The Baseball Club of Seattle, LP, has become one of the most profitable franchises in Major League Baseball. Created in 1976 out of the ashes of the 1969 Seattle Pilots, who lasted one season, the Seattle Mariners in 2001 set a host of Major League records and tied the record for most wins in a season with a record of 116-46.
The Early Years: 1970s
When Seattle was awarded a baseball franchise in 1976, an investor group made up of Stanley Golub, Danny Kaye, Walter Schoenfeld, Lester Smith, James Stillwell, and James Walsh financed the team for $6.5 million. Dick Vertlieb was named the club's first executive director, and Lou Gorman became director of baseball operations. The Seattle Mariners played their first game on April 6, 1977. The team's inaugural game was played in Seattle's Kingdome--the American League's first domed-stadium--against the California Angels, before a crowd of 57,762. A possible harbinger of things to come, the team lost that first outing, 7-0, and went on to finish the season with a disappointing 64-98 record.
The young Seattle Mariners continued to struggle under manager Darrell Johnson, finishing seventh in the A.L. West in 1978 with a 56-104 record--which still stands as the team's worst season record. Lou Gorman was promoted to general manager in May 1978 and Dan O'Brien became president and chief executive officer the following January.
The Mariners hosted the Major League Baseball All-Star game in 1979 with only one Mariner, Bruce Bochte, making the All-Star team. Unfortunately, the excitement surrounding the All-Star game did little to polish the Mariners' season performance, as they closed the year with another disappointing record of 67-95.
Getting into the Swing of Things
The Mariners made their first managerial change in 1980 when Maury Wills replaced Darrell Johnson on August 4. The shake-up did not improve the team's fortunes and they ended the season with a 59-103 record. Perhaps more disappointingly, the team failed for a third straight season to draw 1 million fans to the Kingdome.
Ownership changed hands in 1981 when George Argyros purchased a majority interest in the club for $10.2 million in a sale approved by the League on January 29. Argyros would pay an additional $2.9 million in 1983 to become full owner. During his tenure as owner, he threatened several times to move the team to another city. He eventually forced a renegotiation of the team's lease on the Kingdome Stadium that dropped the annual cost from $3.5 million to $1.2 million, with two-years' worth of free rent between 1985 and 1987.
Maury Wills' reign as manager proved to be short-lived as he was replaced 24 games into the 1981 season by Rene Lachemann. The season was marred by a strike and the team finished the first half with a record of 21-36 and the second half at 23-29. Average attendance for the season was 14,000 in a facility that held more than 60,000.
The team achieved its first significant milestone in 1982 when veteran pitcher Gaylord Perry triumphed 7-3 over the New York Yankees to become just the 15th pitcher in baseball history to win 300 career games. Perry had been brought aboard in an attempt to boost attendance, and it worked. A crowd of 27,369 watched him win the historic game on May 6. Perry would go on to become the first Mariner to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated on its May 17, 1982, issue. In July 1991, Perry was the first one-time Mariner to be elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York.
That would not be the only highlight for the Mariners in 1982, as the team approached the .500 winning mark for the first time, finishing in fourth place in the A.L. West with a 78-84 record. A key force for the Mariners that year was pitcher Floyd Bannister, who led the American League in strikeouts and became the first Mariner to lead the League in a major category.
On June 25, 1983, in what would become known as the "Saturday Massacre," a plethora of unpopular team changes angered fans. First, manager Rene Lachemann was replaced with Del Crandall. Then, popular second baseman Julio Cruz was traded to the Chicago White Sox, and Gaylord Perry and starting shortstop Todd Cruz were let go. In response, attendance continued its downward spiral, with attendance averaging barely 10,000 fans per game. The team ended the year with a 60-102 record, a notable retreat from the previous year's flirtation with the .500 mark. In October, Hal Keller was promoted from director of Player Development to vice-president of Baseball Operations and general manager, while Chuck Armstrong was named president, a title he would retain until 1989.
The First Mariner Star
In 1984, Seattle's first genuine star arrived in the form of first baseman Alvin Davis, who would go on to play in the All-Star game and be voted 1984 Rookie of the Year. Also that season, first-year pitcher Mark Langston led the American League in strikeouts with 204 and posted a final record of 17-10 with a 3.40 ERA. The duo gave fans hope that the Mariners could finally build a successful franchise around a solid foundation, but the team finished in fifth place with a 74-88 record.
Attendance levels remained low at 870,372 for the year, but 1984 would be the last year that Mariners' attendance numbers dipped below one million. In September 1984, the Mariners changed managers and brought Chuck Cottier aboard for the 1985 season. The team finished 1985 with another 74-88 record. Phil Bradley led the club with a .300 batting average and made the All-Star team. Dick Balderson was named vice-president of Baseball Operations after the close of the season.
The team greeted another challenging year in 1986. Management changes persisted with the replacement of Cottier, the lightning-quick hiring and firing of Marty Martinez, the hiring of Dick Williams, and the team's dead-last finish in the A.L. West with a dismal record of 67-95.
Finishing last in 1986 became an advantage for the team when they were awarded first pick in the baseball draft. For their first pick, the Mariners chose 17-year-old Ken Griffey, Jr., who entered Seattle's Minor League system. During the 1987 season, the Mariners reached a high point with a club-record 78 wins and with pitcher Mark Langston and infielder Harold Reynolds playing in the All-Star game. The year would be important in another way, too, as Minor League third baseman Edgar Martinez stepped up to the Majors in September. Martinez made his mark with five doubles and a seven-game hitting streak that month, batting .372. Both Griffey and Martinez would go on to become Mariners superstars.
While the Mariners dropped to the bottom of the A.L. West again in 1988, another future Mariner luminary came to Seattle via the New York Yankees: slugger Jay Buhner. Buhner's addition to the team continued the trend of building for the future. Another manager change took place in June when Jim Snyder took the reins from Dick Williams. The following month, Woody Woodward stepped in as vice-president of Baseball Operations.
Rookie Griffey Hits the Ground Running
Opening day 1989 saw Ken Griffey, Jr., on the roster in center field, having impressed new manager Jim Lefebvre during spring training. No one could know it that day, but a new era in Mariners baseball had begun. Junior, as he was quickly dubbed, reached second base in his first Major League plate appearance, and a week later, in the Mariners' home opener at the Kingdome, hit a home run off the first pitch thrown to him at his new ballpark. The 19-year-old player was well on his way to Rookie-of-the Year honors when a broken bone in his left hand sidelined him for six weeks. In the end, the award would not be his. Although the Mariners won 16 of 25 games without Junior, it wasn't enough to earn them their first winning season.
Another sea change came for the Mariners on May 25, 1989, when the team traded ace Mark Langston to the Montreal Expos for three players--one of which was 6'10" pitcher Randy Johnson. Quickly nicknamed "The Big Unit," Johnson would go on to become one of modern-day baseball's most dominant pitchers.
In October 1989, Mariners ownership changed hands again when radio mogul Jeff Smulyan purchased the team for $77.5 million. Smulyan assumed the role of chairman, and Gary Kaseff was named president. After Smulyan's first year, rumors began to circulate that he wanted to move the team to a different city.
The Early 1990s
Randy Johnson brought the franchise its first no-hitter on June 2, 1990, and went on to win 14 games over the course of the season. Junior made the All-Star team for the first time, hitting .300 for the season, and logging 22 home runs and 80 runs batted in. Junior also helped make baseball history on August 31, when he and his father--former Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey, Sr., who was signed to the Mariners on August 29--became the first father and son to play in a game together on the same Major League team. Seattle would finish the season with a 77-85 record.
It was a modest margin, but the Mariners had a winning season in 1991 with an 83-79 record. Junior brought home the club's first Silver Slugger Award and was named to his second All-Star team. Despite posting a winning record, Lefebvre was fired at the end of the season and replaced by Bill Plummer.
In 1992, Edgar Martinez joined Most Valuable Player Ken Griffey, Jr., on the All-Star roster, earned a Silver Slugger Award, and brought Seattle its first batting crown. Fan-favorite Martinez ended the season with a .343 average. Unfortunately, under Plummer's tutelage, the team fell well under .500, ending the season at 64-98.
One distraction during the 1992 season was continuing volatility in team ownership. For the fourth time in their 16-year history, the Mariners changed ownership hands. On the brink of leaving the Northwest under Smulyan's ownership, the Mariners received an offer from Japanese Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi to contribute $75 million toward the purchase of the team as a gift to Seattle, corporate home of Nintendo of America. Controversy ensued when some baseball traditionalists raised their voices against what they saw as selling out America's pastime to the Japanese. Major League Baseball ultimately agreed to a 60 percent acquisition by Yamauchi, with the condition that he limit his voting interest to 49 percent. Local investors contributed the remaining 51 percent of the $125 million total sale price. Yamauchi would do Seattle another enormous favor five years later, when he suggested the club pursue Japanese baseball superstar Ichiro Suzuki.
In 1992, under the restrictions set forth by Major League Baseball, The Baseball Club of Seattle, LP, assumed control of the Mariners. Chuck Armstrong returned as president and chief operating officer, while the board of directors included John Ellis (chairman), Minoru Arakawa (son-in-law, president of Nintendo, and representative of Hiroshi Yamauchi, whose reluctance to fly has kept him from attending a single Mariners game), Chris Larson, Howard Lincoln, John McCaw, Frank Shrontz, and Craig Watjen. Rumblings also began about the need for the Mariners to have a new ballpark to truly attain long-term success in Seattle.
This unusual ownership group would burn through $77 million in losses during their first seven seasons and received criticism from the media and some sectors of the public over the fight to get a new stadium approved and constructed. But the singular goal of this management team was to keep the Mariners in Seattle and ultimately they would achieve that--and more. The Mariners would grow into one of the most successful teams in baseball history, judged by both outstanding performance and overwhelming community support.
Baseball great Lou Piniella came aboard as manager in 1993. Having led the 1990 Cincinnati Reds to a World Series Championship, Piniella was hired to take the team to a new level of success. Pitcher Chris Bosio threw the team's second no-hitter on April 22, 1993, in just his fourth start as a Mariner pitcher. Mariner superstar Ken Griffey, Jr., was also inked into the history books after hitting home runs in eight straight games in July, tying the record held by 1956 Pittsburgh Pirate Dale Long and 1987 New York Yankee Don Mattingly.
With Piniella as the new skipper, the team quickly improved, finishing fourth in the A.L. West with 82 wins--a number they were happy to reach at the time but that would eventually be dwarfed by a historical Piniella-helmed 2001 season. Total attendance during Piniella's first year rose from 1,651,367 the previous year to 2,052,638.
The 1994 season proved a strange one. The season was shortened by a players' strike and the Mariners' home schedule was curtailed when, just three hours before game time on July 19, the first of four 15-pound Kingdome ceiling tiles crashed to the ground. The game was called off and the team played the rest of their season on the road. They finished third in the division for the first time, with a 49-63 record. Despite the shortened and odd season, Junior racked up 40 home runs.
A Crowning Achievement: 1995
The Mariners enjoyed their most successful year as an organization in 1995. On May 22, Piniella became the team's most winning manager with his 234th triumph in a Mariner uniform, this one over the Boston Red Sox. The team went on to earn their first American League West title, and then, appearing in the playoffs for the first time in their 18-year history, narrowly won a nail-biting Division Series against the New York Yankees. Down two games to none in a best-of-five series, including a 15-inning loss in game two at Yankee Stadium, the Mariners tied the series and then battled back in the fifth and deciding game from a 5-4 deficit in the 11th inning by scoring two runs off an Edgar Martinez double to win 6-5.
Piniella was crowned Manager of the Year and Randy Johnson took home the Cy Young Award for Most Valuable Pitcher in the Majors. The Mariners' Cinderella story, its likable roster of popular players, and the edge-of-your-seat playoff series with the Yankees was credited by many sports writers and fans around the country with polishing the tarnished image of America's favorite pastime after the previous season's bitter strike. The team's marketing motto for the following year already rang true: "Ya gotta love these guys!"
Although the magical 1995 Mariners did not make it past the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series, the team struck while the baseball iron was hot. Building on the momentum of the dramatic Yankees' playoff series, the Mariners and their supporters in the community were able to pressure the Seattle City Council into a special session in which they devised a new stadium plan that sidestepped the results of the previous year's failed stadium ballot initiative and approved construction of a state-of-the-art, retractable-roof baseball park in downtown Seattle.
The club earned a record 85 wins in 1996, but fell behind the Texas Rangers for the division title. Impressive rookie Alex Rodriguez joined Jay Buhner, Ken Griffey, Jr., Edgar Martinez, and catcher Dan Wilson on the American League All-Star team. Rodriguez also claimed his first Silver Slugger Award and the A.L. batting crown, finishing the season with a .358 batting average, 36 home runs, and 123 RBIs.
The team returned to the playoffs in 1997, winning the A.L. West with yet another club record of 90 wins. And another handful of talented Mariners participated in the All-Star game, including Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Jay Buhner, Dan Wilson, and second baseman Joey Cora. Junior would go on to be named American League MVP, while Martinez earned Designated Hitter of the Year. Another important milestone was reached as the team topped 3 million in attendance for the first time. In addition, construction started on the new stadium across the street from the Kingdome. But the playoff magic from 1995 could not be conjured and the Mariners lost the Division Series to the Baltimore Orioles.
The team had a disappointing season in 1998, finishing 111/2 games out of first place in the A.L. West. Although individual players continued to post impressive, record-breaking numbers, it seemed that longstanding pitching problems had finally caught up with the talented offensive team and they struggled to achieve the previous years' successes. In an unpopular move, singular pitching standout Randy Johnson was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Mariners subsequently fell out of the playoff race in July.
Changes abounded for the team in 1999. Some were positive and some decidedly were not. The team moved into its impressive new ballpark in July, with its retractable roof and $517 million price tag. Lou Piniella became the 14th Major Leaguer to amass 1,000 career wins as a manager and 1,000 career hits as a player. Ken Griffey, Jr., earned his ninth Gold Glove and seventh Silver Slugger, and Alex Rodriguez claimed his third Silver Slugger. Pitcher Freddy Garcia threw a club rookie record of 17 wins. Still, the team finished third in the A.L. West with a record of 79-83.
In September 1999, Howard Lincoln was selected chairman and CEO, and John Ellis was appointed chairman emeritus. The following month Pat Gillick was named executive vice-president and general manager of Baseball Operations.
But by far most devastating to the team in 1999 was the trade of Ken Griffey, Jr. Throughout the second half of the season there had been much media attention paid to the star player's alleged displeasure with his offensive numbers in the new park, which featured longer home run fences than the Kingdome's. After weeks of speculation, the Mariners' original franchise player was traded to the Cincinnati Reds, and after ten years, an era in Mariners baseball came to a close.
The end of a Seattle era arrived on the morning of March 26, 2000, when the 24-year-old Kingdome was demolished with the use of 4,461 pounds of explosives. Rising 250 feet into the Seattle skyline and weighing 130,000 tons, the Kingdome took fewer than 20 seconds to collapse into a heaping, dusty mound of twisted iron and cement.
The loss of superstar Griffey cast a pall on the proceedings in early 2000, but it soon became apparent that the team would be okay. With a fresh roster that included pitchers Aaron Sele and Kazuhiro Sasaki, outfielder Mike Cameron, and first baseman John Olerud, the team claimed a wild-card berth, then swept the Chicago White Sox in the Division Series and came close to surpassing the Yankees in the ALCS. Olerud collected a Gold Glove and Alex Rodriguez claimed his forth Silver Slugger. The revamped bullpen saw Sasaki named Rookie of the Year. Attendance numbers remained steady and totaled 2,914,624, despite the absence of Griffey. Unbelievably, the team suffered yet another superstar loss at the close of the season when Alex Rodriguez signed with the Texas Rangers in a record-breaking 10-year deal worth $252 million.
Best Record in Baseball History: 2001
After having lost three of baseball's biggest names and most skilled players in just two years--Johnson, Griffey, and Rodriquez, the 2001 Mariners would stun the baseball world and, without reaching the World Series, rise to heights no one thought possible.
New players added to the roster to help fill the Alex Rodriguez void, known as the "A-Rod" void, included the virtually unknown right-fielder Ichiro Suzuki (unknown in the United States, that is) and veteran second baseman Bret Boone. Both players helped the unsung 2001 Seattle Mariners bust open the A.L. record for wins in a season and tie the all-time highest-winning record in the 130-year history of Major League Baseball, finishing the season at a remarkable and historic 116 wins and 46 losses, including 59 victories on the road (an American League record) and 20 wins in April (a Major League record).
In fact, it was a Mariners season filled with records. The team was in first place from the start of the regular season until the finish--162 games--which tied the Major League record. Ichiro Suzuki made a name for himself in the United States after years of notoriety in Japan. He tied the Major League record for hitting safely in a game with 135 and set a new record for hits by a rookie with 242. He was crowned Rookie of the Year and the League's Most Valuable Player. Bret Boone had the best season by a second baseman in A.L. history, crushing 36 home runs and driving in 141 runs. Veteran pitcher Jamie Moyer became the Mariners' second 20-game winner and closing pitcher Kazuhiro Sasaki set a Major League record with 13 saves in April. Lou Piniella was voted A.L. Manager of the Year and General Manager Pat Gillick was named Executive of the Year. The All-Star game was played in Seattle, with eight Mariners named to the team. Attendance reached an all-time high of 3,507,326 for the year.
The Mariners went on to grab handily their third A.L. West title, and then barely avoided elimination in the Division Series against the Cleveland Indians. But the ALCS crown was not to be theirs as they faced the New York Yankees, who would go on to win their third straight World Series.
The Mariners poured $18.8 million into the Major League Baseball revenue pool in 2001, an amount that matched what the Florida Marlins siphoned. The team reported a league-high profit of $14.8 million, making them one of baseball's most successful franchises.
With the opening of the 2002 season, the Seattle Mariners were perched for another run at the pennant. Their mix of ownership, management, players, and a beautiful new ballpark was expected to keep attracting fans and achieving success.
Principal Subsidiaries:Everett Aqua Sox (A); Peoria Mariners (Rookie); San Antonio Missions (AA); San Bernardino Stampede (A); Tacoma Rainiers (AAA); Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (A).
Principal Competitors:Texas Rangers; Oakland Athletics; New York Yankees; Cleveland Indians.