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?
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