The Stadium Vote and the Fan Van

It was a magical season for our young family. We lived in West Seattle, 10 minutes from the Dome, and were often given free tickets through work, so we went to almost every game. My wife and I and our 2 sons would often get to the Dome early enough for batting practice, and would often stay until the players left and the parking lot was empty. Sam was 9 and Zach was 6, and they had many autographs from the players from both teams. A favorite was when Don Mattingly signed Zach’s Stand Up action figure (in the unopened package). My wife and I would sit in the nearly empty stadium, and watch as both Sam and Zach would make the rounds for autographs. It was a very relaxed time.

One night after a game towards the end of the 1995 season, I remember when Lou was being driven out to his car in a golf cart, he stopped to sign some autographs, and made the quip that it seemed there were more people waiting outside than there were in the Dome. Boy, within a few games that all changed. They started winning, and it seemed every win was in the last 2 or 3 innings!

Well, fast forward to the Stadium vote. I remember how that divided a lot of relationships! Either you were for, or against! Neighbors against neighbors! Eastern Washington versus Western Washington!

The night the stadium vote failed to pass, Sam, 9 years old, told us he wanted to write a letter to Governor Lowry. So we gave him pencil and paper, and off we sent his letter to the Governor’s office, on our new “fax machine.” He wrote how he wanted to help save baseball in Seattle.

Then it all started. We received a phone call from the Governor’s office. They wanted to know if this kid was real. Yup. Later that evening, we watched the Governor’s News Conference on TV evening news, where he read Sam’s letter, and told how it moved him to call a special session of the legislature, that we needed to save baseball in Seattle!

Then the calls began. The Seattle Times, Spokane Review, Channel 4, 5, 7, and even 13! They all wanted to know who this Sam kid was. Walking to the store on day, Sam was approached and asked, “Hey, you’re the Mariner kid aren’t you?” Twice we had TV stations come to the house just to interview us while we were watching the game on TV, at the games they’d catch up with us, they even went to Sam’s school a couple times for interviews. It’s funny looking back at the time when they interviewed Sam and his elementary class, asking their views on whether the voters should approve funding a new stadium. You could sure tell what the kids were hearing at home!

Then the season ended. It all came crashing down. It felt sooo cold outside, and the sky was just a little more gray. I noticed my lawn for the 1st time in 6 weeks, it must have been 6 inches tall. We ALL came down with the flu! No more living on adrenaline.

Then another phone call. It was the Governor’s Office. The new bill was going to be signed into law, and the Governor’s office wanted to know if they could come to Lafayette Elementary in West Seattle, where Sam went to school as a 5th grader, and have the bill signed into law, in front of all the kids. I said it was up to the school, better call them, but it was OK with us! Impromptu Assembly! Just about every politician in town, and every Mariner front office person was there. The night before, we went down to Southcenter and had “Refuse to Lose” T-Shirts made for ourselves and Governor Lowry. When the assembly started, Lowry got up in front of all the kids and explained what a law was, and what they were doing by signing it. He then led the school in a chorus of “Take me out to the Ballgame.” A heavy sigh, and back to reality.

Then round two. Vanity plates. We got plates #00001 and #00003. WOW, we wondered if we should chance getting it stolen by putting it on our car! We put the #00001 plate on our family van. It was silver with blackened windows. I mention that because as we drove around, people would look, almost getting in accidents to see who we were. I mean, plate number #1? Had to be SOMEONE! We then coined the term “The Fan Van,” and an idea was hatched.

The Fan Van. We approached the Mariners with an idea, and they liked it. We would have a van painted in Mariner colors, with big letters across the side calling it the Fan Van, all with the #0001 license plate. We planned on getting sponsors to donate the van and paint, and would drive the Mariner Moose out onto the field before the games. Pretty much everything was negotiated until at the last minute, the Mariners backed out, citing liability issues. The following year, they approached us trying to obtain the plate, but we passed. They tried the idea for themselves to a small degree with a Hummer…but it went nowhere.

Finally round number 3. It all comes together, and what a small world. In 2010, here in Phoenix at a business lunch, a group of 6 people, talking about the business we were all in, when the subject of Seattle came up. The gentleman I was sitting next to, Brian Beggs, mentioned how he too had lived in Seattle. I asked what he did in Seattle, and he mentioned he had worked for the Seattle Mariners as CFO!!!! OMG!!! You can guess what we talked about the rest of the lunch! The other people at the table just sat and listened. I recounted our family’s experience in 1995, and he told his stories. He told how he had to make the decision to cancel the games after the ceiling tiles fell, along with many other great stories. Then, I mentioned the Fan Van. He fell somewhat silent. Here he was, having flown in from California, trying to win my business, when he softly mentioned it was him that killed the idea of the Fan Van. We finished lunch, and I told him it was all in the past. I shook his hand, we shared a few emails, and that was that.

By Dave Keeler

An Interview With Andy Benes About His 1995 Mariners Season

Randy Johnson and Norm Charlton seem to dominate most fans’ memories of the pitchers on the 1995 Mariners; some remember Jeff Nelson, or Chris Bosio, or Bob Wolcott for his start against the Indians to begin the ALCS. But Andy Benes and Tim Belcher, two in-season additions via trade who were two-fifths of the rotation starting in August, didn’t remain with the team after 1995, and don’t get much attention from fans. I recently got in touch with Benes, looking to add an interview of a player to this site’s project of looking back at the ’95 Mariners. I was also hoping for a different perspective on the season, from a player who hadn’t been part of the team’s pre-’95 struggles and doesn’t get asked about his Mariners experience often.

Benes lives west of St. Louis and is involved with the Cardinals’ community and charity programs. That reflects his two stints with the Cardinals after 1995, and fits in pretty well with his spending the first 20 or so years of his life in Evansville, Indiana, along the Ohio River near the Illinois line. He also helps coach the Westminster Christian Academy baseball and softball teams, hosts an annual golf tournament to benefit the school, and he and his wife, Jennifer (married for 26 years), have six children. The two youngest are adopted from Central Russia. After breaking off his studies at the University of Evansville to play baseball, Benes recently finished a degree in business from St. Louis University.

Here are the thoughts and memories Andy shared about 1995.

What was your response to getting sent to Seattle? The team’s history wasn’t impressive, but it had talent. Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez were having remarkable seasons, and Griffey was going to come back soon. Did you think you had a chance of making the playoffs, even though the Mariners were just around .500 at the end of July?

I was surprised that Seattle was my destination. I had heard that I may get traded to many different places, but Seattle was not discussed. I really did not follow the American League much at all because there was no interleague play at that point. The team was very, very good and extremely talented. The GM told me that Seattle was just several games out of the Wild Card hunt, but 11 or 12 games behind the California Angels.

The team definitely knew that the playoffs were a real possibility and anything short of that would have been disappointing.

I’ve heard Mariners players say they had a unique chemistry in ’95, a strong togetherness and focus, and that helped sparked the run at the pennant. Did you sense that spirit among the players when you joined the Mariners, and on into October?

The chemistry was unbelievable. They all truly cared about each other and played the game in an unselfish way. I had not experienced that in my big league career to that point. It seemed like there was a different hero every night. I don’t think teams can win consistently without some type of cohesion, and this team had it. They genuinely liked each other and hung out together away from the ballpark. I think that was a culture set from the leaders (Buhner, Bosio, etc.). The Refuse to Lose motto was very appropriate for this team because there was a genuine belief that destiny was on the M’s side and nothing was going to get in the way.

Looking at your stats with the M’s, you had some up and down starts for the first month, but then had four very good starts in a row in September as the team went into the division lead. Was there any clear catalyst for that change? Was it mainly a question of adjusting to a new league and the Kingdome and other new ballparks?

The American and National Leagues at that point were very different. The teams were built differently with the use of the DH and more runs were scored. As I remember, I either pitched well and won or not very well at all. Not too many games in between. I kind of found my groove and pitched well down the stretch. I enjoyed watching the rest of the staff pitch as well and the guys were so good to me. Randy, Bosio, and Belcher really took me under their wings and made me feel welcome. I could just be one of the guys and not have the pressure of being the #1 guy in the rotation as a young pitcher. It was awesome to watch the veteran guys pitch and they really helped me with the hitters.

I also had the luxury of knowing our team was a great offensive team and would score a bunch of runs. That was a foreign concept for me as I came from having the worst run support in the NL for 6 years. I remember Jay Buhner coming up to me before my first start and saying, “just keep us within 6 runs in the first 5 innings, and we will figure out a way to win.” I hadn’t ever had six runs scored for me in a game, so I thought, “wow, this could be fun.”

I’m not sure how many fans remember your start in game 5 of the ALDS, given all the drama that happened after you left the game. It looks like you were on for the first three innings, facing the minimum nine Yankee batters, then battled through the rest of the start. What are your memories of the game, first pitching and then watching the late-game drama?

What a pressure packed game. I remember the Kingdome was rocking and everyone in Seattle was on fire for the M’s. It was my turn and I was excited and nervous to have the ball. I really do not remember that much about the time I was in the game. I believe I gave up 4 runs on 4 hits thru 7 against a good Yankees team.

I remember wondering why David Cone was left in the game as long as he was. He eventually walked in the tying run in the bottom of the 8th. Then it got exciting. The Big Unit came in after throwing a complete game two days earlier. It was insane. That is about the only way to describe it. He wanted the ball and all of his teammates wanted him to finish. He pitched well and then came the heroics of Cora, Junior, and Edgar. Seeing Griffey Jr. score from first on that double in the corner was as good as it gets in baseball. What a game. What a privilege to be a part of it.

How do you think of your time with the Mariners at this point, 17 years later? Are there strong memories of those 11 or 12 weeks?

It was a special time in my career as I got to compete in the playoffs for the first time. I am thankful for the faith the organization placed in me and have fond memories of my time there. I am especially thankful to have played with such a close knit group of guys who would do anything to win. They embraced me as one of their own for the time I was there and that is a testament of their character.

johnsonbenes This picture of Johnson, Andy, and a Mariners trainer, I believe, was taken at a road game vs. the Angels in early August of ’95, just after he joined the team.

Dave Niehaus Looking Back at 1995 in 2008

In the wake of Dave Niehaus’s death, Jason Pagano at KCTS Television passed on a link to a Conversations at KCTS 9 interview of Dave that Enrique Cerna did in the fall of 2008, talking about his career. The nearly half-hour video is available here, but I’ve typed out a transcript of Dave talking about a few things that have to do with the ’95 run.

First, he said the Mariners first game on April 6, 1977, was his most memorable moment as the Mariners broadcaster, not anything from 1995. He emphasized the importance of being able “to be the man to reintroduce major league baseball to this area.”

When asked where the “my oh my” phrase came from, Dave said, “You tell me where ‘my oh my’ came from. I don’t know, when there’s nothing else to say, what do you say. ‘My oh my’-I’ve just always said that.”

In explaining where “get out the rye bread and the mustard Grandma, it’s grand salami time” came from, Dave said:

It was 1995, when Tino Martinez seemed like he was hitting a grand slam home run every other at-bat, but he wasn’t. But I’ve always called a grand slam home run a salami. And I went back to the hotel one time and said, “Well, what goes well with salami?” And I came up with rye bread and mustard, and then I thought when I was a little kid and never got my way I went to my grandmother’s house-I wanted that extra piece of candy, and I’d go over there, and Grandma would say, “You mean they won’t give you another piece of candy?” and she’d say “here.” And I’ve never forgotten that, so it was sort of a salute to her.

We were in Detroit, and Ron Fairly was with me on television, and it was Tino Martinez who hit another grand slam. And I said, “Get out the rye bread and the mustard Grandma, it’s grand salami time.” He looked at me like I had taken a step on the other side, and I looked at him, and I knew I had taken a step on the other side.

I got back here, and the town went bananas about that phrase. The Oh Boy Oberto people had salamis sent up to the booth. At the Kingdome above me there was the upper deck and people used to drop jars of mustard tied on ropes and twine down into the booth for me so I could make my own sandwiches, they would send sandwiches down.

In talking about 1995, Dave said of the shadow the strike put over the start of the season:

That’s what I remember most, because we went to spring training with what they called replacement players. Guys who were trying to make a roster because the other guys were out on strike. And I’ll never forget we went through a whole spring training, we went over to Dunedin, Florida, to play the Toronto Blue Jays. Lou Piniella said to me, “If you see me walk down the right field line in the sixth or seventh inning you’ll know the strike is over. These other guys are going to be coming in a couple days.” I saw Piniella take off down the right field line and said, “This strike is over.”

After we beat the Angels you knew it was over because we went to New York, and I’ll never forget seeing Jimmy Leyritz hit that home run about 1:15 in the morning with the rain coming down at Yankee Stadium. And we had a three thousand mile flight home, and you had to win three games. That wasn’t going to happen. Ah but it did. Yes it did. That was the magic that captured the imagination here in Seattle.

The Mariners can win the World Series one of these days, and they will, I hope I’ll be here to see it, but they will win a World Series here one of these days. I might not be here, you might not be here, but let me tell you something, it will not be as exciting as 1995. It’ll be much talked about, it’ll be nice to hang that pennant out there that says “World Championship,” but nothing ever will take the place of 1995.

Erik Lundegaard’s Ticket-Stub History of the ’95 Mariners

A few days ago Erik Lundegaard, who you might recognize as a long-time Seattle writer on the Mariners and many other subjects, contacted me about the ticket-stub history of the ’90s Mariners he was doing. He’s chronicled the Kingdome games he went to from 1993 to 1999. Erik explained that in 1993, “I began keeping my ticket stubs and writing on the back not just the final score but any significant events that occurred during the game. Randy Johnson strikes out 15 Royals. Jay Buhner hits for the cycle. Things like that. The impetus for this reportage–I can now admit–was to keep track of how many Ken Griffey Jr. homeruns I had seen.” 

He wound up agreeing to let me repost his memories of some of the ’95 games he went to, and they’re provided below, but you can go here to read his account of all the games he attended in 1995.

  • May 30: M’s 7, Yankees 3: Down 3-2 in the 8th, with 2 outs and a man on third, the M’s string together a walk, single, walk, single, hit-by-pitch and a single, and score five times to win it. Derek Jeter, playing in only his second game in the Majors, bats ninth for the Yankees and goes 2-3 with a walk. They’re the first two hits of his Major League career. They’re the first two runs scored of his Major League career. I still have that ticket if some Yankees fan wants to buy it. Bidding starts at $10,000. M’s: 18-13, 1 1/2 GB
  • June 28: A’s 7, M’s 5: Bobby Ayala Goatee Night: surely one of the worst promotional ideas ever. I forget what you get if you show up with a goatee, but I show up without one and get to see a loss. Randy leaves the game in the 7th with a 5-2 lead but with the bases loaded and one out. Bill Risley promptly gives up two singles to tie the game. In the next inning, Jeff Nelson gives up two HRs, including Mark McGwire’s second of the game, and the M’s lose. Ayala and his goatee never enter the game. 29-29, 5 GB
  • September 12: M’s 14, Twins 3: The M’s hit four homers; Buhner hits two of them. Were the M’s feeling loose? We were in the stands. In the bottom of the 7th, after a solo homer (by Buhner) and a 3-run homer (by Dan Wilson) put the M’s ahead 14-3, Lou sends up pinch-hitters Alex Diaz (for Vince Coleman) and Arquimedez Pozo (for Joey Cora). It’s the latter’s Major League debut. When they announce him I tell Mike and Tim, “That may be the greatest baseball name ever.” It isn’t just the grand, Greekish first name. Any two- or three-syllable name ending in “o” is a great baseball name, because they’re so easy to chant. When I was a kid in Minnesota we used to chant “Let’s go, Tony-O,” for Tony Oliva all the time. And in the late 1970s, a player named Jesus Manuel Rivera became a fan favorite because his nickname was “Bombo,” and every time he was at the plate Twins fans would chant, “Bom-bo, Bom-bo.” At the Kingdome I demonstrate. I begin chanting, “Po-zo, Po-zo, Po-zo,” and Mike and Tim join in, and people around us join in, and then our section joins in, and suddenly the entire stadium, 12,000 strong, is chanting for this kid and his Major League debut. I wouldn’t be surprised if others began their own chants in their own sections, and we all met somewhere in the middle, but the overall effect is still magical. Pozo pops out to second but we cheer him anyway as he returns to the dugout. We’re loose. It’s his only at-bat of the season. M’s: 66-62, still 6 GB.
  • September 22: M’s 10, A’s 7. Fan Appreciation Night, and the fans, 51,000 strong, suddenly fill the joint. (From this moment on, I won’t be at a game with fewer than 30,000 fans for YEARS.) But after 3 innings the M’s are down 6-0. Bel-CHER! In the bottom of the 4th, though, Junior leads off with a homer. 6-1. With two outs and a man on, Mike Blowers doubles. 6-2. Luis Sojo walks. A miracle. Dan Wilson singles to load the bases. Just when I’m thinking, “Hey, tying run at the plate,” Vince Coleman hits a ball that squeaks over the right-field wall. “Get out the rye bread and mustard, Grandma! It’s Grand Salami time!” Bedlam. 6-6. Oakland retakes the lead in the 7th, but in the bottom of the 8th Edgar leads off with a HR to tie it, followed by single, sacrifice bunt (by Buhner?), and walk. Two on and Sojo up. But no! Piniella pinch-hits with Alex Diaz. Is he CRAZY? Sojo’s been hot. I’m still cursing Lou when Diaz smokes one into the left field bleachers. 10-7. Fan Appreciation Night, indeed. The M’s, at 73-63, are in sole possession of first place.
  • October 17, Game 6 of the 1995 ALCS: Indians 4, M’s 0: Once again, the M’s face an elimination game. And once again, Lou goes to Randy on short rest. It turns out to be one short rest too many. The Indians get to him in the 5th on an error (by Cora) and a single. 1-0. But my chief memory is Kenny Lofton in the 8th inning. Tony Pena leads off with a double and Lofton, attempting to advance him, bunts his way on, then steals second. Pitching to Omar Vizquel, my Omar, the ball gets away from Dan Wilson. Pena scores. And when Randy’s not paying attention, Lofton scores ALL THE WAY FROM SECOND. Carlos Baerga’s homerun is the swing that finally chases Randy, but it’s Lofton’s baserunning that really did us in. In the last three innings, only one Mariner reaches base: Tino, with a walk, in the bottom of the 9th with two outs. Brings up Jay Buhner. His grounder to third ends the game, the series, the magic season. But the fans, including me, don’t want it to end. Half an hour after the game ends, we’re all still there, cheering for the M’s…who return onto the field and acknowledge the crowd with tears in their eyes. Series: 2-4, Cleveland.
  • A 2005 Grand Salami Interview With Norm Charlton and Mike Blowers

    When I reprinted my interview of Tom Hutyler in the Grand Salami magazine in May, Jon Wells, who runs the magazine, offered for me to reprint an interview Conor Glassey did for it in 2005. Glassey talked with Norm Charlton and Mike Blowers, looking back at ’95 from a 10-year perspective. Here’s the interview, from the June 2005 issue of Grand Salami:

    Norm Charlton and Mike Blowers were two integral pieces of the 1995 Mariners team that came from 13 1/2 games out to beat out the California Angels for the AL West title. Blowers had the best season of his career that year, belting 23 home runs and knocking in 96 runs. Charlton, aka “The Sheriff,” was signed as a free agent that July after being released by the Phillies and saved 14 games in 15 chances down the stretch, posting a 1.51 ERA. Charlton (1993, 1995-97, 2001) and Blowers (1992-95, 1997, 1999) are two of the three players to have had three stints with the M’s (Jeff Nelson is the other). Blowers and Charlton are now radio reporters covering the M’s, Blowers for KOMO-1000 and Charlton with KJR-950. To honor the 10th anniversary of the ’95 M’s, The Grand Salami sat down with the pair in June for a dual interview.

    GS: It’s been ten years since that magical 1995 season. Can you guys talk about what that ’95 season was like?

    BLOWERS: It was a blast! It was a great group of guys. That’s why it was the most fun for me. We played some great baseball in the second half of the season but, for the most part, it was just a great group of guys to run around with. When you’re playing a Major League schedule, you’re with these guys every single day. It just made it fun. For me, I looked forward to coming to the park every day.

    CHARLTON: It was easy to come to the ballpark. The playing part drags on and gets hard, because the season is long. Farther and deeper into the season, it gets harder and harder to go out there every day. But, like Mike said, we had a great group of guys. We had guys that kidded with each other, and we did all sorts of fun things together. And, I think that’s what made it so good, and I think that’s why we won. We had a great group of guys that picked each other up and played good ball together.

    GS: What are some of your best memories from the ’95 season?

    BLOWERS: Of course Edgar’s double. The job that Randy (Johnson) did, coming down the stretch, was unbelievable. But, because it was a good group of guys, we all knew that we needed everybody on that club. That’s why you saw Doug Strange, Alex Diaz and Richie Amaral winning games for us. Even though they weren’t regular players, they knew we needed them. Those guys didn’t play every day but they were as important as anybody on the club.

    Another thing I remember is just how relentless Lou (Piniella) was. It’s a 162 game season, and I don’t think guys ever take a day off, but it’s a grind. And, I think at times, you can lose a ballgame and just think, “Well, that’s just one loss out of 162 games we’re going to play” But, the thing that I got from playing for Lou for four years was that every loss means something. I mean, this guy would lose a game in May, and it would drive him crazy. And, that’s infectious on everybody and you get to a point where you don’t accept losing at all, even though you know you’re going to lose games. I remember Lou, early in the season when we weren’t playing particularly well, saying that to us.

    And it took a while for us to really get it, but I think that’s one of the reasons that we had the success that we did. And as it turned out, we did need every win that year, because we tied for the division and had to win the one-game playoff against the Angels just to make the post-season.

    CHARLTON: The thing I remember most about it was that we had a great time, and we were a good team. Like Mike said, every night we got a contribution from somebody different, whether it be the best guy on the team, or a guy that you would consider to be the worst guy on the team. It wasn’t just Mike or Jay or Edgar or Randy doing a great job. Everybody in our lineup did their job every night, and did it well.

    GS: Now I know it was certainly fun to watch, but was playing on that ’95 team the most fun you had playing baseball?

    BLOWERS: For me it was. I played on three playoff teams, but that was by far the most fun. I’m not sure if it was because it was the first time I’d ever gone to the post-season, or because I’m from this area originally, or because of the group of guys, or how we started the season drawing about eight or nine thousand people, and at the end, we had about 50,000 in the Kingdome and I couldn’t hear the shortstop standing next to me. So, yeah, it was a blast. It was an absolute blast. I had fun.

    Typically, guys will come to the clubhouse at around 2:30 or 3:00. Heck, we were there at 1:00, just to hang out. And then, after the game, nobody was in a hurry to get out of there. We hung out together, and that part of it was fun.

    CHARLTON: I was on the Cincinnati team that won a World Championship in 1990 and I was on the Seattle team that won 116 games. But, by far, the ’95 season was the most enjoyable, for the same reasons Mike said. We all had fun together.

    GS: How much of a role do you guys think “chemistry” plays on a team’s success?

    CHARLTON: Huge. It’s huge. You can see some of the teams Baltimore’s put together when they had huge payrolls (Charlton played with the Orioles in 1998) and you can look at other teams that have had huge payrolls, but the guys don’t mesh together, and they don’t win. But then you get a team like Minnesota, or a team like we had in ’95, and the guys like each other and they get contributions from everybody, and they all enjoy being around each other, they win.

    BLOWERS: I agree. I think, in the end, you have to. I think if you get to a point, in your clubhouse, where you look around and you have respect for the people and know that’s an automatic, then you can form friendships that last and enjoy the people you’re around, that’s huge. It makes things so much easier, especially with the amount of time we travel and are on the road. That’s when you’re really going to test it, and I think if you have it, it makes everything else that much easier.

    Some Players’ Memories on the 10-Year Anniversary of 1995

    Back in spring training 2005, the Seattle Times’ Larry Stone put together a long oral history of the ’95 season by talking with a host of players from that year. You can read all of it on the Times’ site, but I’m going to present a few excerpts below, with a focus on perspectives that are unique and probably neglected by Mariners fans as they remember the season.

    REX HUDLER, ANGELS INFIELDER: “What happened was, Lach (manager Marcel Lachemann) was not skilled on the motivational side of things. He didn’t have a way of rallying us verbally. He was a hard worker, a very prepared manager — I loved Lach — but he didn’t have the motivational skills, and looking back all these years later, that’s what we missed, someone to say, ‘Don’t worry, guys. We’ll be OK.’ We couldn’t get out of it. It was the nastiest funk I’ve ever seen in baseball. Just my opinion, but we needed our manager to step up, and Lach couldn’t do it. He went into his shell, went into withdrawal. He let us figure it out ourselves. They had Lou, who had been through this before, and he had the intangibles. He knew how to handle his boys. We had a manager who had never been there before.”

    LUIS SOJO: “Bases loaded with one out (actually two). The first thing I said, ‘You have to put the ball in play.’ Langston had pitched an unbelievable game, him and Randy Johnson going at it. I said to myself, ‘This is your moment. Concentrate on what you’re doing.’ It was kind of a lucky shot, but it worked. I’ve never heard a place as loud as the Kingdome after that play. We weren’t able to talk for the next 20 minutes.”

    REX HUDLER: “That’s the only nightmare that had a hard time going away — that ugly bleeder Sojo hit to clear the bases.”

    DOUG STRANGE, INFIELDER: “I still can’t believe I didn’t swing at the pitch. First, I can’t believe he threw a forkball. If it had been one inch higher, I would have swung for sure. … As a player, we were used to tons of people watching us. It’s part of the gig. You’re in the spotlight. But during that at-bat, I remember stepping out of the batter’s box and saying, ‘I can’t believe how loud it is.’ “

    DON MATTINGLY, YANKEES FIRST BASEMAN: “The bunt by Cora, that’s the play that stands out for me when I look back. I didn’t get him, but I thought he was out of the (base) line. It was one of those things. He got the bunt down.”

    ALEX RODRIGUEZ: “I was so nervous, being on deck, trying to think about every scenario in my mind — months removed from high school. It was crazy. All that stuff was humbling and a great experience.”

    Randy Johnson Looking Back at 1995

    These are excerpts from two interviews Johnson gave in 1996 and 2010 that touched on the ’95 season. The first originally appeared in Nolan Ryan’s Pro Baseball Yearbook 1996 and was reprinted with permission in the Mariners Magazine for the start of the ’96 season, which is where I found it.

    Johnson: It was a year that any ballplayer would dream of having, in terms of being part of something so successful and also to be counted on so much. I’m used to being counted on to go out and do my job every fifth day during the regular season. But as a competitor, I always wondered what it would be like to be counted on in the postseason.

    So it was great last season to get to the postseason and to pitch in games that were all do-or-die in nature-the one-game playoff against California, then being down two games to the Yankees and then the games against Cleveland. Any competitor loves to be in that situation, and it’s a level that I’ve never been to. I hope I can grow from having experienced it and can go into this season with more confidence than I’ve ever had. . . .

    You all know the history of the Mariners. I’ve been there seven years, and we’ve only finished over .500 three times now. As a competitor or a fan of the team, you try not to think about the lack of success, but it’s there. That’s what made it so magical to watch one guy after another come off the bench and deliver a game-winning pinch hit or a clutch performance in relief. We had chemistry last year more so than in the past. That type of chemistry sometimes is more important than going out and signing the most expensive players, because it all comes down to how well the players play together, not what they make. . . .

    I now realize that after having some successful years and pitching well when I needed to pitch well, that the expectations are going to be there. For example, when I pitched well during the regular season and in the one-game playoff against the Angels, it got to the point against the Yankees and Cleveland in do-or-die situations that people would say, ‘Don’t worry, we have Randy on the mound.’ So you go to the mound with a little extra weight on your shoulders because of other people’s expectations. And in the back of your head you think, ‘Well, I’ve done it before, but I am only human as well.’ . . .

    The Cy Young means the reward for all my hard work and the dedication that I put forth even before the 1995 season started. There were other people who were deserving, but it felt great to get it because I had worked so hard to become a pitcher, not just a thrower.

    It was a nice honor. It’s something I never thought about. My main objective was to become the best pitcher that I could be, so I could fulfill the promise I made to my dad and to myself. If winning the Cy Young means that I was the best pitcher in the American League last year, then I want to continue to be that.

    You asked me a question earlier about whether I thought I was at my peak or could I get better. That’s a tough question, because you never know. The most games I ever won was 19, when I went 19-8 (1993). Last year, I was 18-2, which was much better percentage-wise. But was I a better pitcher?

    And, Johnson speaking at a press conference before throwing out the first pitch of the 2010 season at Safeco Field (as transcribed by Seattle Times reporter Larry Stone and printed on his blog):

    Who would have known…some of the reporters who covered me, would you have ever thought I was a candidate for 300 games? When it was in front of me, I felt I owed it to myself and everywhere I’ve been to try to do that. . . .

    Seattle, obviously, professionally and personally, has always had a great deal of meaning. To be part of the history of this franchise at probably the biggest time of the franchise, when the team was floundering and possibly on its way out. Remember back to ’95, this team was looking at maybe being relocated to Florida. The team doing what it did, and the fans supporting us the way they did. That’s one reason this new stadium is here. To be a part of that, I look back and see all the memories. Some of the players I played with, I stayed in touch with a few. Scott Bradley, I just ran into Jay, had a few battles along the way with Junior. Edgar, I congratulated him with his name being on the ballot for Hall of Fame. It really says a lot about the players that were here at that time. It’s really unheard of to have that many talented players, like Omar Vizquel. I have a lot of positive memories, myself developing and being able to watch those players develop.

    From a professional standpoint, I learned how to pitch (in Seattle). I was given the opportunity. This was a team until ’95 hadn’t finished .500. So they had the flexibility to be able to let myself go out there and all the other pitchers win, lose or draw, and get back out there five days later.

    Back then, that was acceptable. Now, it’s like, the team’s gotta win now. There is not a lot of time to develop a pitcher at the major league level because everybody wants to win. So I kind of learned, as we all did, kind of on the fly. I learned how to pitch here essentially. I got the foundation of that and a lot of other teams got to benefit from that. I continued to go on and learn more in other areas, but for nine years or however long I was here, I really kind of learned how to pitch and came into my own. . . .

    That [1995] was the first opportunity to be in the postseason. That ranks right up there. I mean, not knowing what to expect. Obviously, I do vividly kind of remember the last game of the ’95 season, we were in Arlington and we were boarding the plane and we were told that the California Angels had lost and we had the won that game. We had the same record and there was going to be a one game playoff in the Kingdome. The opportunity to pitch that game. I remember pitching against Mark. There’s a lot of memories here. Now I’m pitching against Mark Langston, the player I got traded for. This stuff is all pretty book-worthy or real bad movie worthy. If you think about it, to pitch a one-game playoff against Mark, and the team goes on win the division and then we go the playoffs. No one in this franchise nor I had ever experienced that. That was great stuff.

    Dan Wilson, Jay Buhner, and Norm Charlton on ’95

    On August 25, 2009, Mitch Levy of the KJR sports talk radio station interviewed Wilson, Buhner, and Charlton about the ’95 experience. About a week ago I contacted the Mariners’ front office, and they sent me a cd recording of the interview. Here, from the interview, are some key excerpts of the three players talking about different elements of ’95:

    When asked “What’s your favorite year?,” Charlton replied: ’95 is the season. In ’95 we weren’t supposed to do it in the fashion in which we did it. It was a whole lot of fun. The underdog. . . and I was only here for half a season. It was a pretty good half, for everyone involved, because of the way it came about, . . . the things John Ellis did behind the scenes to keep baseball in Seattle.

    Wilson: ’95 had such an impact. Not just here in Seattle, but in baseball generally, because we were coming back from the strike, and we really put baseball on the map here. I get people all the time telling me, “I wasn’t a fan until the ’95 season.” When you have that kind of impact, it’s a powerful thing.

    Charlton: Everybody mixed together, everybody matched. I don’t think there was one time during that season when someone sitting on the bench was saying, “I hope Jay strikes out so I can get a chance.”

    Dan Wilson on Griffey’s injury in May: Immediately when you saw Rick Griffin and Junior walking in, you knew something was wrong… his bone was almost out of his skin. But that’s when our strength came in. . . guys like Amaral holding onto his position until he came back.

    Buhner: Confidence bred confidence. It didn’t matter who it was. It seemed like every night there was a new hero. You couldn’t script games to win the way we were doing.

    Junior always loved to hold court, especially with the media. But he was still around, still going to do that part of it. I think he took it on himself to continue to do that.

    Lou knew who he was going to count on, who he could lean on to pick up for Junior.

    In response to the question of what lit a fire for the ’95 Mariners, Charlton said: I think it was the way the guys who replaced him [Griffey] picked it up, the team gelled into an actual team. Nobody really gives a damn about what they do tonight, as long as we win this game.

    Wilson: I remember having a conversation with Lee Elia one of those days. I remember Lee saying, “We’re only eight games back in the wild card.” We still had a chance at that, we really do have some hope.

    Buhner: There was extra hope, no doubt about it. I don’t know what it was that clicked, but we kept producing, and Anaheim kept losing.

    I think our mentality whenever we lost a game was we didn’t lose tonight, we just ran out of outs.

    Charlton: The wild card saved baseball in this city. We were basically out of the division race. Without it, we wouldn’t have gone out and gotten the pieces we needed to get back in the wild card race. If we wouldn’t have done that, done a tremendous amount of work behind the scenes, we were going to Tampa.

    Wilson, talking about the distraction of that rumored move to Tampa: There were a lot of questions. I mean, we were in Tampa, they had a stadium down there ready for us. There were occasions when they’d bring a city, a state official into the clubhouse, and we’d shake hands. So it was there, no question. Occasionally they’d ask us to go down to Olympia and rally a little bit. But no question, we were there to play baseball.

    Buhner: The only thing we could control was what we were doing on the field. We were willing to do whatever it took to save baseball. On flights we had house, apartment locaters from Tampa, wondering where are we going to live next year, where’s spring training going to be.

    Buhner on the home field advantage: The Kingdome, Bill the Beer Man, that crowd noise, that played so much to our favor, that place was so loud. We were talking to other guys, they’d say holy crap, it was crazy. You throw in the fireworks, everything else.

    Charlton: I came from an open air stadium in Cincinnati, the crowd was more business like, expecting you’re going to win. Here it was nuts, like a college frat party, the enclosed place, all that noise. Other guys [on other teams] would come in and say, “We’ve got no chance.”

    Buhner on the atmosphere on the team during the run: We made a pact, who’s going to be the first one in the ballpark. We had so much fun. Every day, 1:00 we’re going to meet, have lunch at the ballpark. By the middle of August it was the entire team meeting at 1. Normally, you stretch at 4:15, 4:20, get to the ballpark at 3 for the most part. We had lunch, talked baseball, went out for early bp. It was just real togetherness.

    Buhner on the playoff vs. the Angels: I remember, the Kingdome parking lot, it’s packed at 1:00.  We had that trump card [Randy Johnson].

    If you’re not nervous, something’s wrong with you. The biggest celebration I’d ever had was when Jimmy Lefebvre was the manager, the year [1991] we first finished above .500. There was a champagne toast. I’m thinking, “You’re crapping me, we’re celebrating finishing above .500?”

    Wilson: We had Randy on the hill, we were very confident in his abilities. Lou, before the ballgame, giving a pretty good speech, the playoff he’d been through [in 1978 with the Yankees], it put us at ease, to know we’re not the first.

    Buhner: Piniella, normally he didn’t say a whole lot. He’d let his veterans police the clubhouse, he was real great about that. When he did say something it got everyone’s attention.

    When I saw Mark Langston, at home plate, slamming the barrel of Sojo’s bat down, we knew we’d pretty much beat them mentally. That was the nail in the coffin.

    On the Yankees series, Charlton said: It would’ve been nice to not have to play a playoff. We would have had set up Randy in New York, for game 1. That crippled us, in terms of the rotation.

    Buhner said: We were still riding so high, had that adrenaline rush [coming into the Yankees series]. I know I was tired when the third game happened. Once I came off that cloud a little bit, I was exhausted [for the third game].

    Wilson I think coming home, everyone knew we had Randy, we were going to come back. We had the dome.

    Buhner: The Yankees knew Randy was coming, they had a big task on their hands. We still believed we were going to win it.

    Wilson: Johnson, he was a guy that could dominate a ballgame. In ’95 he had the physical tools, intimidation, he was in it mentally, locked in. He stayed mentally strong, then again in the playoffs, mentally was so tough.

    It was his mental concentration, he was intimidating to catch, let alone hit; he’d throw it by you, or he was going to throw a slider at your back foot.

    And on game 5, Buhner said: When he [Randy] walked down to the bullpen, the whole place went absolutely nuts.

    I was nervous [before game 5], so many things are going through your head, don’t want this to end, you’re thinking this is the greatest time of my life. The game was such a blur, get myself ready, get to the ballpark, get going.

    Wilson: I do remember Randy’s entrance, what that meant for the guys, to see him come in.

    Buhner on Edgar’s double: I think they [the Yankees] were scared to death about that. They knew Edgar was going to put the play in play, hit the ball hard, it was just a question of where.

    I’ve never seen, I mean it’s a ball down the line, goodness gracious, to watch him, on a ball down the line that was a smoker, and it comes right to the left fielder, it comes right up to Gerald Williams, who had a great arm, and Junior’s still safe, by four-five steps, it’s unbelievable.

    Wilson: Wolcott being 17 feet off the ground, and the guys kind of split off, some going out to second, to Edgar, peeling off from Junior.

    And Charlton on the Cleveland series: They were a pretty good ballclub, and we were pretty spent, our rotation, the pitching, that Yankees series, it did a lot of damage to our club.

    Then one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen happened: we go into the locker room, nobody’s left. Piniella gave a little speech, we hear the crowd, and we all came back out onto the field, nobody gone. It was like a rock concert, the fans, like they kept their lighters going, for one last song.

    And finally, a few miscellaneous comments from these three.

    Buhner on Piniella’s impact on the Mariners: Lou brought credibility, accountability. Lou was not afraid to pull the trigger. He challenged everyone.

    Charlton on how he felt about relieving for Randy Johnson: It was more of a challenge coming in after Randy, because hitters were facing that same kind of velocity [from me]; they didn’t have to adjust. It was much easier coming in after Bosio, Benes: guys changing speed, right handers.

    Buhner: After the season ended, my thought was, “Let’s get back out there, I want to get right up to the buildup immediately.” That experience, the playoffs, that’s why you bust your butt so hard all winter, to get back to that moment.

    Wilson on the years after ‘95: What had happened that season lessened the blow when those guys [Johnson, Griffey, Rodriguez] left. We understood that we can still win. All of us realized the winning wasn’t necessarily over just because those guys left.

    Buhner: Baseball, it’s a business, even if you don’t want to see it that way. Sometimes that’s what you’ve got to do [trade players]. Randy, he was my roommate the first couple of years with the Mariners, and you never want to see your buds leave, but that’s what you’ve gotta do, it’s a business.

    Buhner on Edgar Martinez: He spoke with his bat. Edgar, he never wanted the spotlight, ever; he was always very uncomfortable being there, being involved, being around the spotlight.

    Singing About the ’95 Mariners

    Recently Tim Hunter wrote to me. He said, “I was working the morning show at KLSY radio in Seattle back in 1995 when our program director, Bobby Irwin, was contacted by ‘the people’ representing a new singer, Sari. They were offering to go back into the recording studio and sing new words to her single they were pushing, ‘Faith.'”

    Tim explained: “I hurriedly wrote some lyrics, we shot ‘em off…..she went in, recorded as promised and that gave us a song that we played to death during that playoff run. We added some clips” of Dave Niehaus game calls, “and the rest is history.” He sent along the mp3 file of the song, called Faith in the Mariners. I uploaded it to Archive.org, where you can download it.

    Also, I found a Seattle Times article, “Grand Salamimeister Spices Up M’s Songs Across The Radio Dial,” by Janet I-Chin Tu, from October 12 of ’95, a few days after the ALDS ended. Here’s a couple excerpts:

    There’s Dave screaming about grand salamis while country singer Tim McGraw drawls his chart-topping tune “I Like It, I Love It” on KMPS 94.1 FM.

    Turn the dial. There’s Dave, my, oh, my-ing through R & B singer Montel Jordan’s dance hit “This Is How We Do It” on KUBE 93 FM.

    And wait. Isn’t that Dave lending his crackling explosions to Sari’s adult-contemporary ballad “Faith” on KLSY 92.5 FM?

    Dave! Have you left the land of Edgar and Randy to join Madonna and Michael?

    Not to worry, Mariner fans. Niehaus hasn’t abandoned the field of miracles. But these days, the voice of the Mariners’ play-by-play announcer can be heard up and down the radio dial, thanks to local stations that are writing Mariners-touting versions of hit songs, often with Niehaus’ announcements thrown into the mix.

    It’s a town in collective ecstasy, and what better way to express strong emotions than through song?

    Tu added this:

    A few notches up the dial, KING 98.1 FM, a classical station, plays Beethoven’s “Ode To Joy” in honor of the Mariners. KBSG 97.3 FM has “Seattle Mariners Are On A Roll” to the tune of Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock n’ Roll.” STAR 101.5 FM features “We Will Cheer For You,” sung to the Rembrandts’ theme from the TV show “Friends.” KISW 99.9 FM has a slew of song parodies. There’s “Randy Johnson’s Fastball,” sung to AC/DC’s “Big Balls” and “Pennant Fever,” a version of “The Fever” by South Side Johnny and the Asbury Jukes.

    Bob Rivers, writer of the Mariners-version lyrics and morning host at KISW, has penned at least 12 song parodies about the Mariners in the past six years. Highlights include “Will They Stay Or Will They Go,” sung to the Clash’s “Should I Stay Or Should I Go,” during the tenure of former owner Jeff Smulyan; “Lou Pi-niel-la” sung to the “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah;” and “Bye-bye To Those Mariners Guys,” sung to Don McLean’s “American Pie,” before the recent stadium-funding vote.

    Mariners President Chuck Armstrong on the Meaning of ’95

    Last year Armstrong spoke to student at the University of Washington about the business of running the Mariners. You can read the full transcript here, but presented below is him talking about one connection with a ’95 fan. Armstrong said:

    Here we were in November of 1995. My wife and I were out here, getting ready to go to a Husky-USC football game. This woman recognizes me. She runs up, gives me this big hug, and starts sobbing. My wife says, “Who’s this woman?”

    So, she said, “The Mariners saved my father’s life.” In August of 1995, her father had suffered a major stroke, lost most of his faculties. He was going to be consigned to being, perhaps, a vegetable the rest of his life. The doctors didn’t think he would get his faculties back. So, because we play every day, they would wheel the radio or the television in, and he started to watch Mariner baseball.

    And if you remember, and I’ll get to this one later, our fans coined this phrase, “Refuse to Lose.” He got into this. He says, “The Mariners are going to refuse to lose. I’m going to refuse to die.” And he says, “Besides, I want to see how this turns out.” So, here we were, a week before Thanksgiving, and he had regained most of his faculties.

    He was out of the hospital. He was coming over to her house for Thanksgiving dinner, and she and he said, “That’s because of the Mariners.”