I remember a time when my hometown team had the best collection of talent in baseball and winning the World Series seemed possible.
Oh, how times have changed for the Seattle Mariners' fans. Watching the Mariners always reminds me of the team’s glory years, and in my opinion, what should have been a dynasty.
I grew up in the Seattle area and adopted the hometown teams, as any young sports geek would. I don’t have a great story about attending my first game in Yankee Stadium or Fenway Park. My memories were built inside the largest concrete structure in the world (before it was blown up).
Yep, I grew up going to the Kingdome. I remember walking through the tunnel at my first Mariners game, and seeing the bright lights and beautiful green Astroturf—it almost even looked like grass.
I was four-years old at the time and wasn’t the sports purist I am now, which is why I liked Astroturf. I was deprived in that respect. I loved the Kingdome—I remember sneaking beers inside with my friends during high school. Damn, that was easy to do back then.
I remember watching the Mariners when they had no business calling themselves a major-league team. When I was real young, the Mariners were a joke. I remember cheering for guys like Alvin Davis (Mr. Mariner) and Harold Reynolds.
I remember being upset when I heard news that the Mariners traded their best pitcher, Mark Langston, for some guy named Randy Johnson. What were they thinking?
I also remember watching the fortunes of my team change with one at-bat.
I remember watching Ken Griffey Junior’s first big league at-bat on TV. It was in Oakland, against pitcher Dave Stewart, one of the best of his era. Junior hit a double off the wall, and for the glory of this sports geek, that lowly Mariner franchise was never the same.
I listen to people like Bob Costas and Billy Crystal rant about what Mickey Mantle meant to them when they were growing up. I can’t help but feel the same way about Griffey. He was my guy. Hell, he still is.
Griffey went on to become the player of the '90s. He officially gave fans across the country reason to pay attention to the Mariners. He put Seattle on the baseball map. Throughout the '90s, the Mariners put together, arguably, the greatest group of talent on one ballclub in recent memory.
Their upper management did a marvelous job of scouting players, making trades, and signing key free-agents. Not many people cared to notice or remember, but the Mariners of the mid-to-late '90s should have won a World Series or three.
I don’t hate them for it. It’s like hating your puppy for fertilizing the carpet—they didn’t know any better.
Mariners twice had the first pick in the MLB draft (1987, 1993) and took Griffey and Alex Rodriguez. Each would go on to be the player of a decade, Griffey in the '90s and A-Rod in the '00s.
My team would later have a lineup that contained, in the three-through-seven slots: A-Rod, Griffey, Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez, and Jay Buhner. Beat that, Yankee fans.
Here were A-Rod's stats as a 20-year-old rookie in 1996: .358 BA, 36 HR, 123 RBI, and 215 H. Not too shabby.
By '96, the Mariners' should-have-been dynasty had been built. It was time for winning to take over. They had a future Hall of Fame manager in Lou Piniella calling the shots from the dugout and throwing bases whenever the team needed a boost or comic relief. Only a sports geek could call a base-throwing buffoon a genius, but Piniella is.
The Mariners also had the league's most underrated superstar in Edgar Martinez, who, in my opinion, was the best right-handed batter of his time. Jay Buhner, who hit sixth, averaged 41 home runs per season from ’95-’97.
Don’t forget that the Mariners also had the most dominating left-handed pitcher possibly in baseball history: the Big Unit.
So why didn’t this team win?
I have two theories.
The first was the team’s inability to find a steady bullpen or consistent pitching at the bottom of the rotation. It pains me to say that, because I felt the team did practically everything else right.
They had four, future Hall of Famers in Griffey, A-Rod, The Unit, and Edgar. That should have been enough to make up for their pitching deficiencies. It wasn’t.
The second theory is the hard truth of baseball’s business techniques. During the salary boom of the '90s, it became virtually impossible for most teams to keep their star players. Corporate goons like the Yankees and Red Sox started buying players and offering salaries too high for middle-class teams like Seattle to compete with.
By 1998, the run was basically over. Randy Johnson was traded at midseason. A-Rod would bolt in 2000 for 250 million reasons. People blame him for leaving. I believe the Mariners offered him around 120 million, which was all they could afford
The worst part about A-Rod leaving was that the team was unable to trade him and get anything in return. That’s the harsh reality of the free-agent system the Yankees and Red Sox fans love so much.
This could-have-been-dynasty truly ended in 1999, when Griffey asked to be traded to his hometown Cincinnati Reds. That day ranked right up there with my dog dying.
I’m still not mad at him for wanting to go home. He gave us baseball in Seattle. He was my first sports hero. He built Safeco Field and is the reason my future children will have the opportunity to see natural grass and an outdoor ballpark during their first big-league game.
But oh, what should have been!
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