During the 40-year history of the Seattle Mariners, hundreds of ballplayers have started their career with the franchise. Some have made lasting impressions, while most have come and gone with little-to-no fanfare.
Last year, Edwin Diaz, Dae-ho Lee, Ben Gamel, Dan Altavilla, Guillermo Heredia, Tony Zych, and Dan Vogelbach debuted as rookies with Seattle. To varying degrees, each helped the Mariners remain in contention until game-161.
Since I’m a relative newcomer to the Pacific Northwest, I thought it’d be fun to look back at notable Mariner rookies since the club debuted in 1977.
Please note that this isn’t a ranking of players. It’s merely a chronological list of rookies who I found most intriguing. Without further ado, let’s get started.
The First Mariner — Ruppert Jones
The then-22-year-old actually played for the Kansas City Royals in 1976, but was the first player selected by the upstart Mariners during the 1976 expansion draft. Jones was Seattle’s starting center fielder in their very first game and the lone Mariner representative at the 1977 all-star game.
During the Mariners’ inaugural season, Jones was a defensive whiz who hit the second most homers (24) on the team behind Leroy Stanton. Always a fan-favorite, his followers were referred to as “Rupe’s Troops” and chanted “Rupe” whenever he came to the plate.
Jones was slowed by injuries — including an emergency appendectomy — during his second season with the Mariners. He’d play one more year in Seattle before being traded with Jim Lewis to the New York Yankees for Rick Anderson, Jim Beattie, Juan Beniquez and Jerry Narron.
The First Great Mariner — Alvin Davis
Awarded the 1984 AL Rookie of the Year, Davis was the first iconic player in club history. During his debut campaign, he led AL rookies in wins above replacement (WAR), home runs, and on-base plus slugging (OPS).
The Riverside, California native played 1206 big league games — all but 40 were as a Mariner. After being granted free agency after the 1991 season, Davis signed with the California Angels and subsequently released the following June.
Davis held most of Seattle’s offensive team records until all-time greats such as Ken Griffey, Jr. Edgar Martinez, and Alex Rodriguez burst onto the scene. Still, his 160 home runs continues to rank fifth in team history. Forever known as “Mr. Mariner,” Davis was inducted in the Mariners Hall of Fame in 1997.
Best Mariner Rookie Ever — Ichiro Suzuki
Simply known by his first name, “Ichiro” entered Major League Baseball at age-27 and quickly set the baseball world on its ear with his amazing bat control, lightning-quick speed, and cannon for an arm.
During his debut season, Ichiro was named 2001 AL Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player, started in the all-star game, and won the first of 10 consecutive gold gloves. Most importantly, he helped propel the Mariners to the AL Championship Series.
In subsequent seasons, he’d set the major league record for most hits in a season (262) and consecutive seasons with 200-plus hits (10). Ichiro holds Mariners franchise records for hits (2533), batting average (.322), triples (79), and stolen bases (438).
Five years after the 42-year-old Miami Marlin finishes his career, he’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
The Hall of Famer — Ken Griffey Jr.
By his standards, Griffey’s 16 home runs and .264/.329/.420 during his rookie season weren’t spectacular and he “only” finished third in Rookie of the Year voting. But, it was already clear to observers that “Junior” was a special player. It didn’t take long for him to cement his legacy in major league baseball.
Nicknamed ‘The Kid” for his effusive style of play and personality, Griffey won the hearts of young and old. He’d go on to become a cultural icon for wearing his ball cap backwards, while being one of the best players from any generation.
With Seattle, Junior would earn 10 consecutive gold gloves, clobber a team-record 417 home runs, and win the 1997 AL Most Valuable Player award by earning all 28 first place votes. Griffey was a human highlight reel with his most iconic moment coming when he scored the winning run in the deciding game of the 1995 ALDS.
Although he frustrated some fans for leaving the Emerald City twice under difficult circumstances, The Kid continues to be loved by Mariners fans. Griffey holds the distinctions of earning the highest vote percentage every received by a Hall of Fame player and being the first Mariner to have his number retired by the club.
The Dude From Seinfeld — Jay Buhner
Younger fans may know Buhner best for his local auto commercials, routine visits to the Mariners broadcast booth, or the trade made infamous by an episode of Seinfeld. But, “The Bone” was a great player during his 14 years in Seattle.
A member of the Mariners Hall of Fame, Buhner’s 307 home runs rank third in franchise history behind his good friend Griffey and Edgar Martinez. During that magical 1995 season, Bone finished fifth in AL Most Valuable Player voting — just one spot ahead of teammate Randy Johnson and two behind Martinez.
The Guy From That Trade — Freddy Garcia
Garcia was involved in a trade that I heard about in great detail during my very first date with my then-future wife in 2010. Throughout dinner, she lamented the deal that brought the right-hander to Seattle along with Carlos Guillen and John Halama in exchange for Johnson.
While Garcia never matched the success of the “Big Unit” with the Mariners, he proved to be a valuable contributor during six seasons in Seattle and finished second to Carlos Beltran in Rookie of the Year voting in 1999. Two seasons later, “The Chief” would finish third in AL Cy Young Award voting and — along with Ichiro and Buhner — help lead the Mariners to their historic 116-win season.
The Letdown — Dustin Ackley
The second overall pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball amateur draft, Ackley joined Seattle in June 2011. His rookie .273/.348/.417 slash and seven triples led fans to believe that he’d be the first of many Jack Zduriencik prospects who’d transform the Mariners into a winning organization. It never happened.
Unfortunately for Ackley and the Mariners, his rookie season was his best. He’d remain with the ball club until being traded to the Yankees in July 2015 — just a month before Zduriencik lost his job.
The 28-year-old was released by New York in November and is currently a free agent. To this day, many fans remain frustrated that Seattle chose Ackley over Mike Trout — selected 23 picks later by the Angels.
The Strikeout Kid — Edwin Diaz
The 22-year-old began last season starting games for Class-AA Jackson. In early May, he was converted to a reliever by the club’s new regime. When he joined the Mariners in June, Diaz created a buzz with his 100-mph fastball and knockout slider. By August, he was Seattle’s closer trying to help his team reach the postseason.
Diaz’s 15.3 strikeouts-per-nine innings is the highest rate ever registered by a Mariner hurler with 50-plus innings pitched and only second behind Kenley Jansen for the best by a rookie reliever in major league history.
Whether the hard throwing righty goes onto greatness with the Mariners and beyond or goes the way of Ackley is an unwritten tale. But, Diaz’s impressive rookie start should give Seattle fans another reason to be enthusiastic entering 2017.
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