KJR talk show host Dave Grosby hosted the Mariners’ pre-game and post-game shows in 1995 for KIRO. Last week I talked with him about that year, beginning with the strike that was resolved just a few weeks before the 1995 season started.
Arne: As the season started, were you frustrated or bitter over the strike?
Dave: Pretty bitter. It looked like they had a chance in ’94, but you knew the strike was coming. The team was very close [in the Western Division], and it was not like they were having a great year. 51-63, I think, was their record when the strike happened, but they still would have had a chance. It was ’94 that had been disappointing. They just weren’t winning that year. Griffey had shown what he could do, but it was the pitching in the Kingdome that wasn’t doing it. Piniella had Johnson, Bosio, Ayala as his closer, there was the sense that they had a chance, but it just didn’t happen for them. The Montreal Expos that year, they were superb, and the strike just killed that team, took away their best shot at a pennant, and a decade later they were gone.
Arne: I’ve talked to a few people, and they’ve all said Griffey’s homer against the Yankees in late August was the start of the run.
Dave: Yeah, that was the first game, the homer off their new pitching coach, Wetteland, on August 25 I think, that happened and people went back to the Kingdome. But it wasn’t really until the first week of September, a three- or four week-long stretch where they were winning every day, that the run really happened. They came from 12, 13 games back, and the other moves [trading for Andy Benes and Vince Coleman and signing Norm Charlton] started paying off. They brought in Benes, that was a big deal, the first time they showed they were willing to make a trade for someone to compete. It was funny, it took until mid-September for the fans to take interest.
Arne: Yeah, the run was 18-2, I think.
Dave: They had all these flashy moments, and they [the fans] started realizing all these good things were happening. The O.J. verdict came down the same day as the playoff against the Angels. And then the playoffs started.
Arne: It sounds like Buhner was the player who really pushed the team to make that push for the division title.
Dave: The Mariners decided to put up flags for the wild card standings, and Buhner was furious, he tore them down. It was a rallying cry for the team. It was amazing to see how close the team got. The whole thing happened so fast.
Arne: Was there any sense of a chance the Mariners would come back from the 2-0 deficit against the Yankees?
Dave: Game 2 was a real blow to the team. Griffey hit the homer to give them the win it looked like, then the Yankees came back to tie in the 12th. Leyritz hit the homer to win it in the 15th, that incredibly long game, it must’ve gone on until 2 a.m. in the Bronx. You figured that was their best chance; if it didn’t happen there, in game 2, it wasn’t going to happen. Charlton pitched five innings, it was by far his longest outing, but it winds up a loss.
Arne: Did Piniella help the team get ready for that Yankees series? He’d spent so many years with the Yankees, been in some World Series, he was used to that New York media.
Dave: I think he might have said something. Piniella was talking at the point when there were 4 or 5 weeks to go in the season, and he said now is the time to bear down. But Piniella said it actually works the other way around, it’s up to the players now, we’ve taught them, done what we could. They have to figure out how to respond now. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to calm them down, but they already felt that they were ready, they’d be prepared for what they needed to do. And the funny thing about Piniella, he was right, they were ready. And him not talking about it kept them from getting too aware of the circumstances.
Arne: The Mariners actually had a three game lead, I think, with four games to play against Texas, and then they lost it.
Dave: I went down with them [to Texas], and in the first game, Griffey hits a grand slam, they clinch a tie for the division title, and you figured they were going to do it. I flew to Lincoln, I was doing the Cougar games at the time, and they were playing Nebraska [that weekend], but the Mariners couldn’t get it done. It’s happened so many times, the team coming back gives back the lead at the end of the season. That was the situation with Boston and New York in ’78. You’d think it shouldn’t have happened, but it did.
Arne: There were all those rumors about the team probably moving to Florida after the season. Was that something the players were aware of, or did they not really pay much attention?
Dave: That was the backdrop to the whole season, but no, the players weren’t that aware of it. I remember the election night thing, how the game went on and the stadium yes vote was ahead during the game, then it slipped back, and the homer by Strange to have them go ahead. The no vote just barely won; that vote was so close. I think the Mariners wouldn’t have gotten even 40 percent of the vote if the election was held a couple weeks earlier. Later Mike Lowry got the legislature together, and they put a funding package together; it absolutely wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
The funny thing about it is, the argument was that they needed a new stadium to survive in Seattle. They only had a few more years in the Dome, but they were drawing 3 million people there in ’98. And Safeco’s a gorgeous park, but it turned out they didn’t have to have the new stadium to draw people in. It was just winning.
Arne: What do you remember about the celebration after beating the Yankees?
Dave: I had a post game show to do at Umberto’s which was the name of the restaurant at the time next to FX McRory’s. I had lucked into 2nd row sets so when Griffey scored I jumped around like a maniac hugging complete strangers then went across the parking lot to the restaurant for the post game show. Never a wilder or more raucous night. Players like Wolcott came by, all the broadcasters came by. . . the first call was from New York and the second call from Boston. We were supposed to do a 1 and a half hour show and wound up doing 4 hours till 3 in the morning. The wildest night in Seattle sports history.
Arne: I talked with Rick Rizzs last month about the Cleveland series, and he said the Mariners were just too exhausted, physically, and maybe emotionally too, to have much of a chance.
Dave: There’s no question they were messed up, especially the rotation. They brought in Johnson to win game 5, they had to have that game. But they had Wolcott for game 1, the 22-year old from Oregon, he’d started 3 games all year, and if I remember right, he walked three in the first inning. Then he pitched a shutout, I believe. Cleveland was sensational that year, 100-44, they were the best team [by winning percentage] since 1954, along with the Mariners in ’01.
Arne: A-Rod that year, was he up and down with the team, going from Tacoma to Seattle and back a lot?
Dave: He was a September call-up. It was part of his contract when he was drafted that he’d be brought up to the major leagues that year. I’m pretty sure he was on deck when Edgar Martinez hit that double. You think about how things change in his career and for the Mariners if A-Rod comes up and gets a hit to win that game.
Arne: There’s that one picture of A-Rod consoling Cora after the Indians series ended.
Dave: I know exactly the picture you’re talking about. I’ve always said, that picture was worth $100 million to the Mariners. It really turned women on to the team, They came up with that “you gotta love these guys” slogan the next year, which was really directed at women, and it brought in a whole new fan base. Cora crying, being a baby, and the 18-year-old kid with his arms around Cora’s shoulder.
Arne: You look back on those late ’90s Mariners teams, and it’s just so hard to figure out why they didn’t have more success, with Griffey, Rodriguez, Johnson, Buhner, Martinez.
Dave: You sure do wonder: why didn’t they repeat that performance a few more times? I’ve talked to those guys, and they can’t really understand it either. They’ll wonder what happened. That’s what you hear those guys say, why didn’t we do more with that talent? In ’97 there was Mussina [in the ALDS for the Orioles].
Arne: Was it mainly the bullpen, just letting too many runs score?
Dave: The problem wasn’t really the bullpen, it was the starting pitching. Bosio couldn’t pivot [on the mound], but he was such a gamer for Piniella [in 1996]. They had Charlton; it wasn’t so much the relief, they just didn’t have the starters.
Arne: Do you think fans dwell too much on ’95 and don’t pressure the Mariners to at least get to the World Series and improve on ’95 and ’01?
Dave: I’ve heard that and think its bullbleep. Pressure them how? DO what? Since ’01 attendance has gone down as they haven’t won and last year’s was the worst ever at Safeco Field. Should they throw shit at players? Never watch or listen to games and take away the income that provides players? I’ve always thought that was a crock and utter nonsense, as you can tell. Fans don’t create winning teams, in fact they have nothing to do with it. Now if the Mariners were hoarding money and not paying players and living with a tiny payroll so the owners could make huge profits you might have something. But they aren’t and you don’t.