In 1995, the year after the 1994 strike shortened season, the Seattle Mariners had a player who belted 23 HR, and drove in 96 runs in the short 145 game season (the M’s played an extra tiebreaker against the California Angels for the AL West Title and a postseason berth). Want to guess this player’s name? Griffey? E. Martinez? T. Martinez? Buhner? No, it was third baseman, Mike Blowers. While this was the only statistical bump in his career (he only hit 6 next year with the Dodgers and drove in 38, and his next highest career stats were 15 HR and 57 RBI in ’93), it still shows you the powerhouse that Seattle had become in the mid 90’s.
An example: On September 23rd, at the Kingdome in front of 54,589 fans, the Mariners started this lineup:
1) Vince Coleman, LF (split season between KC & M’s) bat a combined .288, OBP .343, 42SB)
2)Luis Soho, SS (only 1 official AB and a BB in this game – a boy named Alex Rodriguez pinch hit and tripled in this game)
3) Ken Griffey Jr., CF (injured part of the season, still belted 17HR in 314 AB – a “bad” season by his standards)
4) Edgar Martinez, DH (52 doubles, 29HR, 113RBI, .479 OBP – IN 145 GAMES!)
5) Jay Buhner, RF (.394 OBP, 40 HR and 121 RBI in 126 games)
6) Mike Blowers, 3B (see above)
7) Tino Martinez, 1B (31HR, 111 RBI, .293 avg.)
8) Felix Fermin, 2B (who cares, he bats 8 – did you see the rest of this team? Plus Joey Cora started games too)
9) Dan Wilson, C (.278 avg., 51 RBI at the end of the lineup all season)
Starting Pitcher: Randy Johnson (posted an 18-2 record striking out 294 batters in 214.1 innings)
Now while the rest of the rotation was average at best, and the bullpen combo of Bobby Ayala and Norm Charlton closing games and setting up each other weren’t ideal, did I mention their lineup was stacked? I know the cliché that hitting wins games but pitching wins series holds true most of the time, but look at what they had to build on? A-Rod was 19, Griffey 25, Tino 27, Buhner 30, E-Mart 32, Johnson 31. The team was a runs producing machine, had an ace, and a decent bullpen. Why couldn’t the front office get more arms together in this pitching staff to win a championship? In 1996, you saw A-Rod’s first full season (36HR 123RBI), E-Mart hit over .320 and post an OBP of .464 (still insane), and a replacement of Tino for Paul Sorrento (lost some production but not much, 23HR and 93RBI) and Blowers for a slew of guys manning the hot corner. Russ Davis, their 3B prospect from the Yankees for Tino, was a bit of a dud rather than a shot in the arm for the team. Regardless, the team lost Randy Johnson to injury, and the season pretty much, only finishing second in the West. The next year, everything worked again in the lineup, and they did finally add two quality arms to Randy in the rotation (Jamie Moyer, Jeff Fassero – combined to go 33-14 – ERA high 3’s) but lost to a surging Baltimore team (keep an eye out for future articles about this poor franchise in its current state was well).
After 1997, the team finished 3rd, 3rd, and 2nd in the west in ‘98’99’and ’00, winning the wildcard in 2000, but not making it past the world champion Yankees. 2000, even though some resurgence was present with some of the same core from ’95-’97, in my opinion this was the end of this mini era for the team. “Sweet Lou” Piniella was still the manager for 2000 and 2001, but the team went through some minor changes. Randy Johnson was traded in the middle of the 1998 season to Houston, and Jr.’s contract went to the Reds for the 2000 season as well. Buhner, E-Mart, A-Rod, and Dan Wilson remained from the powerhouse lineup that carried them through the mid 90’s to now, and along with the additions of John Olerud and Mike Cameron, the lineup still wasn’t too shabby.
In 2001, the “new” era for the M’s began. Buhner only played in 19 games. E-Mart ONLY hit .306 and had 23 HR and 116 RBI, but this was his best season until he retired in 2004. He was 38, so you can’t blame the guy for only being the best DH of all time for so long. Also, A-Rod left for greener pastures in Texas for a record breaking contract, and a man that goes by Ichiro arrived that had 242 hits and bat .350. A roided up Bret Boone took over at second base popping 37 out of the park in the season. Jamie Moyer (38 years old, yes in 2001)won 20 games, Freddy Garcia won 18, and Paul Abbot won 17 (losing only 4) and Aaron Sele won 15. Twenty-two year old Joel Pinero pitched in 17 games, starting 11 and posted a 2.03 ERA with 6 wins. Another Japanese import Kaz Sasaki saved 45 games with Arthur Rhodes and Jeff Nelson being his primary setup men with a 1.72 and 2.76 ERA respectively. The team won 116 regular season games and only lost 46. They scored 927 runs and allowed exactly 300 fewer. Of course the Yankees beat them 4 games to 1 in the ALCS because, well they were the Yankees.
They haven’t sniffed meaningful baseball in October since. Part of this is bad luck – running into the Yankees in 2000 and 2001 in the postseason was one thing (even though they should have beaten the Yankees on paper in 2001, they still had 4 of the last 5 World Series titles under their belt), the team was actually still good in 2002 and 2003. Each year, they posted a 93 and 69 record, but finished THIRD in 2002 in the West and second with no wildcard seat (went to Boston) in 2003. Imagine winning 93 games now and not making the postseason? The Padres won 90 games this year and were the only 90 win team not to make the fall league. 2004 saw the team get dyslexic and go 69 and 93 due to issues not even worth looking in to – this team has become a disgrace.
A brief look will be all that is necessary. Money has always been a concern for the team as it is not one of the top grossing franchises in baseball, so many players have departed via free agency or trade (A-Roid, Griffey, Johnson…). Chasing free agents like Cliff Lee, Chone (pronounced: douchebag) Figgins, and others has crippled the teams bankroll to keep players that may have a long term impact. They have the best AL pitcher (in my opinion) on their team currently in Felix Hernandez, and I doubt once he is eligible to leave, that he’d even have second thoughts. The guy went 13-12 this season, with a league best 2.27 ERA. That is sad. This past Sunday, the team lost to finish 61-101, the worst record in the American League this season. Their front office is trying, but Ichiro isn’t getting younger (even though he doesn’t look any older either – Japanese have good genes like that I guess). This team needs to win, and needs to win now. It surely has ALMOST been the best of times for them (and some eras of this team will undeservedly go under the “How the hell did they not get a championship?” banner) but lately it surely has been the worst of times. If the team is not careful, it is much easier to get lost out in Seattle than it is to get lost in Pittsburgh, and look how that has worked out for the Pirates lately. No loyal fan base (can you blame them?), no revenue to keep a good team, beautiful newer park, but no good baseball.
EDIT: 10/28/10 - I found a blog dedicated to the M's from 1995. For me, this validates it if Seattle fans still hold that year dear enough for a few people to be crazy enough to put a blog together about it. I mean they didn't even make the World Series! Check them out: 1995 Mariners: Stories from Seattle's most memorable baseball season