Seattle Mariners postsMonday February 18, 2013
Stat of the Day
“How bad has Seattle's offense been in recent seasons? The Mariners scored 106 more runs in 2012 than they did in 2010 ... and still finished last in the AL in runs scored.”
-- David Schoenfield, in his post, “Offseason report card: Mariners” on the Sweet Spot blog on ESPN.com. I've written about the Mariners' dismal offense a lot—it's what we have—but eventually we have to break free from this, right? At least Schoenfield thinks so. He predicts the M's break .500 in 2013.
Fences in, Dustin and Justin a year older, the addition of Kendrys and Raul and the subtraction of Chone: so maybe the M's won't finish last in runs in 2013?
King Felix: Perfect
In April, after Phil Humber pitched a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field, I posted the following chart of teams in the modern era who have thrown perfect games and those who have been perfected against. I've since updated it for Matt Cain's perfecto against Houston in June.
Today I updated it again. See if you can spot the addition:
|Perfect Game Teams||Wins||Losses|
|New York Yankees||3||0|
|Chicago White Sox||3||1|
|Boston Red Sox||1||0|
|San Francisco Giants||1||0|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||1||3|
|New York Mets||0||1|
|Toronto Blue Jays||0||1|
|Tampa Bay Rays||0||3|
I was at work when my friend Ben shot me a text message about Felix Hernandez's no-no through 7 2/3. I checked on ESPN.com and realized rather quickly, no, not a no-no. A perfect game. Through 8. So I grabbed my sunglasses and wallet and walked/ran the two blocks down to Buckley's, the sport bars that doubled as McGinty's, Martin Crane's favorite bar on “Frasier.” I wasn't the only guy to file in, either. There was a good dozen new folks there for the top of the ninth. I ordered a beer and before I could finish it, Felix had struck out the first batter, induced the second to ground out to short, and then, improbably, scrotum-tighteningly, went 2-0 on the Rays' No. 9 hitter. I was worried for a second. Then he nailed the guy with a slider (on 2-0!), and never threw another ball, and threw two more strikes, and it was over and the bar erupted. High fives all around.
Expect articles on what it all means. As many perfect games have now been thrown this season as were thrown in the nearly three-quarters of a century between 1882 and 1955. We've now had seven perfect games in the 21st century. The 20th century didn't see its seventh perfect game until Catfish Hunter did it against my Twins in May 1968. It's also the fifth perfect game this decade, which is more perfect games than have been thrown in any decade in baseball history. And we're not even three full years into it.
It's the second perfect game this season at Safeco Field, which also saw a no-hitter in June. Its rep as a pitchers park is growing.
Bummer to be a Rays fan, though. 0-3 in perfect games? All of which happened in the last four years when the team was good.
For what it's worth, Felix's is the first perfect game pitched in August. His 12 Ks are the third-most in any perfect game, behind only Sandy Koufax (14) and Randy Johnson (13).
Most importantly, his is the first perfect game ever thrown by a Seattle Mariner. It's been a pretty shitty year, or 10 years, for the M's and their fans, but the team's rebuilding the right way finally; and this sunny Seattle afternoon at Safeco Field, August 15, 2012, was one helluva bright spot.
Felix Hernandez celebrates after throwing the first perfect game in Mariners history: August 15, 2012
Quotes of the Day: Ichiro and 'The Throw'
“It was going to take a perfect throw to get me. And it was a perfect throw.”
--Terrence Long, the A's outfielder who ran from first to third on a single to Mariners' right fielder Ichiro Suzuki, on April 11, 2001.
“I didn’t have to move my glove.”
--David Bell, the Mariners third baseman, who caught the throw from Ichiro.
“Terrence was a pretty fast runner, but Ichiro just came up with a hose. It was his ‘Here I am!’ moment as an outfielder.”
--Eric Chavez, the A's third baseman, and now Ichiro's teammate on the New York Yankees, watching from the dugout.
“The ball was hit right to me. Why did he run when I was going to throw him out?”
--Ichiro Suzuki, right fielder.
The quotes are all from Benjamin Hoffman's piece in today's New York Times, ”A Throw that Made a Phenomenon: Rookie Ichiro Suzuki's perfect peg in 2001 made Baseball take notice.“
I remember the throw (or The Throw) well. It's one of the most stunning I've seen. Not because of the distance—I've seen longer throws—but because there was almost no arc to it. It was a laser beam that seemed to defy gravity. It never had height; it just had sizzle.
You can see a clip of the throw on MLB.com. They show it a couple of times. Stick around for the last and best angle, the one that causes one announcer to say, ”Wow,“ and color announcer Dave Valle to say, ”...a strike down the middle, like David Bell was a catcher.“
”Why did he run when I was going to throw him out?”
I've known for a long time, at least since 2002, that Ichiro Suzuki's value at the plate would drop off when his singles dropped off. His secondary numbers were never great. He didn't draw many walks (season high: 68 in 2002) and he didn't hit for much power (season highs: 34 doubles in 2001; 12 triples in 2005; and 15 HRs in 2005). Despite his speed, he didn't steal many bases (season high: 56 in 2001). He just hit singles. Again and again and again.
The singles finally dropped off last year, and they didn't come back this year. Sure, at the time of his trade to the New York Yankees today, he was leading the Mariners in hits, with 105, and, more sadly, in batting average with a .261 mark; but he had a .288 OBP and .353 SLG, for a .642 OPS, which is 143rd out of 156 everyday players in the Major Leagues. Not good.
In fact, it's the worst OPS of every position player on the Yankees save for backup catcher Chris Stewart. Even Jayson Nix, backup SS, has an OPS near .700. So while many Seattlites are wringing their hands over the deal and the loss of the face of the franchise, asking themselves, “Why why why?,” the better question is: Why do the Yankees want him? As a No. 9 hitter? As a late-inning defensive replacement?
And why would he want to go there? According to The Seattle Times, it was Ichiro, 38, who requested the trade.
The immediate assumption is that he's nearing the end of his career and wants a World Series ring. That's why most aging superstars wind up in pinstripes. But I think the reason the Yankees want him is the same reason he requested the trade. I think it's the Safeco Field factor.
Historically, Ichiro's home and away splits are pretty similar: .320 at home, .324 on the road. His home OPS is .782 OPS, while his road OPS is .785. A wash.
But this split has grown over the last few years:
|Year||Home BA||Road BA||Home OPS||Road OPS|
I'm guessing the Yankees are looking at those road numbers and thinking Ichiro still has something in the gas tank. And I'm betting Ichiro thinks the same. And with New York, he has a couple of months to prove it to the other 28 teams in Major League Baseball so that next year he can continue his march, unabated by the cold winds of Safeco, toward 3,000 hits.
Maybe. Or maybe it's as he says: the Mariners are in the midst of a youth movement and he doesn't want to get in the way.
Either way, I like the youth movement. Right now our oldest position players are Chone Figgins (34) and Miguel Olivo (33). Next in line is Brendan Ryan (30). Brings to mind the old hippie slogan, “Don't trust anyone over 30!” Which I don't. Not on the M's.
Still, it was sad tonight seeing Ichiro in Yankees attire with No. 31 on his back instead of the No. 51 he's worn his entire career. (Is this temporary, by the way? No one on the Yankees is No. 51 and it's not retired yet. Will he get 51 once they make NYC?)
But I'm glad M's fans sent him off with a standing o. I'm glad he responded the way he did, with a classy, classy bow. I'm glad he got a basehit up the middle his first time up. No. 2,534 and counting.
Arigatou gozaimasu, Ichiro. We shall not see your like again.
Ichiro Suzuki bows to the Safeco Field crowd before his first at-bat as a New York Yankee: July 23, 2012.
The familiar stance with the unfamiliar number: his first base hit as a New York Yankee.
Hit no. 2,534.
Can't Wait to Get on the Road Again: The Offensive Numbers of the 2012 Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners start the second half of the 2012 season today with the worst record in the American League and as an afterthought in Major League Baseball.
More tellingly, or painfully, the team is once again in last place, or near last place, 29th or 30th, in key offensive categories: batting average (29th), slugging percentage (29th), OBP (30th) and OPS (30th). Fans are past the point of longing for the days of Griffey, A-Rod, Buhner and Edgar; we now long for the days of Randy Winn. My Kingdome for a player with a .350 on-base percentage.
Here are the offensive numbers of the first half of 2012:
|M's Totals||MLB Rank|
Warning: the counting numbers are a little skewed (upward), since the M's have played more games than any other team in baseball. They're tied with three other teams at 87. Yet despite this statistical advantage, they rank no higher than 24th in any major offensive category.
Here's the question: How much of this results from Safeco Field, which as a reputation as a pitchers' park? How much better do we hit on the road than at home?
As it turns out, much better:
|Home #s||MLB Rank||Away #s||MLB Rank|
Warning: the counting numbers are skewed here, too, since the M's rank 26th in games played at home (41) and second in games played on the road (46). So our counting numbers are driven down at home and up on the road. Even so, what a surprise to find your 2012 Seattle Mariners second in all of Major League Baseball in road-game Total Bases.
But the percentage numbers are not skewed in this manner. They're skewed in the sense that we're a different ballclub at home and on the road. We're the Jeckyl and Hyde of teams. In slugging percentage, we're Alex Gordon on the road. At home, we turn into Dee Gordon.
But OPS is the true indicator of a team's offensive prowess, and the difference here is vast: .153. 11th to 30th. And not just 30th: 30th by a long shot. The second-worst home OPS belongs to San Diego, but theirs is .625 or 63 points above ours. The second-worst in the American League is Oakland's, but they're at .662. I'll let you do that math on that one.
Question: Has the discrepancy between the M's home and road numbers always been this bad? No, but...
|Year||Home OPS||MLB Rank||Away OPS||MLB Rank||OPS Diff.|
The .153 difference between home and road OPS in 2012, if it holds, will be the biggest in the 13 full seasons the M's have played at Safeco. The previous biggest was .082 in 2000. Back then, the M's actually had the best road OPS in MLB. They ranked 23rd at home.
We've also had two seasons where we actually hit better at home than on the road, 2005 and 2008, but the difference there was marginal, and our MLB rank for each was more-or-less the same.
The column that most depresses me? Our MLB rank for OPS at home. In only one season, the 116-win season in 2001, did the M's finish top 15 in Home OPS rank. Every other year? We're second division. Bottom 15. Bottom feeders. We've finished 28th, 29th or 30th seven times in the last nine years. We've been dead last every year for the last three years.
And on the road? We've been dead last once, and 28th, 29th or 30th only twice in the last nine.
Of course these stats merely back up what most M's fans know intuitively. The major point is that never has the discrepancy between home and road numbers been so great as in 2012. The question is why. Statistical anomaly? The extra cold Seattle spring versus the super warm weather elsewhere? The idea that the doldrums of playing at Safeco is getting into the heads of these young players as surely as it gets into mine watching them?
One thing is certain: The team you're watching at Safeco is, year after year, and regardless of what they do on the road, one of the worst offensive teams in Major League Baseball. That's where the conversation begins.
Safeco 2012: As the runs have disappeared, so have the fans.
A Team without Superstars
Remember when they said that of the vaunted 2001 Mariners? After we lost Randy, Junior and A-Rod and kept on winning? A team without superstars. After one game, mid-season, I remember someone, possibly Ron Fairly, trotted this out again, and Dave Niehaus responded, “Oh, there's a superstar.” He meant Ichiro.
Well, give or take a king on the mound, we're now truly a team without superstars. But this time we're a sucky team without superstars.
Today I was looking at our abyssmal OBP and SLG and OPS numbers, and then noticed that our best OPS from an everyday player was the .772 mark shared by Kyle Seager and Michael Saunders, noticed again that they were ranked 77th and 78th in the Majors, and wondered if every team had a player above our best player.
The answer? Yes. Every team has a player above our best player. Only San Diego really makes it close.
|Team||Best player||2nd Best||3rd Best||4th Best||5th Best|
In fact, 23 teams have a second player ranked before the M's first, and exactly half (15) have a third player. Seven teams have a fourth player, and two teams, Texas and the Yankees, have a fifth player whose OPS is better than the M's best player.
That's part of why it's so difficult watching these games. There's no one scary in our lineup. Not one. Not even close.
On the plus side, we do have a second player on the list before the Padres. Plus our team is young, and they play at Safeco.
But a star would be nice. Or at least a bright light.
Safeco Field: No bright lights, no big city.
Eric Wedge and the Hobson's Choice
Last night I went to my first Mariners game of the season, a horrid, 6-2 affair againt a bottom-dwelling San Diego team, in which there were hardly any fans in the stands, hardly any Mariners on the basepaths, and too many seagulls circling like vultures in the late innings.
There was also a moment that made me wonder about the intelligence of manager Eric Wedge.
M's down 6-1 in the bottom of the 8th. Franklin Guttierez, in his first game this season, managed a single through the left side of the infield for his first hit of the season and the M's second run of the game. Woo! Now it was 6-2, with men on first and second, and the tying run, Ichiro, in the on-deck circle. And who strode to the plate? Mighty Munenori Kawasaki, often referred to as “Ichiro lite,” but you might as well call him “Ichiro without the on-base percentage.” Dude's batting .189 with a .259 OBP, and, like all the M's, his numbers are worse at Safeco. At home he's batting just .100, 2 for 20, both singles, with a .143 OBP. Fun.
So here we were, down by 4 with two guys on, and we needed a guy to get on base to give us a chance. But the guy at the plate was a guy who rarely got on base.
“Why isn't Wedge pinch-hitting for him?” I wondered aloud. “Does Wedge know what he's doing?”
He does. Here's why Wedge didn't pinch-hit for Kawasaki: Because mighty Dale Thayer (6.19 ERA) was on the mound for San Diego. Thayer's a righty, Kawasaki's a lefty.
But didn't we have any lefties on the bench who could pinch-hit?
Believe it or not, no. They were all in the game. Unless you count Chone Figgins. He's a switch hitter. At home he's hitting .143, which is a little better than Kawasaki; but against righties he's hitting .192, which isn't as good as Kawasaki's .213 against righties. So Kawasaki stayed in the game and popped out to short. The M's never managed another hit and the Padres won the game and swept the series. It's their first series sweep of the year. Congratulations, guys.
And apologies, Eric Wedge. It's gotta be tough to look down a bench and see no better option than a guy hitting .100. No wonders the seagulls were circling.
Mariners baseball: Get after it.
Getting Better All the Time (Can't Get No Worse): Your 2012 Seattle Mariners Offense
The good news: After one-third of a season, the Seattle Mariners, the worst-hitting team in baseball for the last three years, now ranks 11th (out of 30 teams) in runs scored in the Majors. Yay!
The bad news: They're 27th, 28th, and 26th in batting average, OBP, and slugging percentage. Yikes!
How is this possible? How can a team with such lousy batting percentages score so many runs?
It's partly a matter of opportunity. The team leads the Majors in games played. They've scored more often because they've played more often.
They've also, as Rob Neyer attests, hit incredibly well (third in the AL in OPS) with runners in scoring position.
Here are their rankings in various offensive categories:
- Games: 1st (59)
- At-bats: 3rd (1967)
- Runs: 11th (243)
- Hits: 20th (461)
- Doubles: 12th (100)
- Triples: T-12th (11)
- Home Runs: T-14th (54)
- Total Bases: 17th (745)
- Batting Average: 27th (.234)
- On Base Percentage: 28th (.296)
- Slugging Percentage: 26th (.379)
- OPS: 27th (.675)
- Strikeouts: 5th (446)
- Walks: 15th (176)
- Intentional Walks: 29th (5)
- Hit By Pitch: 30th (3)
- GIDP: 22nd (38)
- Ground balls: 20th (681)
- Fly balls: 3rd (863)
The HBP thing is interesting. The home runs are nice to see. Our team OBP will be helped without the likes of Chone Figgins (.250 OBP) and if the M's played John Jasso at catcher (.350 OBP) more often than Miguel Olivo (.225 OBP).
Either way, the overall numbers recall Paul McCartney's refrain “I have to admit it's getting better/ It's getting better all the time.” Mainly because they also recall John Lennon's counter refrain: “Can't get no worse.”
Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong, Accountable to No One (Or How the Seattle Mariners Became Soylent Green)
I've been reading Jon Wells' “Shipwrecked: A People's History of the Seattle Mariners” and having trouble not throwing the book across the room. It keeps reminding me of all the golden opportunities the M's front office have wasted over the years.
Has any team had more talent than that 1995-1997 Mariners yet never made it to the World Series? We had the best player in baseball (Ken Griffey, Jr.), the best power pitcher in baseball (Randy Johnson), one of the greatest shortstops of all time (Alex Rodriguez). Throw in a batting champion like Edgar Martinez, a 40-HR/120-RBI man like Jay Buhner, and your various Tino Martinezes, Dan Wilsons, Jeff Nelsons and Jamie Moyerses. The underachievement is stunning.
But it gets worse in the 2000s.
The following is a chart of average attendance at Mariners games at Safeco Field since 2001:
You'd think if you ran an organization that lost more than half of its customers in a 10-year span you'd lose your job. Certainly Mariners' managers and general managers have come and gone during this period. But the main guys, the guys who are really running the show, M's CEO Howard Lincoln and M's president Chuck Armstrong, keep on keeping on. They occasionally pepper the local news with their idiotic comments but they never lose their jobs.
How is that possible?
Well, as M's fans know, the majority owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball club, Nintendo's Hiroshi Yamauchi, is the ultimate absentee owner. Even when the Mariners traveled to Japan this spring for two regular season games against the Oakland A's, he couldn't be bothered to make it to the park. To this day, he's never seen his team play.
Yet you'd think he'd notice the drop in gate receipts. The drop in profit. The drop in value.
And there's the rub. During the 10-year span that M's attendance has been cut in half, from an average of 43,709 in 2002 to an average of 20,654 so far in 2012, the value of the ballclub, according to Forbes magazine, has almost doubled: from $373 million in 2001 to $585 million in 2011.
How is that possible?
For one, revenue has steadily climbed while operating income has remained in the black:
|Revenue (in millions)||166||167||169||173||179||182||194||189||191||204||210|
source: Forbes Magazine
Of course, there's some dispute with these numbers. A few years back, Deadspin published the financial documents of several ballclubs, including the Seattle Mariners, and the numbers didn't quites match Forbes' numbers. (It makes one wonder where Forbes gets its numbers.)
Even so, in terms of revenue and operating income, at least in the Forbes version, the M's look like they have a good business model.
But if you look at operating income rank among MLB teams, of which there are 30, the picture isn't so rosy:
|Op. Inc. MLB Rank||9||1||1||10||23||9||23||27||22||23||
source: Forbes Magazine
The Mariners used to turn the greatest profit in the game. Now we're near the bottom. It's like the attendance figures above.
At the same time, the M's value as a ballclub is never near the bottom among MLB teams. Even during these dog days—and man have they been dog days—the rank of the team's value has stayed fair to middling:
source: Forbes Magazine
In my research, I came across a good 2010 piece on Marinercentral.com, in which the unnamed author pulled together much of the same information I was pulling together, and he asked some of the same questions I was asking. His conclusion? The M's don't have competition. They run a monopoly in the Pacific Northwest. The geographic isolation of the Seattle Mariners has always been a pain to its players, who have to travel farther and more often just to get a game going, but it's a boon for guys like Lincoln and Armstrong who don't have to worry about a decent product on the field, since, for MLB fans in the Pacific Northwest, there's only one product: your Seattle Mariners. It's doesn't matter that lately the Mariners have become the baseball equivalent of soylent green—the only food available to futuristic denizens in the infamously bad 1973 sci-fi film of the same name. To Lincoln and Armstrong, it's still green.
Our MarinerCenteral writer writes, of towns in Idaho and Montana, Alaska and Oregon:
If we add those markets together in conjunction with the Seattle-Tacoma market, that gives us a total of 4,468,210 homes – which easily vaults the media market in to which the Mariners broadcast firmly into the top 3 or 4 in the country!!
Then he reminds us how well the M's, with Ichiro on board, do in Japan:
...in 2004 they also enjoyed revenues from a half-dozen Japanese firms who bought advertisement at Safeco with the idea of marketing to Japanese audiences watching Mariner games. That article in the Seattle Business Journal quoted Howard Lincoln as saying, “If there was no Ichiro, there would be no broadcast of games back to Japan, and none of these companies would be interested in Safeco Field.”
All of this goes a long way toward explaining why Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong still have jobs. Yes, they've taken a once promising franchise and turned it into a joke: a franchise first in attendance that is now second-to-last; a franchise first in operating income that is now near the bottom; a team that used to be feared but is now ... not. But that team is never in the red, the overall value of the club has gone up (as the value of all clubs have gone up), and its value-ranking among MLB teams is buoyed by its isolation in the Pacific Northwest.
Smarter baseball men running the show, and paying attention to the product on the field, might have widened the revenue streams rather than narrowed them by half, as Lincoln and Armstrong have done. But Hiroshi Yamauchi doesn't seem to care about this. He doesn't seem to care about the quality of the product. He doesn't seem to care that we, and he, have lost face in Major League Baseball.
At some point it's going to matter. At some point the loss of the local fanbase will be too great to be compensated by other revenue streams. At some point, Lincoln and Armstrong, and maybe even Yamauchi, will realize that soylent green isn't just green; it's people.
What Lincoln and Armstrong have wrought: the crowd at Safeco Field on April 15, 2012, five minutes before gametime. (Photo via Darren Rovell on Twitter.)
Howard Lincoln and Some Part of a Horse, Midstream
I came across this quote in Jon Well's book “Shipwrecked: A Peoples' History of the Seattle Mariners” and wanted to throw the book across the room. I often want to throw his book across the room. Jon's a friend, and it's a good book, but it keeps reminding me just how much I despise the M's front office: how blithely incompetent M's CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong have been over the years and yet how long they've kept their jobs; how there's just no accountability there. There's just ... waste. A vast waste of opportunity and possibility and talent and time.
In the quote, Lincoln is talking about retaining then-manager John McLaren and then-GM Billy Bavasi. I've got nothing to say about the former but the latter is surely the worst GM in M's history. I assumed it was impossible to surpass the sluggish ineptitude of Woody Woodward but Bavasi managed it with his brand of energetic ineptitude. You wished Woody would get off the golf course and work the phones. With Bavasi, you wanted him on the golf course. Put down the phone, Mr. Bavasi. Please. Don't make any more deals.
Anyway, here's the quote. It's from September 26, 2007:
“I don't like to change horses in midstream. I didn't want to do it last season and I think the decision I made last season to stick with Bill and Mike proved to be the right decision. I think the decision to remain with Bill and John will turn out to be the right decision.”
He'd made a similar quote the year before, on September 29, 2006:
...there was “no sense changing horses in midstream,” Lincoln said.
- “Horses in midstream” is the idiotic campaign slogan of a corrupt president in David Mamet's political satire “Wag the Dog.” It was discredited long before Lincoln kept uttering it.
- If the end of the season is “midstream,” what isn't?
More to come.
Humber Humber Throws Perfect Game* Against Some Team
My friend Jeff asked me to the M’s game last Sunday, April 15, but I was a little under-the-weather and still had taxes to do and begged off. But as I did my taxes, I checked the score occasionally. I wanted the M’s to win, certainly, and they did, beating the A’s 5-3, but more, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a no-hitter for either side. I’ve never been at the ballpark for a no-hitter, of which there have been 272 in Major League Baseball history, and would’ve kicked myself for missing that one for something as silly as taxes.
Yesterday, a rare sunny day in Seattle, I went with Patricia and Ward to celebrate a friend’s birthday in Port Townsend, Wa. We were driving back around 9 pm when Ward checked his smartphone and came back with news. Apparently someone had pitched a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners.
“You’re kidding,” I said, immediately uncomfortable. “A perfect game? Who was pitching?” We were playing the White Sox, I knew, but did I know even one White Sox pitcher anymore? Mark Buehrle, who pitched a perfect game in 2009, was now with the Miami Marlins.
“You know how rare this is?” I asked the car, which didn’t care. “I think there have only been like 21 ever.”
“Humber,” Ward read. “Philip Humber.”
A nobody. “Crap,” I said.
“It was the 21st perfect game in baseball history,” Ward read.
“Crap crap,” I said.
I wasn’t bummed about missing the game. I hadn’t thought about attending and no one had asked. I’m part of a season-ticket package but scaled back to only five games this year because I ate too many tickets last year, and I picked no games in April. Weather is usually lousy in April and if it wasn’t I knew I could always do the walk-up. Tickets are to be had in Seattle these days.
No, I was bummed it was my Seattle Mariners, my up-and-coming Seattle Mariners, against whom a perfecto had been thrown. Last year or the year before, when they finished last in the Majors in almost every offensive category, sure, I might’ve expected it. But we were getting younger and better now. We were banishing the ghost of Bill Bavasi. Weren’t we?
I thought up excuses. The sun was in their eyes. We’re not used to sun in Seattle. I thought, “Where’s Jim Joyce when you need him?” referring to the first base ump whose blown call upset a perfect game for the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga in 2010. When I got home I even tweeted that, thinking myself clever. Turns out, because the last out was a disputed call, a checked swing by Brendan Ryan on a 3-2 count that should’ve result in a walk and no perfect game, everyone and their brother had already tweeted something similar.
“Crap,” I said.
I looked up the box score. The M’s are better than last year, with more upside, but we still began the game with only two starters with OBPs above .300—Dustin Ackley and Ichiro—and we ended it with no starters with OBPs above .300. As my father wrote yesterday:
Will Humber's perfect game go in to the record books with an asterisk because it was against the Mariners?
I looked up Humber, or “Humber Humber,” as I began to think of him. He was a former No. 1 draft pick with the Mets. Traded to the Twins. Picked up on waivers by the A's and then the ChiSox. Second-fewest career wins for a perfect-game winner.
Articles were already proclaiming him a member of an elite club that included Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Catfish Hunter and Roy Halladay. Yes, I thought, and Len Barker and Tom Browning and Dallas Braden.
It’s called the 21st perfect game in Major League history but to me it’s the 19th. Not sure how you can count the two from 1880, when foul balls picked up on a hop were considered outs, and the losing teams were named the Worcester Ruby Legs and the Buffalo Bisons.
Here are the 19 perfect games of the modern era:
|Date||Winning team||Losing team||Pitcher||Catcher||Umpire||Ks|
|1||5-May-1904||Boston Americans||Philadelphia A's||Cy Young||Lou Criger||Frank Dwyer||8|
|2||2-Oct-1908||Cleveland Naps||Chicago White Sox||Addie Joss||Nig Clarke||Tommy Connolly||3|
|3||30-Apr-1922||Chicago White Sox||Detroit Tigers||Charlie Robertson||Ray Schalk||Dick Nallin||6|
|4||8-Oct-1956||New York Yankees||Brooklyn Dodgers||Don Larsen||Yogi Berra||Babe Pinellli||7|
|5||21-Jun-1964||Philadelphia Phillies||New York Mets||Jim Bunning||Gus Triandos||Ed Sudol||10|
|6||9-Sep-1965||LA Dodgers||Chicago Cubs||Sandy Koufax||Jeff Torborg||Ed Vargo||14|
|7||8-May-1968||Oakland A's||Minnesota Twins||Catfish Hunter||Jim Pagliaroni||Jerry Neudecker||11|
|8||15-May-1981||Cleveland Indians||Toronto Blue Jays||Len Barker||Ron Hassey||Rich Garcia||11|
|9||30-Sep-1984||California Angels||Texas Rangers||Mike Witt||Bob Boone||Greg Kosc||10|
|10||16-Sep-1988||Cincinnati Reds||LA Dodgers||Tom Browning||Jeff Reed||Jim Quick||7|
|11||28-Jul-1991||Montreal Expos||LA Dodgers||Dennis Martinez||Ron Hassey||Larry Poncino||5|
|12||28-Jul-1994||Texas Rangers||California Angels||Kenny Rogers||Ivan Rodriguez||Ed Bean||8|
|13||17-May-1998||New York Yankees||Minnesota Twins||David Wells||Jorge Posada||Tim McClelland||11|
|14||18-Jul-1999||New York Yankees||Montreal Expos||David Cone||Joe Girardi||Ted Barrett||10|
|15||18-May-2004||Arizona Diamondbacks||Atlanta Braves||Randy Johnson||Robby Hammock||Greg Gibson||13|
|16||23-Jul-2009||Chicago White Sox||Tampa Bay Rays||Mark Buehrle||Ramon Castro||Eric Cooper||6|
|17||9-May-2010||Oakland A's||Tampa Bay Rays||Dallas Braden||Landon Powell||Jim Wolf||6|
|18||29-May-2010||Philadelphia Phillies||Florida Marlins||Roy Halladay||Carlos Ruiz||Mike DiMuro||11|
|19||21-Apr-2012||Chicago White Sox||Seattle Mariners||Phillip Humber||A.J. Pierzynski||Brian Runge||9|
Remember the name Ron Hassey for potential bar bets. He’s the only guy on this list whose name appears more than once. No one has even umped two perfect games. Perfection is singular, with the exception of Hassey.
So what’s to account for the spate of perfect games in the post-1961 expansion era? Dilution of talent? I thought strikeouts maybe, since it’s easier to keep players off base if they’re not hitting the ball in play; but while Ks have generally gone up, they haven’t necessarily gone up during perfect games. Much.
Looking over the list, I began to see a kind of parity, or karma, in which one year’s victim (1908 ChiSox) became another year’s victor (1922 ChiSox), or vice versa (’84 Angels/’94 Angels). Crunching the numbers further, I realized there was no parity. The Yankees are 3-0 in perfect games, the Phillies and Indians both 2-0, the Twins and Rays both 0-2. In fact, only six teams have been on either end of a pefect game:
|Perfect Game Teams||Wins||Losses|
|New York Yankees||3||0|
|Chicago White Sox||3||1|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||1||3|
|New York Mets||0||1|
|Toronto Blue Jays||0||1|
|Tampa Bay Rays||0||2|
And was it my imagination or did more perfect games happen early in the year?
|Month||No. of Perfect Games|
Not my imagination. And did more of these games happen in American League?
Yep. Even in the DH era, when NL teams should be an easier mark for imperfectos, the AL leads 7-4, with one interleague game in the mix. (The Yankees bolster their numbers with interleague games.)
I was curious: How did losing teams wind up doing the season they were imperfected? The M’s have no shot, of course. But do they have even less of a shot than the no-shot they had before?
|Date||Losing team||Team's final record
|5-May-1904||Philadelphia A's||81-70, 5th of 8 teams|
|2-Oct-1908||Chicago White Sox||88-63, 3rd of 8|
|30-Apr-1922||Detroit Tigers||79-75, 3rd of 8|
|8-Oct-1956||Brooklyn Dodgers||93-61, lost World Series, 4-3, to Yankees|
|21-Jun-1964||New York Mets||53-109, 10th of 10|
|9-Sep-1965||Chicago Cubs||72-90, 8th of 10|
|8-May-1968||Minnesota Twins||79-83, 7th of 10|
|15-May-1981||Toronto Blue Jays||37-69, 7th of 7|
|30-Sep-1984||Texas Rangers||69-92, 7th of 7|
|16-Sep-1988||LA Dodgers||94-67, won World Series, 4-1, over A's|
|28-Jul-1991||LA Dodgers||93-69, 2nd of 6|
|28-Jul-1994||California Angels||47-68, 4th of 4|
|17-May-1998||Minnesota Twins||70-92, 4th of 5|
|18-Jul-1999||Montreal Expos||68-94, 4th of 5|
|18-May-2004||Atlanta Braves||96-66, 1st of 5, lost LDS, 3-2, to Houston|
|23-Jul-2009||Tampa Bay Rays||84-78, 3rd of 5|
|9-May-2010||Tampa Bay Rays||96-66, 1st of 4, lost LDS, 3-2, to Texas|
|29-May-2010||Florida Marlins||80-82, 3rd of 5|
Most of the post-’61 perfectos have resulted from bottom-feeding: ’64 Mets, ’81 Blue Jays, ‘99 Twins. These are some of the worst teams in baseball history.
The Dodgers are an intereseting subset here. For being on the wrong end of three perfect games, they’ve done fairly well for themselves in those years. Obviously the ’56 perfecto happened during the World Series, which they lost, 4-3, but the ’88 Dodgers shook off that ‘88 perfecto and actually won the World Series. The ’91 team won 93 games. They give hope to the imperfected.
One positive out of all this? The White Sox are now 3-1 in perfect games and thus have as many perfectos as the New York Yankees, who are a dastardly 3-0. Isn’t it time those bastards wound up on the wrong end of one of these? Now that would be a perfect game. That would be the perfect perfect game.
Humber Humber admires his perfect game against some team or other: April 21, 2012
“And they're STILL cheering Mike Cameron...”
I'll always remember Mike Cameron for one thing.
It wasn't how he was dealt for two great players: Paul Konerko (straight up) during the 1998-99 off-season and Ken Griffey, Jr. (as the main part of a package) during the following 1999-2000 off-season.
It wasn't for the itinerant nature of his career. In 17 seasons he played for eight teams, and his stay in Seattle, four full seasons, was his longest. The Washington Nationals in 2012 would've been his ninth club but he called it quits today at the age of 39.
It wasn't for his numbers, which were nice if unexceptional: .249/.338/.444. He won three Gold Gloves, made one All-Star Game (I was there) and is currently 8th all-time in career strikeouts with 1901. Admittedly, he was nearly a 300-300 guy, with 278 career home runs and 297 career stolen bases, and admittedly he had that day, in May 2002, when he did what only 12 previous players in baseball history had done when he hit four home runs in a single game. But that's not what I'll remember him for.
I'll remember him for my first impression of him.
Back in 2000 I was still writing the player profiles for The Grand Salami, an alternative Mariners program, and this is what I wrote about our new acquisition:
Michael Terrance Cameron (44)
Height: 6'2,“ Weight: 195
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Born: 1-8-73 in LaGrange, GA
Family: Wife, JaBreka, and two children, Dazmon and T'Aja
Acquired: If you don't know, you've been in a coma all winter
Major League debut: August 27, 1996, with Chicago White Sox
This was Cameron's second off-season trade in as many years. In November 1998 he was swapped by the ChiSox to Cincy for 1B Paul Konerko. Then in February 2000... Well, you know. In Cameron's one season in the NL he didn't perform poorly: .256 BA, .357 OBP, 34 doubles, 21 HRs, 37 SBs. Plus a helluva glove. His one major drawback is strikeouts. He piles great gobs of strikeouts onto his plate: over 100 each of the last three seasons, and 146 in 1999 (fourth most in the majors). The one place you don't want to bat him then is second, since the second spot is designed for moving the runner along, and strikeouts tend not to do that (unless Lou Brock is on the basepaths). So where are the M's talking about batting Cameron? Second. We say lead him off.
It was a bad time to be a Mariners fan. It would soon get good again (in 2000), and then great (in 2001), and then bad again (October 2001-present), but we didn't know that. We also didn't know that the guy we got for Griffey would, in his four years with us, outhomer Griffey's first four years in Cincinnati, (87-83), that he would drive in more runs (344-232), that he would steal more bases (106-10), that he would win more Gold Gloves (2-0). We didn't know he would charm us. We just knew our franchise guy, the ”All-Century“ player, the guy everyone thought would break Hank Aaron's homerun record, was gone. We were bitter. I know I was. Some magic seemed to have gone from the world. And to Cincinnati of all places.
Was it my first game of the season? The M's had already played three home games when the defending-champion New York Yankees, the team we loved to hate, and used to crush, sauntered in on a chilly Friday night, April 7, 2000. The pitching matchup didn't favor us (Andy Pettitte vs. John Halama), and our lineup, which used to feature a modern murderer's row, now included the likes of Charles Gipson, Joe Oliver and David Bell. A-Rod batted third, Griffey's slot, and hit a homerun. Cameron led off and went 1-4: a two-out double in the 4th with nobody on. He didn't score.
For a while, the game was a back-and-forth affair. M's went up 2-0. Yanks tied it and went ahead 3-2. We tied it and went ahead. In the top of the 8th, it was 6-3, us, but the Yankees had the top of their lineup against reliever Paul Abbott. Chuck Knoblauch flew out for the first out.
Then this happened.
We went nuts. We gave Cameron a standing 'o' after the catch, we gave him a standing 'o' as he trotted in, we gave him a standing 'o' as he batted the next inning, and we gave him a standing 'o' as he walked back to the dugout after striking out on three pitches. ”I don't think I've ever seen anyone get an ovation for striking out," Lou Piniella said with a smile after the game. But how could we not? How else do you thank someone who lets you know it's not over? How else do you thank someone who's restored a bit of magic to the world?
Cameron, robbing Jeter, April 7, 2000.
Michael, We Hardly Knew Ye
If “Don’t trade with the New York Yankees” isn’t No. 1 on the list of Erik’s Unwritten Rules for Baseball GMs, it’s because the following is No. 1 on that list:
- Don’t trade to the New York Yankees something they desperately need.
The 2012 Yankees desperately needed front-of-the-line starting pitching. So what happened yesterday? Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik traded Michael Pineda, one of the best young pitchers in baseball, to the Yankees, for catcher/DH Jesus Montero, one of the top hitting prospects in the nation.
Many fans will say what Jayson Stark said last night on ESPN: “This is one of those deals where both sides got something they were specifically looking for.” Mariners needed hitting and got it, Yankees needed pitching and got it. Done and done.
But you can’t play the game of even-steven with the Yankees. If your goal is not only to improve your team but eventually get to the World Series, you have to go through the Yankees. Playing even-up in trades doesn’t do that because the Yankees can spend you into the ground. You have to keep from them what they need. Like starting pitching. Like Michael Pineda.
Worse, the M’s almost had Jesus Montero in July 2010 for half a season of Cliff Lee. Apparently Zd didn’t seal that deal because Yankees GM Brian Cashman refused to throw in Ivan Nova or Eduardo Nunez. Instead he dealt Lee to Texas for first baseman Justin Smoak. Which means in the scheme of things he traded Michael Pineda for Justin Smoak. Which is a bad trade.
I was high on Zd for awhile. But after Lee, Doug Fister and now Pineda, I’m beginning to wonder. I hope I’m wrong.
Good-bye, Michael. We hardly knew ye.
The Biggest Hurt of All: The MLB Network’s Countdown of the Greatest Players Never to Appear in the World Series
After a long week of work and illness, I plopped onto the couch Friday night to watch a bit of the MLB Network to cheer myself up. Usually works. One of their “Prime 9” shows was on, this one about the best players to never play in the World Series, and so, despite the awful MLB Network commercials, I stuck around to the end. I wanted to see if Ken Griffey, Jr. was their No. 1. As he was mine.
He was. Their list:
9) Phil Niekro
8) Ryne Sandberg
7) Luke Appling
6) Ernie Banks
5) Ferguson Jenkins
4) Gaylord Perry
3) Frank Thomas
2) Rod Carew
1) Ken Griffey, Jr.
Chicago is well-represented: Three Cubs, Two White Sox.
I’m well-represented. No. 2 on the list is the guy I watched growing up in Minnesota. No. 1 on the list is the guy I watched living as a young adult in Seattle. I guess I’m bad news. (Speaking of: Where will we put Ichiro on this list? How about Edgar Martinez?)
All of which is a little sadder than I wanted for a Friday night after a long week of work and illness.
But then Prime 9 did something I’d never seen before. They went beyond the list to provide editorial comment on one team. No, not the White Sox or the Cubs. My Mariners. My 1990s Mariners.
Here’s what they said:
Griffey is just one reason why it’s hard to believe those Mariners teams of the late 1990s never reached a World Series. For beyond Junior, who was arguably the best player in baseball at that time, they also had the game’s premiere designated hitter. (Cue footage and audio from Dave Niehaus: “Edgar Martinez with another home run! Unbelievable!”)
There was also a precocious talent emerging as one of the game’s superstar shortstops. (Cue Niehaus: “That’s going to be...CAUGHT BY RODRIGUEZ! An amazing catch by Alex!”)
And on the mound, Seattle had the Big Unit, one of the most dominant and successful pitchers baseball has ever seen. (Cue announcer: How good is this guy? One of the best.”)
There was a wealth of riches in Seattle in those years. But there was one jewel missing from this gem of a team: A ring.
And that’s our Prime 9. What’s yours?
Well, that is my Prime 9. I'd already written about it back in June 2010 when Ken Griffey, Jr. retired from baseball:
I wasn't there at the beginning but I was there at the end. Not Junior's last game on Memorial Day, but the first Major League Baseball game without Junior on a roster. As he drove home to Florida, M's management played the tribute video they'd probably had in the can for 14 months and the grounds crew created a “24” in the dirt out by second base, and me and my friend Jim watched this team, once mighty, once a potential dynasty, now as weak and characterless as the day he arrived to save them, eke out a win in extra innings. But there was nothing electric about it. There was no future in it. The M's are still a backwards-looking franchise that doesn't even have a definitive victory to look back on. In the 1990s they had three of the greatest players ever to play on the same team, Junior, A-Rod and Randy, and they couldn't get past the ALCS. Two of those players now have rings from other franchises. The last will go down as the greatest player in baseball history never to be in a World Series.
But any baseball fan in Seattle could tell you the same. We know. The rest of the country may be waking up to this just now, but we’ve known since 1998 or ’99. We even know who to blame. From the same post:
Moreover, Junior’s team, the lowly Mariners, who stormed ahead in '95, and seemed, in '96 and early '97, on the verge of a dynasty, was already being undone by awful relief pitching and awfuler moves. Omar Vizquel for Felix Fermin. Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson for Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis. In July '97, with Norm Charlton and Bobby Ayala forever blowing ballgames, M's GM Woody Woodward went out and got three relief pitchers: Bad (Mike Timlin), Badder (Paul Spoljarec) and Baddest (Heathcliff Slocumb). To get them he gave up what felt like the future: another Jr. (Jose Cruz), catcher Jason Veritek and pitcher Derek Lowe. It didn't even work short-term. The M's got killed by Baltimore in the '97 ALDS, three games to one, and from the right-field stands I watched Junior flub a chance at a great play. The ball went off his glove. I'd never seen that before. I thought: “What is that? He normally gets that.” The next season was worse. We lost Randy Johnson in July, and while Junior was blasting homeruns it wasn't at the pace of the two testeronic monstrosities, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who ruled the summer. Junior was a diminished figure in the steroids era. The M's were a diminished team in the Yankees era.
I still contend that if the M’s hadn’t made that ’95 trade to the Yankees, if they’d just been smart about their trades in ’97, if they’d just spent a little more for relief, the great baseball dynasty of the late 1990s wouldn’t have been the effin' New York Yankees. It would’ve been my Seattle Mariners.
But ownership’s purse remained tight, the front office continued to fumble, GM Woody Woodward continued to play golf.
In Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary, talking head Billy Crystal says that the Yankees defeat to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1960 World Series still hurts. But Billy Crystal doesn’t know from hurt. The Big Hurt was No. 3 on MLB’s list but the biggest hurt of all was there at No. 1. It’s a hurt that hasn’t healed in Seattle. It probably never will.
Safeco Field, the night after the day Ken Griffey, Jr. retired from baseball. (Click here for more posts about the Seattle Mariners.)
The Lonely Road to Safeco Field
My friend Tim invited me to the Mariners game Saturday at 4:00, Fan Appreciation Night, or Day, or Fan Appreciation Overcast Late Afternoon, and I went more for Tim than the M's. I'm higher on the team than I've been in years, since they're doing what I urged them to do in 2004--get young--but it's a long season, and manager Eric Wedge is still trotting out the likes of Adam Kennedy (.234/.276/.354), who is 35 and has no upside, rather than some September call-up who does. But it's still fun to sit at the park, see the action, talk baseball.
I was hoping for sun but that was the previous weekend. The walk down provided its own form of gloom, too. Elliott Bay Books relocated more than a year ago, closer to where I live, but its former locatioin is still unoccupied:
The former Elliott Bay Books: a half-hour before gametime.
I found Occidental Avenue, the road to Safeco, also surprisingly unoccupied, even though it was 25 minutes before gametime.
Occidental Avenue: Many of the few fans there were Sounders fans, too, whose game started two hours after the M's game.
Even the left field gate on Royal Brougham, usually bustling, is far from it 15 minutes before gametime.
Russ Davis glove on the right; the faithful few on the left.
The game was an oddity: high-scoring, lots of pitching changes, yet surprisingly fast. Clutch hitting put the M's up 4-1 in the 2nd, but in the top of the 3rd M's starter Anthony Vasquez gave up three homers on four pitches, all blistered, and punctuated by former Mariner Adrian Beltre who practically dented the upper-deck facade in left field with his blast. The ball was just rocketing off Rangers' bats and squibbling off ours, which may explain why, down just one run in the 5th, 7-6, the game felt lost. Which it ultimately was.
Tim and I didn't win, either. Fan Appreciation Night is also giveaway night—autographed jerseys and balls, suites and seats, flat-screen TVs and planetrips, and “much much more” as they say—and Tim and I got bupkis, as per normal. The year before, sitting in the seat I now occupied, Tim's friend Bill won a suite for a game, which we all attended last April, so Tim figured our seats were shot for another few years, if in fact the giveaway is that logical. But a woman three rows in front of us won a luxury cruise for two, which was pretty cool, and Tim and I had fun riffing on some of the giveaways. Working with the Mariners groundscrew? Sounds more like unpaid labor. What next? “A chance to scrub Mariner urinals!” We imagined the winner of that imaginary giveaway being approached by the winner of a real giveaway, an autographed Chone Figgins baseball: “Wanna trade?”
7-6 was the final, putting me at 6-5 on the year. Hoping for better next year. Until then, God bless, Mr. B, wherever you are.
Long-suffering Mariners fan, Mr. B, center, takes tickets at the left field gate.
Celebrating the Tradition at Safeco Field
It’s a long walk back to First Hill from Safeco Field—two miles according to Google maps, uphill mostly, a little more than half an hour usually—but last night, after the Mariners 3-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox, it seemed longer than usual.
It’s not just that our starting pitcher, rookie Michael Pineda, struck out eight in 6 innings and gave up only three hits, all singles, but left the game down 2-0. It’s not just that the only three hits for the M’s included an infield single by Ichiro that should’ve been scored E5 and an excuse-me double by Miguel Olivo, nor that our last two innings contained no loft of hope (strikeout, strikeout, groundout/ groundout, groundout, strikeout), nor that rookie sensation Dustin Ackley looked less than sensational while the starting lineup included only three guys from our opening day lineup (Ichiro, Olivo, Ryan) way back on April 1st, April Fools Day, when we beat the A’s 6-2. In fact, I like that last fact. I like the team going young. I’ve been urging it on M’s management since 2004.
No, what’s depressing is that disconnect between the sketchy world outside Safeco and the false cheer within Safeco. You walk down James Street and through Occidental Park, with its homage to fallen firefighters, and are eyed by the men on the sidelines, the homeless, as if you might be their last meal, then past King Street onto Occidental Avenue, where you’re accosted by the scalpers, hoping to sell, hoping to buy, and you wonder why the two groups, buyers and sellers, don’t get together; but then you assume they do: that the men wishing to buy are with the guys pushing to sell, and you wonder what the profit margin for such an enterprise could possibly be. Who, these days, would buy an M’s ticket for more than face value? And you look around at the vendors urging fatty foods on fatty people and hawking jersey T-shirts with ... whose name? Who’s left? Ichiro, sure, and Ackley, yes, and is it too early to get a Mike Carp or a Trayvon Robinson? Is it too late to get a Justin Smoak? How reduced is that Chone Figgins M’s jersey? In what landfill did the Bradley and Bedard and Fister jerseys wind up? And you look at the sign advertising upcoming concerts at WaMu Theater at CenturyLink Field, which used to be Qwest Field, which used to be Seahawks Stadium, which was paid for with mostly public money, $360 million, but is now named after a private company you didn’t know existed until this year. But at least this crappily named theater is offering the equivalent, crappy concerts, haggard noisemakers (Iron Maiden) and a teenage provocateur so talentless it makes you fear for the younger generation (Ke$ha).
Inside it should be better, it should be clean, but they push false, family-friendly cheer on you until you want to puke. Here are the ballgirls. Here’s Timmy with the rosin bag. Here’s Susie announcing “Play ball!” Here is all the between-innings crap, the bloopers and hydro races and “Find the ball under the M’s cap” shite that keeps your mind off the lousy team and the lousy area and keeps you “entertained,” and thus passive; and since you are so passive, here are your scoreboard cues for the game itself, admonitions to “Put your hands together” and “Make noise” and “LOUDER,” and it works, you passive Pavlovian idiots, you actually make noise when you’re told.
But then you’re at the game, most of you, not for the game but for the freebie before the game, the bobblehead doll made in the image of a fictional creation, Larry Bernandez, a lame gag from a TV commercial in which it’s implied that Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez loves to pitch so much that on off days he puts on a wig and glasses and muttonchops and pretends to be “Larry Bernandez.” This is what Mariners fans, who once had Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer and Jay Buhner on the same team, this is what they hold onto this year: Larry Bernandez. Of course it's not that Felix Hernandez loves to pitch; it’s that M’s PR people have so little to pitch. So they pitch him. He’s not a pitcher, he’s the pitchee. A curve ball that misses the plate by a mile. M’s fans swing anyway.
You sit with a couple of these dullards, people who make more noise for the hydro races—screaming “Green!”—than they do for the team, and who crow about getting a Larry Bernandez bobblehead from Larry Bernandez himself. He looks normal at first, this fan, maybe someone you can actually talk baseball with; but that’s before he begins babbling about bobbleheads and you notice the shopping bag full of them, and you know, no, not this guy. Meanwhile, four rows behind you, four boys, late teens or early twenties, hold up their homemade signs, one of which reads, “Who’s goin’ to DREAMGIRLS after the game?,” and that may have been the most depressing sign of all. Dreamgirls is a gentleman’s club that recently opened a half a block from Edgar Martinez Drive, where men-without-women go to watch women-they-can’t-have undulate. And you wonder what’s more depressing: that these boys are proud that they are without women; or that they agree to shill for Dreamgirls for nothing. Unless they’re plants. Which would be sadder still. A fake leer insinuating itself within the fake smile of the stadium. Even our libidoes are false.
So you hope for something clean to wash away all of this—a clean single, a clean double, a clean homer—but the M’s can’t even manage a dirty run. It’s a pitcher’s night, like most nights at Safeco, where even the White Sox three runs are dirty, full of infield and bloop singles, and homeruns that barely escape the park, but you stay to the end, the dirty end, hoping for something clean that never comes. And as you and your girl leave by the left-field gate you notice the signs, the latest PR campaign, the “Celebrate the Tradition” banners all along the entryways. They're filled with shots from the 1995 and 2001 seasons, winning seasons, but you know the true Mariners tradition—how it took 15 years before they even had a winning season; how the M’s are one of two teams who have never even been to a World Series; and how for the last two years they’ve been last in every major offensive category in the Major Leagues—and you find your friend Mike, who works the left-field gate, and who’s been a hapless M’s fan since ’77, and you point back at the “Celebrate the Tradition” banners and say, “I believe we just did,” before escaping into the night.
Celebrate the Tradition.
No One in the Wings: The Underappreciated Career of Edgar Martinez
This essay was originally published in The Grand Salami in September 2004 on the occasion of Edgar Martinez's retirement from baseball.
If Edgar Martinez worked a 9-to-5 job he’d be the guy who arrived early, performed, excelled, was slapped on the back by the boss, and when the time came for that big raise or promotion … someone else would get it. At meetings he’d be silent while loud-mouths took over. He wouldn’t complain even as lesser-talents were elevated past him. He’d just keep doing the work, quietly and efficiently, and eventually he’d retire with an afternoon party, a slice of cake, and maybe a parting watch for his decades-long efforts. The quintessential company man: underutilized and underappreciated.
In baseball, thank goodness, we can quantify talent. We just look at the stats. Yet even in baseball—one of the purest meritocracies around—it took the Seattle Mariners years to figure out what kind of talent was toiling away in their mail room.
Reputations are made quickly and are hard to shake, and Edgar made his in 1983 in Bellingham when he hit a paltry .173, and again in 1985 and ’86, at Double-A Chattanooga, when he led Southern League third-basemen in putouts, assists, and fielding percentage. As a result, even after he hit .329 with Triple-A Calgary in 1987, director of player development Bill Haywood said the following about him when he was called up in September: “His glove is his strength. Hitting over .300 is a pleasant surprise.”
Translation: We have no clue what we have here.
Other people’s reputations are even harder to shake. In 1985, Jim Presley, a 23 year-old third baseman, set a Mariner record with 28 homeruns, and fans licked their chops imagining what this kid might do when he reached his prime. Except, it turned out, that was his prime. Three years later, when good-glove, no-hit Edgar was leading the PCL with a .363 batting average, Presley slumped to .230 and 14 homers. But he still had his rep, and Edgar had his, so even in 1989 Presley played twice as many games as Edgar; and even when Presley was finally traded before the 1990 season, Edgar still wasn’t part of the Mariners’ plans.
“I think Darnell Coles is going to surprise a lot of people,'' manager Jim Lefebvre told The Seattle Times in February 1990 about his new starting third baseman. “He knows there is no one in the wings, just Edgar Martinez to back him up. I think it is time for him to realize that he belongs at third, because to play that position you have to be an athlete. And Darnell Coles is an athlete.”
Translation: Edgar Martinez is not an athlete. He’s just a back-up. He’s no one in the wings.
Yet the numbers were there. Mariner management just had to look at them with a clear mind. Stats guru Bill James did, and in 1990 wrote, “What a sad story this one is. This guy is a good hitter, quite capable of hitting .300 in a park like Seattle, with more walks than strikeouts. Martinez has wasted about three years when he could have been helping the team.”
A month into the season Coles lost the job, and Edgar was finally allowed to help the team that never helped him.
In 1991 Jim Presley retired from baseball with the following batting average and on-base and slugging percentages: 247/.290/.420. Darnell Coles managed to hold on until 1997 with these lifetime numbers: .245/.307/.382. When Edgar Martinez retires on October 3, 2004, he’ll be only the 15th man in baseball history to retire with a batting average over .300, an on-base percentage over .400, and a slugging percentage over .500. Who didn’t make this list? How about Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Joe DiMaggio (they didn’t walk enough); Wade Boggs and Jackie Robinson (they didn’t have enough power); and Mickey Mantle (he didn’t hit .300).
More importantly, all but one of the .300/.400/.500 guys are in the Hall of Fame, and it would’ve been a clean sweep except Charles Comiskey was a cheap bastard and Shoeless Joe Jackson went looking for money in all the wrong places. So does this means Edgar will go into the Hall of Fame? Probably not. His percentages are out of sight but his raw numbers aren’t high enough to justify making him the first DH to be enshrined. If only he’d been able to play a few more good seasons. If only he’d been brought up earlier. If only Bill James had been running the team.
The man has reason to complain but that’s just not our Edgar. In a world of look-at-me swagger, Edgar is egoless and uncomplaining. His calm is almost comical. He’s been his own straight man for years in a series of very funny Mariners commercials. “Yes, we have a coupon.” “What's that all about?” “That’s a problem.” The ad campaign told us “You gotta love these guys,” but none was more lovable than Edgar. “I think he's a guy,” Mariner broadcaster Dave Niehaus once said, “that every grandmother likes to have around to cuddle. Just to say ‘He's my grandson.’ He's that type of guy.”
It’s more than grandmothers. When I was going to all those amazing games in September and October 1995, my girlfriend, who wasn’t a fan, began to watch them on television, and Edgar quickly became her favorite player. “He has all this pressure on him,” she said, “yet he stays so calm.”
Grace under pressure. Men want it and women dig it and Edgar has it. And of course, famously, he came through, with that double down the left field line, the most famous swing in Seattle history. But it wouldn’t have even been possible if the game before Edgar hadn’t driven in seven runs to force the deciding fifth game. I know a Yankees fan who recently admitted the following: “When Edgar came up in Game 4, bases loaded, none out, I knew from my Yankee perspective the game was lost. There was an absolute-zero possibility that Edgar would not come through. He was too hot, too good. Thus when he hit the grand slam I thought the hysteria was completely irrelevant, because the Mariners had already won the instant he stepped into the batter's box.”
It was Ken Griffey Jr. who wound up on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the nom de guerre “Yankee Killer.” I’m sure SI had their marketing reports about who appealed to the proper demographic and who didn’t. News wasn’t news anymore but marketing. Junior appealed. Edgar who? Other Mariners eventually graced the cover of SI: Randy, Bone, A-Rod, Ichiro. Edgar who? He was A.L. Player of the Month five times but that didn’t matter. He won two batting titles but that didn’t matter. He kept ringing up .300/.400/500 seasons but that didn’t matter. He’d been overlooked before—by us—and now the national media was overlooking him, even as we were finally celebrating him. In April 1991 Mary Harder began bringing a sign to the games: “Edgar esta caliente!” Others caught on. The Diamond Vision screen caught on. Senor Doble. Senor Octubre. Gar. Papi. Eddddgrrrrrrrr… Edddddgrrrrrrr….
One by one, other players left us. They felt they weren’t appreciated. We didn’t pay them enough money or attention or love. Mostly money. Edgar stayed. Edgar doesn’t leave. In a business where players upgrade agents the way CEOs upgrade wives, Edgar has had the same agent since Double-A ball. He was raised by his grandparents in the Maguayo neighborhood in the town of Dorado, Puerto Rico. They were poor, and his grandfather ran a transport business, and when Edgar was 11 his parents reconciled and he had to choose between moving back to New York or staying in Puerto Rico. “I felt my grandparents needed me,” Edgar told Larry Stone in 2001. “I remember all the work they needed to do.”
The Mariners had work to do, too, and they nearly did it in 2001, when they won 116 games but got clobbered in the ALCS by the Yankees, whose management loves winning more than ours. So no World Series ring, or even a World Series, for Edgar, who got into baseball watching his hero, Roberto Clemente, triumph in the 1971 World Series. Edgar could’ve jumped ship. He could’ve gone over to the Yankees, like so many great players before him: Wade Boggs, Chuck Knoblauch, Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez. Quick! I need a World Series ring! But Edgar doesn’t leave. Not for something as frivolous as jewelry. There was work to do.
Mariner records fell before his steady, blistering bat. In 1996 he passed Alvin Davis for most career doubles, and in 1997 most career walks. He passed Junior for most games played in 2000, most at-bats and hits in 2001, most runs and extra-base hits in 2002, and most RBIs and total bases in 2003. The Mariner record book is his now. This season he sliced his 500th double and clobbered his 300th homerun. In his first at-bat after announcing his retirement he went deep into the left field stands. The place went crazy. Such pandemonium this calm man causes.
It was from his grandparents that Edgar learned his famous work ethic. Former Mariner Dave Henderson:
He starts with the simple hitting off a tee: one-handed left-handed, one-handed right-handed, then flips [hands], then two hands. Then he goes into batting practice. And this is in January…When he gets into the batter's box, he's all done with his work. He's just applying it.
Former Mariner Stan Javier:
I've never seen anybody—maybe Don Mattingly—work as hard as Edgar Martinez. I'm talking about eyes, hands, feet. He spends hours and hours in the batting cage. He probably does more stuff for his eyes than for his swing.
The players know. The way other writers know who the good writers are, other players know who the good hitters are. In the end this may be his best chance for Cooperstown. Because if the Baseball Writers Association of America won’t vote him in, maybe the Veterans Committee will. Eventually. Good things come to those who wait, and Edgar is good at waiting. Just ask Jim Presley. Just ask Jim Lefebvre. Just ask any pitcher who tries to get him to nibble at something outside the strike zone.
As he limps into retirement, slower than any professional athlete has a right to move, the recipient, surely, of no infield hits since 1992, attention must be paid. So let’s turn September into one joyous retirement party. You see no. 11 striding to the plate? Get off your seat. Put your hands together. Point him out to the kids. Chant his name. Enjoy these last lingering moments. Because for a man who was no one in the wings, Edgar Martinez turned out to be the most special someone who ever put on a Mariners uniform.
M's Game Report: The (Two) Kids Are Alright
The last time I was at Safeco Field, June 25th, the M's lost to the Florida Marlins but were flirting with (standing next to, pretending to know, engaging in conversation with but totally being dissed by) .500. They were only a few games out of first place, and, among fans, there were crinkled noses and thoughts of “Really? This team? No. Yet there they are...” We assumed they wouldn't stay there but hope began beating its tiny wings anyway. That 17-game losing streak earlier this month stilled those wings. In a way it was a relief. We knew, no matter what the standings said, that a team with the worst offense in baseball could only go so far.
Yesterday afternoon, a beautiful Pacific Northwest afternoon, I returned to Safeco and watched the M's win for only the second time in 20 games, 3-2 over Tampa Bay, behind two rookies: Michael Pineda, who pitched no-hit ball into the sixth, and Dustin Ackley, who hit a 2-run homerun in the 1st inning, a line shot over the 405 sign in right-center, then a 2-out, ringing double in the sixth (almost to the same spot), which led to the M's third and final (and winning) run when Mike Carp lined a single to right to plate him.
I'm now 5-2 on the season.
Pineda, with the usual snap to his fastball, wasn't quite as sharp as the numbers indicated. He threw 46 balls with his 64 strikes, and walked four while striking out 10. His strikeouts, inning by inning, indicate he probably tired: 7 Ks through 3 innings, then 3 Ks for the final 3 1/3. He only gave up one hit, a single, but left with two on, both walks, in the 7th. The bullpen, though, Jeff Gray and Brandon League, didn't give up a hit, either. So a combined one-hitter! Not bad. Gray added two strikeouts, too. Meanwhle, the Rays starter, Alex Cobb, another rookie, struck out 9. So close. How often do both starting pitchers, both rookies, wind up with double-digit strikeouts? Can't be common. I was almost bummed when they took Cobb out in the 7th.
I sat with my friend Jeff R., between old folks to our left and young folks to our right, talking old UBS shit and housing prices. The guy to my immediate right, who had the slouching posture of a teenager on a bus, kept dissing Jack Wilson. The M's crowd, near 25,000, kept dissing Chone Figgins ... even though no one else (besides Ackley and maybe Carp) are hitting. The future star of spring, Justin Smoak, is now 12-for-July, a .146 average, dropping his season totals to .218/.313/.385. Again: Is he injured? Should he be rested? Most of the rest of the team has OPSs hovering in the mid-.600s: Brendan Ryan: .650; Ichiro: .633; Miguel Olivo: .631. Those are our better guys, too. Jack Wilson? .509. Chone Figgins? .479. Franklin Gutierrez? .457. Eech.
Despite the game's good news—Pineda, Ackley, Carp—the best news might have been this: The M's are no longer stuck with the 30-30-30-30 label! They are still last in the Majors in runs scored, on-base percentage, and batting average; but are, for the moment, and by a hair's breadth, 29th in slugging percentage. Thank you, San Diego!
I wrote about the Mariners fall from grace a week ago (“The 30-30-30-30-Club”), when they'd lost nine in a row. Now it's 17. A loss to Oakland on July 6th. A four-game sweep by the Angels. All-Star break. A four-game sweep by the Rangers. A three-game sweep by Toronto. A three-game sweep by Boston. Now the first two games to the Yankees. They've been outscored 101 to 47 during the run. In eight of the games they've been shut out or managed only one run.
Joe Posnanski posts about their sad streak here.
Tonight was the worst. C.C. Sabathia had a perfect game going into the 7th. Then Brendan Ryan singled with one out. At .264, he's nearly our best hitter. Dustin Ackley, a June call-up, and our best hitter, struck out. Miguel Olivo, our home run leader (he's got 13), struck out. It was Sabathia's 14th strikeout of the game.
In the 8th, Sabathia loaded the bases on walks with nobody out and was promptly relieved. A chance! Followed by strikeout, groundout (for a run), strikeout. And the groundout should've been a double play.
For some reason, maybe to give him work, the Yankees brought in Mariano Rivera in the 9th. Seemed overkill: strikeout, line out, strikeout. Final line for Yankees pitchers: 9 innings, 18 strikeouts, one hit. That was no. 17 for the Mariners. As if in a cartoon, it rained on them, too.
The 30-30-30-30 Club
The Mariners' season came undone while I was visiting family in Minneapolis in early July. They were getting by, as my friend Jim said, with Smoak and mirrors, and on July 5, despite getting swept by the Nationals and Braves in late June, they were 43-43, .500 exactly, and only a few games out of first place in the weak American League West.
On July 5 they beat Oakland 4-2 in 10 innings. The next day they lost to the A's, 2-0, but still won the series, 2-1.
They haven't won since.
The Angels swept them in four games in Anaheim. The Rangers swept them four games here. That's a nine-game losing streak. Now they're more than 10 games back. Season over.
It's not just that they lost, it's how they lost. In the four games here, the M's gave up 17 runs and scored two: one on Saturday night, one on Sunday afternoon. In 36 innings, they not only never had the lead, but, since Texas scored in the first inning in three of the four games, the M's actually trailed for 34 of those 36 innings. Even though every game starts out 0-0, they can't even hold onto the tie.
Last season, the M's set a record for fewest runs scored by a Major League team in a non-strike-shortened season since the advent of the DH rule. They were last in almost every offensive category. Runs: 30th. Batting Average: 30th. OBP: 30th. Slugging: 30th. So it is again. They're the sole members of the 30-30-30-30 club. They don't seem interested in sharing that dishonor.
So how could it get any worse? This way: We're down to just mirrors. Justin Smoak, who currently leads the team in HRs (12) RBIs (43) and OBP (.324), is in a downward spiral. Here are his numbers, month-to-month:
Ouch. Remember that Springsteen song, “I'm going down”? I'm going down down down down, I'm going down down down down ... That's what we've got here.
Is he injured? Are fans talking about it? Are there fans?
M's management is doing the right thing. I have to say that. They're going young now. They're building from within. But the team is suffering from the bad moves and worse picks from earlier in the 2000s. The question is how long they—and we—will be suffering.
Taylor Halperin's Mid-Season Report: Annotated
Taylor Halperin of Pro Ball NW gave the mid-season report for the Seattle Mariners on ESPN.com. Since he seems to do this full time, and since I'm mostly a movie guy, not a baseball guy, I should pause, long and hard, before criticizing any or all of his synopsis. Unfortunately it's the Internet so here we go. His column with my annotations...
Seattle Mariners (43-48, -18)
What needs to be fixed or accomplished in the second half?
The M's aren't really gunning for a playoff berth this year, but a poor showing by Texas has allowed for a tight AL West race. If this team wants to contend, the front office needs to do something about manager Eric Wedge's affinity for the hapless Carlos Peguero, who has arguably the worst plate discipline in the majors.
We have an offense that's last in the majors in every conceivable category and you blame ... big Carlos Peguero? That's like pinning Watergate on little Don Segretti. Yes, Peguero is hitting .199 with the ninth-most at-bats on the team, but two guys with more at-bats (Franklin Gutierrez and Chone Figgins) actually have worse batting averages. More importantly, Peguero is tied for the third-most homeruns on the team. As for “...who has arguably the worst plate discipline in the majors,” you should really stop using “arguably.”
Top item on shopping list?
GM Jack Zduriencik would love to nab a left fielder with some pop, and he might be willing to deal Michael Saunders in a package for a veteran such as Ryan Ludwick or Luke Scott. Hunter Pence would look awfully svelte patrolling Safeco's left field, though he would command a big return.
GM Jack Zduriencik would love to nab Ryan Braun, too, but it ain't gonna happen. And might be willing to deal Michael Saunders? In 45 games, at the age of 24, dude had an OPS of .471, then got sent down. Who's gonna want him? Better question: Do we really want a Luke Scott? 33 years old with a .305 OBP? Your advice seems to indicate a chance in hell, but since we're in the 30-30-30-30 club, I don't think we have that chance.
Player to watch.
Ichiro, who's hitting significantly worse than ever before, needs to heat up if the M's have any hope of contending into September. Time will tell if the uniquely effervescent outfielder will break out of his slump — or if his career is quickly winding down.
“Time will tell”? Didn't Garry Trudeau mock that journalistic phrase 30 years ago? But, yes, Ichiro, with the best batting average among regular players on the team, does need to heat up. On the other hand, if he doesn't, it makes the argument about whether we should re-sign him after 2012 so much easier...
-- Taylor Halperin, Pro Ball NW
Apologies. — Erik.
Game 6: How a Home Victory Equals a Loss
At least we saved ourselves a half inning.
In other words, yes, it was cool that because of a scheduling conflict with a U2 concert, the Florida Marlins had to abandon their own stadium and play their home series against the Seattle Mariners here, at Safeco Field, under National League rules—meaning the M's wore road grays, batted first, and pitchers hit. All of that was cool to see. But the best part of the game may have been that, for this Mariners loss, we got to leave a half inning early. If you're going to see a home loss, better to see one that lasts a mere 8 1/2 innings instead of the full 9.
My sixth game of the season was an altogether unthrilling affair. In the bottom of the first, the Marlins got their first three batters aboard on solid base hits and plated them all. The Mariners only scored two the entire game. That's pretty much it.
But for the first time in a long time, I did get to see the game with both Tim and Mike, with whom I shared a 20-game package back in '94, '95, '96, etc. It was throwback night for us and we trotted out some new Chris Bermanisms to go along with the old standards: Bobby “I Am Curious” Ayala; and Bob “With Six You Get” Ayrault. Mike came up with: Omar “Au Revior Les” Infante. I came up with: Dustin “Heart attack, ack, ack, ack, ack” Ackley.
OK, so we're rusty.
Final score was 4-2, Marlins, which is also my score this season. Not final.
In the battle of the water-themed teams, the Mariners couldn't catch themselves some Marlins...
M's Game Report: Lesser Angels Still Win
There goes my perfect record.
The Mariners, 4-0 in my previous appearances at Safeco Field—against, chronlogically, the Blue Jays, Rangers, Twins and Yankees—lost last night to the Los Angeles Angels, 6-3. It was less the Angels winning than the odds winning. I didn't think I'd see four wins all year, let alone to start the season.
It was also less the Angels winning than the Mariners losing. M's were up 2-1 in the 3rd, with two outs, when Vernon Wells stepped to the plate against Jason Vargas. “Scoiscia's got Wells batting clean-up?” I said to my friend, Jeff. “Dude's batting .180-something.” A second later Wells hit it out to tie the game. M's go up 3-2 but in the 7th, the Angels get a leadoff double and a ground out to move the runner, and Torii Hunter, who's batting second despite having the lowest batting average on the team (what's Scioscia doing? I wondered), grounds to Chone Figgins at third. The throw to the plate arrives in plenty of time to preserve our lead. Except--no!--there goes the white ball, squiggling loose between catcher Miguel Olivo's legs. Tie game. An out later, which, if Olivo had held on, should've ended the inning, Vernon Wells again steps to the plate. “I still say he shouldn't be hitting clean-up,” I tell Jeff. A second later, homerun no. 2. Angels add another run in the 9th on a two-out balk, two-out single off of Chris Ray and that's your ballgame.
On the other hand, when was the last time I saw anyone hit two homeruns in one game at Safeco? Years.
The attendance was recorded as 20,238, but it was half that, if that. The area around Safeco feels increasingly abandoned, sketchy, and desperate, as more people fight over less people.
Yankees Suck on Occidental Avenue and in Safeco Field
I went to the M's game Friday night at Safeco Field. It was my fourth game of the year. I'd only anticipated going to one game by this time but apparently I have friends, monosyllabic friends with tickets (Bill, Joe and Tim), so I'd seen the M's three times already, all on overcast evenings with temps in the 50s, and seen them go 3-0. But now we were playing the Yankees, the hated Yankees who famously suck; and even though we had the kid on the mound, Big Michael Pineda who'd been tearing up the league, it was still the Yankees, the hated Yankees who famously suck, so I was anticipating a loss. The odds alone, my 3-0 odds, seemed to demand it.
I was also anticipating Yankees fans. The M's aren't drawing M's fans, who want winning, and the other tickets, I assumed, would go to all those losers who need to flock to winners to feel like winners, no matter how the winners win.
What I didn't anticipate was seeing this on Occidental Avenue, the road leading to Safeco:
No, no, no.
Did this caravan follow the Yankess around, city to city, to sell to those losers who needed to feel like winners? All the bald, flat-assed Derek Jeter fans of the world?
It was actually local, the nearby sporting good shop, Sodo Sports, also of Occidental, who were rubbing M's faces in it on the way to the game. Apparently they do this all the time when big teams come to town: Red Sox, Blue Jays (Canadians), Dodgers for interleague games. This season they're getting ready with Phillies and Braves memorabilia in June. They figure they'll sell more Phils stuff than Miguel Olivo or Michael Saunders jerseys. They're right.
Still stung. Still pissed me off. It was like seeing my local credit union selling Bernie Madoff T-shirts in the lobby. Shouldn't we be better than this?
Worse, Pineda didn't have it that night. He gave up a solo homer to Mark Teixeira in the first. He kept walking guys. His fastball began to pop but his control for his breaking ball wasn't there. He would've given up another homer in the fourth to Nick Swisher but Franklin Gutierrez went over the wall, bad stomach and all, to rob him. Then in the fifth with two outs: walk, single, wild pitch (passed ball, Miguel) to plate one, single to plate another. Now we were down 3-0.
I turned to Tim. “So much for that.” He laughed.
A funny thing happened on the way to that loss. The M's, the team with the worst offense in the Majors, came back and won. They scored four runs without an RBI hit.
In the bottom of the fifth, we got a clean single from Brendan Ryan, a weak, left-field chalkline double from Ichiro, a groundout to plate Ryan, another groundout to plate Ichiro.
In bottom six, Kennedy singled, Olivo singled, Peguero walked. Bases loaded for Ryan. Who grounded out to plate Kennedy. Then Ichiro grounded out to plate Olivo.
Four runs on four groundouts. Ha!
And that's how we beat the mighty Yankees. Ha!
4-0. The odds rage. My next game at Safeco is scheduled for June 13th against the Angels, if you're a betting man.
Quote of the Day
“The Mariners are doing it with Smoak and mirrors.”
—my friend Jim McCloskey sitting with me at the M's game last night, which the M's won 5-2 over the Minnesota Twins. It's Jim's contention that the Mariners only have two Major Leaguers in their everyday lineup—Ichiro Suzuki and Justin Smoak—and yet we got to see another victory. Ringing doubles, solo homeruns. Back-to-back homeruns by Adam Kennedy and recent call-up Carlos Peguero. When was the last time I saw the M's do that at Safeco? 2003? Another great pitching performance by Michael Pineda, who's a top tier rookie-of-the-year candidate. In the 9th we saw some shoddy defense and overmanagement by Eric Wedge as he needlessly went to his bullpen to relieve a reliver. But still a victory.
Smoak now has the 8th-best OPS in the American League: .933. The next-best Mariner is 58th, Ichiro, with .700. Among the bottom seven in the league you'll find three Mariners: Miguel Olivo at .535, Brendan Ryan at .525, and dead last, Michael Saunders at .483. Smoak and mirrors, indeed.
Oddly, I'm 3-0 at Safeco this year. The law of averages salivates at the thought of my return.
Sodo Mojo, 2011 Style
Went to my first M's game of the year last night. I actually got to sit in a luxury box behind homeplate (the Hank Greenberg luxury box, “Jews and Baseball” lovers), because my friend Bill won it for the evening.
“How did Bill win this again?” Patricia asked during the third inning.
“Sitting on his ass,” I responded.
I.e., He won it the previous September during Fan Appreciation Night. Sitting in the right seat.
So: Free game. Luxury box. Ivar's fish n' chips und beer. A big kid on the mound, Michael Pineda, with a mid-90s fastball that just pops. He kept the Blue Jays hitless through three, scoreless through seven, and left the game, to applause, with a 3-2 lead and one out in the eighth--a lead that was preserved when 1B Justin Smoak ran into short right field to catch a foul ball, wheeled, and nailed the runner trying to score from third at the plate. Exciting! M's won it, 3-2. Pineda's first MLB victory.
Maybe I'm getting jaded.
Maybe the problem is the luxury suites and its hallways, which are plastered with team photos and headlines from the M's glory days, approximately 1995 to 2003, and so walking them reminds you how good this team used to be and how not-so-good it is now.
Maybe it was the cold weather, about 50 degrees, and the sparse crowd, about 15,500 announced, so I was reminded, several times, of an amusement park during the last days of summer before it shuts for the season. A time when you get hard-core fans, stragglers, and not much else. A time when imperfections hidden by sun and crowds are suddenly apparent.
We won. But this is not a team going anywhere anytime soon. Seattle knows it. That 15,500? That was the big crowd for the Jays series. Monday night we set a record low for Safeco Field with a paid attendance of 13,056. Wednesday afternoon's game? 12,407.
Sodo Mojo, 2011 style.
Divvying up M's Season Tickets at the Home of a Personal Friend of Raquel Welch
I'm part of a Seattle Mariners season ticket package—all Mariners season tickets, in my mind, should be split into packages, for the mental health of the ticket holders if nothing else—and tonight, at the home of Stephen Manes, personal friend of Raquel Welch, our group of eight ne'er-do-wells, amid jokes about M's run production and Ron Fairly, divvied them up.
Bummer of a schedule, though. July in Seattle is beautiful, but of the M's 26 games that month only 10 are at home. The Twins, my favorite team, come here just once, in May, and for only two games. Lame. We do get the Phillies, in mid-June, but I picked eighth, or last, and by the time it got around to me for my two picks (the last of the first round and the first of the second round), the Phils were gone. By the time it got back to me for my next two picks, all but one Yankees game was gone, so I snatched that one up. Missed Boston, though. Good teams at a premium when your team is this lousy.
In the end I managed to get tix to see the M's play the Twins, Angels, Braves, Rangers, Rays, Jays, ChiSox, Royals, Yankees and A's. Avoided April, which is too cold here, but wound up with three games in September, when the weather's nice but the M's record won't be. But maybe we'll have some good September call-ups? Maybe we'll play spoiler to the Yankees? Maybe they'll declare Sept. 27, the second-to-last game of the year, “Moneyball Night,” because Billy Beane's A's will be in town and Bennett Miller's film will be in theaters?
For more than a decade now M's management has put M's players on our season tickets. Is this the first year, though, they included their names? Not their whole name, mind you, just their first names. As if we're all pals. I wound up with four Franklins, three Felixes, two Chones and only one Ichiro.
“Any Miltons?” somebody asked, amid laughter.
It already feels like one of those years.
At least we got this.
Lancelot Links (My Oh My Edition)
Mariners broadcaster Dave Niehaus died yesterday of a heart attack at the age of 75 and appreciations immediately rolled in. I wrote mine upon hearing the news but didn't feel like I captured how much he meant to me. I wrote about meeting him, and I resurrected quotes, and audio clips, and LINED DOWN THE LEFT FIELD LINE FOR A BASE HIT, and all of those are good, but I tend to associate him with, of all things, cleaning my apartment on 44th and Evanston in upper Fremont on some weekend afternoon, the sun streaming in, a hopeless game on the radio. Cleaning isn't any fun, and Mariners games often aren't any fun, but he made them fun. Roger Angell has said that baseball is like life, because there's more losing than winning in each, and Dave was a guy you wanted to hang around with during all that losing. He made the losing, and thus life, bearable. Hell, he made it fun.
I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments field below. Here are some others:
- Mike Henderson at crosscut opens with a bang and tries to capture that Niehaus-Ron Fairly banter during an M's shellacking.
- Rob Neyer visits the broadcast booth. “I didn't imagine, for even a second, that I would never have another chance. I sort of thought Dave Niehaus would live forever.”
- Various clips and remembrances, including this one from Jay Buhner: “He could call a sunset.”
- This U.S.S. Mariner piece needed to be longer, but I like the Bip Roberts remembrance. That's the Dave I remember. He's been called a “homer,” but he always got excited about good play from the opposition.
- Kirby Arnold gives us reaction from Junior, and Dan Wilson, and Kevin Cremin. Ron Fairly says, “He was a huge Mariners fan; probably the biggest one in the Northwest.”
- John McGrath, in a piece about Niehaus' induction into the Hall, on how a Jay Buhner homerun call made him feel welcome in Seattle.
- Mike: Off Mic, the voice of the Rainiers, on sharing the broadcast booth with a legend. “And nine miserable innings they were, Mike.”
- Jim Caple on Joey and Joy. Here comes one, there goes one.
- I choked up listening to these radio calls. They even have the grand-salami call off Roger Pavlik from '95. But make sure you stop it before the end. For some reason, KIRO 710 ends their tribute with an awful, generic radio voice; I'd rather end it with his very distinct radio voice.
- Finally, Seattle Times' sports columnist Steve Kelley writes one of the best eulogies I've read: “He could be calling a baseball game, and it would seem as if literature broke out. ... In the cynical world of big-city sports, Dave Niehaus truly was beloved. I bet he didn't have an enemy in the game, in the business, in Seattle. And — my, oh, my — there will be times next season when his absence will feel almost too heavy to bear.”
Dave Niehaus (1935-2010)
Seattle is less an unforgiving city than a city that doesn’t care one way or the other about you—people walk by with empty faces, “everyone in their own cave,” as a friend of mine once said—so it’s tough to move here in the middle of a life and feel like you belong.
One of the first things that made me feel like I belonged in Seattle was the voice of Dave Niehaus, the Mariners broadcaster, who died today at the age of 75.
It was an old-school broadcaster’s voice better suited for radio than television. To me, it always recalled rocks that had been worn smooth over time. It felt chummy, like he was sidling up to you at a bar, with a beer, to talk about the game.
Dave was a homer, he root root rooted for the hapless Mariners, and even more so, in ’95, when they became a little less hapless; but more than anything he appreciated good baseball. I remember more than once how he talked up this or that kid for an opposition team. Dave was always excited by possibility. I think that’s how, through the years, he stayed excited about the Mariners, who gave him 10 good years and 24 bad ones, and who never got him to a World Series.
I interviewed him a couple of times—the first time on the Kingdome field in ’96. Later that day, or night, I got to spend an inning in the broadcast booth with him. I was nervous, of course, and spent too much time trying to get it all down to really have a good time, but he was a gracious host and gave me some wonderful soundbites. There were a couple of errors and overthrows in that half-inning, and Dave told the fans, “This is an ugly, sloppy ballgame.“ He never pretended the game wasn't what it was. He never minced words.
It was better when he didn’t have to; when his enthusiasm was allowed to burst out. For months, maybe longer, in ’95, and maybe into ’96, I had the following on my answering machine. It was his radio call of a grand slam by Ken Griffey, Jr. against the Texas Rangers on one of the last games of the ’95 season:
And Junior right down on the knob of the bat, waving that black beauty right out toward Pavlik; has it cocked and Pavlik is set. The pitch on the way to Ken Griffey Jr. and it's SWUNG ON AND BELTED! DEEP TO RIGHT FIELD! GET OUT THE RYE BREAD GRANDMA, IT IS GRAND SALAMI TIME! I DON'T BELIEVE IT! ONE SWING OF THE BAT, THE FIRST PITCH, AND KEN GRIFFEY JR. HAS GIVEN THE MARINERS A 6-2 LEAD OVER THE TEXAS RANGERS. MY OH MY!
For that ’96 piece I interviewed fans in the stands, including Peter Maier of Seattle:
Niehaus is the best, no question about that. I brought the radio because I came with my son and his four friends for his birthday party, so Niehaus is my adult friend. He has a modulated kind of voice that allows you to follow the game by his tone. You know when to tune in and find out what's going on.
I interviewed Lou Piniella:
I've gotten a chance to listen to him at times when I've been thrown out of ballgames by the umpires. Also from time to time I go in and watch the game on television for a couple of hitters. ... He's a manager up there too once in a while, right? No, I don't talk to him about strategy, but I'll tell you this: He knows the game of baseball.
I interviewed Rick Rizzs, his long-time broadcasting partner:
So many times he'll be doing his innings of play by play and I'll be sitting there, and I'll lose sight of the ballgame, because I'm listening to him like I would be in my backyard listening to, you know, Dave on the radio. He's able to reel you in whether or not you're in your backporch or your car or whether you're sitting right next working with him. To me he's the best broadcaster in baseball because he can set the scene, he can bring you in, he can make you feel it, smell it, touch it, and be a part of it.
Mostly I interviewed Dave. I asked him if he ever had trouble with M's management:
They have never, ever put words in my mouth. I say what I believe, what's in my heart, and I think you have to do that or you lose your credibility with the fans. If you lose your credibility with the fans you might as well get out of town anyway. Even though I'm hired by the Mariners, I think of myself as a fan guy. Somebody that the fans can believe.
I asked him if he preferred radio or TV:
I think baseball is a radio game. I can play with people's minds on the radio. That's one of the reasons I don't like indoor baseball. You don't have the elements: you don't have the wind, you don't have the cold. When you're outdoors you can explain all of this: the humidity, how hot, the beads of persperation. You go to Fenway Park in Boston, for example—which is my favorite park by far and it was built in 1912—you can smell it, you can smell baseball. I almost genuflect when I go in there. You can smell the stale beer and the popcorn and the hotdogs, even though they scrubbed it from the night before. And all of a sudden you walk down the aisle and you look at that green monster out there and just, ”Wow."
He told me this well-worn story about how he became a broadcaster in the first place:
I was going to go to dental school and I woke up one morning in college and said 'I can't stare down somebody's throat at nine o'clock in the morning the rest of my life' and I wandered by the radio and television school there and changed my major.
We’re glad you did, Dave. Thanks for welcoming me to Seattle. Fly, fly away.
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History: Where Are They Now?
This project started out small and grew. Read the intro and '93 season here. Continue with 1994 (collapsed dome, collapsed season), 1995 (Refuse to Lose), 1996 (how could we lose?), 1997 (HERE'S how we could lose), 1998 (this is EPiC losing), and 1999 (Good-bye to all that). This is the final entry.
If the 1990s Seattle Mariners brought out the kid in me, it may be because they reminded me of the team I watched and loved as a kid: the 1960s Minnesota Twins. Both teams were offensive machines. Both teams featured great homerun hitters (Harmon Killebrew/Ken Griffey, Jr.), oft-injured batting champions (Tony Oliva/Edgar Martinez) and great role players (Cesar Tovar/Joey Cora). And both teams could never beat the Baltimore Orioles when it counted. Even the sad aftermath of each team is similar. After the Twins' heyday, in which they lost twice to the Orioles in the playoffs in '69 and '70, they spent a decade in the wilderness, with only a singles-hitting batting champion to cheer on: Rod Carew. The M's, after their heyday, in which they ran into the Orioles and Indians, had a resurgence in 2000 and 2001, then spent a decade in the wilderness with only a singles-hitting batting champion to cheer on: Ichiro. If the parallel holds, M's fans might finally get to the World Series in, say, 2017.
When they retired, each was fifth on the all-time HR list.
At least the Twins went to the World Series in '65. The M's were a better team but they never made it at all. Their team, their '95-'97 team, had a chance to be a dynasty. They had three of the greatest players ever to play the game: Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson. They had one of the few lifetime .300/.400/.500 hitters in Edgar Martinez. They had Jay Buhner, who hit at least 40 HRs every one of those years and wound up with more than 300 career HRs. They had a pitcher who was in midst of perhaps the greatest mid-career turnaround in baseball history (Jamie Moyer). They had a pretty good backstop, a decent second baseman, some fine role players. In the end it amounted to bupkis.
An actor-friend of mine has a saying: “When inspiration knocks, answer it. Otherwise it goes over to Jack Nicholson’s house.” There's a baseball equivalent that the Seattle Mariners' front office ignored: "When opportunity knocks, answer it. Otherwise the Yankees wave it over to their house with a fistful of cash.”
So what happened to these guys anyway?
- Dave Magadan, a good player with the Mets in the early 1990s, was acquired by the M's, from Florida, in June 1993, for Henry Cotto and Jeff Darwin. Six months later the M's traded him back to Florida for Jeff Darwin and cash. One wonders what Henry Cotto thought. Magadan would play with various teams until 2001. He would retire with 4,159 lifetime at-bats, a .288 batting average and a .390 OBP. Better than I knew. Meanwhile, the guy we traded him for, and then trade him back for, Jeff Darwin, pitched four innings for the M's in '94 and that was it. Magadan is now the hitting coach for the Boston Red Sox. (Theo Epstein knows his OBPs.) He was also recently inducted into the College Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Greg "English" Litton played one season for the M's and hit .299 in 200 plate appearances. The next year he hit .095 for Boston and was out of baseball. Now he's a gemologist (gems, gemstones) in Florida.
- Erik Hanson, along with Bret Boone, was traded to the Cincinnati Reds in November 1993 for Dan Wilson and Bobby Ayala. He was an All-Star for Boston in '95 and signed with Toronto in December '95. They released him in June '98. He signed on with a few more clubs but never made it back to the Majors. Lifetime: 89-84, 4.15 ERA. According to this 2007 article from the Seattle P.I., Hanson's career as a pitcher was a fluke and he walked away with no regrets. He's now an amateur golfer.
Coach Magadan seeming to dwarf Big Papi.
- Mike Blowers, who never crowded the plate, was granted free agency in 1999 and that was that. He retired with .257/.329/.416 numbers in 2300 at-bats. He's now an announcer with the Seattle Mariners. Last year, during the dregs of September, he made one of the greatest pre-game predictions in baseball history. What makes it work even better, of course, is Dave Niehaus' call. "I see the light! I believe you, Mike!"
- Vince Coleman came to the M's damaged goods. The 1985 NL rookie of the year, he stole over 100 bases in each of his first three seasons but got bogged down in controversy in the early 1990s with the NY Mets when he 1) was named but not charged in a sexual assault case in Flordia, 2) injured Dwight Gooden goofing around with a golf club, and 3) threw a firecracker into a group of fans waiting for autographs at a Dodgers game. His August-to-October stint with the M's is remembered fondly as a kind of revival. But his M's numbers weren't much different than his numbers with the Royals earlier in the year, while his post-season numbers were less than that: .217/.285/.435 against the Yankees; .100/.182/.100 against the Indians. He was the type of player Lou always wanted in the leadoff spot, and would get again, disastrously, with Brian Hunter a few years later. Coleman lasted two more years in the bigs, then became a minor-league instructor with the Cubs organization. This post seems to imply that's no longer the case.
- Arquimedes Pozo, whose name we chanted one happy September, had one at-bat with the Mariners, a ground out, then played two years with the Red Sox, where he hit a grand slam in his third apperance. It was his only career homerun. Total: 26, games, 80 plate appearances: .189/.215/.311. Spent last year in the Majors in '97, when he was 23. Spent '98 in the minors, then signed with the Yokohama Bay Stars of the Japanese Central League. Dōmo arigatō, Arquimedes.
- Felix Fermin, the main part of the infamous Omar Vizquel trade, hit .317 (with a .718 OPS) in '94, and .195 (with a .457 OPS) in '95. Who else but the Cubs would pick him up for '96? That was his last year in the bigs. According to The Seattle Times, by 2005 Fermin was a hitting coach with the Indians' AAA team in Buffalo. More recently, according to baseballreference.com, he's a manager in the Mexican leagues. In 2007, he led Sultanes de Monterrey (the Monterrey Sultans) to the championship. Fan video of the final out here. According to this article, Fermin, who's apparently put on weight (right), but hasn't lost the moustache, has won five championships with the Aguilas Cibaeñas but is leaving the club. To coach in the Majors? The Mariners? Come back, Felix! All is forgiven!
- Steve Frey was released by the M's in July 1995 and picked up by the Phillies for two more seasons. Lifetime: 18-15, with a 3.76 ERA. Owned and operated a baseball academy for a number of years and is now the varsity pitching coach at IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla.
- Tim Belcher pitched one season with the M's, 1995, and it wasn't quite a love affair. He began as a starter and wound up a mop-up man in the post-season. In Game 2 against the Yankees in New York, the M's had the lead in the bottom of the 12th when, with one out, Jeff Nelson walked Wade Boggs. Lou went to Belcher, who walked Bernie Williams, got O'Neill to fly out, but gave up a double to Rueben Sierra in the left-field corner that scored Posada (pinch-running for Boggs) but nailed Williams at the plate. Two innings later, with one out, Belcher gave up the walkoff homerun to Jim Leyritz, then punched a cameraman in the hallway to the dugout afterwards. In the ALCS, he got the start in Game 2 against the Indians, but left after 5 2/3, down 4-0. His last season was 2000. Lifetime: 146-140, 4.16 ERA. In November 2009, after 8 years with the organization, he was named the Cleveland Indians' pitching coach for 2010. Is it mean to point out they have the third-worst ERA in the A.L. right now?
- The first great mid-season acquisition the M's ever got, Andy Benes, a former no. 1 draft pick, didn't exactly live up to the billing. The previous year he led the league in strikeouts (and losses) while posting a 3.86 ERA. Before the Padres traded him, his ERA was up to 4.17. With us? 5.86. And he still went 7-2! Post-season wasn't great, either. Two starts against the Yankees, no decisions, 5.40 ERA. One start against the Indians, one loss, 6 earned runs in 2 1/3 innings. Maybe Lou handled him poorly? Either way, after that, he fled the A.L. and remained in the N.L. until he retired in 2002. Lifetime: 155-139, 3.97 ERA, exactly 2,000 strikeouts (vs. 909 walks). For a time he was a commentator for Fox Sports Northwest-Midwest. Recently had his number (30) retired by the University of Evansville. According to the same article, he now spends his time "golfing, working for the Cardinals, doing charitable work and, all this time later, finishing his degree at St. Louis University." Want to feel old? His son, Drew, was drafted this June by the Cardinals in the 35th round of the MLB draft.
- Jeff Nelson. I didn't like him at first, with that doughy face and whispy moustache that made you itch just looking at it, and his 4.35 ERA in '94 (he was certainly no Bobby Ayala, we could all agree), but he was my guy after that game against Detroit in July '95, when he struck out 7 in 3 innings, and he was so my guy in Game 4 against the Yankees, when he relieved Bosio and allowed us to come back and win the thing on an Edgar grand slam. He saved our season! A great season for him, too: 7-3 with a 2.17 ERA. So, of course, in the off-season, we trade him to the Yankees, where he makes tons of money and wins four World Series rings. He came back to the M's twice, but retired after 2006. 798 career games. 3.41 career ERA. Shows up on Seattle's sports radio station KJR now and again. Still has that damned moustache.
Andy Benes, fastballer and father, having his number retired.
- Luis Sojo, the man with one of the most famous hits in Mariners' history, was selected off waivers by the New York Yankees in August 1996, where he stayed through the '99 season, winning 3 World Series rings. The Pirates signed him in 2000 but in August he was traded back to the Yankees, for Chris Spurling, and got his fourth ring that October. He last played in 2003. Career numbers weren't great (.261/.297/.352) but he always seemed to get a hit when it mattered—either in the one-game playoff with the Angels in '95, or with the Yankees in the '96 World Series, where he went 3-5. He was the Yankees third base coach in 2004 and 2005, then served as manager for the Class A Tampa Yankees from 2006–2009, but was let go on Feb. 2, 2010. Also managed the Venezuelan national baseball team in both the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classic. For a time managed the Cardenales de Lara, the M's Venezuelan winter ball team. Was his number retired by this team, too? Spanish speakers? Recently threw out the first pitch in a turn-back-the-clock night on June 5, 2010 at Safeco Field.
- Alex Diaz, no. 1, retired in 1999 with a lifetime .239/.271/.324 line. He had only 8 career homeruns but I saw the most memorable: against Oakland on Fan Appreciation Night, 1995. That was probably his best year, too. It was the year he played the most, certainly. But the man couldn't draw a walk to save his life, which may have been his undoing. In '98 with the Giants he had 62 plate appearances. Walks? Zero. According to this 2005 report, he still plays winter ball in Puerto Rico, where he is a Pentecostal minister.
- Doug Strange, who hit one of the more famous homeruns in M's regular season history, and drew one of our most famous walks in post-season history, played with the M's until '96, and in MLB until '98. Career: .233/.295/.338. Never had a hit in 10 plate appearances in the post-season, but had one big RBI—on a pitch in the dirt. Thanks, David Cone. Became an area scout for the Marlins in 2000. Joined the Pittsburgh Pirates organization in 2002, where he is now special assistant to the general manager.
- Darren Bragg, the man Tim and I thought never should've been traded for a has-been like Jamie Moyer (we even brought a sign to the Kingdome: Bring Back Bragg), wound up .255/.340/.381 after 11 seasons in the Majors, including stops in Boston, St. Louis, Colorado, New York (Mets), New York (Yankees), Atlanta, San Diego and Cincinnati. He retired in 2004. In 2007, he was the hitting coach for the A-ball affilliate of the Cincinnati Reds. As of 2009, he was the outfield and baserunning coordinator for the Reds. He also runs a baseball instructional business called "The Hit Club" in Thomaston, CT. At their Web site you can see Braggsy, with Boston, hitting a grand slam off Randy Johnson (when Randy was recovering from back problems in '96) and making a helluva catch against the Twins.
- We always felt the M's were the only organizaton stupid enough to actually trade for Jeff Manto. Everyone else just grabbed him off waivers. We traded Arquimedes Pozo to get him from the Boston Red Sox on July 23, 1996, and the Red Sox grabbed him off waivers from us a month later, on August 29, after he hit .185 in an M's uniform. In '98, the Tigers selected him off waivers (from the Indiians). In '99, the Yankees selected him off waivers (again from the Indians). Manto hit .800 in his final season, in 2000, but in only 5 at-bats. Lifetime: .230/.329/.415. The second two numbers aren't bad considering the first. Hitting coach for the Pirates in 2006-2007. Now in the White Sox organization. Had his number (30) retired by the Buffalo Bisons in 2001. Considered the greatest of Bisons' players.
- On August 14, the M's traded Roger Blanco to the Braves for Mark "Hittin'" Whiten. We were his third team that year. For the others he'd been so-so. For us? In 40 games and 163 plate appearances, he hit 12 homers and drove in 33. Final tally: .300/.399/.607. Wow. The next year he was with the Yankees. By 2001 he was out of baseball. He wound up with 105 career homeruns (4 in one game, back in '93) and a .259/.341/.415 line. Apparently he lives in Pensocola, Fla. Apparently this is his MySpace page. At this year's Old-Timers' Classic in Cooperstown, NY, Whiten, still just 43, hit two homeruns and was named the game's MVP. I still remember during that Yankees-Mariners brawl in '96 when Griffey and A-Rod were mingling among the Yankees and Whiten appeared, grabbed them both as if by the scruff of the neck, and escorted them back to the M's side.
- You know that line from Terry Cashman's song "Talkin' Baseball": "...and Bobby Bonds plays for everyone"? I always thought Roberto Kelly was the mid-1990s version of this Bonds. In May '94, the Reds traded him to the Braves (for Deion Sanders). In April '95, the Braves traded him to the Expos (for Marquis Grissom). A month later, the Expos traded him to the Dodgers. In January '96 he signed with the Twins but in August '97 they traded him to the Mariners for Joe Mays. Odd fate for a a career .290 hitter. Kelly, replacing the already-traded Jose Cruz, Jr., did well for us for a month and a half (.298/.328/.529), and just as good in the post-season (.308/.308/.538), but three seasons later he was out of baseball. In 2006 he was the South Atlantic League Manager of the Year Award after leading the August Greenjackets to a 92-47 record. He's now first-base coach for the San Francisco Giants.
- I pined for Mike Jackson in '97 and '98. In '96, he was the M's best man out of the 'pen (3.63 ERA) but the one we didn't keep. That led to our '97 and '98, and our ultimate downfall. Jackson, meanwhile, went on to get better with Cleveland in '97 (3.24 ERA), and while we were forever blowing ballgames in '98, he was forever saving them as the Indians' closer: 40 saves, 1.55 ERA. Actually finished 21st in the MVP balloting that year. Retired after 2004 with a career 3.42 ERA in more than 1,000 IP.
- Chris Bosio, who came to the M's after going 16-6 with the Brewers in '92, and pitched the second no-hitter in Mariners history in only his fourth start, wound up, over four seasons, 27-31 with the M's, with a 4.43 ERA. Injuries plagued him. I remember his gutsy performance in the '95 ALCS, on a cold night in Cleveland, when he took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 6th before surrendering a monster 2-run homerun to Jim Thome into the upper deck in right field that seemed to sink the M's season. After retiring from baseball, he became a pitching coach with the M's organization in '98, then joined the Devil Rays when Lou Piniella did, then left for Appleton, Wis. for family reasons. In 2008, joined the Reds organization; in 2009, the Brewers organization as their AAA coach, and then, in August, as the Brewers' pitching coach. Now an advanced scout for the Brew Crew. No pun intended.
No rest for Sojo: Former utilityman isn't the retiring type.
- In two seasons with the M's, Paul Sorrento hit 54 homers and drove in 173 runs. He posted an .869 OPS. Then he played two seasons with the D-Rays and that's all she wrote. Eleven seasons, 166 homeruns. In the FSU Seminoles Hall of Fame with...Woody Woodward.
- I never really got the point of Andy Sheets. Was he supposed to be the next Luis Sojo? He showed up in '96 and hit .191. He showed up in '97 and hit .247. Picked by Tampa Bay in the expansion draft, he played until 2002 and posted .216/.271/.321 career numbers. Sayonara? Nope. He wound up in Japan, where, in 2007, as part of the Hanshin Tigers, he was so good he had a song written about him. You can hear a short version of it here. Lyrics include: Andy! Andy!/ Let’s start a contact-hitting revolution! / Hero for a new generation, Andy Sheets! So maybe that's the point of him.
- John Marzano played in the Majors from '87 to '98, posted .241/.289/.341 numbers, and died, much too early, at the age of 45. He fulfilled a different kind of wish fulfillment of baseball fans everywhere. Instead of hitting a game-winning homerun, he got to punch Paul O'Neill in the face. R.I.P., big guy.
- Bob Wolcott, who won his Major League debut in '95 (against a mighty Boston Red Sox lineup), and his post-season debut in '95 (against a mightier Cleveland Indians lineup), became a classic example of diminishing returns. In five years in the Majors, the first three with Seattle, his ERA went: 4.42, 5.73, 6.03, 7.09, 8.10. And that's all she wrote. Afterwards he returned to Oregon to get his degree in mechanical engineering. Now lives in Beaverton, Ore.
- NORM! We originally said it with "Cheers"-like joie de vivre but by the end we said it with anger and desperation. Norm Charlton was the second in our bullpen to blow up, after Bobby Ayala, but he did well in '95, just when we needed him, so he's generally forgiven. A bit. He's not the punchline that Bobby Ayala is. Norm's ERAs from '95 to '97 with the M's: 1.51, 4.04, 7.27. I never did understand why the O's, a division winner in '97, signed him in '98. Didn't they remember the Chris Hoiles grand slam from '96? Didn't they know how numbers worked? Norm bounced around after that, even back with the M's in 2001, but that was his last year in the bigs. He was most recently a bullpen coach for us in 2007 but his contract wasn't renewed in 2008. Every sheriff retires eventually. Current bullpen coach is John Wetteland. I suppose it's the least we could do after all the homeruns Junior and Edgar hit off him.
- Rich Amaral, the best M's player off the bench during this period, signed with the Orioles in December '98 and retired after the 2000 season with career .276/.344/.351 numbers. During his career, he played 40+ games at every position but pitcher and catcher. He now runs a winter and summer baseball camp in Huntington Beach, Cal.
- Why did we sign Tony Fossas again? I never got that. In the three previous seasons, for the St. Louis Cardinals, his ERA went 1.47, 2.68, 3.83. Wrong direction. The M's said: "Tony LaRussa and Dave Duncan? LOSERS! We can handle pitching." Tony pitched 11.1 innings for us. He gave up 11 runs. A 2.206 WHIP. Released June 10. Who else but the Cubs would pick him up? Pitched 4 innings for them; gave up 4 runs. Released August 4. Picked up by the Texas Rangers, where he pitched 7 innings and gave up zero runs. Success! He retired after '99 and became a pitching coach with the Florida Atlantic Owls in 2005. Connect with him via Facebook. Relive old times.
- I thought Greg McCarthy was one of our few bullpen stalwarts in '97 but his numbers were actually pretty bad: 5.46 ERA in 29 IP. The following year? 5.01 ERA in 23 IP. The following year? Out of the Majors. He only pitched 62.2 innings, career. Info from Wikipedia: "In 2003, McCarthy pitched for the independent Macon Peaches of the Southeastern League. In 2004, he pitched for the independent Atlantic City Surf of the Atlantic League and independent New Haven County Cutters of the Northeast League. Since his playing career ended, McCarthy has coached in the Netherlands and in baseball clinics and academies. On February 17, 2009, he was hired to be the head coach of the Mosquito Athletics Attnang-Puchheim in the Austrian Baseball League." More power to him.
- Yakima's own Bob Wells, who was voted the Mariners' pitcher of the year by Seattle sportswriters in '96 despite posting a 5.30 ERA, and who looked a bit too much (and probably pitched a bit too much) like Bobby Ayala, lasted with the M's until '98, and in baseball until 2002. Finals: 40-28, 5.03 ERA.
- Paul Spoljaric came to the M's with a 3.19 ERA in 37 IP, then, for the M's, went 4.76 in '97, 6.48 in '98. His ERA in '99, with two other teams, was 6.26, and for the Royals in 2000: 6.52. And that's all she wrote. So did the Blue Jays know something? Or did Lou and the M's and us screw him up forever? I was beginning to feel sorry for Paul, that he'd never really been welcome in Seattle, but then I saw this. Is he creating a Web-based show starring his family? Seems like it. Tonight's special guest star: Heathcliff Slocumb!
- Speaking of... Heathcliff Slocumb has the dubious distinction of being at the wrong end of one of the most lopsided trades in Mariners history. We got him and his 0-5 record and 5.79 ERA. The Boston Red Sox got Derek Lowe and Jason Veritek. Fun! For us, in '97, Slocumb went 0-4 with a 4.13 ERA, which apparently wasn't bad enough, so Woody Woodward doubled down on his mistake in '98. Slocumb delivered, going 2-5 with a 5.32 ERA. Two years and three teams later, he was out of baseball. Lifetime: 28-37, 98 saves, 4.08 ERA. For us he was 2-9 with a 4.97 ERA. Where is he now? Not sure. It's tough seeing through all of the WORST TRADES EVER articles that Slocumb's name brings up on Google.
- Do I owe Mike Timlin an apology? Not only did he prosper away from the Mariners, notably with two championship-winning BoSox teams at the end of his career, to go with the two championship-winning Blue Jays teams at the beginning of his career, but, for the M's, particularly compared to the rest of the rabble, he pitched well: a 3.86 ERA in '97 and a 2.95 ERA in '98. He finished his career with Boston in 2008 and even had a "Mike Timlin Day" at Fenway in April 2009. He finished 75-73 with a 3.63 ERA and 141 saves. He appeared in 1058 games. That's 7th all-time among pitchers. Of course Jose Mesa's tied for 9th and I don't owe him shit. But it's the 2.95 ERA in '98 that really gets to me. No one in the M's bullpen had anything near that good. So, yes, I do owe Mike Timlin an apology. Forgive me, Mike. I know not whom I booed.
- Bobby Ayala. Bobby Frickin' Ayala. Bobby Effin' Ayala. You know what? He, too, wasn't as bad as we remember. At least in '97. He had the best ERA out of our bullpen, 3.82, and went 10-5. He was really only bad, and I mean Mac Suzuki bad, in '98, when he went 1-10 with a 7.29 ERA. Otherwise he was mostly just not very good. ERAs with the M's starting in '94: 2.86, 4.44, 5.88, 3.82, 7.29. Then we traded him to Montreal. Remember this? We actually paid for his entire salary that year. We paid to get rid of him. And guess what? He didn't do poorly, going 3.51 with both Montreal and the Cubs. Tried to stick around with the Twins and Dodgers in 2000 but kept getting released. For his career he saved 59 games. He blew 33 saves. Where is he now? Reports are Arizona. But his legend lives on.
The Spoljaric Sprouts? Brady Bunch for the Internet Age.
1999 and beyond
- I guess I mostly remember Jeff Fassero's '97 season when he went 16-9 with a 3.61 ERA, because I remember him as a good pitcher. The next season he went 13-12 with a 3.97 ERA. Then blooie!: 4-14, 7.20 ERA. After the M's released him in '99, he played for the Rangers, Red Sox, Cubs, Cards, Rockies, Diamondbacks and Giants before retiring in 2006 with a 121-124, 4.11 mark. He's now pitching coach, under Jody Davis, for the Boise Hawks, a Class A team of the Chicago Cubs.
- Mac Suzuki wishes he had that career. He began as a highly touted prospect with Seattle and posted ERAs of 20.25, 7.18, and 9.43. Yikes. He lasted in the Majors until 2002 and wound up 16-31 with a 5.72 career ERA. Then he went back to Japan, where, according to baseballreference.com, he did worse: "Picked by the Orix BlueWave in the second round of the draft, Mac got toasted, going 4-9 with one save and a 7.06 ERA. On a last-place team whose pitching staff allowed over 200 more runs than any other team, Suzuki was still clearly the worst hurler. A year later, still not yet 30 years old, Mac burned his bridges in a second country with a 1-6, 8.53 season in which he got pounded for 70 hits, 10 of them homers, in just 48 1/3 innings. He spent the entire 2005 season with Orix's minor league (ni-gun) team. He was shellacked just as badly in the Japanese minors." That's a long way from the promise in this Bob Sherwin article from '93. "I wish I had 10 more just like him," said M's pitching coach Sammy Ellis. Be careful what you wish for, Sammy. You kind of got it.
- The M's carried 24 pitchers in '97 and Ken Cloude was one of them. Another example of diminishing returns, his ERA, from '97 to '99 went: 5.12, 6.37, 7.96. M's tried him again in 2000 and 2001, and the Rays tried him in 2003, but he never pitched in the bigs again.
- I should remember Paul Abbott better than I do. Yes, he came aboard during the disastrous '98 campaign, but he stuck around until 2002, and in 2001 he went—is this right????—17-4 with us. Wow. Three years later he was out of baseball. Assistant coach at Cal State Fullerton. Pitching coach for Orange County Flyers of the Golden Baseball League. Now manager of the Orange County Flyers. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy I barely remember.
My starting line-up for the 1990s Seattle Mariners, the best team to never win the pennant:
- Joey Cora (2B). We got him as a free agent in '95 and in 544 games he went .293/.355/.406. He laid down bunts when it mattered. He cried on the bench when we wanted to cry. We traded him in '98 for Mr. Happy, David Bell, and Joey was out of baseball by 2000. As a player. As a coach, he's been with the White Sox organization since 2004. Now he's their bench coach. I could think of worse things to do than sit all day and listen to Ozzie Guillen.
- Alex Rodriguez (3B). As of this writing: .303/.387/.571. As of this writing: 604 career homeruns. Considered one of the greatest players of all time. Admitted steroid use while with Texas. World Series ring with the Yankees in 2009. Yeah, I'd still bat him second.
- Ken Griffey, Jr. (CF) Fifth on the all-time homerun list with 630. Twelfth on the all-time total bases list with 5271. Fourteenth on the all-time RBIs list with 1836. Tied for the third-most Gold Gloves of all time, with 10, and behind only Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays. Announced retirement June 2, 2010. I was at the game that night. The M's played a video. They drew a 24 in the infield dirt near 2nd base. Currently in Florida. Finally closer to his family. Will be the first Seattle Mariner in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
- Edgar Martinez (DH). Papi. Gar. Senor Octobre. Lifetime .312/.418/.515. It's a short list of lifetime .300/.400/.500 guys, and every one is either in the Hall (Ted Williams, Stan Musial), is bound there (Frank Thomas), or played for Colorado (Todd Helton). But the M's brought Edgar up late, at age 27, so he doesn't have the raw totals, and he was a DH for much of his career, so he doesn't have the defensive argument. Even so, he's the most beloved of all Mariners, with the most famous hit in Mariners history. A double, apparently, that was, in some game or other, lined down the left field line for a base hit. A guy named Joey scored. A guy named Junior went to third. They waved him in. Apparently it just continued... Where is Edgar now? Running his own business, thank you. As quietly and unassumingly as ever.
- Tino Martinez (1B). Don Mattingly was retiring and if the Yankees were going to get anywhere they needed a new first baseman. Thankfully, the Mariners' front office was there to help. They had this arbitration-eligible first baseman, who had played over his head in '95, posting .293/.369/.561 numbers. So they made the trade, December 7th, 1995, a date which will live in infamy. The next season Tino went .292/.364/.466, the season after .296/.371/.577. Tino collected four rings with the Yankees and retired in 2005. He's now a color commentator for the Yankees' YES Network. He still has that intensity.
- Jay Buhner (RF), from 1995 to 1997, averaged, averaged, 41 HRs, 23 doubles, and 123 RBIs a season. He slugged .542 with an OPS of .908. Plus an average of 5,000 Seattle-area men and women were shaved bald for free admittance to Jay Buhner Buzzcut Night. He was also responsible for some of the great baseball-related "Seinfeld" bits during this time. He was the first Mariner to hit for the cycle, in '93, and the straw that stirred the drink in September '95. He still lives in the area. He's still quoted every other week in The Seattle Times. He has a MySpace page. He's got a private Facebook page. He likes fly fishing.
- Jose Cruz, Jr. (LF), who finished second in the rookie-of-the-year balloting in '97, to some schmoe named Nomar Garciaparra, was traded on July 31, 1997, and it felt like we were trading the future. Turns out we were only trading a not-bad player. For his career Cruz, Jr. played for nine teams, went .247/.337/.445, and hit 204 homeruns. Not bad, as I said, just not the second coming of Junior. He's now an analyst for mlb.com.
- Dan Wilson (C). From 1995 to '97, Dan hit 42 homeruns and averaged .278/.330/.428. He was a good catcher, a stand-up guy. He looked a bit like Crash Davis and nailed baserunners at a pretty good pace. Retired in 2005, he's still looking for that eluvsive second career, according to a live chat in The Seattle Times this June. Received his undergraduate degree from the University of Minnesota a month earlier. The two of us were on the same flight back to Seattle from Minneapolis. I sat in coach.
- Omar Vizquel (SS) won one Gold Glove with Seattle, in '93. He would win 10 more, with both Cleveland and San Francisco, after the M's traded him for Felix Fermin and cash. He's still playing—this year with the Chicago White Sox—and has 2,774 career hits. Last month I saw him get two of them at Safeco Field. He's playing third base now. He looks good. Somewhere, a grandmother has his glove.
- Randy Johnson (P). Ten-time All Star, five-time Cy Young Award winner, one-time World Series (co) MVP. Professional Yankees killer. Retired after last season. Went out with a 303-166 record, 3.29 ERA, 4,875 strikeouts, and a superpass to the Hall of Fame—as a Diamondback. Threw out the first pitch during the Seattle Mariners 2010 home opener. M's lost 4-0. It just continues.
And there's my team. Three, maybe four (Edgar), maybe five (Omar) Hall of Famers. It would've been the scariest line-up in baseball. Hell, for a time, it was.
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1999)
Read the reason why I'm writing this—plus Jay Buhner's cycle here.
Read about collapsed domes and collapsed seasons here.
Read about the Refuse to Lose season here.
Read about the greatest lineup ever here.
Read about forever blowing ballgames in '97 here.
Read about the worst law firm ever (Timlin, Spoljaric, Fossas and Slocumb) here.
1999: ONE MAN LEFT ON BASE
April 5: White Sox 8, M's 2: Junior goes deep in the bottom of the 3rd to put the M's up, 2-0. It's the seventh straight Opening Night I've gone to and Junior has homered in FIVE of them. He always started the season right. What's my hope for '99? I don't remember. Did I have one? Though starter Jeff Fassero gets shelled, reliever Brett Hinchliffe gives up only 1 run in 3 innings, and, for a brief moment, becomes our great bullpen hope. It's probably the best game of his career. Hinchliffe appears in only 11 games for the M's in 1999 and only 3 more in the Majors: 2 with the Angels in 2000 and 1 with the Mets in 2001. He retires with an 0-5 record and a 10.22 ERA.
- April 14: Rangers 9, M's 6: Starter Butch Henry gives up 4 runs in 5+ innings, set-up man Jose Paniagua gives up 1 run in 2 2/3, and new closer Jose Mesa gives up 4 runs in 2/3 of an inning. Of course it's Paniagua who gets the loss. That's baseball.
- May 15: Royals 11, M's 10: Junior goes deep in the 1st. M's take a 9-7 lead into the 8th but Jose Paniagua, our first legitimate bullpen hope after the debaccles of '97 and '98, is trotted out for a third inning and gives up a 3-run homer to Carlos Beltran and a solo homer to Johnny Damon. Paniagua lasts with the M's until 2001 and in Major League Baseball until 2003, when the White Sox give him a shot. His career ERA with the M's is 3.77.
- May 17: M's 15, Twins 5: My first win of the season! The M's 17th. (They're 17-21.) Johnny Halama, part of the Randy trade, relieves Mac Suzuki in the 3rd inning for the win. Edgar hits 2 homers. Butch Huskey hits 2 homers. Is this Huskey's greatest game ever? He goes 4-5, scores 3 times, drives in 7. By mid-season he'll be with the Red Sox. By 2001 he'll be out of Major League Baseball. But for one day he was golden.
- May 29: M's 11, Devil Rays 5: Another win! Hey, the M's are over .500 (25-23)! Joey Cora's gone by now so Lou has Brian Hunter leading off for us. For the season he'll have 527 plate appearances, hit .231 with an OBP of .277. Possibly the worst lead-off hitter in baseball history. His last year in baseball is 2003. He'll play in exactly 1,000 games.
- June 1: O's 14, M's 11: Freddy Garcia, another of the Randy acquisitions, pitches poorly, but 4 of the Orioles' 11 runs come from Jordan Zimmerman (0 IP) and 4 come from Mac Suzuki (2 2/3 IP). Valiant, humorous effort in the bottom of the 9th off O's set-up man... Mike Timlin, who comes in with a 8-run lead. The M's know him well. They feast. Double, lineout, double, home run, walk, home run. Now we're down by 3 so they bring in Arthur Rhodes, who gets Brian Hunter and A-Rod. A year later, Rhodes will be with us. He'll be part of that great bullpen squad of 2000-2001. The irony, the irony.
- June 11: M's 7, Giants 4: At this point in the season, the M's have four players with OPSs over 1.000: A-Rod, Junior, Edgar and...Butch Huskey? Brian Hunter is still leading off for us. Jose Mesa saves his 12th game. He's got an ERA of 7.20.
- June 26: M's 5, Rangers 4: It's the second-to-last MLB game ever at the Kingdome, and my last. Junior goes 0-3, Alex 0-5. Edgar hits 2 doubles. The last homer I see hit at the Kingdome, where I saw so many homers hit, is by Tommy Lampkin in the bottom of the 6th. The Rangers have a shot in the 9th against Mesa and his 7.76 ERA. They get men on first and second with only one out; but Rafael Palmeiro grounds into a double play: David Bell to A-Rod to David Segui. Bye-bye, Kingdome. You gave me the best baseball I ever saw. Also the worst. When the Kingdome is imploded in March 2000, I watch from a distant ridge and am appalled when a cheer from the crowd goes up. It was an ugly stadium but it didn't want to be. We made it that way.
- July 16: Padres 2, M's 1: It's the second game at Safeco Field and my first. It's a beauiful evening, we're outdoors, the sun is shining, but the final score is a sign of things to come. We would go from near-football scores to near-futbol scores. No one hit a homer in the first game so anticipation was great every time Griffey stepped up. Babe Ruth hit the first homer at Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth Built, and Junior was our Ruth, and this was his house, but we didn't exactly build it to his dimensions. The porch in right wasn't short, the way it was at Yankee Stadium, and in this game, after going 1 -3 with a double in the first game at Safeco, Junior grounded out, grounded out, struck out, and singled in the 8th. Winning pitcher for the Padres? Our old pal, Sterling Hitchcock. He would play until 2004 and retire with a 74-76 record and a 4.80 ERA.
- July 18: Mariners 8, D-Backs 7 (10 innings): Junior didn't hit the first homerun at Safeco Field. Russ Davis did, the night before, in the bottom of the 5th, followed, a batter later, by A-Rod. Two innings later, Raul Ibanez hit the first grand slam at Safeco. So all the Safeco milestones were taken by this game. But at least I was there for Junior's first homer at Safeco, in the bottom of the 4th, off Omar Daal, when the M's are down 6-0. He makes it 6-1. He's also part of the rally in the 6th that brings us within one: 5 runs on six singles and a walk. Then he ties it in the 7th without a hit: walk, stolen base, scamper to 3rd on E2 on the throw, home on Edgar's sac fly. Russ Davis wins it in the 10th on a single driving in pinch-runner John Mabry. Russ Davis again! This is his last year with the M's. He retires after the 2001 season: .257/.310.444. Not worth Tino but you gave us more game-winning hits than I remember, Russ.
- July 20: D-Backs 6, Mariners 0: Randy goes 9, strikes out 10, allows no runs. Just like old times. Except he's doing it for the Diamondbacks against the M's. I'm at the game for The Grand Salami, an alternative M's program, reporting on the proceedings, gauging fan reaction. Most missed the Unit. I wrote: "It was a schizophrenic evening at Safeco. In the bullpen before the game, RJ heard it from the vocal minority. 'Quitter!' they shouted. 'You tanked it!' Yet when he walked in from the bullpen, the cheering began, and swelled, and almost everyone in the stands got to their feet; Randy, in response, adjusted the brim of his cap." And then he pitches the 25th shutout of his career. He retires in 2009: 303-166, 3.29 ERA, 4,875 strikeouts. He'll go into the Hall of Fame as an Arizona Diamondback.
- August 7: Yankees 1, M's 0: Ugliness. Junior is walked three times, Edgar hits two doubles, and we can't score. Maybe because we have Alex batting clean-up now instead of Edgar. Maybe because we still have Brian Hunter and his .652 OPS leading off. Yankees win on a walk/double/sac fly combo in the 5th. It's Tino who scores. Tino will play until 2005 and retire .271/.344/.471. He'll have 339 career homers and four World Series rings.
- August 8: Yankees 9, M's 3: Uglier. Yankees sweep the four-game series. Not the way to break in a ball park.
- August 20: Indians 7, M's 4: I need to stop going when John Halama is pitching. Halama, seen as the new Jamie Moyer, lasts with the M's until 2002 and in the Majors until 2006. He retires, having pitched for seven teams, with a career 56-48, 4.65 ERA.
- August 24: M's 5, Tigers 0: Spur-of-the-moment thing. My friends Dave and Terri are in town so I take them to a game and we sit in the cheap, center field bleachers, a new experience for me—I'm a 300-level, behind-homeplate guy. Freddy Garcia pitches a complete-game shutout, striking out 12, and Junior does the out-of-towners right, hitting two 2-run homeruns. Yep, that's the guy.
- September 5: Red Sox 9, Mariners 7: My final game of the year. M's leading 6-4 until the 8th when Jose Paniagua, who pitches a good 7th, gives up: single, flyout, single, homerun, single, and is relieved by Robert Ramsay, whom I don't even remember (he lasts just two seasons in the bigs, both with the M's), who adds a double and a single before the bleeding stops. The M's are now down by 3. We still have Brian Hunter and his .597 OPS leading off for us. We still have David Bell, the lugubrious second baseman, batting second (To Lou: 2B=batting second). It's a wonder we score 7. Junior homers in the 1st inning, a 2-run job, and, though I don't know it, it's the last time I'll see him round the bases in person until the twlight of his career in 2009. As for the last time I see him bat as a 1990s Mariner? In the bottom of the 9th, with the M's down by 3, and 2 outs, and Ryan Jackson, our "get somebody--quick" replacement for David Segui on second base, Junior lines a double to left to plate Jackson and bring the tying run to the plate. But against former Mariner Derek Lowe, A-Rod strikes out swinging. M's get 1 run on 2 hits and no errors. One man is left on base.
SEASON RECORD: 6-10. And that's when I stopped collecting ticket stubs. I started when it seemed Junior might be one of the greatest players ever to play the game, and I stopped when he left Seattle, suddenly, during the 1999/2000 off-season. The next two seasons, under new GM Pat Gillick, would be good ones for the Mariners. They would go to the ALCS both years, but both years they would lose to the Yankees, the most hated Yankees, the Yankees more hated than David Cone could ever hate. In the mid-90s the Yankees and Mariners were fairly evenly matched, but the M's would always find a away to win: a walk-off homerun off John Wetteland here; a walk-off double down the left-field line off Jack McDowell there.
But the Yankees' front office wanted to win more, and they had more money to do it, while the Mariners' front office, penurious even as the taxpayers were building a $500 million stadium, merely wanted to remain "competitive within the divison." That wasn't enough. You've got to grab your moments and the M's front office didn't grab theirs. They gave up Omar in '93, Tino and JNels in '95, and they didn't try to fix the bullpen in '96 when it became apparent to everyone that the bullpen needed fixing. They gave up the future in July '97 (Cruz, Jr., Veritek, Lowe), the present in July '98 (Randy), the franchise in February 2000 (Junior). Poof. The team that should've been a dynasty became an afterthought. The dynasty went elsewhere.
In the end, after all of his injuries in the 2000s, not many are going to say Ken Griffey, Jr. was the best baseball player ever to play the game, but he was the best baseball player I ever saw. And in the end I was there for 45 of his 630 career homers. Here are my totals:
It looks like I got pretty lucky with the M's, particularly in '96, going 18-6 when the Mariners only went 85-76. But when you crunch the M's home-game numbers the difference isn't so severe. Then, during this 7-year run, it's .561 vs. .550. I thought I had a good record in '95, for example, but the M's overall home record was better than their record when I was there: .586 vs. .630.
That's baseball. Everything evens out. Except when it doesn't.
NEXT: WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1998)
1998: CHARLTON, TIMLIN, SPOLJARIC, AYALA, FOSSAS AND SLOCUMB: THE WORST LAW FIRM EVER
- March 31: Indians 10, M's 9: Remember how Opening Night '96 felt like an extension of '95? Well, Opening Night '98 feels like an extension of '97. It's 3-3 in the 5th when Junior hits a solo shot, Buhner hits a 2-run homer, and Russ Davis follows with a 3-run homer. 9-3! But Randy gives back 3 in the 6th and is relieved by Bobby Ayala, who actually pitches well for an inning. But in the 8th it goes: walk, flyout, triple, walk. So in comes left-handed relief specialist Tony Fossas. Who walks David Justice. So in comes Mike Timlin. Who gives up a double to Manny Ramirez. Now it's 9-9 with men on second and third and one out. Brian Giles is intentionally walked to load the bases. And what does Travis Fryman do? He walks. 10-9. M's batters go down in order in the 8th and 9th. They've seen this movie, too.
- April 4: M's 12, Red Sox 6: Junior goes deep. In their first four games the M's have scored 39 runs, and their record is 2-2.
- April 6: M's 8, Yankees O: After the game, the M's are 3-3. After the game, the Yankees are 1-4. But this is the game that leads to the team meeting that leads to David Cone rallying the troops around hatred for...Edgar Martinez and Jamie Moyer? I'm not joking. See pp. 43-44 of "The Yankee Years." Tom Veducci writes: "Like Torre, Cone was angered by what he saw the previous night. He watched Seattle designated hitter Edgar Martinez, batting in the eighth inning with a 4-0 lead, take a huge hack on a 3-0 pitch from reliever Mike Buddie—five innings after Jamie Moyer had dusted Paul O'Neill with a pitch." Moyer? "Dusted"? And had Torre and Cone SEEN the M's bullpen? 4-0 was a nothing lead for them. But the Yankees wanted to hate so they did. Cone told his teammates, "You have to find something to hate about your opponent. Look across the way. These guys are real comfortable against us. Edgar is swinging from his heels on 3-0 when they're up by about 10 [sic] runs!... I fucking hate those guys. I hate this place. If you want to find some motivation here, [1995 is] part of it. It's also Edgar swinging 3-0 trying to take us deep. They're sticking it in our face! And there's only one way to react to that." To which Verducci writes, "It was classic Cone: emotional, honest and inspirational." Emotional, yes. Honest, no. Inspirational, maybe to assholes. But it worked. The rest of the season, the Yankees would go 8-2 against the M's, win 114 games and the World Series, and begin to establish their dynasty. The M's wouldn't even make the playoffs.
- April 8: Yankees 4, M's 3: This is the game after Cone's speech. M's up 2-1 in the 7th inning and Tony Fossas allows an inherited runner to score. In the 8th, the game now tied, Bobby Ayala allows a leadoff walk to Tim Raines and a homerun to Chad Curtis. 4-2, Yankees. Comback in the 9th? Russ Davis leads off with a homerun, his second of the game, to make it 4-3. Then Joey and Alex get singles. With nobody out. And Griffey up. And he flies out. And Edgar up. And he grounds into a game-ending double play. Against Mariano? Nope. Against Mike Stanton. It's games like these that make you realize you should play, at the park, softball, rather than watch Major League Baseball at the downtown stadium. There's no more helpless feeling than watching.
- April 10: Red Sox 9, M's 7: This isn't a game I went to. It wasn't even a game in Seattle. It was at Fenway Park in Boston, but I remember listening to it on the radio in my apartment in the Fremont neighborhood. It is, in fact, my most memorable game of the year. Randy is blowing away the Sox, he's struck out 15 in 8 innings. The M's tack on 2 in the top of the 9th, but the half-inning is long, and I'm sure he's thrown enough pitches, and anyway we have a 5-run lead, 7-2. What could happen? This. Heathcliff Slocumb comes in. Single, walk, double. Tony Fossas comes in. Walk on four pitches. Mike Timlin comes in. Single and hit-by-pitch. Bases juiced, tying run on second, so Paul Spoljaric comes in. And Mo Vaughn hits a walk-off grand slam. Game over. The line on the M's bullpen: 4 pitchers, 7 runs, 0 outs. I lay back on my couch and just laughed and laughed and laughed. Cone's speech might have inspired the Yankees, but this game must've dis-inspired everyone associated with the '98 Mariners. I knew the season was over on this day. Seattle Times story here.
- April 20: M's 8, Royals 7: Last gasp of "Refuse to Lose"? M's come back from 6-1 deficit and win. HRs: Junior, A-Rod, Rich Amaral. The bullpen gives up nothing. Slocumb lowers his ERA to 23.82. Ayala lowers his to 6.75. We're golden, baby!
- April 21: Royals 5, M's 3: Except we're not. M's strand 14. Bullpen gives up 2 in the 8th and 1 in the 9th. Slocumb's line: Single, flyout, wild pitch, walk, groundout, walk to load the bases. Walk to bring in a run. He lowers his ERA to 21.60. Tony Fossas, who gave up the 8th inning runs, is slightly better: 20.25.
- May 6: M's 10, White Sox 9: Heathcliff Slocumb is the winning pitcher! Bobby Ayala with the save! Because...? Well, in the 7th, with the M's up 6-4, Spoljaric, Timlin, Fossas and Slocumb (consider it the worst law-firm name ever) combine on this: single, single, double, double, strikeout, lineout, home run, single, strikeout. It's Slocumb who gives up the homerun. So he gets the win when Dan Wilson hits a 3-run homer in the bottom of the 7th to put the M's back on top. Junior makes a great catch in center, too. We win but it's hardly fun anymore. Trying to enjoy the '98 M's is like trying to enjoy school when you know there's a bully who's going to beat you up in sixth period. It's like trying to enjoy the play when you know Pres. Lincoln is going to get shot at the end of it.
- May 23: Devil Rays 6, M's 3: Ken Cloude pitches a shutout for 7 innings and the M's take a 3-0 lead into the 8th. Then Paul Spoljaric and Tony Fossas give up 2 runs on no hits: walk, walk, walk, groundout, groundout, flyout. In the 9th it's all Ayala. He gives up four singles, a stolen base and a wild pitch and the Rays go up by 3. It's the M's fifth loss in a row. They're 21-27, and 10 1/2 back in the A.L. West.
- May 24: M's 3, Devil Rays 1: No bullpen blowouts on this one because no bullpen. Randy Johnson pitches 9 innings and strikes out 15. Junior clobbers an upper-deck homerun. Seems like...old times. Cue Diane Keaton.
- June 3: Angels 8, M's 1: We used to beat these guys.
- June 6: Dodgers 10, M's 6: Junior goes deep and cuts a runner down at home, but Joey Cora commits three errors and Ayala gives up three runs in the 9th.
- June 19: M's 9, A's 1: Randy with 12 Ks, Junior and A-Rod homer. It's their 4th victory in 18 games.
- June 23: M's 5, Padres 3: Moyer with 8 scoreless innings, Junior with 1st-inning HR. But even this game causes handwringing. Healthcliff Slocumb gives up 3 runs in the 9th and lets the go-ahead run get to the plate, before recording the final out.
- July 1: M's 9, Rockies 5: Junior with a HR and 3 doubles. Edgar goes deep. The bullpen is perfect. The M's are 35-49, 15 GB.
- July 10: Angels 5, M's 3 (11 innings): Junior ties the game in the bottom of teh 7th with an upper-deck HR, and Moyer pitches well for 8 innings. Then we play Russian Roulette with the bullpen. Spin with Greg McCarthy in the top of the 9th: click. Spin with Mike Timlin in the top of the 10th: click. Spin with Bobby Ayala in the top of the 11th: BLAM!
- July 28: Indians 4, M's 3: Last time I'll see Randy as a Mariner. He goes the distance and loses. The Indians closer is Mike Jackson, who used to be with us during better days. He seems to be doing well. We miss him.
- August 1: Yankees 5, M's 2: The day after Randy Johnson is traded to the Houston Astros. Dark day. David Wells goes the distance for the Yankees, who are dominating baseball. The shot the M's had (from '95 to '97) feels over.
- August 3: M's 3, Red Sox 1: Shane Monahan hits first career HR. A new era begins.
- August 20: Blue Jays 7, M's 0: Roger Clemens pitches a 2-hitter and my friend Tim and I leave early. That's never happened before.
- August 21: M's 5, White Sox 4: Edgar and Buhner homer. Russ Davis hits a go-ahead double in the bottom of the 8th. Timlin closes it out with the tying run on third.
- September 4: O's 9, M's 1: New experiment: Paul Spoljaric as starting pitcher! He gives up 6 runs with two outs in the top of the 4th. Junior makes a great over-the-shoulder catch. Poor bastard.
SEASON RECORD: 10-11. It's my first losing record since '94 but percentage-wise it beats the Mariners losing record of 76-85. I see Junior hit 8 homeruns. But I'm elsewhere, focusing on other things, because this thing is lost now. What could've been is gone forever.
TOMORROW: ONE MAN LEFT ON BASE
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1997)
1997: FOREVER HITTING HOMERUNS; FOREVER BLOWING BALLGAMES
April 1: M's 4, Yankees 2: World Champions, my ass! In his first two at-bats of the season, Junior goes deep against David Cone, who hates the Mariners for a reason (see pg. 44 of "The Yankee Years"), and the Yankees don't score after the 2nd inning. Including the '95 post-season, it's the 8th game in a row I've been at the park when the M's have beat the Yankees. If these guys can win the World Series, who can't? At the same time, our closers are still Bobby Ayala and Norm Charlton.
- April 8: M's 14, Indians 8: The Indians score 4 in the top of the 1st and the M's answer with 4 in the bottom of the 1st. And the game goes like that. HRs: Junior, Jay and Edgar. Junior's goes 430 feet. Good victory. At the same time, we're still 3-4.
- April 18: Twins 10, M's 3: After a good roadtrip, they're 10-6, but this one is an ugly loss.
- April 21: M's 6, Royals 5: Bobby Ayala with the win! Background: He relieves Randy in the 7th with the game tied 3-3 and promptly gives up a walk and a homerun. In the bottom of the inning, we get two walks, Junior slaps a two-run triple, and then he scores on a sac fly. Three runs on one hit. And Bobby A with the "W."
- May 14: M's 9, White Sox 7: Norm Charlton with the save! Background: Bobby Ayala relieves Jamie Moyer in the 7th with a 6-run lead and gets the ChiSox 1-2-3. In the 8th? Solo home run to Harold Baines. In the 9th? Walk, double, home run. Talk about diminishing returns. A 6-run lead down to 2. Thus Norm, who comes in and gets them 1-2-3. Junior hits a solo homer in the 6th.
- May 16: O's 6, M's 3: Battle of the first-place teams. Five of our nine starters are hitting over .300 (Cora, A-Rod, Junior, Edgar, Dan Wilson), but they can only scratch together six hits. Four of them are singles. Effin' O's.
- May 17: O's 4, M's 3: Sigh. Why do I even GO when the Orioles were in town?
- May 28: M's 5, Rangers 0: Here's what Randy does to the first 10 batters he faces: strikeout, strikeout, groundout; groundout, strikeout, strikeout; strikeout, strikeout, strikeout; strikeout. Then Ivan Rodriguez slaps a ground single between first and second with one out in the top of the 4th. It's the first ball to leave the infield. He winds up striking out 15. These were fun games to go to. It's the end of May and Joey Cora has a 1.002 OPS.
- June 12: M's 12, Rockies 11: Here's what I wrote on the ticket stub: "An ugly, sloppy ballgame." Not sure why. Junior with 3 RBIs. He now has 70 on the year. On June 12th!
- June 13: M's 6, Rockies 1: Decidedly less sloppy. Randy strikes out 12 in 8 innings. Our motto back then: "Go when Randy pitches."
- June 14: M's 9, Dodgers 8: Leading 8-4 in the 7th, Bob Wells gives up two homers to make it 8-7. He's relieved by Norm Charlton who gives up a leadoff walk in the 8th to Greg Gagne, who goes to third on a botched pick-off attempt and scores on a bunt. Tie game. M's win on a Russ Davis walk-off homer. Why don't I remember that? Other HRs: Junior, Edgar, Sorrento.
- June 24: A's 4, M's 1: This is one of the greatest losses a pitcher has ever thrown. Do we have a category for that? We should. The second guy up gets a hit, so no chance for a no-hitter, and in fact they get 11 hits off of him, which isn't good for most pitchers and abyssmal for Randy. But he strikes out 19 and walks none. He had 18 Ks after 8 innings and boy were we cheering for a couple of Ks in that final innings. (The record, then and now, is 20.) One of the A's four runs was also memorable. A 538-foot homerun by Mark McGwire, which almost hits the Diamond Vision screen in the upper deck in left field. Of course now it feels tainted but back then it was fun. Dave Niehaus had fun with the call, too: "A high fly ball, belted, and I mean belted, deep to left field, into the upper deck! My, oh my, what a shot by Mark McGwire! That is probably the longest home run ever hit here." Meanwhile the M's lack of run production wasn't Junior's fault. He came within his signature hit of the cycle: single, double, triple... and walk.
- June 27: M's 8, Angels 1: HRs: A-Rod and Buhner. Jay's goes 459 feet. Not McGwire but not chopped liver.
- June 28: Angels 6, M's 1: Angels gotta win sometime.
- June 30: Giants 8, M's 6: In the bottom of the first, with Alex up, I notice the time is 7:14. Those three numbers, in that order, and in any context, always make me think of Babe Ruth, which makes me think of home runs, so I say aloud, "7:14, good time for a homerun." Next pitch, Alex goes deep. The guy sitting in front of me looks around like I'm Nostradamus. I shrug. Edgar and Sorrento also go yard, but we're down 6-5 in the bottom of the 9th when Edgar ties it up with a single, scoring Alex. Top of 10? Norm Charlton and his 7.17 ERA, who relieved Scott Sanders and his 6.56 ERA in the 9th, is still on the mound. Groundout, walk, single. Now there are men on first and second. Lou to the mound. And in comes...Bobby Ayala and his 4.21 ERA. He does't give up a run. He just gives up Norm's runs: Single, sac fly, single, groundout. 8-6, SF. How bad is our bullpen? Bad.
- July 1: M's 15, Giants 4: Even the M's bullpen can't blow this one. HRs: A-Rod, Russ Davis, and two by new phenom Jose Cruz, Jr.!
- July 10: M's 12, Rangers 9: Joey Cora hits his 9th HR. Joey Cora! He's got a .926 OPS. Lou tries Bobby Ayala again, up by 4 in the 9th, and it goes groundout, walk, walk, force out, double. Tying run comes to the plate. Out comes Norm for the save. Did we really have no one else in the bullpen? It's like we need to do something simple, like comb our hair, and the only instruments we have are a staple gun and a blowtorch. Staple gun? Ow! Blow torch? Ow! The next day we try them in the reverse order. The rational mind woud say "These are not the right implements for this situation," but we don't have a rational mind.
- July 11: M's 8, Rangers 7: M's up 7-3 in the 9th but starter Jeff Fassero runs out of gas, giving up two singles. So we go to the blowtorch (Norm). He gives up a single and a walk. So we go to the staple gun (Ayala). He goes walk, strikeout, single to tie it. Go-ahead run is on third with one out. Double play ball. M's win it in the bottom of the 9th on a Russ Davis single but it doesn't feel like a victory. HRs: Dan Wilson, Russ Davis, Jose Cruz, Jr. I don't know it, but this is the last time I'll see Cruz, Jr. as a Mariner.
- July 19: Royals 9, M's 6: The M's are up 6-0 in the 8th against the lowly Royals, and I figure, "What a good time to show my friend Sharon around the Kingdome." Except one batter later I miss an inside-the-park homerun by Tom Goodwin. Crap! That would've been fun. Then starter Bob Wolcott gives up another homer, the over-the-fence kind, and Lou goes to Omar Olivares, who promptly walks the next two batters. So Lou goes to Norm, the blowtorch, who promptly gives up a double to Craig Paquette that plates two batters. He stikes out Shane Halter but Mike Sweeney singles to score Paquette. But we still have a 6-5 lead, yes? Then in the 9th it's the staple gun's turn: groundout, single (ow!), single (ow!), walk (ow!), sac fly to tie (ow!), single (ow!), double (OUCH!), groundout. 9-6, Royals. Bottom of the inning, Griffey, Edgar and Buhner go in order. One wonders how much these losses took out of these guys. I know they took a lot out of me.
- July 31: And they took a lot out of the M's: some part of their future, in fact. I don't go to any game this day—the M's are in Milwaukee—but it's a dark day in M's history, a day in which the incomptence of our bullpen is matched by the incompetence of our front office. Needing a good closer since last summer, Woody Woodward waits until the last minute to pull the trigger on this move: The other Junior, Jose Cruz, Jr., who has an .856 OPS and 12 homers in 183 at-bats, for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljarec. And that was his smart trade that day. In the other, we give up rookie Derek Lowe and prospect Jason Veritek to Boston for Heathcliff Slocumb, a closer with a 5.79 ERA. More wrong implements for our medicine chest. Full Seattle Times story here.
- August 5: M's 4, O's 3: M's finally beat the O's while I'm at the park! Russ Davis hits a walk-off homerun on the first pitch in the bottom of the 9th. It's the second walk-off homerun I've seen him hit this year. Why isn't he my favorite player on the team? (Answer: Because the team has Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Jay Buhner, and Jamie Moyer.)
- August 7: M's 3, White Sox 2: Junior, Blowers homer. New M's bullpen gives up only one run in the 9th. Relief!
- August 11: M's 11, Brewers 1.
- August 20: M's 1, Indians 0: Edgar homers in the 4th. Randy strikes out 8 in 6 innings. Maybe this bullpen thing will work out after all.
- August 23: Yankees 10, M's 8 (in 11 innings): Nope. M's should've won it in the bottom of the 9th when Roberto Kelly homered off Mariano Rivera to tie it, and then the M's loaded the bases with nobody out. But a wild pitch nails Junior at the plate, Russ Davis goes down swinging and Rob Ducey grounds out. In the 10th, also against Rivera, the M's load the bases with two outs, but A-Rod goes down swinging. So, in our game of bullpen roulette, we spin the chamber and put the gun to our head for one more inning and this time it goes off. Slocumb, in for his second inning, gives up: single, strikeout, single, strikeout, and then a double to plate two. Worst part? It's to Paul O'Neill. Ouch! It's the first time I've seen the Yankees beat the M's at the Kingdome since Jimmy Key did it on July 16, 1994.
- August 27: Red Sox 9, M's 5: Fassero gets the loss, but the M's bullpen doesn't help. Bob Wells gives up a run (in 1/3 inning), Paul Spoljaric gives up a run (in 1 1/3), Heathcliff Slocumb gives up 2 (in 1 inning). Only Bobby Ayala is clean for the day.
- September 10: M's 10, Tigers 0: A-Rod goes deep. Dan Wilson with an inside-the-park homerun.
- September 13: Blue Jays 6, M's 3: RJ returns from a minor injury and leaves after six innings with the M's up 3-1. In the 8th, the team of Charlton, Timlin and Ayala give up 2 to tie it. In the 9th, Ayala gives up 3 to lose it. Somewhere the Blue Jays front office is laughing. We came alive in '95 with the late-inning comeback and in '97 we died from it.
- September 15: M's 7, Blue Jays 3: Junior goes deep twice. No.s 51 and 52. RBI no.s 137-139. That should be the story of the year. Not the bullpen. BTW: Remember Joey's 9th homer on July 10? This evening he hits no. 10. But he still has an .808 OPS.
- September 23: M's 4, Angels 3: RJ with 11 Ks, and Buhner hits 3-run HR, and the season is almost over. Slocumb does get the save (single, flyout, strikeout, wild pitch, strike out), his 27th. His ERA is 5.30.
- September 26: A's 8, M's 4: Fan Appreciation Night is also scrub night. The line-up: Cora, Ducey, Davis, Sorrento, Ibanez, Wilkins, Tinsley, Marzano, Sheets. Ibanez, a Sept. call-up, hits a 3-run HR. The bullpen, with no lead to protect, allow no runs and lower their ERAs: Charlton's goes down to 6.85. Next stop: playoffs!
- October 1: Game 1 of the 1997 ALDS: O's 9, M's 3: I have a goofy piece in The Seattle Times before the playoffs (which I'd completely forgotten about until I began doing this thing), but, more, I have a bad feeling. Randy could beat almost anyone but the Orioles. The M's could beat almost any team but the O's. Game starts out well enough: 1-2-3. Then mid-season acquisiton Roberto Kelly hits a one-out double in the bottom of the first. Griffey up! Foul out. Edgar up! Ground out. Oh well. Lots more of those. O's take 1-0 lead in the 3rd, Edgar ties it 1-1 on a home run in the bottom of the 4th. Then Randy loses it in the 5th: walk, steal, walk, sac bunt, single, caught stealing, homerun. Now we're down 5-1. In the 6th, Timlin comes in. Ball 1, ball 2, home run to Chris Hoiles. 6-1. Then Palmeiro hits a double to center. Is this the one I thought Junior would get? There was a play in center and I thought for sure Junior would have it, but in my memory the game was still within reach. Obviously not. The 6th ends with the M's down 9-1. The M's add two more solo homers, the empty gesture of impotent sluggers, and I leave the Kingdome feeling worse than when I entered.
- October 2: Game 2 of the 1997 ALDS: O's 9, M's 3: It's up to Jamie Moyer to save us! And the M's go up, 2-0, in the first! Yay! At the same time it feels like we should've gotten more. Joey singles, Roberto Kelly doubles (again), but (again) the big bats don't come through: we get three straight groundouts from Griffey, Edgar and A-Rod. O's go up in the 5th when Spoljaric relieves Moyer with 2 on and 2 out and let's both runners score on a double by Alomar. In the 7th, Bobby Ayala gives up a 2-run homer to Brady Anderson. In the 8th, still Ayala, it goes: single, strikeout, double, intentional walk, real walk (for a run), single to plate 2. Lou goes to Norm. Who promptly gives up a double. It's all our nightmares from the season remembered. The M's will win one at Camden, behind the pitching of Jeff Fassero and timely hitting from Rich Amaral, but they go down and out in Game 4. It'll be the last time Ken Griffey, Jr. plays in the post-season until he's an old man in 2008, when he goes 2-10 in the White Sox's losing effort in the ALDS.
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 19-11. POST-SEASON RECORD: 0-2. Mostly I remember the M's forever hitting homeruns and the bullpen forever blowing ballgames. Trading Jose Cruz, Jr. felt like trading the future but the real future we traded that day was Veritek and Lowe. Worse, I knew that as long as Woody Woodward was the GM, the M's would never make the right moves. The M's finally got rid of Woody after the '99 season but by then it was too late.
TOMORROW: IT GETS WORSE...
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1996)
1996: THE GREATEST LINE-UP EVER
- March 31: M's 3, White Sox 2 (12 innings): Opening Night and the M's start out where they left off: with a come-from-behind victory before a sell-out crowd of nouveau fans at the Kingdome. Amusing moment: In the 1st inning, Randy gets two strikes on a batter and half the Kingdome rise out of their seats to cheer for that third strike. I look around and laugh. "It's March 31st, kids. Save something for the season!" M's win it on a sharp single to right by a young Alex Rodriguez that plates Doug Strange. And it just continues.
- April 6: M's 8, Brewers 5: Or does it? We win again but by this point, a week later, we're 1 1/2 GB. Tino's replacement Paul Sorrento hits 2 homeruns, including a grand slam, and Junior adds a late-inning solo shot.
- April 16: M's 11, Angels 10: Or DOES it? This game plays like a microcosm of the previous season. In the first match-up between the Angels and M's since the one-game playoff last October, the Angels take a commanding 9-1 lead in the fourth. Then Sorrento homers. Then A-Rod homers. Then A-Rod singles in a run. Then Cora singles in a run. Down by 4 in the 7th, the M's string together a walk, single, HBP, HBP to set up a 3-run double by Russ Davis to tie the game. A Buhner single in the 8th puts the M's on top. It's the the biggest comeback in Mariners history. Refuse to lose, indeed.
- May 3, Indians 5, M's 2. It's the game after the day an earthquake shook Seattle, and the M's still can't shake the Indians.
- May 11: M's 11, Royals 1: The year before, the Royals worried me. No longer. HRs: A-Rod, Sorrento, Buhner (2). M's are over .500 but 5 GB.
- May 24: M's 10, Yankees 4: These guys don't worry me, either. They start Game 4 starter Scott Kamieniecki, we start Sterling Hitchcock. We jump to a 4-1 lead. Then Junior takes over. In the 4th he hits a 2-run homer off Kamieniecki. In the 6th he hits a 3-run homer off Jeff Nelson. In the 8th he adds a solo shot off Steve Howe. THREE HRs!!!! Suck it, NY!
- May 26: M's 4, Yankees 3: We even beat them when we start Paul Menhart. HRs: Edgar and A-Rod. Edgar's hitting .350 on the season. A-Rod's hitting .369.
- May 31: M's 9 Red Sox 6: More Refuse to Lose. Down 5-1 in the 5th, M's string together: walk, walk, walk, groundout, strikeout, and then a 3-run homer by Junior to tie the game. A-Rod puts us ahead with a 3-run homer in the 7th. It's our take on the Earl Weaver strategy: Lousy pitcing but a couple of three-run homers.
- June 15: M's 8, White Sox 6: Lose? Refuse! Junior ties it with a 2-run homer in the 7th but Norm Charlton, walking everybody, gives back 2 in the 9th. We tie it in the bottom of the 9th (with 2 outs) and win it in the bottom of the 12th on a walk-off, 2-run homer by Brian Hunter. I don't even remember it. Shouldn't one remember one's walk-off homers?
- June 19: Blue Jays 9, M's 2: Am I a jinx? I was at the game last year when Junior shattered his wrist, and I'm at the game, this game, when Junior (fouling back a pitch?) in the bottom of the third, breaks his hamate bone. At first I think it's his wrist again—you see him opening and closing his hand, trying to shake it off—but it's the hamate and he's out for 4-6 weeks. Randy went down in May, now Junior in June. The M's are six GB with no pitching and no Junior. Doesn't look good.
- June 28: M's 19, Rangers 8: Who needs pitching? HRs: Edgar, Brian Hunter and Dan Wilson. Luis Sojo with five singles.
- July 2: A's 11, M's 6: WE need pitching. The M's blow a 4-0 lead. Then in the top of the 9th, in a 6-6 game, with one out, Norm Charlton gives up a single, walk, walk, single, home run. Five runs. Poof! His ERA is now 4.30. Charlton, so strong the year before, is blowing ballgames big. This one is reminiscent of the May 17th game in Baltimore when he gives up a walk-off grand slam to Chris Hoiles in the bottom of the 9th and the M's lose 14-13. That one hurt.
- July 11: M's 5, Angels 4 (12 innings): Poor Angels. They go up 3-0. We come back, 4-3. Our bullpen allows them to tie it in the 9th. We win in the 12th. Paul Sorrento singles, the pitcher balks him to second, Dan Wilson grounds him over to third, and he scores on a wild pitch. I'm getting spoiled. I turn up my nose at the aesthetics of this extra-inning victory. A lousy single? Meanwhile A-Rod hits 2 doubles and a homerun. Kid might go places.
- July 12: M's 6: Angels 5 (10 innings): Maybe it's Refuse to Lose to the Angels? We go up 4-0, they go up 5-4, we tie it in the bottom of the 8th and win it in the bottom of the 10th in a slower replay of Game 5: Edgar scores from first on a double by Jay Buhner.
- July 24: M's 8, Brewers 7: How do I not remember this? M's are down 7-5 in the ninth when Joey doubles and Alex singles him in. Griffey, back in the lineup, singles Alex over to third and then steals second. Buhner strikes out. One down. Sorrento gets a pass to load the bases. Darren Bragg hits a sac fly to tie the game. Two outs. Dan Wilson doubles to score Griffey and end it. Memorable! Yet not. Spoiled.
- August 7: Indians 5, M's 4: Again with the Indians. On the ticket stub I wrote "Bonehead Piniella moves!" Leading late, set-up man Mike Jackson relieves new acquisition Jamie Moyer in the 8th and gives up a walk. Then he strikes out the next two batters. At which point Lou brings in Norm. In the 9th, ahead by 2, with two outs and nobody on, he gives up a homer to Omar, a single to Lofton, a double to Vizcaino to tie the game, and another single to put the Indians ahead. His ERA is now 5.17. We lived by "Refuse to Lose" and now we're dying by it. "Can't Begin to Win." Against the Indians anyway.
- August 28: M's 10, Yankees 2: Now THIS I remember. We're killing the Yankees again, 8-1 when, in the top of 8th, Tim Davis replaces Terry Mulholland and pitches to Paul O'Neill. First pitch is high and tight. O'Neill bitches. That's what O'Neill does. M's back-up catcher John Marzano stands up and confronts him. That's what Marzano does. Soon we're getting shoves, a would-be haymaker from Marzano, then a headlock from Marzano, and benches clear. Seattle Times story here. Next inning Jeff Nelson hits Joey Cora, but A-Rod makes him pay by going deep in the next at-bat. Unfortunately, the next time I'll see these guys, in 1997, they'll be World Champions. BTW, I didn't know, or didn't remember, this. R.I.P., John Marzano. May you be up in Heaven forever punching Paul O'Neill in the face.
- August 30: O's 5, M's 2: Can we beat these guys already???
- September 4: Red Sox 7, M's 5: M's lose, never leading. Junior hits 3-run homer, his 43rd. Buhner hits a solo shot, his 39th.
- September 16: M's 6, Rangers 0: First of a four-game series with Texas. M's begin it 6 games back of the Rangers and really need a sweep to stand a chance. The first game's hardly a contest. Rangers can't hit Jamie Moyer, Edgar smacks his 50th double. Alex is hitting .368 with a 1.080 OPS. 78-70, GB: 5.
- September 18: M's 5, Rangers 2: M's win on the 17th as well as this night. Buhner hits his 41st. 80-70, GB: 3.
Mr. B lets the world (or Tim) know the M's are only 3 games back.
- September 19: M's 7, Rangers 6: Sweep! It's the September to Remember all over again! Just 2 GB! Our line-up is as good as any lineup I can remember: Cora, A-Rod, Griffey, Edgar, Buhner, Sorrento, Whitten, Hollins, Wilson. Our no. 9 guy hits his 17th homer of the year. It just continues.
- September 20: M's 12, A's 2: And continues. HRs: Junior, Jay and Joey. GB: 1.
- September 21: M's 9, A's 2: And continues. M's win their 10th in a row! HRs by Junior, Jay, Edgar, A-Rod, and Sorrento. GB: 1.
SEASON RECORD: 18-6. And then, suddenly, it didn't continue. M's lose their last home game of the year to the A's, then go 2-5 on their final roadtrip and finish 4 1/2 back of Texas. Afterwards Lou bucks up the squad by telling them that this is the best team he's ever managed. He tells them next year they're going all the way. But in the meantime, the New York Yankees, who couldn't touch the M's this season, beat Texas in the ALDS, beat the O's in the ALCS (with help from Jeffrey Maier), and win the World Series, with help from '95 M's Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson. The dynasty that should've been the M's is beginning to be someone else's.
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1995)
1995: REFUSE TO LOSE
- April 27: M's 5, Tigers 0. We were wondering if we would ever see this again. Thank you, Justice Sotomayor! Remember all that talk about unforgiving fans? That wasn't me. As usual, I'm there Opening Night. And the M's deliver. RJ strikes out 8, Junior hits a 3-run HR in the 5th to account for all the scoring in the game. Just where we left off.
- May 12: M's 6, White Sox 4: M's score 3 in the bottom of the first, Randy strikes out 11 in 7 innings and gives up only 1 run. (Bobby Ayala gives up 3 in the 8th.) Edgar and Tino homer. Games back: 1/2.
- May 23: Red Sox 5, M's 4: M's are leading 4-0 after four innings but Boston comes back with 1 in the 5th, 3 in the 7th and 1 in the 10th on a bases-loaded walk from reliever Steve Frey. As we used to say back then: Out of the fire and into the Frey. OK, so it wasn't as funny as we thought.
- May 26: M's 8, O's 3: Maybe the worst game—certainly the worst victory—I've ever gone to. I'm sitting, not in my usual seats, 300-level behind homeplate, but among the idiotic WHUP-WHOOOO crowd along the right-field foul line when, in the 7th inning, off of Kevin Bass (heretofore known as Kevin Basstard), Ken Griffey, Jr. makes a spectacular running catch against the right-centerfield fence. People are cheering like crazy but I'm thinking he went too fast, too awkwardly into that fence to be OK. I'm assuming knee. I'm wrong. It's his wrist. Later we hear the bad news: out for three months. M's win it, RJ strikes out 13, and before the injury Junior hits a solo shot in the 5th, but after the injury our outfield changes from Bragg-Griffey-Diaz to Amaral-Diaz-Bragg and nothing feels quite the same. My Seattle Post-Intelligencer Op-Ed here. Video of the catch here. Seattle Times article here. One thing the Internet, this form, doesn't do well is give a sense of historical scale. That Times article? It's just a small article. But it was front-page news in Seattle. I seem to remember my friend Tim visiting family in Arizona that week, and seeing some small, by-the-way item in an account of the game on the injury, and thinking to himself, or tellling his relatives, "That news is bigger in Seattle." Indeed. Later in the game we hear he'll be out three months. At this point, M's are 15-12, 2 1/2 GB. Doesn't look good.
I saw this. Then I saw the M's go 2-8.
- May 27: O's 11, M's 4: In the first Griffey-less game, M's get clobbered. Doesn't look good.
- May 30: M's 7, Yankees 3: Down 3-2 in the 8th, with 2 outs and a man on third, the M's string together a walk, single, walk, single, hit-by-pitch and a single, and score five times to win it. Derek Jeter, playing in only his second game in the Majors, bats ninth for the Yankees and goes 2-3 with a walk. They're the first two hits of his Major League career. They're the first two runs scored of his Major League career. I still have that ticket if some Yankees fan wants to buy it. Bidding starts at $10,000. M's: 18-13, 1 1/2 GB
- June 12: Royals 10, M's 9: Down 7-0 after a half-inning, the M's battle back and tie the score in the bottom of the 8th. In the top of the 9th, though, Ron Villone walks the leadoff hitter, who eventually scores on a two-out single by Tom Goodwin. 23-20, 3 1/2 GB
- June 14: Royals 2, M's 1: In an afternoon getaway game, I CATCH MY FIRST FOUL BALL! I write about it years later for Seattle Weekly: "In the fourth inning Tino Martinez lined a fastball straight back. My thought processes went something like, 'Hey, that might--' Whumpf! Right into my glove. I didn't have time to think. The crowd around me scattered, and, later, thanked me, for they feared the ball would hit a railing and bounce back. As often happens, we passed it around reverentially. It was rubbed a light brown with the special mud the umps use before gametime; the imprinted blue slogan '*Official Ball* American League' had been smudged by the force of Tino's blow and was now almost unreadable." The bad news? The M's lose and get swept by the Royals, who, at this time, seem like a powershouse to me. 23-22, 3 1/2 GB.
- June 16: Twins 10, M's 1: I'm on long-distance with my father in Minneapolis two days beforehand when I realize it'll be Randy pitching against the lowly Twins. I begin to laugh. "If you have any money to bet," I say, "bet on the M's." Instead, RJ gives up 8 earned runs in six innings, including a grand slam to Kirby Puckett. Since the Griffey injury I've seen the M's lose 4 of 5—beating only the lowly Yankees. 23-23, 4 1/2 GB.
- June 23: Angels 14, M's 4: Five of six. 27-26, 5 GB
- June 26: M's 7, Angels 2: Tino and Edgar go deep. 29-27, 4 GB
- June 28: A's 7, M's 5: Bobby Ayala Goatee Night: surely one of the worst promotional ideas ever. I forget what you get if you show up with a goatee, but I show up without one and get to see a loss. Randy leaves the game in the 7th with a 5-2 lead but with the bases loaded and one out. Bill Risley promptly gives up two singles to tie the game. In the next inning, Jeff Nelson gives up two HRs, including Mark McGwire's second of the game, and the M's lose. Ayala and his goatee never enter the game. 29-29, 5 GB
- June 30: Rangers 10, M's 2. No fun. 30-30, 5 GB
- July 14: Blue Jays 5, M's 1: Wow: 2-8 since the injury. Come back, Junior! 34-37, 7 GB
- July 18: M's 10, Tigers 6: I take some out-of-town guests, Dick and Anne Saunders, to a weekday afternoon game, and, despite that 2-8, I talk up the team. "Too bad you can't see Griffey," I say, "but this team's still got something." They don't disappoint. Tino hits a homer and drives in four. Most memorably, Jeff Nelson relieves Tim Belcher in the 6th and for three innings it goes like this: strikeout, strikeout, groundout; strikeout, strikeout, strikeout; ground out, strikeout, walk, strikeout. We have good seats for it, too, right behind home plate, and I can see his curve breaking and dancing. From this day forward, I'll be a Jeff Nelson fan. 37-38, 7 GB.
- July 28: Indians 6, M's 5: The M's score 3 in the bottom of the 7th to tie it, but the Indians small-ball it to go ahead in the 8th. In the 9th, the M's load the bases against Jose Mesa but he gets Luis Sojo to strike out on a pitch near his ears. 42-43, 10 GB.
- August 7: M's 6, White Sox 4: HRs from Buhner, Blowers and Tino. 47-47, 11 GB.
- August 18: M's 9, Red Sox 2: It's Junior's first home game back—he's got a metal plate and screws holding together his valuable wrist—and it's Bob Wolcott's Major League debut, but it's Mike Blowers' game. He hits 2 HRs, including a 1st-inning grand slam off Tim Wakefield. 53-51, 10 1/2 GB.
- August 21: M's 6, O's 0: It's 0-0 until the 7th when the M's score 5 times on four two-out singles. Junior hits a homer in the 8th. Welcome back! RJ strikes out 10 in 6 innings, Jeff Nelson 4 in 3 innings. Fun! 54-53, 11 1/2 GB.
- August 23: O's 7, M's 1: I don't know it, but this is the last loss I'll see in person for over a month. 54-55, 11 1/2 GB.
- September 8: M's 4, Royals 1: First home game after a long road trip. M's are now 2 games over .500 instead of 1 game under, but amazingly they're only 6 GB of the Angels now. The math seems impossible. Angels are tanking. 63-61, 6 GB
- September 9: M's 6, Royals 2: On "Salute to the Negro Leagues" Night, Tino and Buhner go deep. 64-61, 6 GB.
- September 12: M's 14, Twins 3: The M's hit four homers; Buhner hits two of them. Were the M's feeling loose? We were in the stands. In the bottom of the 7th, after a solo homer (by Buhner) and a 3-run homer (by Dan Wilson) put the M's ahead 14-3, Lou sends up pinch-hitters Alex Diaz (for Vince Coleman) and Arquimedez Pozo (for Joey Cora). It's the latter's Major League debut. When they announce him I tell Mike and Tim, "That may be the greatest baseball name ever." It isn't just the grand, Greekish first name. Any two- or three-syllable name ending in "o" is a great baseball name, because they're so easy to chant. When I was a kid in Minnesota we used to chant "Let's go, Tony-O," for Tony Oliva all the time. And in the late 1970s, a player named Jesus Manuel Rivera became a fan favorite because his nickname was "Bombo," and every time he was at the plate Twins fans would chant, "Bom-bo, Bom-bo." At the Kingdome I demonstrate. I begin chanting, "Po-zo, Po-zo, Po-zo," and Mike and Tim join in, and people around us join in, and then our section joins in, and suddenly the entire stadium, 12,000 strong, is chanting for this kid and his Major League debut. I wouldn't be surprised if others began their own chants in their own sections, and we all met somewhere in the middle, but the overall effect is still magical. Pozo pops out to second but we cheer him anyway as he returns to the dugout. We're loose. It's his only at-bat of the season. M's: 66-62, still 6 GB.
- September 13: M's 7, Twins 4: A day later and I'm a lot less loose. Biking to the game, I get into an accident and crash head-first into the bumper of a car near the Fremont Bridge. Shaken, my bike unrideable, I call my girlfriend (from a pay phone, kids), and she picks me up, takes me and my bike back home, then drives me to the game. I arrive in the fourth inning with the M's down 4-0. Randy is doing well, he strikes out 13 in 7 innings, but the game seems lost. Then the M's score 3 in the bottom of the 7th. In the bottom of the 8th, with two outs and two on, Tino singles to tie the game and Buhner hits a 3-run bomb to put the M's ahead. Norm Charlton strikes out the side in the 9th for the victory. When I get home, my girlfriend tells me she's glad I went. She'd been listening on the radio and M's broadcaster Dave Niehaus had chastised M's fans for not showing up to witness this exciting team make its run. That, too, wasn't me. 67-62, 5 GB.
- September 18: M's 8, Rangers 1: After a 3-game road trip to Chicago, the M's return (how I missed them!), and pick up where they left off: RJ strikes out 10; Blowers and Edgar homer. Apparently people are listening to Dave Niehaus. Attendance goes from 16,000 to 29,000, and suddenly the Angels are within spitting distance. 70-63, 2 GB.
- September 20: M's 11, Rangers 3: I miss the Doug Strange game from the day before, but I'm there for this: Sojo drives in 6, Junior homers, and suddenly the M's are, would you believe it, TIED FOR FIRST! 72-63, T-1st. Attendance: 26,000.
- September 22: M's 10, A's 7. Fan Appreciation Night, and the fans, 51,000 strong, suddenly fill the joint. (From this moment on, I won't be at a game with fewer than 30,000 fans for YEARS.) But after 3 innings the M's are down 6-0. Bel-CHER! In the bottom of the 4th, though, Junior leads off with a homer. 6-1. With two outs and a man on, Mike Blowers doubles. 6-2. Luis Sojo walks. A miracle. Dan Wilson singles to load the bases. Just when I'm thinking, "Hey, tying run at the plate," Vince Coleman hits a ball that squeaks over the right-field wall. "Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma! It's Grand Salami time!" Bedlam. 6-6. Oakland retakes the lead in the 7th, but in the bottom of the 8th Edgar leads off with a HR to tie it, followed by single, sacrifice bunt (by Buhner?), and walk. Two on and Sojo up. But no! Piniella pinch-hits with Alex Diaz. Is he CRAZY? Sojo's been hot. I'm still cursing Lou when Diaz smokes one into the left field bleachers. 10-7. Fan Appreciation Night, indeed. The M's, at 73-63, are in sole possession of first place.
- September 23: M's 7, A's 0: Not even a contest. RJ on the mound and he gives up four hits and strikes out 15; Buhner hits 2 HRs. 74-63. GA: 2.
- September 27: Angels 2, M's 0: I miss the Tino walkoff homer Sunday, and blowing out the Angels on Tuesday, but I'm here early for this getaway game. Win it, and the M's will clinch a tie: four games ahead with four to play. It's a weekday afternoon game but 50,000 show up. I'm sitting in our 20-gameplan seats, 300 level behind the third-base side of homeplate, second row, no one around me, when I catch my second foul ball of the season—this one off Chili Davis. From the Seattle Weekly article: "For some reason, the first two rows of section 313 were empty, leaving me feeling a little like the sprinkle-a-day guy. Even my friend Mike hadn't arrived yet. Thus when Chile Davis fouled off a pitch from Tim Belcher in the top of the first, there was no one close, as the ball, with some wicked spin on it, arced my way. A guy two rows back--my nearest competitor--shouted, 'It's coming this way. I got it! I got it!' Think people don't emulate their heroes? I WAVED HIM OFF. It was as if, rather than competitors for a souvenir, we were teammates in the same outfield. 'I got it!' I yelled back. And I did. The ball, caught with some English to compensate for the spinning, was mine." I'm happy with the foul ball but disappointed that Belcher has already given up a run, and even more disapointed when, a few pitches later, Davis promptly doubles to score another. Worse, Chuck Finley shuts down the M's. In the 7th, he walks two batters and Marcel Lachemann goes to the 'pen. Good! Then I see the reliever smokin' it in. High 90s. Strikeout, strikeout. Inning over. My introduction to Troy Percival. Angels win. 76-64, GA 2, with 4 to play.
- That's my last regular season game of the season. The M's go on and win the first two in Texas to clinch a tie, but lose the next two, while the Angels suddenly wake up and win their last four against the A's, and we have our tie. I'm so pissed at Lou's pitching moves—starting Benes on three days' rest with an eye toward the playoffs—that I don't even bother with the tickets to the one-game playoff. Which the M's, behind the pitching of RJ, win, 9-1.
- October 6: Game 3 of the 1995 ALDS: M's 7, Yankees 4: In the first game in NY, Junior hits 2 HRs but the M's lose, 9-6. In the second game, Junior hits another, off perpetual Junior foil John Wetteland in the 12th, but the Yankees tie it in the bottom of the 12th and win it in the bottom of the 15th on a homerun in the rain by Jim Effin' Leyritz. The Yankees just need to win one more in Seattle. But it's not this one. RJ strikes out 10, Tino hits a 2-run HR, M's fans chant "Donnie Strike-out!" for Don Mattingly. Series: 2-1, Yankees.
- October 7, Game 4 of the 1995 ALDS: M's 11, Yankees 8: Down 5-0 in the 3rd inning, the season seems over. Then in the bottom of the 3rd, Scott Kamieniecki gives up a single to Joey Cora, a single to Griffey, and a HR that Edgar Martinez, with his gator arms, somehow keeps fair down the left-field line. Same inning, Sojo hits a sac fly. A groundout in the fifth ties it, and a homerun by Junior in the sixth puts the M's ahead, 6-5. But the Yanks tie it in the 8th on a wild pitch. In the bottom of the 8th it's John Wetteland again. A walk, a single, a HBP. Bases juiced for Edgar, who hits a long fly to center field. "That's a run," I think. "Now we're ahead," I think. But Bernie Williams keeps going back and suddenly the ball goes *poof* into the blue baggie in center and the Kingdome erupts. Grand slam! Buhners tacks on another homer for a 5-run lead. At the time it seems like the cherry on top, but it turns out the M's need it. Norm Charlton gives up a single in the top of the 9th and Lou goes to...AYALA?? Serously? And Ayala goes: groundout, single, single, walk. Then Lou goes to Bill Risley, with Wade Boggs representing the tying run at the plate. Fielder's choice. Two outs. Now it's Bernie Williams, who ran back on Edgar's grand slam, and who represents the tying run. He hits a fly ball to center...but Junior doesn't keep going back. See you tomorrow. Series: 2-2.
- October 8, Game 5 of the 1995 ALDS: M's 6, Yankees 5 (11 innings): The pitching match-up, David Cone vs. Andy Benes, favors the Yankees, but the M's score first on a Joey Cora homerun. Yankees go up 2-1 on a 2-run, Paul O'Neill homer in the 4th. M's tie it, 2-2, but in the 6th, after Benes walks the bases loaded, Donnie Strike-out finally breaks through with a 2-run double. Bases loaded again with one out but Benes escapes, and, in the bottom of the 8th, Junior hits a one-out homer—his fifth of the series—to make it 4-3. Then with two outs, Tino walks, Buhner singles, Alex Diaz walks. Bases loaded for pinch hitter Doug Strange. Cone is going on fumes. He's thrown nearly 150 pitches, and, rather than go the bullpen, to Johnny Wetteland who can't seem to get the M's out, Yankees manager Buck Showalter keeps Cone in. And Cone walks Strange to tie the game. That's when Showalter finally goes to the 'pen and the hack reliver he'd been avoiding: a kid named Mariano Rivera. Who promptly strikes out Mike Blowers to end the inning. Tied again. But in the 9th, Charlton gives up a lead-off double to Tony Fernandez and a walk to Randy Velarde and Lou goes to the mound and signals for the big left-hander: Randy Johnson, on one day's rest, coming in from the 'pen, to the sound of Guns N' Roses "Welcome to the Jungle." Place goes NUTS. RJ faces Boggs, Bernie, O'Neill: strikeout, pop out, foul out. Then it's the M's turn to blow their chance: a single, a sac bunt, an intentional walk to Griffey, and the Yankees have had enough of this Rivera kid and bring in Black Jack McDowell. Who strikes out Edgar and gets Alex Rodriguez, who pinch-ran for Tino in the 8th, to ground out. Both Game 3 starters are now relieving in Game 5. No one scores in the 10th, but in the 11th the Yankees go: walk, sac bunt, single. Suddenly they're up, 5-4, 3 outs away from the American League Championship. They don't get any of those outs. Joey bunts his way on, Junior lines a single up the middle, sending Joey to third. Then it's Edgar. Cue Dave Niehaus. I am hoarse for days afterwards. It's the greatest game I've been to, the greatest series I've seen, the greatest month of baseball any fan could ask for. And it just continues, my oh my. Series 3-2, Mariners.
- October 10, Game 1 of the 1995 ALCS: M's 3, Indians 2: Then it starts all over again. The Wolcott kid is on the mound for Game 1 so we expect nothing, and in the first inning he delivers on this expectation: First three batters: walk, walk, walk. For Albert Belle, who hit 50+ and 50+ doubles during a strike-shortened season. "Oh well, so much for this game." Instead he strikes out. Then it's Eddie Murray, who fouls out. Then it's Jim Thome, who grounds out. End of inning. M's go up 2-0 on a Mike Blowers homer. Indians eventually tie it on an Albert Belle homerun in the 7th but in the bottom of that inning Luis Sojo's double plates Jay Buhner. And that's all the scoring. Really? That's it? Compared to recent games, it's almost boring. Series: 1-0, M's.
- October 11, Game 2 of the 1995 ALCS: Indians 5, M's 2: Orel Hershiser kills us in this one. Or maybe, finally, everyone's just tired. Junior and Buhner go deep, but we never seem in the game. Series 1-1. Now it's off to Cleveland...
- October 17, Game 6 of the 1995 ALCS: Indians 4, M's 0: ...where the M's win the first game (Jay's goat-to-hero game) but lose the next two. Once again, the M's face an elimination game. And once again, Lou goes to Randy on short rest. It turns out to be one short rest too many. The Indians get to him in the 5th on an error (by Cora) and a single. 1-0. But my chief memory is Kenny Lofton in the 8th inning. Tony Pena leads off with a double and Lofton, attempting to advance him, bunts his way on, then steals second. Pitching to Omar Vizquel, my Omar, the ball gets away from Dan Wilson. Pena scores. And when Randy's not paying attention, Lofton scores ALL THE WAY FROM SECOND. Carlos Baerga's homerun is the swing that finally chases Randy, but it's Lofton's baserunning that really did us in. In the last three innings, only one Mariner reaches base: Tino, with a walk, in the bottom of the 9th with two outs. Brings up Jay Buhner. His grounder to third ends the game, the series, the magic season. But the fans, including me, don't want it to end. Half an hour after the game ends, we're all still there, cheering for the M's...who return onto the field and acknowledge the crowd with tears in their eyes. Series: 2-4, Cleveland.
REGULAR SEASON RECORD: 17-12. POST-SEASON RECORD: 4-2. OVERALL RECORD: 21-14. The lowlight was Junior's injury in May. The highlights? Where to begin? Two foul balls, two post-season series, two comeback victories against the Yankees after a month of comeback victories against other teams. The M's have the game's most overpowering pitcher (RJ), its best pure hitter (Edgar), its best overall player (Junior). The sky's the limit. Then in the off-season we trade Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson (AND Jim Mecir) for Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis. It's s salary move—Tino, the argument goes, played above his head in '95, and will thus be too expensive after arbitration—but we're basically giving to the Yankees two of the guys who beat the Yankees in the '95 ALDS. It feels wrong. I don't know yet how wrong.
How could it get any better than this? Answer? It couldn't.
TOMORROW: THE GREATEST LINE-UP EVER
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1994)
Read introduction and 1993 season here.
1994: COLLAPSED DOME, COLLAPSED SEASON
- April 11: M's 9, Twins 8 (10 innings): It may be Opening Night at the Kingdome but the M's are already 0-5 after a mini-disastrous road trip. The Twins take a 4-0 lead, the M's counter 8-4, and by the 8th it's 8-8. M's win it on a two-out single by Mike Blowers that plates New Mariner Dan Wilson, who hit a 1-out double. New Mariner Bobby Ayala gets a blown save by allowing 1 of 2 inherited baserunners to score, but otherwise pitches 3 innings of scoreless baseball for the win. Junior: 2-4 with a walk.
- April 12: M's 12, Twins 0: This one ain't close. Ken Griffey, Jr. hits 3-run homerun in the second inning, and Dave Fleming pitches 7 innings of shut-out ball.
- April 16: Brewers 1, M's 0: Chris Bosio goes the distance, gives up only 4 hits, but gives up a lead-off, 7th-inning homer to Turner Ward and loses.
- April 25: M's 4, Red Sox 2: Hall-of-Fame match-up! Randy Johnson vs. Roger Clemens. RJ strikes out 9, goes the distance. Clemens strikes out 6 and punks out after 7 innings. He's replaced by Tony Fossas, whose line reads: strikeout, double, strikeout, double, walk. M's front office thinks, "Hey, that's a guy we could use!" Junior goes 3-4, including a 430-foot HR. Junior, in case anyone's forgot, OWNED Clemens.
- May 13: Angels 11, M's 1: I guess the M's didn't own the Angels yet. M's stinking it up, 13-20, but only 1 1/2 back in the weak AL West.
- May 21: M's 13, Rangers 2: Luis Sojo hits a grand slam in a 7-run 5th inning. It's his first HR of the year. Junior follows with #19 for the year. He's hitting .342. M's are 1/2 game back.
- June 6: M's 5, Indians 4: Junior with a solo HR in the fourth. They've gone 4-9 since I last saw them.
- June 10: A's 4, M's 3 (10 innings): Randy Johnson gives up only 2 runs in 9 innings, but the bullpen team of Bill Risley, Tim Davis, Goose Goosage and Bobby Ayala give up 2 more in the 10th to lose it. In the 4th, Junior makes a great catch in center. From The Seattle Times article: "Then Griffey ended the inning with a marvelous leaping catch of a Terry Steinbach blast at 389-foot mark. Griffey timed his jump perfectly, digging his cleat on the wall and catching it about 11 feet up the 11 1/2-foot barrier. His cleat tore away a small hole in the padding. Piniella called it 'one of the greatest plays I've ever seen.'"
- June 24: White Sox 6, M's 2: Junior's 32nd HR of the year (9th inning, solo). M's are 10 games below .500 and 2 1/2 games back, but Junior's getting national attention:
Esquire story from the summer of '94.
- June 27: Tigers 11, M's 1: 10-0 after 4 innings but we stick around. We rarely left early in those days.
- July 16: Yankees 9, M's 3: Jimmy Key beats RJ. Enjoy it, Yankees fan. I won't see the Yankees beat the M's in Seattle again until August 1997.
- July 19: Walking from my Belltown apartment to the Kingdome, I decide to get on the bus in the Ride-Free Zone, but the driver, seeing my glove and cap, asks, "You going to the game? It's postponed." I'm thinking, "Bummer," and then say out loud: "Wait a minute. Why is a game t a domed stadium postponed?" "Dome collapsed," driver says. I imagine a fallen soufflé and go down anyway to check it out. The dome hasn't collapsed so much as huge tiles have fallen from the roof and crashed into several seats. After assessing the situation, and finding the Kingdome unplayable, the M's finish the season as the nomads of MLB, playing their final 20 games on the road. Does it bring them together? Make them more of a team? They win 9 of their last 10, at any rate, and are only two games back before the 1994 players' strike ends the season.
SEASON RECORD: 5-6 (after starting out 5-2). Same pattern as the previous year. When I'm at the park, they start out hot and then fade. Everything evens out in baseball. Junior dominates. He finishes the season .323/.402/.674. He leads the league with 40 home runs. But it's the first of three straight years, which should be his glory years, when his season is truncated.
Junior: the positive face of baseball during its darkest days.
TOMORROW: REFUSE TO LOSE
The Rise and Fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners:
A Ticket-Stub History (1993)
A few weeks back I finally got around to writing my farewell to Ken Griffey, Jr. It's hardly the first time I've written about the man. When he left Seattle in early 2000 I wrote an ironic piece on the history of our relationship. During his heyday I wrote a long piece on his career that focused on his Make-a-Wish work. And in 1995 I wrote an Op-Ed for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, also now retired, about that awful game when he shattered his wrist against the right-center wall. It included the following graph:
A couple of seasons ago I began keeping my ticket stubs and writing on the back not just the final score but any significant events that occurred during the game. Randy Johnson strikes out 15 Royals. Jay Buhner hits for the cycle. Things like that. The impetus for this reportage--I can now admit--was to keep track of how many Ken Griffey Jr. homeruns I had seen. And the reason this statistic was important was, well, these were historic homeruns. Because he was going to hit a lot of them. 500. 600. 700? The sky seemed the limit.
I still have those ticket stubs and recently fished them out of the shoe box beneath the window seat in my First Hill office. They stop in 1999, when Junior stopped for us (for the first time), but I realized they provide a kind of ticket-stub synopsis of the rise and fall of the 1990s Seattle Mariners, the best team to never go to the World Series. Please forgive this massive self-indulgence. At the same time, read on. This is the saddest story I've ever told.
1993: 14-INNING VICTORIES AND 8 STRAIGHT HOMERUNS
- April 6: M's 8, Blue Jays 1: It's Opening Night against the World Champions. The Blue Jays get 1 in the top of the 1st on a triple by Joe Carter and then it's all Seattle. Junior goes deep in his first at-bat of the season with two men on. Randy Johnson lasts 8 innings and strikes out 14. Gonna be a good year.
- April 10: O's 5, M's 3: Except we can't beat these guys. The O's owned the M's during this period. (By which I mean until 2000.)
- April 20: Red Sox 5, M's 2: Clemens!
- April 21: M's 5, Red Sox 0: RJ with a 4-hit shutout; Junior hits two homeruns. The next game, the only game in the Boston series I miss, Chris Bosio pitches a no-hitter. Such is life.
- May 8: M's 7, Twins 2: Buhner with two HRs. Erik Hanson goes the distance. He's 5-0.
- May 24: M's 4, Angels 3 (14 innings): The M's owned the Angels during this period. (By which I mean until 2002.) Angels go up 3-0 but the M's come back on a Mike Blowers double, a sac fly and a bases-loaded walk to tie it. From the 9th inning on, the M's get the leadoff man on four times; but twice, laying down a sac bunt, they force the lead runner. In the 12th, they load the bases with one out, but Griffey pops to short. It's not until the 14th that they break through: single, sac, single. Whew.
- June 14: M's 6, Royals 3: RJ strikes out 15. I write my own headline: JOHNSON'S K'S KO KC. No one uses it.
- June 23: M's 8, A's 7 (14 innings): Jay Buhner starts the game off with a grand slam in the bottom of the 1st. In the third, he hits a double to right. Two innings later, a single. My friends Mike, Tim and I take odds on the triple for the cycle. It's just a joke. Buhner can't hit a triple. He's too slow and the Kingdome's too small. We weren't counting on another 14-inning game, though. In the 7th he strikes out, in the ninth, grounds out, and he ends the 11th with a strikeout. Then he leads off the 14th with a shot to right. I'm hoping homer, but it bounces off the wall and away from both outfielders, and Jay digs for third. And I mean DIGS. I thought he was going to bury himself to make it. He does! Cycle! Never seen one of those before! Game ain't over yet, though. Tino is intentionally walked, Greg Litton forces him at second. Buhner doesn't score. He scores on a wild pitch instead. Buhner's is the first cycle in Mariners history. The game is also memorable for me because of a Junior at-bat in the 5th. I'm about to get a hot dog, realize Junior's up, then wait it out. Count goes 3-0. I yell up at Mike. "You greenlight him?" Mike shakes his head. I nod mine. Next pitch? Upper deck. Seattle Times story on the cycle here.
- July 2: Red Sox 9, M's 8: The Red Sox score in every one of the first 5 innings. This was when Mike Greenwell was our bete noire. Junior goes 3-4, Buhner goes 4-5 with a homer. Edgar's on the DL. Dave Magadan is our DH.
- July 5: Yankees 6, M's 3: Randy isn't quite Randy yet, and he loses to the Yankees, who aren't quite the Yankees yet. They're just a team that hasn't been to the World Series in 12 years. Scott Kamieniecki gets the victory. He'll get his two years later in Game 4.
- July 10, M's 7, Indians 6: M's go up 4-0 in the 1st, the Indians tie it in the 7th, and Buhner, who may be as sick of 14-inning games as I am, hits a walk-off HR with 1 out in the bottom of the 9th. He's having a helluva year when I'm at the Dome. He should pay for my tickets.
- July 28: Twins 4, M's 1. Junior ties a Major League record by hitting his 8th homerun in as many games. Dale Long, Pirates, did it in 1956; Don Mattingly, Yankees, did it in 1987. To be completely honest, I missed it. I was flirting with some girl or other, wasn't looking at home plate, and before I even knew what was happening everyone stood up and roared. Does that even count as "being at the game"? Should it? Four years later, "Good Will Hunting" popularizes the notion that girls matter more than baseball ("I've got to see about a girl"), but I'm still on the fence on that one.
"There it goes! See ya later!"
- July 31: White Sox 13, M's 10: M's go up 4-0 in the 2nd, but over the next 3 innings the Sox score 11 runs off Erik Hanson, Mike Hampton and Brad Holman. Hanson, who started out like an All-Star, is now 8-8.
- September 20: Rangers 2, M's 1 (10 innings): M's are 9 1/2 back at this point with 12 to play, but it's still a heartbreaking loss. Rafael Palmeiro puts the Rangers ahead with what I assume is a pre-juice 10th-inning homerun. In the bottom of the 10th, with 1 out, Junior laces a double. He goes to third on a wild pitch. Jay Buhner walks. And then Dave Magadan lines the ball...right at the shortstop, who doubles off Jay.
- September 25: A's 7, M's 2: Rueben Sierra's grand slam in the 8th inning sinks the M's, but the memorable moment occurs during a Fan Appreciation Night giveaway, when the prize is...Omar Vizquel's glove! We're not talking a Pete O'Brien jersey here. This is something worth having. So I'm already on the edge of my seat when they begin the announcement. They call my section and my seat...but the row in front of me. I stare down in horror, and then, with more horror, hear a little girl say, "Grandma! You won!" I look up and see Grandma go "Huh?" I should've offered Grandma $50 for her ticket. I should've offered her $100. Anything. Omar's GLOVE? Man, I loved Omar.
SEASON RECORD: 7-8 (after starting out 6-2), including two 14-inning victories, the first cycle in Mariners history, a walk-off homerun, a 15-strikeout performance, and the 8th homer in 8 games for Junior. In the off-season, GM Woody Woodward will trade shortstop Omar Vizquel to the Cleveland Indians for Felix Fermin and $500,000, and during the 1995 ALCS an Indians fan will hold up a sign reading: "SEATTLE: Thanks for JIMI HENDRIX and OMAR!" Woodward will later call it, in an interview with me in Seattle Magazine, the trade he regrets most.
TOMORROW: COLLAPSED DOME, COLLAPSED SEASON.
Memories of Junior
On June 2, 2010, Ken Griffey, Jr., "The Kid" when he came up, "The Natural" on his first Sports Illustrated cover, "Junior" very quickly and forever after that, retired from Major League Baseball. It wasn't exactly a Ted Williams-ish exit. Two days earlier, in the bottom of the 9th, with the Mariners down by a run and a man on first, Junior, pinching hitting for catcher Rob Johnson, one of the few players on the team with a worse batting average than his, grounded into a fielder's choice off of Twins' closer Jon Rauch. Then Michael Saunders, all of 2 years old when Junior broke into the bigs, pinch ran for him. And that was that.
I missed his beginnings. Junior signed with the Mariners about the time I graduated from college (June 1987), and he broke into the bigs when I was getting ready for grad school (April 1989), so I wasn't paying much attention. Plus I was in Minneapolis, or Taipei, or New Brunswick, and when I finally arrived in Seattle in May 1991 I maintained a Minnesota preference for Kirby Puckett. The first time I saw Junior at the Kingdome he went 0-4. "So much for that," I thought.
I think I fell in love about '93. He made spectacular catches routine and hit mooonshot homeruns into the upper deck. During the homerun derby in Baltimore, wearing his cap backwards, Junior became the first player to hit the B&O Warehouse beyond the right field stands on the fly; there's still a plaque there commemmorating the event. In July he tied a major league record by hitting 8 HRs in 8 straight games, and for the season he hit 45 homers and led the league in Total Bases with 359, but he finished fifth in the MVP vote behind no. 4 Juan Gonzalez (who led the league in HRs with 46), no. 3 John Olerud (who led the league in batting, OBP and OPS), no. 2 Paul Molitor (who led the league in hits), and the winner, Frank Thomas, who led the league in exactly nothing but whose team, the White Sox, won the West. Griffey was still stuck over in Seattle, which had great, budding players, and a famously irascible manager, Lou Piniella, and the team finished over .500 for the second time in its shabby history but still finished fourth in the AL West with a 82-80 record. You look at the '93 MVP numbers and it looks like a wash among the top 5, so why not give weight to the Gold Glove in center field rather tha the lump at first base? But the Baseball Writers Association of America preferred, as it always does, winning teams and semantics over "valuable" to defense. The writers probably figured: Junior's only 23. He'll get better.
He did. I was at the game June 24, 1994 when Junior hit HR no. 32 and you couldn't help but add up the on-pace possibilities. 62? 70? Esquire magazine ran a short feature on him that summer called "Roger and Him," all about The Man Who Would Break Roger Maris' Home Run Record, but Junior stopped at 40 along with the rest of the baseball season in August. When Newsweek ran a cover story on the baseball strike they put Junior on the cover with a broken bat. MVP SchmemVP, Junior represented the sport.
The sport returned in late April 1995 and so did he: a 3-run homer on Opening Day as the M's beat the Tigers 5-zip before a sparse crowd at the Kingdome. A month later he was gone again: shattering his wrist making an impossible catch against the right-centerfield wall. For three months we held our breath. Could he come back? Would he be the same? The wrist is so important. Think Hank Aaron and his early cross-handed batting stance, and how that mistake strengthened his wrists, and how he wound up hitting 755 homeruns. 1995 turned out to be a magic season for the M's, the "Refuse to Lose" season, and, though Junior helped spark it with a walk-off homerun against John Wetteland and the New York Yankees on August 24, other players dominated. Edgar won the batting title with a .356 average, Randy won the Cy Young award, going 18-2 with 294 strikeouts, and Jay Buhner ruled the September to Remember. Yes, Junior dominated the Yankees in the ALDS, with five homeruns in five games, but it was Edgar who killed them: 7 RBIs in Game 4 and the double down the left-field line that scored Junior from first in Game 5 and finally put the stake into their cold, cold Yankee hearts.
Junior missed another month in '96 (hamate bone) and still hit 49 homers, but in the new era that was only good enough for third place. In '97 he was finally injury free and finally won that MVP award but it already felt different. He wasn't even the Kid anymore, A-Rod was, and though he finally hit 56 homeruns, everyone, even Brady Anderson, was suddenly hitting 50 homeruns. Moreover, his team, the lowly Mariners, who stormed ahead in '95, and seemed, in '96 and early '97, on the verge of a dynasty, was already being undone by awful relief pitching and awfuler moves. Omar Vizquel for Felix Fermin. Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson for Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis. In July '97, with Norm Charlton and Bobby Ayala forever blowing ballgames, M's GM Woody Woodward went out and got three relief pitchers: Bad (Mike Timlin), Badder (Paul Spoljarec) and Baddest (Heathcliff Slocumb). To get them he gave up what felt like the future: another Jr. (Jose Cruz), catcher Jason Veritek and pitcher Derek Lowe. It didn't even work short-term. The M's got killed by Baltimore in the '97 ALDS, three games to one, and from the right-field stands I watched Junior flub a chance at a great play. The ball went off his glove. I'd never seen that before. I thought: "What is that? He normally gets that." The next season was worse. We lost Randy Johnson in July, and while Junior was blasting homeruns it wasn't at the pace of the two testeronic monstrosities, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who ruled the summer. Junior was a diminished figure in the steroids era. The M's were a diminished team in the Yankees era.
In February 1999 I got to interview Woody Woodward for a local magazine. Afterwards the M's front office, who thought it would be a puff piece, called my editor to complain about "being ambushed," but under the circumstances I thought I'd been polite. I hadn't sworn at him, for example. I hadn't threatened him, or yelled at him, or told him what he could do with his Healthcliff Slocumb. One of the Qs and As:
Is there a plan to keep Ken Griffey, Jr. and Alex Rodriguez after the 2000 season? Is it even feasible given the huge contracts that are being signed today?
Right now I’m going after it like it is. But...we also need to be strong enough as a team that they will want to play in Seattle.
They didn't. It was rumored Griffey didn't much like the House that Griffey Built, which opened in July 1999, and after the season he demanded a trade to one of three teams, then one of one team, the Cincinnati Reds, and like that he was gone and the sourness lingered until early April 2000 when his replacement Mike Cameron scaled the wall in dead center field to take away a homerun from Derek "Effin'" Jeter, and Safeco Field went wild: giving Cameron a standing O as he trotted in, giving him a standing O as he batted the next inning, giving him a standing O as he walked back to the dugout after striking out on three pitches. We thought baseball wouldn't be fun without Junior but that night we realized it might. And it kinda was, in 2000 and 2001, but it still wasn't the same. That presence was gone. Those possibilities were gone. There was still too much What Might Have Been.
Junior in the NL was like the Beatles after the break-up: Not bad, but you wondered what happened to the magic. Junior dominated the 1990s. Every year he'd won a Gold Glove. Every year he'd been elected to the All-Star team—usually with the highest vote total. Nine of the 10 years he'd received MVP votes and five times he finished in the top 5. He was named Player of the Decade and named to the All-Century team and one wondered where he would stop. The answer? Right there. In the NL he never won a Gold Glove, played in only three All-Star games, received MVP votes just once, in 2005, his comeback year. He was always injured, limping, overweight. After a time, after the bitterness went away, you silently cheered him on. C'mon, Junior! Lose weight. get in shape, come back. Phillies great Richie Ashburn once said, of the strategies devised to keep playing ball, "I wish I learned early what I had to learn late," but you got the feeling Junior didn't even learn this late. When he returned to Seattle last year, a nostalgic afterthought, and put 18 more homers between him and the black mark of Sammy Sosa, he was an old man of 39. The same age as Mariano Rivera, who helped the Yankees win their first World Championship since 2000. Junior helped the Mariners think they had a chance—for the last time.
I wasn't there at the beginning but I was there at the end. Not Junior's last game on Memorial Day, but the first Major League Baseball game without Junior on a roster. As he drove home to Florida, M's management played the tribute video they'd probably had in the can for 14 months and the grounds crew created a "24" in the dirt out by second base, and me and my friend Jim watched this team, once mighty, once a potential dynasty, now as weak and characterless as the day he arrived to save them, eke out a win in extra innings. But there was nothing electric about it. There was no future in it. The M's are still a backwards-looking franchise that doesn't even have a definitive victory to look back on. In the 1990s they had three of the greatest players ever to play on the same team, Junior, A-Rod and Randy, and they couldn't get past the ALCS. Two of those players now have rings from other franchises. The last will go down as the greatest player in baseball history never to be in a World Series.
Godspeed, Junior. You deserved better.
Talkin' (and Talkin' and Talkin') Baseball with a First-Timer from Lebanon
Two nights ago I took my friend Robert to a baseball game. His first.
Robert was born and raised in Tripoli, Lebanon, moved to the U.S. in August 2001, and doesn't know from baseball. That needed rectifying. And wasn't I the guy to do it? I had once been the SME (Subject Matter Expert) for Microsoft's "Baseball 2K," a PC video game, and I'd taken a friend from Spain to a game several years ago and explained it to her. Promises had been made to Robert last year. Promises were finally kept two nights ago.
As Robert and I walked from our First Hill neighborhood through downtown Seattle and toward Safeco Field, I began the tutorial. There are two teams, I said: one on offense, one on defense. The team on defense is "in the field," and at various positions around the field, to better, um, field the ball. (The editor in me shuddered.) The team on offense sends up one player at a time to home plate.
"Home plate?" Robert asked.
Yes, there are four bases.
OK, there are nine innings, and in each inning, or half inning...
OK, wait. A team gets three "outs," which are, um...
Let me start over.
The team on defense has a "pitcher," who stands 60 feet, 6 inches away from home plate. The team on offense sends a "batter" to home plate with a...um...stick.
"A bat," Robert said.
Yes. The pitcher throws the ball toward the batter and tries to get the batter to swing and miss or hit the ball weakly. If the pitcher gets the batter to miss three times, that's an "out." A "strikeout." (The caveat is the foul ball, I thought, but first things first.)
There are different ways to make an out, I said. I explained the ground out, the fly out. the strikeout. Three outs and the two teams switch sides.
But the point of the game is to move the players around the bases, from first to second to third to home, and score.
"Points," Robert said.
In baseball, I said, they're called "runs." And after nine innings the team with the most runs wins. (The caveat is extra innings, I thought, but...)
We kept going. Balls and strikes. "Strike zone." A walk. A single. Moving from base to base. I didn't know it but I was doing a Bob Newhart routine. Was I making the game seem less bizarre to Robert? All I know is, the more I talked, and the more I explained the game at this elemental level, the more bizarre it seemed to me. Who could invent such a thing?
As we entered Safeco Field, I apologized to Robert for the weather, which was overcast and drizzly. I apologized for the Mariners, who were not that good. I apologized for the sparse crowd, eventually announced as 20,920, but probably half that. Eight years ago, I said, this place would've been packed.
We bought Ivar's fish and chips and beer, and grabbed our seats: 300 level behind home plate. I explained road-gray uniforms and home-white uniforms. The players were being announced, which necessitated further explanations: line-up; batting order. "And they can't deviate from this order?" Robert asked. "And after they switch sides and return to offense, do they start at the top again?" Robert asked.
The first Major League pitcher Robert saw in person was Doug Fister, who, the scoreboard proudly displayed, was leading the league in ERA. "What's ERA?" Robert asked. The first Major League batter Robert saw in person was Austin Jackson, the Tigers' rookie center fielder, with a .333 batting average. "What's batting average?" Robert asked. These were easy ones. "Earned runs," admittedly, was tough. It led to "unearned runs" and "errors" and "official scorers" and this question: "Does it change the outcome of the game or is it just for individual statistics?"
And in the first Major League at-bat Robert ever saw in person, Austin Jackson struck out looking.
"So what if the ball is outside the strike zone and the batter swings and misses?" Robert asked. That's a strike, too, I said. "What if the ball hits the batter?" That's a hit-by-pitch, I said, and the batter goes to first base. "So how come the batter gets out of the way?" he asked. "Doesn't he want to go to first?" Well, I said, if the umpire thinks he didn't try to get out of the way, then he might not let him go to first base. Besides, it would hurt. The ball is small and hard and thrown between 85 and 100 miles per hour. "Yes," Robert agreed. "That would hurt."
Things began to click for him when, with two outs and runners on first and second, Brennan Boesch hit a high, high pop fly to left field to end the inning. That's an out, I said.
"Ahhh!" Robert said. "So it doesn't matter how hard he hits the ball, if the fielder catches it before it hits the ground..." Yes, I said, the batter is out. You can hit the ball all the way to the wall, you can hit the ball over the wall, but if a fielder leaps up and catches it before it touches anything, it's an out. Just an out.
Robert nodded. At the same time, throughout the game, he seemed equally impressed by balls that were hit high as those that were hit far. Dull pop-ups to me were majestic things to him.
For the Mariners in the bottom of the first, Ichiro and Figgins went down quickly. When there are two outs, I said, a team is less likely to score any runs. Which is when Franklin Guttierez promptly slapped a single to left and Milton Bradley hit a line-shot homerun over the right-field wall. We stood and cheered. We bumped fists. 2-0!
The M's gave it right back with sloppy play in the top of the second. They couldn't get to ground balls. Double play balls were booted. "It seems the best plan is to hit the ball on the ground," Robert said. Well, I said, not really. Line drives are the best kinds of hits, but those, too, can be caught for outs. There's a lot of chance in the game. You can perform well and still make an out. You can perform poorly and still get a hit.
A Tiger slapped a single to left and took a wide turn. "He was thinking about going to second," Robert said, "but he did not want to take the risk." Exactly, I said.
In the top of the third, the Tigers threatened again: men on first and second with only one out. But Don Kelly lined the ball to Chone Figgins at second, who doubled off Brandon Inge at first. Doubled off. OK, when the ball is hit in the air, the baserunners can only advance when...
After that, things went quickly. We had several 1-2-3 innings. Three up, three down. I worried the game would seem long and boring to Robert but he thought it moved fine. He thought American football was long and boring in comparison. "So many timeouts," he said.
I filled his head with unnecessary minutia:
- The Tigers were one of the original 16 major league teams, dating back more than a century, while the Mariners existed only since 1977.
- Major League Baseball didn't start playing "The Star-Spangled Banner" before games until World War I and it didn't become codified, I believed, until the late 1930s (although it's apparently World War II).
- The 7th inning stretch supposedly began when William Howard Taft, president of the United States from 1909 to 1913, went to a game and stood up after the top of the 7th and everyone followed suit—but I told him this story was probably apocryphal.
- "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," which we sang during the 7th inning stretch, was over 100 years old.
After 9/11, I added, they also played "God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch but that's mostly stopped. Then we talked about 9/11. He had the perspective of someone who grew up in the midst of a civil war and didn't expect life to run smoothly. "I thought, you know, this might be bad," he said about being Lebanese. "It might be like the Japanese with internment camps. But everyone treated me nicely. I didn't have any bad incidents."
In the end, for all of my apologies at the beginning, we watched a good game. In the 8th it was 3-3, and I was beginning to explain the concept of extra innings to Robert—who, instead of being appalled, rather liked the idea that no game could end in a tie—when, with runners on first and second and one out, Milton Bradley lined a two-strike pitch to right field. Here came Figgins from second! A play at the plate! Safe! I showed Robert the umpire calls for "safe" and "out." I talked about how it was good that Guttierez was now on third because he had speed and might score on a sacrifice fly, which I also explained, and which was promptly demonstrated when Jose Lopez lofted a shallow fly to center. Guttierez ran. Safe! "He took the risk," Robert said.
In the 9th, the M's closer, David Aardsma, was announced by the PA announcer with a pirate drawl ("Aarrrrr-dsma"), and to accompanying heavy metal music and heavy metal graphics on the scoreboard. "Quite a production," Robert said, looking around. Then, referring to Shawn Kelley, who had relieved Fister in the 8th, he added, "The other guy didn't get such a welcome."
The 9th went quickly. Avila fought off several pitches before popping out to short. Raburn smacked the ball to center but Guttierez drifted under it easily. Then Austin Jackson, who began the game with a strikeout, ended it with a strikeout. The sparse crowd stood and cheered. I looked over at Robert, who smiled.
"So we win," he said.
We win, I said.
He looked around the field. "You know," he said, "once you know the basics, this game isn't so difficult."
Stadler and Waldorf Almost See a No-Hitter
My friend Jim and I are basically the Stadler and Waldorf of Seattle Mariners fans—we sit on the sidelines, disparage the proceedings, and crack each other up in the process. We're not exactly high on this year's team, either. Last year the M's scored the fewest runs in the American League and they didn't greatly improve their lineup in the off-season.
Even so, last week, when the M's were 2-6, Jim agreed to go to a game with me, and by the time we walked through the gates last night they were 6-7, a nice turnaround, although they were still near the bottom of the AL in runs scored with 45. Thankfully the team we were playing, the Orioles, were at the bottom of the league in runs scored with 43. Or as I heard M's broadcaster Rick Rizzs put it when I went to get some Ivars and beers during the third inning: “The Mariners have scored 45 runs this year; the Orioles only 42 (sic).”
When I got back to my seat the M's were in the middle of a rally. The bases were loaded with one out and Franklin Gutierrez, our best hitter, and the only reason Jim's girlfriend watches games (psst: he's good-looking), was at the plate.
“Jack Wilson started things off with a double,” Jim said, as he took his beer.
“I heard on the TV out there,” I said. “Rizzs made it sound like Babe Ruth's called shot.”
Jim laughed and shook his head. “He should have been thrown out by 10 feet but the Orioles misplayed it.
”Really?“ I said. ”According to Rizzs, 'he had that double right out of the batter's box.'“
Jim shook his head again, inhaled a weary and unamused laugh, then looked over at the broadcast booth. ”I should just go down there and punch him in the face right now.“
In the first few innings we'd gone over our many complaints. Was Jose Lopez really a no. 4 hitter? Was Griffey a no. 5 hitter? Shouldn't they move up Casey Kotchman, who has some upside, but is currently batting seventh? We wondered why, in the history of Safeco, with its favorable right-field winds, the M's had never acquired a really solid, left-handed power hitter. We talked how good my Twins were doing and got back to lefty power hitters. ”Thome was a good pick-up for them,“ Jim said. ”He would've looked good here, too, but“—and his voice slowed accusingly—”the DH slot was filled.“ Filled, I should add, by Ken Griffey, Jr., Jim's bete noir. Given our history, I can forgive Junior a lot, but Jim is more hard-hearted and (possibly) common-sensical.
Meanwhile, that third-inning rally continued. Gutierrez slapped a single to left for one run. Jose Lopez grounded into what should've been an inning-ending double play, but the O's third baseman, Ty Wiggington, bobbled it, Ichiro scored, everyone was safe. ”But now you've got Griffey up instead of Kochman,“ Jim said. But Griffey promptly singled to the right side for two more runs: 4-0, M's. Then Milton Bradley laced a double into the left field gap, and for some reason (memories of '95? memories of Wilson's double a few batters earlier?), the third-base coach waved the 40-year-old Griffey home from first. Out by 10 feet.
”Do you think if we were given enough time during spring training we couldn't do that?“ Jim asked.
”Be a third base coach. I've often wondered. It looks like not much.“
We were debating this when Kochman sent a shot screaming into the right-field bleachers. 7-0, M's.
”You think they're going to move him up in the lineup?“ Jim asked, as we stood and applauded. ”I don't think they have the balls.“
”Helluva inning, though,“ I said. ”Plus we got the no-hitter going.“
Indeed. Doug Fister, the M's 6-foot-eight-inch right-hander, had hit a batter and then walked a batter in the first, but hadn't allowed a hit. He retired the side in order in the 4th.
”I refuse to talk about a no-hitter until after five,“ Jim said.
An inning later: ”OK, now I'll talk about it.“
Neither one of us had ever been at the park for a no-hitter. ”I don't think I've even seen one on TV,“ Jim said.
”Me neither. No, wait. I did watch the last five innings of one once.“
”Gooden's against the M's. That was impressive. Against that lineup?“
This led to a trivia question Jim had heard on talk radio: Mariano Rivera has saved games for five Cy Young Award winners (not necessrily in their Cy Young-awarding-winning seasons). Who are they? ”Gooden was the one we couldn't get,“ he added.
After Fister retired the side in the sixth, Jim began to get pumped. ”Hey,“ he sudddenly realized. ”It's only nine outs.“
I looked around at the empty seats. ”And this is the kind of crowd that tends to see no hitters,“ I said.
”I don't know if I've ever seen Safeco this empty," Jim said.
Maybe we shouldn't have talked so much about the no hitter. Maybe we jinxed it. Because with nobody out in the top of 7th, Nick Markakis, who had 45 doubles last season, rocketed a sharp single past Fister and up the middle. We stood, applauded, acknowledged the effort. We talked one hitter until the next hit. We talked shutout and complete game and pitch counts until the O's scored a run. Then we knew that Fister, who'd thrown over 90 pitches, would probably be relieved in the 8th, as he was.
But we did see history last night. Jim called it: the attendance, 14,528, was the lowest ever at Safeco Field. Wucka wucka.
Good-Bye, Mr. Snappy
"What was the worst thing that Michael Jordan could do to you? He can go dunk on you. He could embarrass you. What's the worst thing Randy Johnson can do to you? He can kill you."
—Jeff Huson on the fear of facing Randy Johnson, who retired yesterday with a 303-166 record, 3.29 ERA and 4875 strikeouts against only 1497 walks. First ballot Hall-of-Famer in five years, he'll go in, unfortunately, as an Arizona Diamondback. More wins as a Mariner but those Cy Youngs stacked high in Arizona. Some links:
- From the Seattle Mariners site. Includes audio and video of RJ announcing his retirement and talking about his career.
- A nice video retrospective from "Baseball Tonight" when he won no. 300 last summer.
- Here's RJ by the numbers, courtesy of ESPN.com.
- Bob Finnigan's Seattle Times' piece from Game 5, 1995
- Every Seattlite remembers this one from the "Almost Live" program: How much of a chance do you have of winning the Washngton State Lottery?
I'd include more but MLB.com makes it difficult to find video (no rebroadcast, kids, without express written consent), and then you have to sit through a 30-second commercial for a 12-second clip. But we know the highlights. The no-hitter in 1990. The Kruk at-bat in the '93 All-Star game. The one-game playoff with California in '95. Coming in from the bullpen ("Welcome to the Jungle") in Game 5 against NY. The Larry Walker All-Star at-bat. Striking out 19. Striking out 20. Coming in from the bullpen in Game 7 against NY. The perfect game. No. 300.
Good-Bye, Mr. Snappy. We hardly saw ye.
Lancelot Links, with Mike Blowers
Sober political pieces:
- Hendrik Hertzberg has been writing too many obituaries lately, as we all have, but here's a good one on former Carter press secretary Jody Powell.
- A smart take on the “is it racism or isn't it?” question regarding the vociferousness of the response to Pres. Obama's policies, via an unnamed reader on Andrew Sullivan's site. Money quote: “Of course they are screaming 'socialism.' They've been doing that since the 1950s at least. They're not talking about economic redistribution of wealth—they never have been. They've been talking about redistribution of privilege this whole time.”
- “Turkeys of the Year” from Minnesota Law & Politics, which is the first, parent magazine of the company that employs me. The difficulty isn't finding the turkeys anymore, it's choosing among them. There's a section here, “Quick! Cancel My Membership to the ACLU,” that is so full of the idiocies being spouted in public and political life that it might make the founding fathers rethink the First Amendment. Michele Bachmann rightly (no pun intended) gets her own section—including her frequent attacks on and insinuations about the U.S. Census Bureau. Glad that worked out. Then there's last year's gem from John McCain on why his pick, Sarah Palin, is qualified to be VP: “She knows more about energy than probably anyone else in the United States of America,” he said. How awful that reads today. What a sad thing they were trying to sell. What a sad thing they're still trying to sell.
Drunk movie pieces:
- What does it mean to be a back-up critic at a daily? It means you don't get first dibs. And it means that in looking over Rotten Tomatoes list of the worst-reviewed movies of the last 10 years, I discovered I reviewed no. 91 (“Surviving Christmas”), no. 36 (“The Whole Ten Yards”), no. 5 (“National Lampoon's Gold Diggers”) and...wait for it...no 1! (“Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever”) Not to nitpick...OK, to nitpick. “Gold Diggers” should've been no. 1. It was the worst thing I've ever seen—and I've seen garbage stewing for weeks by the side of a Taipei road in 100-degree heat. The big surprise for me is that “Elektra” didn't even make the cut. Now that's an impressive decade of film.
Partying baseball pieces:
- Ichiro is ejected from a game for the first time in his Major League career. Must've learned how to finally say “c***sucker.”
- Finally, here's an upper: In the pregame show before a late-September game between two teams going nowhere (Seattle at Toronto), color commenator and former third baseman Mike Blowers, known for the way he didn't crowd the plate during his playing days, made an insane prediction. He said Mariners rookie third baseman and Bellevue native Matt Tuiasosopo, who had all of 59 career at-bats going into the game, would hit his first career homerun that day. Not only that day but in his second at-bat. Not only in his second at-bat but on a 3-1 fastball and into the second deck in left field. Make sure you listen to what happens. I swear, Dave Niehaus has gotten such joy out of such lousy material—the short sad history of the Seattle Mariners—that he qualifies as the Patron Saint of the Pacific Northwest. And here, with great material, he's downright giddy. “I see the light! I believe you, Mike!” Way to go, Mike. Way to go, Dave. Touch 'em all, Tui. (UPDATE: Damn, even Rachel Maddow is on this story. Here she is, via Patrick Goldstein, who is also on this story. Hopefully more get on the story. It's a story worth telling.) (UPDATE: Here's the full play-by-play of the Tui homerun. It's worth listening to the entire thing.)
As of last night, here's where the Seattle Mariners rank in the following batting categories among the 14 teams of the American League:
- Hits: 11th
- Doubles: 11th
- Triples: 12th-T
- Homeruns: 11th
- Total Bases: 13th
- Runs: Last
- RBIs: Last
- Batting Average: Last
- OBP: Last
- Slugging: 13th
- OPS: Last
It's been a fun summer. But we are first in the league in Sacrifice Hits with 53. Nothing like sacrificing.
I arrived in Seattle in May 1991 after spending most of the 1980s pursuing a degree and a girl—I got the degree and lost the girl—and after having spent a significant amount of time abroad in baseball-less Taiwan. Hell, even in Minneapolis, where I lived most of the 1980s, baseball didn't feel the same as when I was growing up. My childhood stadium, Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. (now the Mall of America), saw its last professional baseball game played on September 30, 1981 (I was there), and it was replaced, the spring of my freshman year of college, with a domed stadium downtown. Grass became turf, the sky became roof, the distinctive “TC” on the caps of the players became a fat, generic “M” (because, literalists proclaimed, it was the Minnesota Twins, not the Twin Cities’ Twins), and I drifted elsewhere. Yes, this kid Hrbek was better than most in a long line of “next Harmon Killebrews,” and, yes, this kid Puckett coming up in ’84 was fun to watch, but overall I stopped going. I lost track. Hell, when the Twins finally won it all in 1987 I was on the other side of the world. I still considered myself a fan but I was, at best, fair-weather.
In Seattle in ’91 and ’92 I went to a few games in the Kingdome—which was, impossibly, even uglier than the Metrodome—and things improved in ’92 when I got glasses and could finally follow the ball again, but I didn’t become a true fan until ’93, when two friends from University Book Store, Tim and Mike, and I, would often, spur of the moment, take in a game. “Who’s pitching? Randy? Let’s go.”
Here’s an entry in my diary, from when I wrote a diary, from April 21, 1993:
I got rained on three times today: biking to work in the morning; as Parker and I were waiting for the bus to take us to the Mariners game; and finally returning from the Mariners game. The game, by the way, went well: Mariners: 5 Red Sox: 0. Randy Johnson with a 4-hit complete game shutout; Ken Griffey Jr. with two homeruns. This is his second two-homerun game in the last three days.
The next night Chris Bosio pitched a no-hitter and I wasn’t there, and I always lamented the fact that I went to the first two games in that series with Boston and it was the third game that was a no-hitter. But this second game wasn’t bad, either. It was career victory no. 51 for Randy (no. 51). That’s 249 victories ago. And counting.
God, he was fun to watch. He’s fun to watch now, but then? In his prime? For your team? Unbelievable. That year I saw him strike out 15 Kansas City Royals—twice. I watched him give John Kruk a heart attack at the All-Star game. Jerry Crasnick has a list of the top 9 Randy Johnson moments and I was only at the park for one of them—no. 9, the McGwire homerun—but, possibly because it’s too similar to his no. 4, Crasnick left out the most indelible moment for most Mariners’ fans, and I was there for that.
In 1998, along with Edgar Martinez, Jay Buhner and Jamie Moyer, the M’s had three superstars on the team—RJ, Junior and A-Rod—and thus three huge contracts to fill in the near future, and in attempting to juggle this dilemma they wound up losing all three. RJ went first, mid-season 1998, and I covered his return to Seattle, and to new Safeco Field, on July 20, 1999 for The Grand Salami, an alternative program sold at the stadium. His return, by the way, wasn't the most indelible RJ moment for most Mariners' fans. That came three years earlier. Here's the piece. I called it "Unitless in Seattle":
M’s fans have grown bitter these past few seasons, witnessing, at they have, so many late-inning losses, so many bewildering trades, so much opportunity and talent gone for naught. Worse, RJ’s departure was acrimonious. He pitched poorly with the M’s in the first half of ’98, and then cut a swath through the National League in the second half, so some feel he tanked it here.
“I listen to sport radio quite a bit,” Artie Kelly, 41, of Seattle, said outside Safeco, “and (fan reaction) is pretty mixed.”
Kelly, known as “Ironworker Artie,” bears a slight resemblance to the Unit—tall, lanky, and long-haired. He wore a t-shirt with Johnson’s name and number on the back, and stuck posters on the outside of Safeco, which he helped build. “Gone But Not Forgotten,” read one. “The House That Randy Built,” read another. “I’m out here to enlighten fans who are being brainwashed by M’s management,” he said. “You don’t lead the league in strikeouts by tanking it.”
Indeed, Johnson’s 329 strikeouts last year, a number lost in the hubbub over the McGwire-Sosa homerun parade, were the seventh-most in modern major league history.
“The question back then was whether Randy deserved Maddux money,” Kelly continued. “Well, now the question is whether Maddux deserves Johnson money."
Inside Safeco it became apparent that the anti-Randy talk on sports radio was mostly a vocal minority.
“I like Randy, he didn’t do nothing wrong,” said Ed Claxton, 34, of Bothell.
“Cheer?” asked Brian Conrad, 31, of Kenmore, who basked in the sun along the first base line. “Hell yeah. He’s responsible for us having this stadium.”
When asked about favorite RJ moments, the response was surprisingly widespread. Some mentioned the no-hitter against Detroit in 1990, and the one-game playoff against California that gave Seattle its first division title in 1995. What came to Darren Arends’ mind was the 1993 All-Star game when Randy sailed a pitch over the head of the Phillies’ John Kruk. Kruk stepped out, an amazed, dazed smile on his face, fluttered a hand near his heart, then promptly struck out on three pitches—his last swing hardly catching homeplate he was so far back in the bucket.
But by far the favorite Randy moment—in this admittedly unscientific survey—was Randy striding in from the bullpen to the strains of “Welcome to the Jungle,” in Game 5 of the 1995 Division Series against the Yankees.
“The best sports moment of my life,” said Brian Conrad.
“That was a pretty imposing sight,” remembered Sean Linville, 28, of Bellingham.
And I was there. Six years later—during which the national sports press, forgetting '95, kept implying that Randy "choked" in the postseason—I watched on TV as Randy, now with the Diamondbacks, did the same against the Yankees in the 7th game of the 2001 World Series. He was the true Yankees killer—though both games required comebacks from his teammates.
Getting that comeback, getting that team support, was kind of a rarity for Randy—at least in his Seattle days. That’s what I kept thinking during this long, drawn-out pursuit for 300. If it wasn’t for that lousy, mid-1990s M’s bullpen, how much sooner would he have gotten there? I recall tons of blown ballgames—the worst, the most laughable, coming in April 1998, when RJ dominated the Red Sox (again) through 8 innings at Fenway, and left with a five-run lead. The M’s bullpen—horrible in ’97, disastrous in ‘98—promptly gave it all back, and more, as Mo Vaughn ended the game with a walk-off grand slam. The four or five pitchers Lou trotted out that inning didn’t even record an out.
So make no mistake. Randy deserves that 300. He’s the best, most dominating pitcher I’ve ever seen. And—with Junior, Edgar, Omar and Jay, as well as Mike and Tim—he helped bring me back to baseball.
My Oh My!
One of my favorite people I don't know personally, Dave Niehaus, the voice of the Seattle Mariners since 1977, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this week. About effin' time, I say. He's real baseball. He's given me more moments of pure joy than most people I do know personally. Fans in the Pacific Northwest know what I'm talking about. Below is an article I wrote about him in 1996. It's partly nostalgic — Kingdome, Junior's 199th career homerun — but most of it is still true:
THE VOICE OF THE M'S
Between the second and third decks of the Kingdome, up a flight of stairs from the press box and surrounded on all sides by luxury suites, sits a narrow, blue-carpeted, three-tiered room. Because each tier holds a thin table equipped with headphones and swivel chairs, the room is reminiscent of a tiny lecture hall. Except no students are present, while the would-be professor sits at the bottom tier with his back to the room, looking out over the artificial green of the Kingdome's vast interior. He wears headphones and talks into a microphone held in place by duct tape.
“It's been a wild, woolly, Pier 6 brawl, and the bullies so far have been the Kansas City Royals,” he bellows.
It is from this enclave, in these unassuming surroundings, that Dave Niehaus makes Mariners baseball come alive for 400,000 radio listeners.
“He's the best broadcaster in baseball,” Rick Rizzs, Niehaus' broadcast partner for 10 of the last 13 years, mentions before gametime. “He can set the scene, he can bring you in, he can make you feel it, smell it, touch it, and be a part of it.”
Tony Ventrella of KIRO-TV concurs. “He's got such great knowledge and — the thing is — stories. He's got a story attached to everything. And he's a great storyteller. Some people know the stories, but they don't tell them as well.”
In conversation it doesn't take long for Niehaus to reveal these talents, whether he's talking about Gaylord Perry's 300th win or his preference for outdoor baseball.
“You go to Fenway Park in Boston — which is my favorite park by far and it was built in 1912 — and you can smell it, you can smell the baseball. You look at the ladder that comes down The Monster, you look at the Yawkey's names written in Morse Code right by the ladder, you look at that seat 502 feet away in right field where Ted Williams hit the homerun off Freddie Hutchinson. There's so many things there for a baseball nut like I am.”
On the air Niehaus often recounts his childhood in Princeton, Indiana: sitting on the porch, sipping lemonade, catching fireflies and listening to Harry Caray broadcast St. Louis Cardinals games. Yet as a child he never thought of becoming an announcer. “Subliminally maybe,” he says, “[but] I was going to go to dental school. And then I woke up one morning in college and said 'I can't stare down somebody's throat at nine o'clock in the morning the rest of my life,' and I wandered by the radio and television school there and changed my major.”
He worked for the Armed Forces radio network, broadcasting baseball and basketball and hockey. From 1969 to 1976, along with Dick Enberg and Don Drysdale, he was the voice of the California Angels. Then came an offer from a nascent Seattle organization, and Niehaus was on hand to help launch The Good Ship Mariner on April 6, 1977; it almost sank off the dock.
“Frank Tanana shut us out,” he recalls, “and Nolan Ryan shut us out the next night. I was beginning to wonder a) whether we would ever score a run, and b) whether we'd ever win a ballgame.”
It wasn't until 1991 that the Mariners even finished above .500 for the season. Meanwhile, Niehaus, his reputation growing, was getting offers from bigger markets with outdoor stadiums, but he didn't budge. He liked the Pacific Northwest. And he wanted to be here when Seattle baseball turned around.
Last year he got his wish.
The story is familiar by now. Thirteen games back in August. One exciting come-from-behind victory after another in September. The one-game playoff with California to clinch the A.L. West title. Losing two games in New York and then coming back to the Kingdome to win three in a row. It was some of the most exciting baseball people had ever seen, and much of it was imprinted with Niehaus' voice: the smooth, low tones that tend toward capital letters when the action heats up:
“And Junior right down on the knob of the bat, waving that black beauty right out toward Pavlik; has it cocked and Pavlik is set. The pitch on the way to Ken Griffey Jr. and it's SWUNG ON AND BELTED! DEEP TO RIGHT FIELD! GET OUT THE RYE BREAD GRANDMA, IT’S GRAND SALAMI TIME! I DON'T BELIEVE IT! ONE SWING OF THE BAT, THE FIRST PITCH, AND KEN GRIFFEY JR. HAS GIVEN THE MARINERS A 6-2 LEAD OVER THE TEXAS RANGERS. MY OH MY!”
This mixture of adult professionalism and youthful enthusiasm has helped turn Niehaus into a local icon. He is so popular that in Seattle's first ever post-season game, he — not the Mayor, not the Governor — but he threw out the first pitch. He is so identified with the Mariners that in the book A Magic Season: The Year the Mariners Made Seattle a Baseball Town, his profile is included among the players. Fans leaving exciting games wonder how excited Niehaus must have been during this or that homerun, or this or that astounding catch. Some don't have to wonder; they bring their radios with them.“He's a fan of the game,” says Mark Bitton of Aberdene. “He's not just being a broadcaster. You can hear it in his voice. He's excited about it, too.”
“I brought the radio because I came with my son and his four friends,” Peter Maier of Seattle mentions, gesturing to several boys roaming the third deck aisles while the Mariners fritter away another lead. “So Niehaus is my adult friend.”
Almost directly below Maier, in the broadcast booth, Niehaus holds nothing back. “This is an ugly, sloppy ballgame,” he tells his listeners. He confers with producer Kevin Cremin. Both keep score. Cremin hands him notes, advertisements, and Niehaus smoothly segues into them between pitches. His observations are quick, his word choices evocative. Speedy Tom Goodwin hits a “soft, little dunker” that he turns into a two-base hit when Buhner merely “lopes in on the ball.” He finds humor in the Kansas City catcher involved in a hit-and-run: “Big Sal Fasano was just lumbering down the line toward second.” Between innings he shows off the sealed envelope in which Ken Griffey Jr. has predicted the day he will hit his 200th homerun. “Knowing Junior's sense of humor I'll probably open it up and it'll say 'Today',” Niehaus laughs.
An inning later, Junior hits number 199; but the game is lost, part of a disappointing homestand for the M's. Niehaus, however, is as philosophic about such losses any veteran player.
“I've done well over three thousand games — and that's just for Seattle — and I've never seen two games alike. Of course you want the club that you work for to win. But I just enjoy the aesthetics of the game, the artistry of baseball. I look at one game like it is: 1/162 of a season.
”There are times when you get in an eight or nine game losing streak and you think 'Will this ever end?' It will. Sometimes it doesn't seem like it, but it will.“
Sure enough, the next night the M's pitching settles down, the big bats come out, and Dave Niehaus' voice rises as quickly as the trajectory of Paul Sorrento's latest homerun:
”The pitch to Sorrento BELTED! DEEP TO RIGHT FIELD! UPPER DECK TIIIIIME, YES! A two-run homerun by Paul Sorrento and the Mariners are up 7-0! Fly Away!"
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