Seattle Mariners: Picking the Franchise's Top 15 Players Ever
For 35 years the Seattle Mariners have played baseball and over the course of that time they've primarily struggled. This year like so many others before it, the M's have offered us a promise, but once again delivered very little in return.
Will the Mariners ever turn a corner?
With the exception of a brilliant stretch of play for roughly a half dozen seasons from the mid '90s to a time just past the turn of the century, fans in the Pacific Northwest haven't had too much to cheer for.
Still there have been a few stars that over time have managed to win the hearts and souls of Mariner fans before all too often leaving.
Today I figured it might be fun to take a trip down memory lane to put together my top 15 Mariners ever.
Most if not all of the names you'd expect are here, including all of the team's official Hall of Fame members.
While I'm sure your list might be in a different order and perhaps include an omission or two on my part, this is the group I'm going with so I hope you enjoy the list, but also look forward to hearing your thoughts.
No. 15: Harold Reynolds
To start things off I will begin my list with a sentimental favorite...
As a kid growing up on the other side of the country during the early to mid 1980s, I saw the Mariners as a team playing in a far off distant place that I could only watch on the rare occasions when either the Yankees or Red Sox would play late on Sunday afternoons during their West Coast trips.
Inside their futuristic dome situated right alongside the Pacific Ocean (sadly I will confess that didn't learn the truth about this until years later once I met my wife) the Mariners had bright colorful uniforms and a weak-hitting second baseman that for some reason all caught my attention.
Perhaps I was also a young smooth fielding second baseman with some speed on a terrible team who often looked pained and awkward posing for photos.
For whatever reason Harold Reynolds was my favorite Mariner as a kid and as you can see I'm still not quite sure why.
Statistically Reynolds' numbers are marginal at best; nevertheless he had a few solid years and at his peak in the late '80s his output would probably earn him a spot on the current team's roster...possibly the starting lineup.
No. 14: Tino Martinez
Tino Martinez, really?
What about John Olerud, Bret Boone, Joey Cora, Phil Bradley or Bruce Bochte?
All good candidates, but Tino gets the nod for being in the right place at the right time during the magical 1995 season when he finally started to play up to his potential.
Sadly, the real shame with Tino is that he could have been much higher on this list.
But was Tino great in New York and briefly in Seattle because of his talent or the talent surrounding him?
It's a debate that makes me wonder whether Justin Smoak is as good or as bad as what we've seen so far...
No. 13: Ken Griffey Sr.
Another controversial choice that might leave you wondering both how and why someone who didn't even play 100 games of his career in Seattle is on this list—and you would be right to do so.
At the same time, Ken Griffey Sr. certainly made the most of his time as a Mariner and perhaps made sure to help his son you may have heard of on the right path.
Call me crazy, but Griffey Senior stays...
No. 12: Alex Rodriguez
Now I suppose if we're really going to have some controversy on this list, we might as well talk about the most polarizing figure in Mariners history.
Oh what could have been...
Alex Rodriguez in five full seasons in Seattle looked every bit the real deal.
Not just in the sense that he would be on the top of this list, but could very well be on the top of the list of all-time greats.
In the end, as is often the case it wasn't meant to be.
Some could say that A-Rod should be higher on this list and some could just as easily say he shouldn't even be on this list at all.
In fairness to his accomplishments in Seattle, as much as it pains me, I'm splitting the difference and including him.
No. 11: Mark Langston
Before King Felix and even before the Big Unit, there was Mark Langston.
In fact Langston was so good while in Seattle that the M's traded him to the Montreal Expos as part of a package deal that included a young Randy Johnson.
After breaking on to the scene in 1984 as a rookie with a 17-10 record and 204 strikeouts over 225 innings, Langston became the team's ace for the second half of the 1980s while winning two Gold Gloves before being traded to Montreal at the deadline.
While on one level the deal proved to be a success for the Mariners given the fact they acquired Johnson, on another level the Langston deal would in many ways become an all too common theme in Seattle as the Mariners would time and again trade away or lose their best players once they reached their prime.
No.10: Alvin Davis
Ok, now that we're in the Top 10, let's start by focusing on Mr. Mariner himself...Alvin Davis.
Davis, the very first Mariner Hall of Fame inductee back in 1997, was the 1984 AL Rookie of the Year after putting together a monster campaign, hitting .284 with 27 homers and 116 runs batted in.
Sadly Davis all but peaked that season, and while he certainly put together a solid career in Seattle and to this day remains a fan favorite, it's hard to wonder what might have been if he had managed to come on the scene a few years later when the team finally started to win.
No. 9: Lou Piniella
"Sweet Lou" never played a single game as a Mariner, but was actually drafted by the ill-fated expansion Seattle Pilots before being traded to the Kansas City Royals prior to the 1969 season, where he went on to win AL Rookie of the Year.
But that's another story...
In 1993 when Lou Piniella finally made his way to Seattle as manager, he had already won a World Series in Cincinnati and looked to give the Mariners something more than credibility. Piniella's hiring wasn't the first time the M's had brought in a manager with serious credentials, but he would end up being the most successful by leaps and bounds.
In short, Piniella was the only man to lead the Mariners to the postseason and to have a winning record as skipper with any serious service time with the franchise.
Beyond the numbers though, what made Piniella so unique and endearing was his character and the fact that he was a character, whether it was getting into it with an umpire or tossing bases. He wasn't a showman for a cheap laugh, he was dead serious and brought that attitude to a franchise in need of personality.
No. 8: Dan Wilson
Dan Wilson, my wife's favorite Mariner, was understated but consistent.
Year after year after year, Wilson was behind the plate for the M's during the team's most successful stretch with his steady glove work and generally dependable bat.
At first glance Wilson may not seem like a truly great player, but the fact is ever since his retirement after the 2005 season, the franchise has been looking for a replacement at catcher.
No. 7: Jay Buhner
It's laughable now to think that Jay Buhner came to Seattle in exchange for Ken Phelps all the way back in 1988 and yet Yankee fans are still upset about it...
At a time when going to Seattle was almost worse than being sent back to Triple-A, the man Mariner fans would call "Bone" took his chance to play every day and over the course of time became a fixture both on the field and in the community.
What separated Buhner from so many other players is that he had two things the franchise needed both before his arrival and after his retirement in 2001...power and personality.
Only Bone could make bald "Buhnerful" during the team's heyday during the 1990s while hitting homers consistently year after year.
No. 6: Randy Johnson
The "Big Unit" was and to some still is the Mariners' greatest pitcher.
The imposing 6'10" lefty is likely bound for Cooperstown following a 303-win career that in large part began in Seattle after coming to the M's from the Montreal Expos in exchange for Mark Langston.
During his time in Seattle, Johnson simply dominated hitters and served as the team's ace throughout the 1990s, winning the Cy Young in 1995 with an 18-2 record and helping the M's every step of the way during their magical season, whether it be beating the Angels to win the division or keeping the Yankees in check while pitching in relief during the deciding game of the ALDS at the Kingdome.
Of course he didn't play his full career in Seattle, but for the time he was there he certainly did make quite an impact.
No. 5: Felix Hernandez
To some this might seem a bit too high a place to rank Felix (especially in front of Randy Johnson), but at this point he looks to be well on his way to being the greatest pitcher in Mariners history.
Nobody has done more with less than Felix since arriving on the scene as a pudgy teenager who for years now has had to deal with the nagging issue of whether or not he will be the next Mariner star to be traded.
Prior to this season we all knew Felix was great, but seeing him mature into the "Face of the Franchise" both on and off the field and seamlessly taking on this role while Ichiro's star quickly faded meant a lot to me at a time when the franchise is undergoing another transitional/rebuilding process.
In such cases it would be easy to say nothing, put your head down and do your job, but Felix has made it clear that he's committed to Seattle and the Mariners.
Whether he stays will remain to be seen as history has a way of repeating itself, but for now I remain cautiously optimistic he could still be a Mariner for years to come.
If he continues to stay on this path and remains a Mariner, his stock on this list can only go higher.
No. 4: Dave Niehaus
Dave Niehaus never played a single game for the Seattle Mariners, but up until last year he was always there as the Voice of the Mariners since 1977.
Everybody it seems has a story about Dave and though I came to the party late, I can still remember the first time I can actively remember hearing him. It was his call on Ichiro's laser beam known as "The Throw" in Oakland to nab Terrence Long at third base early in his rookie season in 2001 that caught my attention.
What's brilliant about it is that when you really listen to the call without the video, Dave paints the picture to perfection.
Through the good, the bad, and the ugly Dave Niehaus was there and brought a genuine energy and charm to each and every game that wasn't overly folksy, too cliche or self-serving.
Dave was like family by providing a comforting voice that carried us each and every season regardless of whether the M's had won 10 in a row or more often lost 10 in a row.
I like so many fans miss him and wish he was still here.
Could you imagine if he was around for Felix's perfect game?
At the same time I'm thankful to have enjoyed the chance to listen to him while I could...
No. 3: Ichiro Suzuki
As we approach the top three, things get a bit tricky.
For the better part of the past decade Ichiro defined the Seattle Mariners. If you asked anybody outside the Pacific Northwest about the Mariners, Ichiro was always the first player that came to mind.
Much like Dave Niehaus, Ichiro was there every year through the good, the bad and the ugly.
Yet unlike Dave, Ichiro's legacy is far more complicated and it's almost too soon for anyone to judge with a fair amount of clarity.
As I explained to my wife a few weeks ago, "He needed to be traded."
It still seems strange, yet I miss him less and less with each passing day and week.
Was he a great player?
Absolutely, but over time the situation in Seattle seemed to wear him down and while I was initially tempted to put him at No. 2, I've decided that the No. 3 spot made the most sense for today.
No. 2: Edgar Martinez
To some, Edgar is the greatest Mariner given the number of records he holds, his longevity and the fact that he spent his entire career in Seattle.
And yet I still have trouble seeing all the fuss. Initially I had Edgar slated at No. 4 just ahead of Felix Hernandez and behind Dave Niehaus, but also figure this is one of those moments where I'd imagine living outside Seattle for so many years clouds my judgement.
Edgar Martinez is without a doubt a Mariner Hall of Famer (heck he even has a street named after him), but is he worthy of a spot in Cooperstown?
It's a bit of a gray area and one that I can sympathize with given my favorite player growing up was Dale Murphy of the Atlanta Braves.
Murphy, much like Martinez, is one of the nicest and most charitable people you will ever meet, and both for a time were the best in the game at their position, but sadly it's hard to picture either being enshrined in Cooperstown.
Does that really matter?
To some yes, but to others all that matters is that Edgar through good times and bad just did his thing year after year as the consistent heartbeat of the entire team.
No. 1: Ken Griffey Jr.
Let's face it, without Junior the Mariners would probably be a distant memory.
The combination of his beautiful swing and infectious smile made believers of fans not only in Seattle, but just about anywhere baseball is appreciated.
Griffey's rise to fame came at a time when the Mariners were a mere afterthought on the baseball scene. With the help of nearly everyone on this list he grew up before our eyes to become one of the greatest players in baseball history.
Then like so many before him, he left Seattle and then oddly come back after nearly an entire decade in Cincinnati.
With that move the long-dormant memories all came flooding back while a new generation of fans got the chance to witness a brief glimpse of someone so many of us had once cherished.
Griffey was not without his complications as evidenced by his retirement midway through the 2010 season, but in the grand scheme of things the good far far outweighed the bad, and it is why he is here atop this list.
Call it cliche, lame or fiercely predictable, Griffey was, is and will likely remain at the top of this list for a very long time.