Monday, December 29, 2008

Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners Baseball Club The Seattle Mariners have to overcome many obstacles before they can get any major national press. Professional sports teams in Seattle not named the Seahawks always have problems getting noticed by the media and the Mariners did not help their cause when they came onto the Major League Baseball scene as an expansion franchise in the American League West in 1977. The Seattle Mariners baseball club logged losing seasons from its inception in 1977 up until the 1990 season. You would think that a history of losing would keep the fans away but the people in Seattle love cheering for their Mariners and the Mariners remain a popular ticket in Seattle even though they have never won a pennant and have only made the playoffs three times in over 30 seasons.

The story of the Seattle Mariners actually helped spawn another very popular small town Major League Baseball franchise. In 1965 the owner of the Cleveland Indians was a gentleman named William Daley and William Daley had visions of putting Major League Baseball in Seattle. So in 1965 Daley proposed a move from Cleveland, where his franchise had hit hard times with low attendance and losing seasons, to Seattle where there had been a team in the Pacific Coast Baseball League for almost 100 years already. The city of Seattle was primed for Major League Baseball and the anticipation of the Indians possibly coming to Seattle caused quite a stir in Seattle. The problem is that it also caused quite a stir in Cleveland and in the offices of Major League Baseball where the move was shot down by the league.

Shortly after the failed move attempt Daley sold the Cleveland Indians and began a movement, along with current Seattle Rainers pitcher Dewey Soriano, to try and get a Major League Baseball expansion franchise to Seattle and in 1969 Daley and Seattle were finally awarded their expansion Major League Baseball franchise and it was dubbed the Seattle Pilots. Daley put up 47 percent of the expansion fee and became the chairman of the board while Soriano became the team president. Once the Pilots came to town the existing Pacific Coast team the Rainers ceased to exist to make way in their stadium for the Pilots. But right from the beginning the Pilots were experiencing problems and the problems would mount until the Pilots faced an important decision.

The Seattle Pilots played in the Rainers' old stadium Sicks Stadium. The problem is that Sicks Stadium only held 17,000 people and Major League Baseball had a condition that their stadiums must hold at least 30,000 people. To allow for the proper expansion of the stadium Major League Baseball had decided to delay the Pilots' first season to 1971. However under pressure from the United States Senate the Pilots found their first season moved to 1969 under the condition that by the end of the season Sicks Stadium had the necessary 30,000 fan capacity. It seemed like an impossible task and, by the end of the 1969 season, it was becoming obvious that it was indeed impossible.

They had expanded Sicks Stadium to almost 25,000 seats but many of the new seats had bad views of the field and the stadium water pressure was insufficient to supply the entire stadium with the water it needed for drinking fountains, restroom facilities, and player showers. By the time the season was over Soriano knew that he could no longer afford to keep the Pilots in Seattle so he struck a deal to sell the franchise rights to Milwaukee, Wisconsin businessman Bud Selig for $10 Million. Selig moved the Pilots to Milwaukee and renamed them the Brewers. Now Milwaukee had their long awaited return to Major League Baseball but Seattle was without a team. The people of Seattle were confident that it would not be long before Major League Baseball came calling again.

King County and the city of Seattle were none too impressed with the move of the Pilots out of Seattle and they sued Major League Baseball in 1970 over what the county and city called a breach of contract. The suit dragged on for years but during the time the suit was being litigated King County built the state of the art Kingdome that they were confident would not only house a Major League Baseball team but also a professional football team. By 1974 the National Football League had awarded Seattle the Seattle Seahawks football franchise and the team began play in the Kingdome in 1976. As part of an agreement to drop the lawsuit Major League Baseball agreed to award Seattle a new expansion franchise and in 1977, backed by majority owner entertainer Danny Kaye, the Seattle Mariners played their first game in the new Kingdome.

The Seattle Mariners played their first game in front of a sold out Kingdome crowd on April 6, 1977. As a link to the past the starting pitcher for Seattle was Diego Segui who was the only player to be on the roster for the Seattle Pilots and the Seattle Mariners. The 7-0 loss to the Angels on the opening day of 1977 was the beginning of a turbulent and difficult birth for the new Seattle Mariners. But the fan support was what kept the team alive and the league was so impressed with the enthusiasm for baseball in Seattle that the 1979 All-Star game was played in the Kingdome. Mariner Bruce Bochte had the game winning hit in front of another sold out Kingdome crowd but the joy was short lived as the Mariners experienced yet another losing season in 1979 and continued to experience losing seasons for the next 11 years.

In 1981 the Mariners were purchased by California businessman George Argyros and fans were hopeful that a new owner meant that the team's fortunes would change. The fans continued to pour into the Kingdome to watch their beloved Mariners, by now nicknamed the M's by the locals, march towards losing season after losing season. In 1989 Ken Griffey Jr, the son of baseball legend Ken Griffey, was drafted by the team and the fans once again were hopeful that a winning season was on the horizon. But in 1990 the team once again finished with a losing record and fans began to wonder if the Mariners would ever come out on the winning end of a season. Their dreams would soon come true.

In 1992 the Mariners were purchased by Hiroshi Yamauchi who was the chairman of Nintendo and Yamauchi promptly changed everything about the Mariners. He changed the team colors, changed the logo, and he also completely changed the uniforms. In those new uniforms he put Yankee legend Lou Pinella as the team's new manager and Pinella managed the Mariners from 1993 to 2002. By 1995 he had players such as ace pitcher Randy Johnson, clutch hitter Edgar Martinez, and the by now almost legendary Ken Griffey Jr on his roster and big things were expected. Pinella and his Mariners delivered.

In a fit of excitement that the city of Seattle had never seen the Mariners won 25 of their last 36 games to win the right to play the mighty New York Yankees in the 1995 Division playoff series. The city was in a furor as the Mariners suddenly became the hottest ticket in town and everyone was glued to their televisions or radios for every game of the 5 game series. In game five, with the series on the line, clutch hitter Edgar Martinez hit the series winning double and the Mariners were headed to the American League Championship series which is just one step away from the World Series. The city and players were beside themselves with excitement and even though the Mariners were denied their World Series berth in a strange historic twist of fate by the Cleveland Indians that season still lives with Mariner fans as the greatest season of the team's history to date.

Since then the Mariners have made the playoffs on two more occasions and while the Mariners have never been to a World Series they also have the distinction of being one of the few teams in baseball history to never lose in the first round of the playoffs each time they made the post season. In 2000 they defeated the Chicago White Sox in the Division Series in the confines of their new home in Seattle Safeco Field and then went on to lose to the Yankees in the American League Championship series. In 2001 the Mariners exacted revenge on the Cleveland Indians as they beat the Indians in the Division Series to advance once again to the American League Championship series. In the 2001 American League Championship series the Mariners would once again lose to the New York Yankees but the 116 win season posted by the Mariners, along with their second consecutive trip to the postseason, had established a culture of respectability and winning in Seattle that continues to this day.

The Mariners have also enjoyed a rich history of potential hall of fame players since they have moved to Safeco Field. In 2001 the Major League Baseball all-star game was played in Seattle and the Mariners sent 8 players to the game and among them was Mariner hero Edgar Martinez and Japanese hitting legend Ichiro Suzuki. As more time has gone by Ichiro Suzuki, simply known as Ichiro, has become the face of the franchise and the one that many experts point to as one of the greatest hitters in the history of Major League Baseball.

The Mariners have had their share of controversy as well. Lou Pinella left the team after the 2003 season when he announced that he felt that the team was more interested in a healthy balance sheet than they were in winning baseball games. The roof of the Kingdome partially collapsed in July of 1994 as four of the huge ceiling tiles that help to make up the roof collapsed to the floor of the stadium. No one was injured but because of the damage the Mariners were forced to play 20 road games in 21 days while crews quickly repaired the Kingdome. The first game of the road trip was played in Boston but since it was supposed to be a home game for the Mariners it was dubbed a home game for Seattle by Major League Baseball. When the game was rained out it went down in history as the only home game rained out during the Mariners time in the Kingdome.

It was a long trip to baseball respectability for the city of Seattle but in the end the Mariners have delivered and have established themselves as a threat in Major League Baseball. Now the city waits patiently for their first World Series title and if there is one thing Seattle baseball fans have learned to do all of these years it is to patiently wait for their baseball team to bring glory home. As they wait they continue to fill Safeco Field and cheer on their beloved Mariners as they have done since 1977 when the rest of baseball barely even noticed the city of Seattle.