Seattle Mariners postsWednesday November 10, 2010
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 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 the 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...