Seattle has a history in baseball that is somewhat unique. Like most of the other west coast teams, they had a history in minor league baseball before trying to land a Major League Baseball team when westward migration was all the rage. Seattle tried to pick up a team in 1965, when Cleveland Indians owner William Daley tried to move the team out to Seattle. In 1969 they finally won their team, only to have it disappear after only one year to, of all places, Milwaukee. Then they got another new team which is best known for its associations with Japanese business enterprises.
Major League Baseball in Seattle started with the Seattle Pilots in 1969. They stayed a year, beset by a ton of financial problems before they got sold to Bud Selig, who took them to Milwaukee and renamed them the Brewers. Being a last place team, the Pilots seemed destined to be written off as a footnote to the league history, but no one counted on a young intellectual pitcher named Jim Bouton taking notes during his tenure with the Pilots. The notes Bouton was taking eventually found their way into book form. Bouton's book is called Ball Four, and it's considered the reigning premier classic of all baseball books. (It really is an outstanding book, too.) It made waves and caught flack by players and owners who rallied together via their newly mutual hatred of Jim Bouton, who gave away a lot of locker room secrets and hijinks which is responsible for flat out killing the image of the noble jock. You know the image I'm talking about: The milk-drinking professional athletes who go in, play hard, go home and work tirelessly on perfecting their game while saying words as bad as "shucks" if they mess up. Ball Four was wild and it presented athletes as people who knew their limits, enjoyed a drink and a lay, and got tired of the long season. The baseball commissioner brought Bouton into his office and tried to force him to sign a paper saying Ball Four wasn't true. A team burned a copy of the book. (Some reports say they burned Bouton in effigy.) Bouton was banned from baseball for a long time, because the 50's-era ballplayer image was shattered.
Anyway, the Pilots' exit of Seattle resulted in a lawsuit by the City of Seattle, King County, and the State of Washington against the American League for breach of contract. It wasn't until 1976 that the American League wised up enough to realize that hey, Seattle is pissed off about us letting their team move to Milwaukee, right? Why not just offer them a new one! A year later, the details were hammered out, and the Seattle Mariners started play in 1977.
The star pitcher of the Mariners, Diego Segui, is the only player to have played for both the Pilots and Mariners. The team finished with a record of 64-98, which was the same record the Pilots coughed up in their only season. The early Mariners were loaded with talent like famed admitted cheater Gaylord Perry and All-Stars like Alvin Davis, Harold Reynolds, Mark Langston, and Spike Owen. They were also competing against the Seattle Seahawks, who are Seattle's representative in the country's most popular sport, and also the NBA Champion Seattle Supersonics. It's easy to guess exactly what marked those early Mariners teams, given the circumstances: Unending ineptitude, poor performance, low attendance, and losing. Lots and lots of losing. The Mariners weren't exactly on their way through the ranks after the rocky years, either; they stank right up through the entirety of the 80's.
In 1987, there was a slight glimmer of hope on the horizon. He was a first-round pick in the amateur draft who broke into The Show in 1989 and never left. His name was Ken Griffey Jr., and he would turn into a human highlight reel for years to come. His results weren't immediate; even though he started in 1989, the Mariners still suffered for the next couple of years before finally going 83-79 in 1991. Yeah, it's only two games over the .500 mark, but it's worth noting for two reasons: First, it was the first time the Seattle Mariners, in their entire 14-year history at the time, ever finished with a winning record. Second, even though it was only 83-79, the 2006 Saint Louis Cardinals DID manage to win the World Series with that very same record! (Just thought I'd point that out.) In 1992, Nintendo bought the team, under the condition that presidency and Chairmanship are both American.
1991 was a sign of great things ahead, but it didn't show right off the bat. Hell, the next year the Mariners were right back to losing again. But in 1993, they hired a proven manager named Lou Piniella, who had set himself up as a great manager by then, with a World Series ring he had won in 1990 as manager of the Cincinnati Reds. He came to helm the Mariners through their great years, from 1993 to 2002.
By 1994, the Mariners had one of those strong young cores that was gelling and playing like a team. Griffey was still there, of course; he was joined now by Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner. That year, there was an incident which effectively killed the team's home, the Kingdome, when four ceiling tiles fell from the roof and landed in the bowl below. These weren't ordinary ceiling tiles, either; these suckers weighed 15 pounds each. While repairs were made, the Mariners were forced to play all their next games on the road because the guys running the MLB Players' Association are complete dicks who couldn't accept the idea of Major League Baseball being played in non-Major League Baseball parks, which kept Tacoma and Vancouver out of the equation. The trip started with the Mariners going 2-8, but they did rebound to win the next ten games, which put them two games behind the Texas Rangers before…. STEEERRRRIIIIKE!!! And by strike, I don't mean the good, baseball-related kind either… Wait, not the ordinary baseball strike…. Um…. The players decided to stop playing baseball for the year, okay?!
Griffey was injured to start 1995, but the Mariners started strong and played well through the year. In September, the Mariners were 13 games out, behind the California Angels. But they started winning games through late comebacks, caught up to the choking Angels, and forced a one-game Wild Card playoff. Randy Johnson pitched against Angels ace Mark Langston, whom the Angels had ironically traded for Johnson in 1989. The Mariners convincingly won the tiebreaker 9-1 and made their first trip to the playoffs, where they would be pitted against a newly resurgent New York Yankees team in the ALDS. The Yankees took the first two games, but the Mariners forced a fifth game, which went eleven innings before the greatest moment in Mariners history happened: Edgar Martinez hit a two-run double off Yankees ace Jack McDowell, bring Ken Griffey and Joey Cora in to score, winning the game for Seattle 6-5! Mariners fans refer to that moment as The Double, and it's credited with saving baseball in Seattle by creating interest in the team enough to enable the building of a new, baseball-only stadium. The Mariners went to the ALCS for the first time to face the Cleveland Indians. They lost 4-2, but 1995 is still remembered as The Magical Season and The Miracle Mariners of 1995.
1996 brought Alex Rodriguez, one of the greatest, most talented players baseball has ever seen. Although the hitters walloped an all-time record for home runs in a season, the Mariners only won 85 games - even though it was their best season yet - due to inconsistent pitching. Rodriguez became the face of the team in 2000, and Griffey's replacement, Mike Cameron, was doing solid work. The Mariners beat the Chicago White Sox in the ALDS in 2000, but lost the ALCS to the Yankees, who eventually won the World Series. Unfortunately, during the offseason, the Mariners lost Alex Rodriguez to the Texas Rangers for what is still the richest contract ever in professional sports, a $252 million whopper. When he played in Seattle the first time the next season, the unusually angry fans responded by bombarding him with Monopoly money.
In 2001, the Mariners ended up not missing him all that much when they introduced Japanese superstar Ichiro Suzuki. He won Rookie of the Year, AL MVP, and a Gold Glove as the team dominated its way to an AL record 116 regular season wins, breaking the Yankees' record of 114 set only back in 1998. They won the ALDS against Cleveland, as expected, but there was a bit of trouble because they had to come out of another 2-0 hole to do it. In the ALCS, they were beat by the Yankees again. Although the Mariners won 93 games in 2002, they missed the playoffs, and Lou Piniella quit to manage the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who happen to be his hometown's team.
After that, the Mariners weren't really relevant again until 2007. Their manager quit halfway through 2007, though, and Ichiro said he might have an interest in testing free agency. The next year, they only won 61 games. They've been pretty up and down since then. Ichiro stayed after free agency, but in 2012 he finally parted ways with the Mariners after being their face and most popular player for a decade. He was traded to the Yankees and forced to play against his former team in his very first game as a Yankee, right there in Seattle to boot. In a stark contrast to the way Mariners fans treated Rodriguez after he left, though, Ichiro was greeted with cheers upon his first at-bat against Seattle. Clearly, this is a team in rebuilding mode.
Gaylord Perry, Pat Gillick, Goose Gossage, Rickey Henderson, and Dick Williams are Mariners in the Hall of Fame, although none of them are in there based primarily on accomplishments with Seattle. I expect that will change soon, with Ken Griffey Jr. up for induction soon, and Ichiro Suzuki is also deserving. Edgar Martinez, Lou Piniella, Jay Buhner, and Ken Griffey Jr. have NOT had their numbers retired, but they've never been reissued. If the team ever gets around to number retirement, those are great places to start, along with Ichiro and Randy Johnson.
The Mariners play in the AL West, where they duke it out with the Texas Rangers, Oakland Athletics, and Los Angeles Angels. They've also managed to develop something of a playoff rivalry against the New York Yankees, seeing as how their greatest triumphs and most crushing defeats came against them. They're known in video game circles for being The Nintendo Team, and also for being the team that most embraces Japanese baseball players. The gaming giant wants the Mariners to be good, and last I checked, the Mariners had the third-highest payroll in the American League behind only the Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
The Mariners have one unique fan tradition: Rally Fries! It's recent, but it does add something unique to the fan culture in Seattle that no one else can claim. It started in 2007 when a fan tried to catch a foul but spilled his fries in the process. Mariners broadcasters Mike Blowers and Dave Sims spotted the incident, and Sims suggested they should send a new tray of fries to the fan. Blowers apparently thought it would be a classy gesture, so he sent his intern to deliver a new plate of fries. Unfortunately for Blowers, other fans saw the incident too. What they didn't see was Blowers's reason for sending free fries, so they showed up at the next game with signs and boards asking for fries as well. Blowers decided to start giving out plates of fries, and by freaky coincidence, the Mariners seemed to score a run or rally from a deficit every time a plate was delivered. Voila, the Mariners had created Rally Fries! The tradition is so popular that signs are even seen on the road, although Blowers doesn't award fans on the road. Generally, Blowers makes his selection based on who appeals to him, be it through costumes or signs. The fries are delivered locally through Ivar's, a local seafood chain.
The Seattle Mariners turned out to have a kind of disadvantage when I set out to write about them: Usually I get a lot about history from Wikipedia, coupled with what I already learned from my vast in-head archive of baseball facts I get from reading the books I review on Lit Bases, my blog. I never read a book about the Mariners, though, and the facts on Wikipedia only include a couple of generalized statements about their history. If what they say is accurate, it isn't like the Mariners have a whole lot of history in the first place, but the fact that no one seems to want to write about it really hurts the final grade for the Seattle Mariners. As I always say, none of my grades should ever prevent a fan just learning about the sport and looking for a team to adopt stop them. But when the first MLB team in Seattle lasted only a year and still has more information on it than the current team which has been there for 35 years, it doesn't have much good to say.
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About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston (BaronSamedi3)
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial. Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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