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.

Emmett Watson on the ’95 Mariners

A little bit ago I picked up Digressions of a Native Son, Emmett Watson’s old collection of some stories about Seattle. I’d heard of Watson, and thought of him as the standard-bearer for the old, pre-Microsoft, pre-Amazon city: the time when Boeing was the corporate king of the town and practically no one knew about Starbucks. Anyway, reading through the stories, I noticed a preoccupation with sports and baseball in particular, including tales about Watson’s boyhood days rooting for, covering, and, briefly, playing for the Seattle Pilots. So I went on to look for what the booster of Lesser Seattle had to say about the Mariners’ ’95 run.

Here’s most of his column from Tuesday, October 17, the day the Mariners lost the ALCS to Cleveland:

Invincible Summer: It’s Here At Last

For all these turbulent baseball-nutty weeks, I have sat by my window and watched the crowds pouring toward the Kingdome. Sometimes, I admit – sentimental slob – to shedding a tear or two.

You see, I live in Pioneer Square. I can see these crowds, full of joy and hope, chanting our victory slogan, “Refuse to Lose.”

They carry placards and defiant homemade signs. They wear baggy shorts, cutoff jeans, baseball caps on backward, carrying seat cushions and backpacks, bringing their own food to the games because they can’t afford a Kingdome hot dog.

There are young moms and dads, a lot of them pushing baby strollers. Some chip in and travel proudly in horse carriages.

I’ve lived among these people, I know them. All during those dreary, losing years when their hopes were betrayed by dumb management and penurious owners, these people were there – always hoping for a better break.

Watching people in those awful, draining years, cravings crashed, expectations bamboozled, you think of Albert Camus, the French philosopher, who once said: “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” The invincible summer. It has finally come to these loyal, happy people going past my window to the Kingdome. Joy just radiates up from the sidewalk at First and Jackson.

Millionaires may own baseball, millionaires may play it, but the working people, men and women, make the game possible.

Because baseball is a game of hope, it is also a game for losers. Good teams often lose more games than they win. Yet fans stay loyal. Hope is the pursuit of happiness, isn’t it? What else is there?

It is the game for every guy who lost a good account. It is the game for waiters who get stiffed. It is the game for every guy who goes to work for short dough at a job he hates.

It is the game, as Jimmy Breslin once wrote, “for every woman who looks up 10 years later and sees her husband eating dinner in a T-shirt and wonders how the hell she ever let this guy talk her into getting married.”

We are up in the clouds with euphoria, and our kings and heroes are named Edgar and Tino and Jay and Junior and Mike; our guardian angel is a giraffe-tall, turkey-necked, scowling, tired-armed fellow named Randy Johnson.

This mostly naive, silly thing called baseball has given us a close-knit, intimate kind of community hope. And there’s always next year.

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The Falling Kingdome Tiles

On the afternoon of July 19, 1994, four tiles fell from the Kingdome roof down into the stands behind home plate. More specifically, at about 4:35, three hours before the scheduled game that night against the Baltimore Orioles, a 32″-by-48″ fiberglass tile dropped 180 feet as some of the Mariners players were stretching on the field. The three other tiles fell later in the day.

Coach Sam Perlozzo said: “I was walking from our dugout to the Orioles to talk to Chris Sabo when our players starting screaming that the roof was falling in. I thought they were kidding.” Ken Griffey Jr. said he was asleep at the time: “I’ve always told you guys I could sleep anywhere and through anything. I was in the clubhouse asleep and never heard a thing.”

Griffey had this to say about the situation: “They canceled the game for that? Hey, nobody was bitching when the roof was leaking and I was slipping and sliding out there in center field. Just put a sign at the gates saying ‘Enter at your own risk’ and let ‘em come on in.”

Randy Johnson made a prediction: “One way or another, we’ll get a retractable dome here.”

The Mariners went back out on the field within 45 minutes to take batting practice, only leaving the Kingdome after being ordered to do so: King County officials told the Mariners their safety was at risk. Afterward, general manager Woody Woodward reminisced: “Once in Dodger Stadium, we were playing and there was a boom behind me in the infield and it turned out someone had dropped a bag of flour from an airplane. It scared the hell out of us, but can you imagine if it had landed in the stands?”

One Orioles fan from Baltimore, Hilton Bosies, had taken Amtrak trains 3,500 miles to get to Seattle and watch the Orioles play the Mariners. He made the short walk from the station to the dome, got his tickets, and then had to watch as the game got cancelled. Of course the Kingdome closed down for the rest of the season, so maybe Bosies wound up going down to California to watch the Orioles plays the A’s and Angels. Or maybe he turned right around and got on the train back to Baltimore.

All 40,000 of the 15-pound tiles were removed within two weeks, and two of the workers removing tiles were killed on August 7 in an accident. The Kingdome managers said hundreds of people called up asking to buy a tile, but since the process of removing them consisted of just letting them drop 200 feet or so to the floor, they weren’t in any shape to sell as collectibles. Much of the urgent work of removing the tiles (which cost $51 million) went for naught, because the major league baseball strike started on August 12, 1994, shutting down Mariners baseball for the rest of the year.

Once the tiles were removed, the news broke that right at the start of the Mariners’ season, the Kingdome, King County, and Mariners officials all knew that the tiles were in danger of falling. They made some stopgap repairs and inspections, but failed to make the comprehensive inspection that was needed, and that would have cancelled at least one Mariners game, probably the home opener.

That September, after the baseball had stopped, a report to the King County Council said the county lost $9,444 for every Mariners game at the Kingdome. So the irony is that having the Mariners hit the road, and then having games from mid-August onward cancelled by the strike, saved the county hundreds of thousands of dollars in game-hosting costs. The Seahawks, on the other hand, generated $144,392 for the county with every home game.

Of course, eventually the Mariners and Seahawks got their own stadiums, and the tiles were just a weird episode in the saga of Seattle sports. You have to wonder what would have happened if the tiles had fallen during a Mariners game and killed one or more people. Instead of being a footnote in Mariners (and Seahawks) history and an embarrassing episode in the life of the Kingdome, the falling tiles would have instigated a full-blown scandal. The officials in charge would have been guilty of criminal negligence for letting the risk of the tiles falling go uncorrected.

We would have seen the demise of at least one major politician (Gary Locke was King County Executive at the time, so you have to figure he never would have become governor), an even longer shutdown of the Kingdome, and an end to the careers of everyone with responsibility for maintaining the stadium. The Mariners might easily have left for Tampa Bay for the 1995 season, and that’s where this story impacts the ’95 team.

The entire story of that season wouldn’t exist if the tiles scandal had become a tragedy and pushed the Mariners out of the Kingdome for good, not just for a month in 1994. Also, the home opener in late April was the first game at the Kingdome since the tiles fell, and between the tiles and the strike,  people had a couple good reasons to lose their allegiance to the Mariners and stay out of the Kingdome. It helps explain why it took so long for the place to start filling up as the M’s made their run for the division title in September. And, legend has it that the Mariners’ month-long road trip to close ’94 created a bond between the players that helped fuel the surge in ’95.

On that last point, Mike Blowers said: “We really had fun. It was like college again-sort of that us against the world thing. The tiles were huge for us. It brought us together.”

Steve Kelley on the ALDS

With the rumors of Ken Griffey Jr.’s return to Seattle swirling, I wrote to Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times to ask if he’d be willing to share any of his thoughts about the ’95 season. He quickly responded with some of his recollections of the ALDS against the Yankees:

I think of everything in that series as magical. The O.J. verdict came down in the morning before Game 1. The Mariners lost both those games in New York. Tim Belcher attacked a TV camera in the hallway outside the Mariners clubhouse after game two. The great run seemed over. And then everything happened perfectly when the team came back to Seattle.

There were so many years when I was certain Seattle wasn’t going to be a baseball town. That was the game, not NBA basketball, I thought would leave the city. But to feel the emotion in the building and to listen to the sounds of those games, it still gives me chills. As for Junior on Martinez’s double. I remember writing something along the lines that it was the best piece of base-running I’d ever seen. He cut the corners on those bags so perfectly and turned what should have been a close play at the plate into an easy slide and celebration.

A Few Questions About the 1995 Mariners for Mike Pagliarulo

I recently had the chance to talk with Mike Pagliarulo, who’s probably better known as a Yankee third baseman in the mid-to-late ’80s than as a Texas Ranger, but he played for the Rangers in 1995, his last season in the majors. I took the opportunity to ask some questions about his impression of the 1995 Mariners as a player with Texas.

Arne: I wondered what you saw in the Mariners that year, and then in September as they made their comeback, whether there was a sense of them having changed from earlier in the season.

Mike: Yes, we had, in the final series there in Texas, we stopped the Mariners from winning the division, won the last two games against them. Johnny Oates, God bless his soul, he was our manager. The Mariners, they were a very well-balanced team, power from the right side, the left side, good pitching, ran the bases very well, they really knew how to play the game. They had dangerous hitters, could score a bunch of runs in a minute.

Arne: What was it like facing Randy Johnson, someone who, at 6-10, he’d be throwing the ball a half-foot higher up than most pitchers. Was it hard to change your eye level and pick up his pitches?

Mike: You have to change, make an adjustment according to the different pitchers, so you’ll see the ball better out of his hand. With a left-hander like Johnson, I’d try to hit everything off the left-field wall. You had to have a plan for the opposition.

Randy was very deceptive, with a lower arm slot, you fought to pick up the ball. There was always a battle going on, facing him. I’d come up, struggle to see how the ball’s moving, and all of a sudden I’d be saying hey, what the heck, what happened, I’m down 0-1, 0-2.

Arne: That year, you were playing against Lou Piniella, one of your former managers with the Yankees. Could you say something about his qualities as a manager?

Mike: He’s a super guy, just one of the greatest. He’s one of the most brilliant men at teaching hitting mechanics. It was fascinating to play for him with the Yankees. I was fortunate to get the chance to learn from him.

I added a final question about Ichiro. It’s off the 1995 topic, but Pagliarulo played in Japan in 1994, when Ichiro was just beginning to star in the Japan league, and has gone on to run a player evaluation company called Baseline Report that specializes in determining how Japanese players will do in the U.S.

Arne: I remember in 2001 a lot of people were expecting Ichiro to be a mediocre major-leaguer.

Mike: Not us.

Arne: And then he went on to win the MVP. What’s your opinion of why Ichiro was able to transfer over from Japan to the U.S. so smoothly? Is part of the reason simply that the very best baseball players are more able to adjust their skills to a different style of baseball?

Mike: There are certain characteristics about a Japanese player’s personality-the thinking is a little odd, or they’re disciplined, they’re a little weird, unique, their style’s a little different, they move their body a certain way, talking about the mechanics of hitting. All that helps the player adjust to playing here. In Japan the players tend to be low-key, the coaching makes everyone do things the same way, but in the U.S. pitchers have different motions, and you have to adjust to all of them.