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.

Bill James’ Opinions of the 1995 Mariners

For no reason other than because I was interested, I recently poked around the Seattle Times archives and found a few articles from 1995 that feature Bill James. For the more sabermetric-oriented readers who happen by this site, I thought I’d string together some excerpts and give a sense of what the leading “baseball guru,” as one Times reporter called him, thought of the Mariners at the start, in the middle, and at the end of 1995.

Early in 1995, the Times ran some excerpts from Bill James’ player-ratings book. He said this about Ken Griffey Jr.: “In my humble opinion, not extremely fast, and not a Gold Glove outfielder.”

This about Randy Johnson: “You need to appreciate this man, if you’re a baseball fan, because you’re never going to see another one like him. . . . He’s now 31 and missed a couple of starts with a tired arm, but I expect him to be an effective pitcher for another 10 years. He needs to win 20 (in a season) to be a Hall of Fame candidate.”

This about Dave Fleming: “It is almost impossible to sustain success on 4.5 strikeouts per game. He might occasionally have a good season, but I doubt that 1995 will be one of them.”

And this about Dan Wilson: “Threw out 32 percent (22 of 69) of runners attempting to steal, ranking him fifth in the league. That is basically all that he does well.”

Then, after Junior suffered his injury jumping into the Kingdome wall in late May, Bob Sherwin talked to James, who said: “It’s astonishing how little it changes a team when it loses its best player. Not to deny Griffey’s greatness as a player, but no matter who it is, on the average, a team will have a normal decline of three to seven games.

“Every eight runs translate into one extra game in the standings. So if you take away Griffey’s 100 RBI, that’s about 12 games. Of course, his replacement is not going to drive in zero runs. He might drive in 50. That means you could possibly lose six games in the standings.

“The best way to put it is that no one player is a team. You’re not going to win if you’re a lousy team.”

Finally, after the season ended, the Times reported that “Bill James, baseball’s premier statistical analyst,” was warning fans bathing in the afterglow about what he called “regression to the mean. It’s a widely known and commonly studied phenomenon in statistics, and I’ve written about something similar in baseball players. Whereas people tend to project in terms of momentum, the far more important thing to consider is resistance.”

He added: “I think that when Edgar Martinez retires and you look back on his career, you’re probably going to say 1995 was his best year, but you won’t say, ‘Wow, wasn’t that something? He must have gotten every break that year.’ “

James had this to say about Jay Buhner:  “I’ve always thought of Buhner as a 30-homer, 100-RBI type of guy. Maybe he’ll drive in 20 less runs next year, but that’s not a big deal.”

And this about Tino Martinez: “I’ve never expected him to have this kind of year, and I really question that he is that good. And a very large percentage of fluke years are at the age of 27.”

This was his summary prediction about the two Martinezes, Griffey, and Buhner: “Let’s assume all three of those guys go back to normal years next year, but you have Ken Griffey Jr. healthy. Do you come out ahead or behind? You probably come out ahead.”

The Times asked James, “What about all those other career years Mariner hitters had? Nine reached career highs in homers. Six in RBI. Seven in runs scored. Five regulars had career-best averages.”

James’ response: “I don’t see the Mariners as a team that won because a lot of guys had career years. Maybe Dan Wilson had a career year.”