No one knew it at the beginning of the year, but 1995 would be the most pivotal stretch in Seattle Mariners history. Coming off a strike-shortened season that was the first in 90 years to end without a World Series, the M’s—and more important Major League Baseball—had to work hard to win back fans who now saw the strike, fairly or unfairly, as nothing more than bickering millionaire players and billionaire owners.

For the Mariners, though, the stakes were even higher. After years of upheaval, the team was purchased in 1992 by a new ownership group—led by Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi—and the fiscal challenges of running a team that played in an outdated stadium were starting to rear their head. And so behind minority owner and team CEO John Ellis, the team mounted a campaign to build a new facility with public money. It was a campaign that would determine the future of Seattle baseball.

On the 20th anniversary of that season, nearly three dozen players, front office personnel, politicians, business owners—and even one National Championship–winning college basketball coach—reflect on the year that has come to define the Mariners organization.

I.

Mad About Lou

It was hard to predict how the Mariners would look coming into the 1995 season. Their core of stars was returning, and they’d finished 1994 on a 9-3 tear. But anyone who’d suffered through the team’s early years knew not to take anything for granted. The only thing anyone could be certain of was that the man leading the M’s on the field wouldn’t take kindly to losing.
 

Jay Buhner (right fielder): We were known as a really passive team; when other teams came into town they were gonna pad their stats.

Woody Woodward (Mariners general manager): But we had Buhner, one of the best right fielders in the game with power. We had Griffey in center. We had Edgar Martínez—gosh, I got the chance to watch him swing the bat every night. We had Randy Johnson! We were on the verge of something nice.

Mike Gastineau (radio host, 950 KJR): The Mariners had done so little at that point. They hadn’t had a .500 season until 1991, and they’d never been close to going to the playoffs. So there was a passionate baseball fan base, but it was small back then.

John Ellis (Mariners part owner): And what was a loyal base had been essentially totally eroded by the strike. They were sick and tired of the whole thing.

Chuck Armstrong (Mariners team president): Woody used to say that he would take a different route every day to the ballpark to avoid the snipers.

George Duff (Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce president): There was a story at the time—not true of course—that someone parked their car outside of the Kingdome and accidentally left two season tickets stuck to the windshield. The owner came back later and the window was broken—but now there were four tickets.

Armstrong: We had a terrible year in ’92, and we needed a new field manager. So John tells me and Woody, “You guys can't talk to each other, but I want you to write down your top 10 manager choices in order of your preference.” So we did. Lou [Piniella] was at the top of both of our lists.

Woodward: I can't even remember who was second and third, to be honest, because Piniella was the guy I wanted. 

Lou glbueo

Ken Griffey Jr. sits in the dugout next to manager Lou Piniella, June 1995.

Image: Gary Stewart

Tino Martinez (first baseman): Before Lou got there the atmosphere of the team was like, ‘We’re not expected to win anything, we're not expected to win the division, we're not expected to finish above .500.”

Woodward: He had a toughness about him that I hadn't seen in the Seattle field manager position in the years I had been there.

Buhner: He was no bull.

Joey Cora (second baseman): You produce, you’re in the lineup. You don’t produce, you’re not in the lineup. It was that simple. And everybody knew that.

Lee Pelekoudas (director of baseball administration): We also had our hands full with Lou. There were times where we had to make a player move and he’d say, “I don’t care, bring in whoever you want to bring in.” “Lou, you do care.” And he’d say, “Yeah, yeah, I know I do.” You just had to let him vent for a while before he refocused.

Lou Piniella (manager): After I got to Seattle in ’93, I was having breakfast at this place over by the Kingdome. And the restaurant owner comes up and says, “You know, I like your team this year. When does the season start?” I said, “Hell, we’ve already played 10 games!”

Ken Griffey Jr. (center fielder): The best way to describe the fans’ attitude was patiently waiting for something to happen.

II. 

Broken Home

Built in 1976, one year before the Mariners played their first season, the Kingdome was among the last of a breed of multiuse stadiums that were adequate for several sports but excellent for none. And the Accident on Occidental—a reference to the street it had been built on—was showing its age: In late July 1994, tiles fell from the ceiling 30 minutes before the stadium was set to open for a game against the Baltimore Orioles, forcing the Mariners to play the rest of what would be a short season on the road. Fix it or replace it, something had to be done with the dome if the city had any hope of holding on to the team.

Paul Isaki (Mariners vice president of business development): A new ballpark was the objective of the new ownership from the beginning.

Armstrong: When John hired me one of the first things he had me do was write a report on how I saw things breaking out. I said, “I don’t think the Kingdome will work for baseball. We have the fewest number of box seats of any ballpark in baseball.” All the good seats we had were out in right-center field, and that’s because it was the 50-yard line for football.”

Duff: Other cities were building these magnificent new baseball stadiums, and the rationale always was, If you want to compete, you have to compete. You had to have a new facility.

Woodward: I didn’t like the Kingdome or having to put a ball club together there. It just wasn’t a good place to play.

Dave Grosby (radio host, 950 KJR): The Kingdome was probably one of the worst places to watch a baseball game ever built. It was always empty.

Griffey: It’s tough when you go to other stadiums and they’ve got 35,000 or 40,000 people there, and you’ve only got 12,000 or 13,000 in this big ole ballpark that’s really a football stadium.

Tino Martinez: You could be standing at first base and have a conversation with someone sitting 20 rows up. Seriously, you could hear everything.

Isaki: I hired a few consultants to take a look at what kind of improvements could be made to the Kingdome and how much revenue those improvements could develop. Even with the changes that could be made, the net return for the Mariners would be maybe $100,000 to $250,000 a year.

Ellis: After three years, we began to realize that if we couldn’t look forward to having a stadium that would be on par with what other teams had, we wouldn’t make it. And we were firmly convinced that if we couldn’t come up with a plan that called for a new stadium, then we really ought to just say, “Okay, that’s it.”

Grosby: So there was a sense of urgency, because there was the sense of the mortality of the franchise.

Gastineau: You know that old saying, "You don't know what you've got until it's gone"? The Mariners had been a nonfactor up until that point, but looking back on it now, after losing the Sonics, of course it would have been devastating to have them leave.

Armstrong: There just wasn’t any due diligence done before the team was purchased.

Ellis: Remember how fast we made that purchase? There wasn’t any negotiation on price. You either took that $100 million or not.


There was a sense of urgency, because there was the sense of the mortality of the franchise.
 


Marlin Appelwick (Democratic state representative):
Gary Locke and I were having a sandwich shortly after he became King County exec, and he was bemoaning the frustrations of the Kingdome and the team complaining about its condition, so he was going to appoint a task force to take a look at it.

Gary Locke (King County executive): The Kingdome was owned by the county. And it had become such a contentious political issue with previous owners of the Mariners that it had greatly affected the election of my predecessors. And I vowed that it was not going to be an issue for me.

Appelwick: The average person was much more inclined to say, “Are you out of your mind? The Kingdome isn’t even paid for yet.”

Mick McHugh (restaurant owner, F. X. McRory’s): I served on that task force. One of my jobs was going around and speaking at senior centers. And those people told me, “We live and die for Mariners baseball.” They were so emphatic about it, it really moved me: They don't own a bar, they aren’t going to the game. They’re sitting here in this home and living vicariously off the Mariners.

Isaki: From the Mariners’ perspective, there was no way the task force could come to the conclusion that the Kingdome was adequate for baseball.

 

The Kingdome under construction, 1975. Image: King County Archives

Kingdome 1975 dybkui

The Kingdome under construction, 1975. Image: King County Archives 

And they didn’t. In January 1995 the county executive’s task force decided that a new, baseball-only stadium needed to be built. The hitch was that the public would have to foot 65 percent of the cost, which was estimated at between $250 million and $275 million. The Washington state legislature approved a funding mechanism that would raise the King County sales tax from 8.2 to 8.3 percent, but it would have to first be approved by voters in the September primary.

Steve Van Luven (Republican state senator): I was never in favor of that, but there was nothing else that could be done. We couldn’t come up with anything else in the legislature at that time so it went to a vote of the people.

Renee Radcliff-Sinclair (Republican state representative): Everybody was kind of angry with Major League Baseball after the strike: “Why would we want to do anything for these guys?”

Armstrong: Our consultants recommended that we needed to put the measure on the primary ballot because proponents show up more than opponents in primaries.

Ellis: When you wait for the general election, if you’re on a cause which might be not particularly popular, you have a much greater chance of losing.

Isaki: And yet we’d done some polling, and the projected result was still a loss.

Armstrong: About two-thirds were against us. So it was a clear uphill battle.

Isaki: And when the voters went to the polls Mariners were having some success, but not enough success to wipe out all the bad history of baseball in Seattle.

Locke: It was gonna be a tough proposition. Raising taxes is never easy.

With no control over their future in Seattle, the team had no choice but to focus on one thing: playing baseball. But the stadium issue continued to be a distraction. And the M’s ran into trouble—literally—when on May 26 Ken Griffey Jr. slammed into the center field wall while making a leaping catch and broke his left wrist. The Mariners All-Star would miss nearly three months of the season.

Griffey injury oddjka

 

Pelekoudas: Looking back it’s easy to forget that Junior was out for most of that season. So you have to start talking about the role players that we had, like Rich Amaral, Alex Diaz, Doug Strange, and the things those guys did throughout the season and down the stretch.

Griffey: I didn’t spend a whole lot of time watching games. Knowing I couldn’t do anything just made it tougher.

Cora: Junior was one of the best players in the game, and he wasn’t there for half a year. He said to me, “Joey, you keep it close, and when I come back I’ll take you to the promised land.”

Griffey: As a competitor you always feel that way. I would want Joey to say the same thing if he was in that situation.

Mike Blowers (third baseman): Being from the area I was hoping that there would be a way that people could figure out how to keep the ball club here. A lot of the talk that we were hearing was that it was just about a done deal and that we were headed out of town.

Edgar Martínez (designated hitter): Some of us have family and kids in school, so it’s a big change when you have to pack and move to another city. For me personally, I wanted to stay in Seattle and make it work.

Cora: In the beginning, you didn’t pay that much attention to the stadium issue. But the closer it got to the vote, the more aware you were.

Buhner: I actually went down to the capitol and spoke on behalf of the Mariners to try to save the team.

Piniella: We were always talking to different officials. They would come to the ballpark, or we would go have lunch.

Armstrong: Junior told me, “I didn't sign here just to end up moving somewhere else.”

 

 

At the All-Star break, the Mariners were dead last in the American League West division and five games out of first place. Yet for a team that was rumored to be on its way to Tampa, the front office remained aggressive, trading for starting pitcher Andy Benes and signing reliever Norm Charlton and left fielder Vince Coleman in an attempt to compete.

 

Piniella: You’re hired to win games and to help put fans in the stands. But we also knew that if we could play really good baseball, it would probably help the [stadium] situation out.

Pelekoudas: There’s nothing better to convince people that baseball belongs somewhere than to put a winning team on the field. And thankfully our ownership gave us the leeway to do that.

Woodward: At the beginning of the season John Ellis said that if we were in the hunt, ownership would be willing to add key parts to the team.

Ellis: We knew we had a stadium proposition to sell, so we weren’t about to start pulling back.

Armstrong: The thinking was, Let’s see what happens if we build a team that can win. Let’s see how this community responds. If this is our last chance, we need to push our chips out on the table.

Andy Benes (starting pitcher): I was going from a team that wasn’t doing good to a team that was desperate to win. And the guys who had been there embraced us as if we’d been there our entire career.

Norm Charlton (relief pitcher): I would have signed with anyone. But if I had the opportunity to play with Lou, I would have absolutely signed with Lou.

Mariners 1995 allstar q0atqw

Edgar Martínez, Randy Johnson, and Tino Martinez horse around before the 1995 All-Star Game.

III.

Winning and Losing at the Same Time

And then something happened: The Mariners started winning. After slowly creeping back into the playoff hunt during August—thanks, in part, to Griffey’s return in the middle of the month—they caught fire in September, going 19-8. The California Angels, on the other hand, which had begun the month with a comfortable six-and-a-half-game lead in the American League West, went just 10-16. And throughout the dramatic, late-season surge, Seattle was buoyed by a rallying cry that began showing up on signs and T-shirts all over town.

 

Marjorie Stockham (Kingdome usher): That drive at the end of the season, when they saw that there was a possibility that they could win the championship, it was like electricity in that building. Everybody loved everybody else.

Gastineau: We learned something. The Kingdome was a horrible place for baseball until the Mariners got hot. And then all of a sudden it was like being on the inside of a popcorn machine.

Buhner: Honest to god, you couldn’t hear. At one point I told Junior, “Dude we gotta use hand signals.” Because if there was a flyball between us and we were yelling, “I got it! I got it!” you’re not gonna hear that.

Benes: You couldn’t even talk to your teammates on the bench. You had to scream in the dugout to communicate with them.

Cora: As the season went on and the crowds started getting bigger and bigger and embracing the team like never before, you started thinking, This is a pretty good situation. We’re gonna leave this? Are you crazy?

Stockham: I can hear Jay Buhner in my sleep, saying, “To hell with that wild card. We’re going for first place.”

Charlton: I had guys from the Rangers tell me, “Dude, that crowd? We’ve never heard anything like that. It makes the hair on the back of our necks stand up.”

Buhner: In September you’d come out and there’d actually be people showing up early to watch us take batting practice. And there were signs with different sayings, like “Refuse to Lose,” plastered on the wall all around the place.

Mark Schuppisser (small business owner): I owned a sportswear line called Never Quit. At some point early in 1995 we came up with the slogan “Refuse to Lose, Never Quit.” And as the baseball season picked up toward the middle of August or so, we thought, “Hey, let’s make some of it in Mariners colors.” Once it caught on and we started to sell a lot of merchandise, we went to trademark the slogan and stumbled upon the fact that John Calipari already had a trademark on it.

John Calipari (college basketball coach): That was back in my UMass days, in the early ’90s. We’d had some injuries and were on the road at Rutgers. I just put on a board, Refuse to Lose: We’re up against it, but we’ll figure it out. Just refuse to lose. People started putting it on shirts and selling them, so someone told me, “You need to protect that mark.” So we trademarked it.

Schuppisser: Our attorney reached out to his people, and we ultimately came to a licensing agreement. I think we ended up selling 30,000 or 40,000 shirts, which for us was a lot. There was a licensed goods store down by the Kingdome, and we had our own little booth within the store. I remember going in there one day and seeing this panicked look on the owner’s face, like, We need more shirts.

Armstrong: Our marketing guys were saying, “Our fans are doing this, somebody else is doing this. Why don’t we do this?” Our lawyer and I say, “Okay, but check to see if this thing has been registered by anybody.”

Calipari: If I remember right, the Mariners started using it, and whoever was taking care of this for me called and said, “Look, I talked to the Mariners. They’ve got it everywhere.”

Armstrong: From what we could tell, some guy in South Carolina had registered Refuse to Lose. So we paid him a licensing fee—I want to say it was $25,000—to use Refuse to Lose for the year.

Calipari: So I said, “Well, let them use it. What’s the difference?” And he said, “Well, if they try to sell it…” I said, “They’re not going to sell it. I’ll tell you who’s selling it: Everybody out on the street. And you’re not stopping that. But let them know it’s fine.”

Armstrong: So Calipari sued us for using Refuse to Lose.

Calipari: I don’t remember that. I just told our people, whoever it was, to deal with it and to be fair. And I thought they were.

Armstrong: In Calipari’s suit, he alleged that he had bought the trademark from this guy [in South Carolina], and that guy didn’t tell us. It didn’t go to trial, but how do you trademark “refuse to lose”? It’s like “win one at a time” or something.

Calipari: You know where I got the idea from? I think [NBA coaching legend] Pat Riley. He trademarked, what, three-peat? Now that’s ridiculous.

 

While voters were casting their ballots on Tuesday, September 19, the Mariners were squaring off against the Texas Rangers. With less than two weeks left in the regular season, Seattle was just one game behind the division leading California Angels—and the Rangers were nipping at their heels. The M’s trailed the whole game and entered the bottom of the ninth down 4-2, when journeyman third baseman—and former Ranger—Doug Strange strode to the plate to pinch hit with a runner on first.

 

Doug Strange (reserve infielder): Anytime you’re hitting off the bench, you’re going to be aggressive. So my approach was, “Hey, if I get something good, I’m going to let it fly.”

Charlton: The way we came back to win games in ’95, if we were down by five with two outs in the ninth and you got out of your seat to leave, you were probably not real happy on the way home listening to the radio when the game’s tied in the 11th.

Strange: [Jeff Russell] threw me a first-pitch fastball, and I couldn’t believe it. I put a good swing on it, and it went out of the park.

Armstrong: I can still see the ball going out.

Doug strange homer vvd7e9

 

Gastineau: I’m over at F. X. McRory’s, and they’ve got the game on. Strange hits this home run to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth, and people go bananas.

Strange: The previous two years I’d played in Texas, and they didn’t want me back, which, hey, that’s the business. But yeah, it was fun for me to bite the hand that had fed me.

Grosby: What made it even more amazing, though, was that at almost the exact same time they announced on TV that the voting for the new stadium had moved ahead. This is a franchise that had been so snake bit over the years, and here you’ve got a double whammy of good news.

Armstrong: So we end up winning the game and we go over to F. X. McRory’s. Mick McHugh opened the bar and poured champagne because we were ahead in the polls.

Ellis: The place was just packed!

Mick McHugh: In those days we could sell cigars. And we had a gas flame where people would light up on the counter. We sold more cigars that night then any night in the history of McRory’s.

Ellis: There was no question we’d won. At least nobody was questioning it at that time.

Gastineau: About an hour and a half later I’m talking to [political consultant and former deputy mayor] Bob Gogerty in a back hallway. We’ve basically won the election, everybody’s going nuts, everybody’s drunk and happy. And he says, “We’re not going to win.” I said, “What do you mean?” And he said, “We’re going to lose this on the write-in votes. We don’t have a big enough lead.”

 

Gogerty was right; one week later, once all absentee ballots were accounted for, the sales tax increase lost by just 0.2 percent of votes cast. So with the team’s best option for funding a new stadium dead, part owner John Ellis wrote letters to local politicians informing them that if a new plan wasn’t in place by October 30, the Yamauchi-led ownership group would have no choice but to put the team up for sale.

 

Locke: I took them at their word.

Norm Rice (Seattle mayor): We didn’t think it was an empty threat, so we knew it was important. So we requested a meeting with Governor Lowry.

Locke: Boeing actually supplied a helicopter so we could fly to Olympia.

Rice: Time was of the essence. We weren’t trying to make a big show of it. It was just easier for us to get together and do it that way.

Mike Lowry (Washington governor): I don’t know if there was ever anybody else who came to visit me in a helicopter!

Rice: This wasn’t just about the Mariners. We made a broad presentation about government, business, and community that lent it some legitimacy.

Locke: I wasn’t sure exactly what Governor Lowry’s attitude would be. But we didn’t really have to convince him. He was already on board.

Lowry: It was a somber meeting. If we lost the Mariners—not just Seattle, but the state of Washington—that sounds to me like something that would happen in the Rust Belt. It was the opposite of where we wanted to be going.

Ellis: After we lost the election and the crying stopped, I got a call out of the blue from the governor: “John, I understand your position. Would you be willing to give us time to see if we could put something together in the legislature?”

Lowry: I think we felt pretty darn good about our chances because of the success of the team.

 

The Mariners kept doing their part—sort of. Heading into the last series of the season, against the Texas Rangers, they had the chance to clinch a playoff berth. Instead, they lost two of their last three games, ending the season in a tie atop the American League West with the California Angels. And the two would face off in one winner-take-all game at the Kingdome on October 2.

 

Grosby: I was at the Seahawks game, and they came on over the PA system and announced that they were going to be selling tickets at Tower Records for the one-game playoff the next day. They had 22 hours to sell the tickets, so it was absolutely crazed in town.

Woodward: The game that put Seattle on the map was the playoff with the Angels. Because everybody across the country was tuned in.

Buhner: Nobody expected us to be where we were. So at the end of the day, we had everything to gain and nothing to lose.

Grosby: They had to win the game or there is no postseason.

Piniella: You have to go with your best. And certainly Randy Johnson, especially in the Kingdome, was almost unbeatable.

 

The Big Unit proved Piniella right: Randy Johnson threw a complete game, while striking out 12 and giving up just one run. The highlight of the night, though, was shortstop Luis Sojo’s base-clearing double that became a de facto inside-the-park home run after a throwing error allowed Sojo to score. The Mariners beat up on the Angels, 9-1, advancing to the playoffs for the first time in their 19-year history, and jubilant fans stormed the field.

 

Rick Rizzs announces Sojo's bases-clearing double


Stockham:
Upper management says, “Everybody get to the bottom of the aisle and keep people from jumping onto the field.” I’d seen enough of this to know better. I said, “You can’t stop them. You’ve got to have the horse patrol out there.” “Oh, you do your job.” The crowd was like a herd of elephants. I thought they were going to break my back, pushing me over the railing. Finally I jumped over and crawled into the photographers’ well because that’s the only place they weren’t going.

Woodward: When Sojo got the base hit down the right field line and we win it, everybody in the country finally saw that something special was happening with baseball in the Northwest.

IV. 

Legislative Manuevers

With little time and few options for keeping the Mariners in town, Governor Lowry called an emergency session of the legislature in early October with one goal: hammer out a new funding package for a stadium.

 

Lowry: It was a condensed schedule. But we also recognized that we’re going to work best under that tight timeframe.

Appelwick: The senate Republicans thought it was a fine thing for us to stop. “It failed. What’s the problem? The voters spoke.”

Radcliff-Sinclair: The bill in the regular session was House Bill 2000. And it was just sort of a joke that, “Well, maybe in the year 2000 we’ll look at this again.”

Appelwick: But here’s the real problem: Nobody really wanted to get blamed for it.

Van Luven: For me the issue was never baseball; it was always economic development.

Appelwick: We weren’t raising money for school or clean air or to build a bridge. So the people who were against it saw it as raising money for those damn millionaires over in that damn liberal Seattle.

Ellis: The vote in September made one thing very clear: People who were not directly supportive of the stadium felt that they were being unfairly penalized when you tax them for a stadium that they don’t use. So the theory was, Who really directly benefits?

Appelwick: The tax vote wasn’t handled well because some people portrayed it as a referendum on whether or not there should be a stadium rather than a referendum on whether it should be paid for from a general sales tax or from something more local.

Van Luven: We tried and we tried, but we couldn’t agree on anything. And then the Washington Restaurant Association stepped forward and saved the day.

Anthony Anton (lobbyist, Washington Restaurant Association): It was our proposal that broke the legislative deadlock.

Van Luven: They said, “We will accept a half of a percent tax on food and beverage sales in restaurants and taverns in King County.”

Anton: Not everybody was in love with that compromise. So we lost a good chunk of our membership that thought it was our job to protect the industry, not tax it.

Appelwick: Renee Radcliff was getting these faxes and letters from all around the state, and a lot of them were coming from women and kids. You typically think this is going to be the twentysomethings and the thirtysomethings, the beer drinkers who are hanging out at the stadiums. But it wasn’t that at all.

Radcliff-Sinclair: The pro letters so outweighed the con letters that it wasn’t even close.

Appelwick: I’ll tell you, this didn’t happen because Mariners ownership forced the legislature to do something. It happened because the voters around the state persuaded the elected representatives that it was something that should happen.

 

In addition to the restaurant and bar tax, the legislature agreed on a funding package that included lottery funds, a car rental tax, and an admissions tax at the ballpark. The only thing left was for the King County Council to approve it.

 

Ron Sims (King County Council member): I was one of the two council members working on that contract. Pete von Reichbauer was the other.

Pete Von Reichbauer (King County Council member): It was like being in London in World War II. You were being attacked on all sides.

Sims: Was I thinking baseball? I was thinking finance. I was thinking budgets. I was thinking debt retirement conditions. Were there better deals? You name it, we spent sheets and sheets of paper, rafts of them, libraries full on just numbers and speculation.

Von Reichbauer: For me, the bottom line is and was the benefit I believe professional sports brings to a region. I believe it can be measured by economic development, jobs created, and the hospitality industry. And I also believe very strongly that a team brings people together.

Sims: I couldn’t get away from it. At one point my wife just wanted me to get out of town and smell fresh ocean air, so we went to the Oregon coast. We’re at the hotel, coming down the elevator, and these people get on. “Hi! We know you.” I said, “Oh no.” One group said, “We’re the Mariners’ biggest fans.” And the others said, “Let ’em go.”

Von Reichbauer: People take sports seriously.

V. 

Bronx Bummer

Major League Baseball made its first significant change to the postseason in 1995 with the addition of a divisional playoff round, which meant the Mariners would have to beat two American League teams before moving on to the World Series. First up, as the calendar turned to October, was a best-of-five tilt against the New York Yankees. New York was the wild card and Seattle was the Western Division champ, which meant the M’s would get three games at home. But they’d have to start with two on the road at Yankee Stadium.

 

Woodward: I was worried about the series against the Yankees because we were going into an atmosphere in Yankee Stadium that our players had never seen before. Most of them had never been in the postseason, and then they have to do it in the crazy Bronx.

Grosby: Remember, that was the Yankees’ first time in the postseason in 15 years. That was the longest stretch since they started going to the postseason in 1921.

Woodward: It was tense. We had a box upstairs, and it was open. There was no window. So when the Yankees fans realized that we were with the Mariners they started throwing things at us.

Grosby: There were batteries being pelted onto the field, profanities being chanted, and the whole place was swaying.

Buhner: They would chant, “Buhner loves Junior, Junior loves Buhner.” I mean, the whole stadium’s singing this at the top of their lungs. [To the tune of “Camptown Races”] “Buhner takes it up the ass, doodah, doodah, Buhner takes it up the ass, all the doo dah day.”

Charlton: We’re in the bullpen and a Jagermeister bottle landed right next to Bobby Ayala as he was warming up. Typical New York fans. It’s just asinine.

Buhner: Ball bearings, marbles, chains. Dude, it was so bad, in between every inning as outfielders we had to walk up to the cut of the grass right behind the infield and stand there while the grounds crew came out and cleaned everything up.

Edgar Martínez: I remember golf balls on the field. Joey said one bounced close to him.

Cora: I showed it to the umpire: “Look at this!” And he says, “I can’t say for sure where that came from.” It came from the stands! They threw it at me! He didn’t believe me, and I’m saying, “You don’t know how close this was!”

Buhner: How none of us got hurt was amazing in itself. I mean, what’s to keep these people from just storming the field if they’re already doing this?

 

The inhospitable crowd was the least of the Mariners’ concerns. Despite solid starting pitching and three home runs from Griffey, Seattle lost the first two games, the second loss coming after a two-run bomb by the Yankees’ Jim Leyritz in the bottom of the 15th. Before they’d played a single game of the series in the Kingdome, the Mariners were already facing elimination.

 

Armstrong: It’s 2:30 in the morning, we’re walking out of Yankee Stadium, and there were hundreds of Yankees fans there, yelling, “Eff this, eff that.” It was awful. Lou stops and says, “You know, it’s great to see you folks out here supporting your team. Most of the people in this country have jobs they have to get up and go to, but apparently you don’t. I’m glad you came tonight because you have seen the last home game your team is going to play this season.” And they go crazy.

Piniella: It might have been a little false bravado, but I actually felt that we would go home and compete very, very well. As a manager you should never feel that you’re out of anything.

Ellis: There wasn’t a doubt in his mind. There remained doubts in our minds.

Pelekoudas: It was just deathly quiet on the airplane.

Blowers: I’m thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening right now.” With everything we’ve gone through—the comeback we had, the one-game playoff—I didn’t want to get swept and be done with it.

Charlton: Winning three in a row against the Yankees would be tough. Heck, winning three in a row against the Bellevue Little League is tough.

Pelekoudas: Then all of a sudden, about halfway home, people started to wake up. We started walking around and talking, and the mood changed.


The best baseball that anyone in Seattle had ever seen was about to happen.

Edgar Martínez: Losing two games was nothing to us. So as a team we had a lot of confidence.

Benes: We had Randy starting Game 3, and there’s no way the big fella is going to get beat at home. No chance.

Cora: Tino got up on the plane and said, “Hey, we can do this. We can win three in a row. Randy’s gonna win the next game.”

Tino Martinez: And we thought if we could just find a way to sneak out a win in Game 4, there was no way they could beat us in front of the Kingdome crowd in Game 5.

Woodward: We played okay in New York. But what I was impressed with was that they weren't intimidated. They weren't intimidated when they went back to Seattle. And that was something pretty special.

Grosby: The feeling was, “Well, the Mariners had done their best and they were going to get three at home. And anything can happen at the Kingdome.” Little did we know that the best baseball that anyone in Seattle had ever seen was about to happen.

VI. 

Never Tell Them The Odds

As they had so many times in the final six weeks of the season, the Mariners once again found themselves with their backs against the wall. They had their ace on the mound, the Big Unit, but the Yankees had the swagger of a team that had already sewn up the series.

 

Brent Musburger (Broadcaster, ABC): They were really overconfident when they got to Seattle. There was a little touch of arrogance, but with the Yankees that's kind of how it always was—and probably still is.

Griffey: The message that Lou gave us before that game was Just go out and play. “We probably shouldn’t even be here, but we are. You’re down 0-2, but so what. Go out there and play.” There was definitely a sense that we were playing with house money.

Musburger: I had done a lot of games in Seattle in the NBA. And I knew that in that environment there's a passion that the East Coast is not completely aware of because of the time zone difference. They call it East Coast bias, but to tell you the truth, I think it's just East Coast sleepiness.

Blowers: I’ve never heard the Kingdome louder than at the start of Game 3, when Randy walked out of the dugout and down to the bullpen to warm up. I was getting loose with a number of the guys, and the place just erupted.

Sam Perlozzo (third base coach): I’m sitting to the left of Lou in the dugout, just looking out in awe at this crowd. And he turns to me, just as calm as can be, and says, “Pumped up a little bit, aren’t they, Sammy?”

Blowers: At that point Randy was a rock star in Seattle.

 

Johnson didn’t let down his groupies, blowing one fastball after another past Yankees hitters. Over seven innings he fanned 10 while giving up just two runs en route to a 7-4 Mariners victory. The following night Seattle came from behind to win Game 4, 11-8, thanks in large part to a two-home-run, seven-RBI onslaught by Edgar Martínez. Game 5, on October 8, was equally dramatic, with the lead changing hands five times before the game went to extra innings. Then, in the top of the 11th, the Yankees strung together a walk, bunt, and single to go up 5-4, and the Mariners once again faced elimination. But the heart of their lineup—Joey Cora, Ken Griffey Jr., and Edgar Martínez—was due up.

 

Armstrong: We’re behind. And then Cora, for the second time in the series, bunts and slips by Mattingly.

Woodward: That ball club could beat you a few different ways. And when Joey dropped that bunt, it really caught me off guard.

Cora: After the second pitch, [Yankees first baseman Don] Mattingly had moved back. I wasn’t going to bunt, but once I saw him moving back, I said, “Wow.” So no, that wasn’t Lou’s call. It was Mattingly who told me to bunt, because he was playing so far back. I saw that and I thought, “Oh my god. I gotta do it.”

Cora bunt ty7ytn

 

Armstrong: Some would argue that if you had replay, he would have been called out of the baseline. But anyway.

Woodward: I don't know if he was out or safe.

Gastineau: Officials and umps are only human, and there are situations where they have to think, “Okay, this is borderline. But I’m not calling it the wrong way, because I’d like to leave here tonight with all of my teeth still in my mouth.”

Cora: Everybody in baseball knows I was safe. It wasn’t as close as people think it was.

 

Griffey followed that with a sharp ground-ball base hit past Yankees second baseman Pat Kelly, and in stepped Edgar Martínez.

 

Piniella: As Edgar walks to the plate I’m thinking we’re in a pretty good situation. I know we’re going to get the game tied for sure.

Edgar Martínez: I had struck out in the bottom of the ninth and couldn’t believe it. But when I went back to the dugout, Norm Charlton came to me and said, “Hey, you’re going to win this game for us.”

Charlton: I said something to the effect of “Hey, you’ve seen everything he’s got. You struck out the last at-bat, now you’re really prepared to make something happen.”

Tino Martinez: Nobody's going to get Edgar out twice, not twice in a row like that.

Musburger: I always thought Frank Robinson was the toughest clutch hitter I was ever around—better than Aaron, better than Mays. But Edgar Martínez belongs in that same discussion. He was a tough hombre to pitch to.

Armstrong: Edgar is the best guess hitter I’ve ever known. Of course, he’d say, “I’m not a guess hitter. I know what’s coming.”

Edgar Martínez: Sometimes, after you play for so long, you have this hint of what a pitcher will throw you. I’m not always right, but I was a good hitter. I knew McDowell was going to come right away with the splitter. And he did, and I hit it.

Buhner: I mean it was a friggin’ absolute missile, you know? Like a two-hop missile down the left field line that bounced and hit the wall.

Edgar Martínez: It was one of those hits where you barely felt the ball hit the bat.

Pelekoudas: When Edgar hit the ball, I just put my head down. I knew it was a tie game, and I knew Junior was going to be flying, so I just put my head down and listened.

Cora: I stepped on home plate and looked back to see where Junior was. And he was moving.

Perlozzo: When Edgar hit that ball I looked over and saw the left fielder, Gerald Williams, playing toward center. That meant the ball was going to go to the wall. So in my mind it’s, “Oh god, you’ve got a decision to make.”

Griffey: The one thing you want to do is make it hard on your third base coach. You get a bad jump, it’s easy for him to hold you up. But you get a good jump…

Perlozzo: I took a peek at Junior coming around second, and his eyes were as big as half dollars. The ball got down in that corner, and Griff was running better than I’d ever seen him, so I waved him around.

Musburger: As he hit second base I said, "He's coming.” It was a little bit of a gamble I suppose, looking back on it.

Cora: You have to give Sam a lot of credit. He took a chance on that one.

Woodward: I don't know. Junior may not have stopped anyway. 

Griffey: The whole year, our attitude was, If we’ve got a chance to score, score.

Benes: I’m sure people have run faster, but it looked like the ball was in slow motion and Junior was going 100 miles an hour.

Blowers: That’s the fastest I’ve ever seen Junior run.

Strange: That’s the fastest I’ve ever seen a human run.

Griffey: If I were to come around second and just pull up, then the story would be different. But these are my brothers that I’m trying to score for. It wasn’t about, “Hey, this could be history.” It was, “We’ve done it all year.” This is the only way we knew how to play.

Blowers: In the Kingdome the dugout was wide open and at exactly the same level as the field. You’re not down a set of stairs. You’re right there. So we had the best seat in the house to watch that play.

Buhner: Gerald Williams was in left field, and he’s a damn good outfielder with a damn good arm. And I mean, he fielded it perfect. He turned and hit the cutoff man with a frozen rope, and then the relay in was perfect—and it wasn’t even freaking close.

Pelekoudas: I heard the crowd roaring. I heard it building and building and building, and I looked up right when he crossed the plate. It’s hard to explain my reaction. But I can tell you my wife’s fingernails were digging into my arm.

Piniella: Then all hell breaks loose in the Kingdome.

Dave Niehaus announces Edgar's double to win the ALDS


Blowers:
I started toward home plate, and there was just a mass of people there, diving on top of Junior.

Tino Martinez: I usually hate being underneath those dog piles; I'm a little claustrophobic. But I didn't care then. The excitement took over and I jumped right in with everybody else.

Griffey slide ykdyca

 

Charlton: The last place I wanted to be was at the bottom of that pile. I did not want to get my hand stepped on, did not want to get my shoulder stepped on.

Griffey: All I could think about was trying to get everybody off me because I still had nine screws and a plate in my wrist. But once I got my hand out from under me I was good.

Buhner: I was trying to run out toward home plate, then I was trying to run out toward second—I was like a freaking yo-yo. Eventually I ran out and just mobbed Edgar.

Edgar Martínez: Joey was the first one to get to me at second.

Cora: I went right to Edgar. I love Junior. He’s one of my great friends. But Edgar was the one that hit the double to win it.

Perlozzo: I pulled a calf muscle jumping up and down

Benes: Twenty years later, it still brings chills to my arms to think about it.

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Musburger: I've witnessed great games. But the most electric moment I ever witnessed was that base hit.

Grosby: The noise then, it had a feel to it. It had texture to it. It had personality to it. It must have been what it was like to be at a Beatles concert back in the day. People were screaming. And I’m not talking about cheering. Not “Yay!” but “AHHHHHHH! AHHHHHH!”

Musburger: The sound ricocheted off the roof and off the sides and came back toward the middle of the field, and as a broadcaster that sound is pumping into your headset. It's probably one of the reasons why I'm wearing hearing aids today.

Gastineau: I stood in the stadium for 30 or 40 seconds—I wanted to stay longer—but I had to go do postgame at F. X. McRory’s. And I’m thinking, “Okay, I have to go to the bathroom, and I’m going to do that now because it’s going to be nuts at McRory’s.” I come running into the men’s room, and I hear footsteps running in from the other door. I look up and there’s [former Mariner] Dave Henderson. He looks at me and goes, “Gas!” So my memory of that night is hugging Dave Henderson in a men’s room.

Musburger: It was a battle getting back to the hotel. Once we got outside the stadium, we couldn’t move for a long time. And I remember how much I really, really wanted a cold beer.

McHugh: I usually worked pregame, got to the stadium a little late, and then left the stadium early to get back to the bar before the crowds showed. But that night you were stuck in your seats. Are you kidding? But don't make a big deal out of it, will ya? Some of the people who worked for me back then probably still remember.

Armstrong: If the vote on the sales tax had been after Game 5, we would have won.

Cora: Once we came back against the Yankees, there’s no way the politicians and the people in Seattle would let the team go. There was no way.

Musburger: By the way, I finally got my cold one.

 

Video of the game-winning hit

VII.

Safe at Home

The Mariners’ Cinderella run ended on October 17, when the Cleveland Indians knocked them out of the playoffs in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series. It was a disappointing end to an unlikely season, and their future in Seattle was still undecided: It would be nearly a week before the King County Council voted, 10-3, to enact the stadium funding package that the Washington state legislature approved. Although groundbreaking on what would become Safeco Field was still 18 months off, baseball was finally safe in Seattle. But even that victory didn’t come without drama.

 

Sims: The question was, “How do we explain a decision where the public has had its voice?”

Appelwick: Don’t think for a minute that this was taken lightly.

Radcliff-Sinclair: I spent the next five years explaining that to people. Everywhere I went it was like, “Well, King County voters voted this down, and then the legislature went in and did what they wanted to do anyway.”

Van Luven: I’ve been in Skagit County for 10 years. Most of the people outside of Seattle think they are all paying for the stadium.

Armstrong: They still thought it was a general sales tax increase.

Van Luven: If you don’t go to a game you’ll never pay a dime. If you don’t go to a restaurant in King County you’ll never pay a dime for it. What I found, though, is that a lot of people don’t want to understand it.

Sims: When I left to go to the federal government, I had to do a background check. The FBI does it. I’m going through my interviews with the guy from the FBI and he says, “You’ve had a very interesting career. You’ve had waves of people who actually did not like you.” I said, “Yes.” He said, “No, you don’t understand what I’m saying. These people did not like you.”

 

And while the politicians who made it possible to keep the Mariners in town are still answering for their decision, members of the 1995 team take no small amount of pride from what they accomplished.

 

Buhner: It was a group of crazy freaking castoffs from other teams that got together and did something really special. And if it wasn’t for that group of guys, there would be no Safeco Field. Period.

Edgar Martínez: We all feel proud of that year. 

Blowers: It was the funnest year I ever had playing the game, that’s for sure. And it was the first banner the Mariners got to put up, and I was a part of that.

Piniella: That season defined baseball in Seattle for a long, long time.

Cora: I don’t want to brag, but I will. We saved baseball in Seattle. It’s that simple.

Pelekoudas: At the end of Game 5 against the Yankees, there was a young girl on the field, probably like 16 years old, and she was crying—real tears of joy. I looked at my wife and said, “It’s nice that’s she’s crying, but she doesn’t even know why she’s crying.” She hadn’t lived through the pain and suffering that most of us had lived through for the last 17 or 18 years.

Buhner: All of that said, it would be nice to close the chapter. And it would be nice to see the next group of Seattle Mariners come in and create a whole ’nother chapter.

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Luis Sojo douses Edgar Martínez with a beer shower after the Mariners’ Game 5 victory.

 

Updated October 6, 2015, to reflect that the Mariners had homefield advantage in the Division Series based on having won the Western Division, not based on their regular season record.

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