Every baseball town has iconic figures revered by their respective fan bases.
In places with deep ties to major league baseball — New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, St. Louis — there are multiple teams and over a century of history to scour through when celebrating a city’s most hallowed names.
Seattle’s major league baseball experience isn’t nearly as extensive. Yes, two teams — the Pilots and Mariners — have called the Emerald City home. But, can you really count the Pilots who scrammed to Milwaukee after just one season?
For all practical purposes, Seattle became a big league destination when the Mariners came into existence 40 years ago.
While the Mariners don’t have multiple Hall of Famers or a World Series appearance, the club has managed to produce multiple characters forever etched into the hearts and minds of Seattle fans. Having said that, I don’t have an emotional tie to any of them.
It’s not that I don’t care. I just wasn’t here to see most of them. You see, it’s only been eight years since I drove cross-country to reach my new home in the Pacific Northwest. Before getting to the area, I didn’t see much Mariners baseball.
Sure, I occasionally saw players such as Ken Griffey Jr, Edgar Martinez, or Randy Johnson on TV. However, being an east coast denizen and making multiple deployments precluded me from fully appreciating their value to my new hometown.
Fortunately, my wife and father-in-law are good tutors. Hearing their most vivid memories about their favorite team helped fill in the blanks. Now, I feel a bit envious that I didn’t personally seen these notable figures in action.
What that in mind, I decided to share my list of the 10 Mariners I wish I saw. Here it is in ascending order.
10. Bobby Ayala
Right now, there are stunned fans everywhere because I included the former reliever. But, to get the full Mariners experience, wouldn’t I have needed to see Ayala’s multiple meltdowns firsthand?
In five seasons with Seattle, Ayala saved 56 games. It won’t surprise Mariners faithful he blew 30 saves and has the worst save percentage of any reliever with 50-plus saves in franchise history.
Ayala’s worst season (1998) was his last in Seattle when he blew more games (9) than he saved (8) and registered the lowest bWAR (-2.1) of any pitcher in baseball.
In April 1999, the club traded Ayala to the Montreal Expos for minor league pitcher Jason Turman, who never reached the majors. I doubt anyone complained.
Okay, no more sub-optimal performers.
9. Alvin Davis
Who wouldn’t want see someone named Mr. Mariner?
Davis was the first great player for a franchise with very few good players prior to his arrival.
The 1984 AL Rookie of the Year held most franchise offensive records until greats such as Griffey, Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, and Jay Buhner emerged on the scene. Nevertheless, he still holds the club record for home runs by a rookie (27).
It shouldn’t surprise anyone Davis was the first inductee in the Mariners’ Hall of Fame in 1997.
After all, he’s Mr. Mariner.
8. Joey Cora
Little Joey’s four years in Seattle were the most productive of his eight-year career, but he’s best remembered and beloved for breaking down in tears after the club lost the 1995 ALCS to the Cleveland Indians.
Even before Alex Rodriguez famously consoled him after heart-wrenching defeat, Cora was a fan-favorite thanks to his energetic play and hustle. I would’ve enjoyed watching him.
Like any pro, Cora put the disappointment of losing behind him and was ready to go the following season. I submit the following video as proof.
7. Mike Blowers
Like Cora, the University of Washington alum’s best years were in a Mariners uniform. During three stints with the team, Blowers played both corner spots in the infield and outfield and even caught an inning in 1993.
At the plate, Blowers posted a .270/.343/.448 triple-slash in 1534 plate appearances as a Mariner. I suspect fans of the club would take his production line at several positions right now.
To be honest, the primary reason Blowers made my list is he’s one of the premier analysts in baseball. His insightful breakdown of plays and players are topnotch.
Seeing this superb broadcaster during his playing days would’ve been fun.
6. Jay Buhner
“The Bone” entered the national consciousness after Frank Costanza (played by Jerry Stiller) berates a fictional version of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner during a 1996 episode of Seinfeld for trading the slugging outfielder for Ken Phelps.
The younger set may be more familiar with Buhner’s local TV endorsements or his periodic chats with Blowers during broadcasts. But, make no bones about it (ouch) — the 52-year-old was a great Mariner.
Not only is Buhner enshrined in Mariners Hall of Fame, his 307 home runs are third most in franchise history behind Griffey and Martinez. In 1995, he finished fifth in AL MVP voting — two spots behind Edgar and just ahead of Johnson.
Seeing Bone’s power bat and “rocket for an arm” — as Mr. Costanza put it — would’ve been a great experience.
Like the rest of North America, I witnessed Johnson’s greatness as he led the Arizona Diamondbacks to victory over the Yankees during the 2001 World Series. The southpaw started two games and earned the win in the deciding game as a reliever.
For Seattle fans, seeing the Big Unit’s postseason heroics certainly must’ve been bittersweet. Just six years earlier, he entered the deciding game of the ALDS as a Mariners reliever against those same Yankees and delivered similar results.
For me, being able to watch Johnson’s dramatic entrance into that game when it happened would’ve been so cool. Even two decades later, seeing the video of the big left-hander storming from the bullpen to the mound is exciting.
Isn’t that what sports is all about?
Being in Seattle during the 1995 baseball season must’ve been a great experience.
I saw Griffey play during his swan song with the Mariners in 2009-10. He reminded me of an aging Willie Mays during his last season with the New York Mets in 1973.
Both men were still special and charismatic, but no longer able to effortlessly perform on-field magic.
Let’s face it, Griffey’s initial 11-year stint with the Mariners is the reason there’s a plaque with his name is hanging in Cooperstown and why he’s still a national baseball treasure.
Seeing Junior being Junior during his peak years in Seattle would’ve been a unique privilege I would’ve enjoyed immensely.
I get it. Everyone hates A-Rod in Seattle. He left a bitter taste in everyone’s mouth when left as a free agent. But, let’s face the truth. He was the greatest shortstop in franchise history.
Just how great was he?
The combined bWAR of every other starting shortstop in club history doesn’t match A-Rod’s as a Mariner.
Seeing this special player before controversy overshadowed his Hall of Fame talent would’ve been worth the price of admission for me.
I got it.
You still hate him.
The should-be Hall of Famer produced the most famous hit in the franchise’s 40-year history when he doubled in the winning run in game five of the 1995 ALDS.
In August, he’ll join Griffey as the only Mariner players to have their jersey number retired.
While Edgar has yet to receive Cooperstown honors, Major League Baseball has already recognized his greatness by naming the Outstanding Designated Hitter Award after him.
During his peak years (1992-2001), Martinez was arguably the best right-handed hitter in baseball. He had the highest batting average among right-handers and only Hall of Famer Frank Thomas had a higher OBP.
I certainly wish I witnessed Edgar’s excellence in person.
1. Dave Niehaus
If you’ve watched the videos I’ve embedded thus far, you’ve heard all of the Niehaus catchphrases. However, his influence on fans went far beyond any phrase he coined.
I came to understand the Hall of Fame broadcaster’s impact while attending a memorial service in his honor at Safeco Field. Seeing the outpouring of emotion expressed by fans for a man they never met truly defines his Seattle legacy.
Dave was like a member of your family. Always welcome in your home, someone you were always happy to see. Knowing this left me wishing I heard his most iconic calls live instead of via recording.
With that in mind, I leave you with one final video.
I suggest savoring Dave’s words. They’re certain to fill your heart with joy and perhaps bring a tear to your eye.
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