultimate Grand Slam 208
64 2001 Supporting Cast 212
65 Combined No-Hitter 214
66 The Mendoza Line 216
67 Other Mariners Characters, Oddballs, and Pranks 220
68 John Olerud 223
69 Young Guns 225
70 Mike Cameron and Four Homers 228
71 Harold Reynolds 230
72 Seven Sensational Firemen 234
73 Amateur Draft: The Good, Bad, and Ugly (1977-2006) 237
74 Freddy Garcia 239
75 Seattle Pilots 241
76 Expansion Draft 247
77 1986: The Sublime and the Ridiculous 247
78 Maury Wills 250
79 1998-1999: Transition Years 253
80 Mark Langston 255
81 1984: A Rookie Rush 258
82 Bruce Bochte 262
83 Mariners Uniform Through the Years 265
84 Tom Paciorek 267
85 General Managers 269
86 Notable Major Leaguers Buried in Washington 272
87 Willie Horton and 300 275
88 Mariners Fan Fest 277
89 Visit the Ichiro Museum 278
90 Spring Training 280
91 Diego Segui 281
92 Seattle's Baseball Heritage 283
93 Ken Griffey Jr. Plaque in Baltimore 286
94 The Mariner Moose 288
95 Minor League Affiliates 289
95 Ken Griffey Jr. Plaque at Everett Stadium 292
97 Become an RBI Club Member 292
98 Worst Trades 293
99 Jesus and the Ice Cream Sandwich Debacle 295
100 Bill the Beerman 297