Seattle Mariners postsTuesday June 14, 2011
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.
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.