An Interview With “Baseball’s Greatest Series” Author Chris Donnelly

After receiving word of Chris Donnelly’s book on the 1995 ALDS, Baseball’s Greatest Series: Yankees, Mariners, and the 1995 Matchup That Changed History, I wrote a quick summary of his book and printed an excerpt describing Edgar Martinez’s grand slam in game 4. I’ve followed up by asking Chris some questions about his project of researching the ALDS and writing the book on it. Here’s our exchange:

Arne: You came to this project as a Yankees fan, right? I’ve always assumed this ALDS was the province of Mariner fans, so I’m curious to find out why you decided to write about it from over in New Jersey.

Chris: I was born in 1981 so the ’95 series was the first time I had seen the Yankees make the playoffs. They have seemingly made it to the postseason every year since, but back in ’95, this was a huge deal in NYC. Plus, like many Yankee fans, Don Mattingly was by far my favorite player, so there was an overwhelming sense of relief that he finally made the postseason. The games were beyond anything baseball fans could have hoped for and despite the outcome, I often thought back upon the series and how exciting it all was. As I got older, I learned more and more about it and found there was more to the story than just the five games, so I thought it would make for a good book.

Arne: Your book’s to a large extent about the swan song of Don Mattingly. Could you talk a little bit about how he figured in the ALDS. It seems that him striking out three times against Randy Johnson in game 3 was an emotional turning point in the series.

Chris: I think for many Yankee fans, it was almost more about Don Mattingly making the playoffs and winning the World Series than about the Yankees doing so. Very few people knew for certain if he was returning after that season, so for fans, it became crucial that the Yankees win it then and there. Additionally, his performance during the series (10 hits, 6 RBI and a home run) reminded many of the dominating player he had been during the 1980s. Mattingly was the only left handed batter in the lineup against Johnson, showing Showalter’s faith in him. Unfortunately, it did not work out well for Mattingly and even Seattle fans, who had been mostly cordial to him, began taunting him after the three strikeout performance.

Arne: The N.Y. vs. Seattle baseball dynamic really got going in ’95, then it became a recurring rivalry for the next six years. And of course a lot of Mariner fans are still disgusted by Alex Rodriguez leaving town, so he’s helped make the Yankees a continuing object of dislike in the Northwest. It’s somewhat well known here that Seattle’s first name was “New York Alki,” or “New York by and by,” and Seattle still seems to emulate itself on New York City in some ways. What are your thoughts on the sports rivalry between the two cities?

Chris: From 1995 to 2001, the Yankees-Mariners was possibly the best rivalry in baseball. Most of that was driven by the Division Series, but you had dynamic players on both sides and there were always NY/Seattle connections, whether it be Lou Piniella, Tino Martinez, Jay Buhner, or Luis Sojo. I think just about every city takes pride in defeating the Yankees, but especially Seattle because they had a one up on everyone because of what happened in ’95.

Arne: What take does the average Yankee fan have on the ’95 ALDS?

Chris: I don’t want to speak for all fans, but for me it’s mostly bittersweet. I think the Yankees had an excellent chance of beating the Indians in the ALCS that year and getting to the World Series. Had they done so, it would have been very difficult for Steinbrenner not to have brought back Buck Showalter and other members of the team. It was disappointing for fans that off season to slowly see their favorite players start leaving for other teams, and then to not have Mattingly return was almost unthinkable. Yet the Yankee dynasty of ’96-’01 does not happen if the Yankees don’t lose that series, so in a twisted way, you almost seem grateful that Edgar hit that double (although the pain of watching that and reliving the moment, as a Yankee fan, never goes away).

Arne: What do you think was the biggest mistake the Yankees made during ALDS to help the Mariners come back?

Chris: I wouldn’t call it a mistake, but not utilizing Mariano Rivera. It’s not a mistake because no one knew just what Rivera brought to the table. He hadn’t pitched well during the regular season, and yet he dominated Seattle in the playoffs. Had Showalter known then what we all know now (a fact Buck admits), Rivera would have been brought in sooner in Game 5, possibly pitched out of that 8th inning jam without letting the Mariners tie the game, and today we would be talking about the Tampa Bay Mariners. But it would be unfair to blame Showalter for that because no one had a clue and anyone who says otherwise is simply not telling the truth.

Arne: I’ve always thought Yankee fans have a grudge against Randy Johnson because of his feats in the ALDS and the ’01 World Series, and because he then didn’t do too well in New York. Do you agree?

Chris: Again, I don’t want to speak for all fans, but I think that is probably fair. What is odd about that is that the Yankees actually performed very well historically against Johnson during the regular season. I don’t have the exact stats, but I believe few teams did better. But when it came playoff time, he simply dominated them in two separate years. Johnson came to NY with high expectations and, in the minds of fans anyway, never lived up to them.

Arne: How did the interviews for the book go? Who did you talk to, what did they say, and what were your impressions of them?

Chris: I spoke to approximately 70 people for the book. They ranged from umpires, to team personnel, people who had been on the teams in the ’80s, and of course, the coaches, managers and players who were there in ’95. Just about everyone was very supportive of the concept and for those who took part in the series, they all loved talking about the experience (even the Yankees). On the NY side, many of those guys had great memories of their teammates and coaches, many of whom they never played with again after the Game 5 loss. For Seattle, most of the players simply couldn’t stop talking about what a great experience it was and how Seattle baseball really came to life that year.

Arne: Along the same lines, which Mariner players and/or officials were the most interesting to research and to interview?

Chris: Researching the Mariners’ early history was fun because, frankly, the team was so bad. They were just so many oddities that I kept discovering, like Wills trying to make the batter’s box bigger, or a guy who gave up a home run on the first pitch he threw in the majors. Everyone I interviewed, and I sincerely mean this, was fantastic. No one hesitated to share stories or memories. Jay Buhner and Chris Bosio stick out most of all because I spent the most time with them. They are both open and frank guys who not only shared stories of the series, but also gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation for little aspects of the game (how to pitch certain hitters, what to do against a David Cone slider, etc.).

Arne: The trade of Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson after the ’95 season was, along with the trade of Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe two years later, one of the great Mariner missteps that kept the team from doing more with its amazing talent in the ’90s. Did you have the chance to talk with Nelson and/or Martinez about the trade? Also, did any of the Mariners officials you talked with describe the reasoning behind it?

Chris: While I was able to interview more than half of the players who took part in the series, unfortunately, Tino and Jeff Nelson were not among them. Obviously, from the Yankees side, the trade became necessary once Don Mattingly made clear he was not returning for 1996.

Arne: There were so many themes and subtexts to the Mariners/Yankees rivalry in the ’90s and early ’00s, with all the players, and Piniella, having experience with both teams in their careers, and the re-emergence of the Yankees as a team good enough to be worthy of rooting against even if you were three thousand miles away. What was the attitude toward those Mariner teams in and around New York City?

Chris: I think Yankee fans always held a resentment against the Mariners for what happened in ’95, at least until the 2000 and or 2001 seasons. The Kingdome always seemed to be a nightmare for the Yankees, and players like Junior, Edgar and Randy Johnson were easy for New Yorkers to pick out as villains because they handled the Yankees well. After the 2000 and ’01 ALCS, I think that bitterness died away, not just because the Yankees won those series, but because so many of the key players were gone from both teams.

Arne: Stepping away from the ’95 ALDS for a final question, how do you remember the ’01 ALCS? It’s obviously overshadowed by that year’s World Series, but that was such a uniquely important and moving time, to have playoff baseball about 10 miles north of the World Trade Center site.

Chris: That entire playoff run for the Yankees was obviously a special moment in New York. It seemed like the one time when people, at least not collectively for a change, weren’t praying for the Yankees not to win again. The Yankees played many fantastic games that postseason, including Game 4 against Seattle, and to be able to clinch the League Championship at home meant a lot to the city that year. Additionally, at least from the fans’ perspective, the Yankees were trying to prevent the 116-win Mariners from eclipsing the ’98 Yankees as perhaps the greatest single season team in history, so to beat them and maintain that aura was especially satisfying.

“Baseball’s Greatest Series”: The Book on the 1995 ALDS

A few days ago I learned about this book, called Baseball’s Greatest Series: Yankees, Mariners, and the 1995 Matchup That Changed History. The author, Chris Donnelly, then sent me the text, and having read it, I can say that the book is the most comprehensive retrospective analysis of the ’95 ALDS that I’ve seen. Donnelly has written a biography of the two teams from the ’80s up through 1995. In Seattle’s case he begins with the Pilots and then discusses the Mariners’ various travails before focusing on Lou Piniella’s job of transforming the franchise; in New York’s case he focuses on George Steinbrenner and the Yankees’ revolving cast of managers during the ’80s and early ’90s.

Donnelly then describes the course of the Mariners and Yankees’ regular seasons in ’95, but this is all a prelude to the main event: a highly detailed account of the five games of the ALDS. Donnelly describes each game at an inning by inning level, interspersing short profiles of players on the two teams–not just the superstars, but also players like Tim Belcher, Sterling Hitchcock, and Joey Cora. For key at-bats,  Donnelly zooms in even closer to describe individual pitches and the mentality of the pitcher and hitter during the at-bat. You can read some more about the book and buy it here. Meanwhile, here’s an excerpt describing Edgar Martinez’s grand slam in game 4:

Wetteland, working cautiously, threw two straight breaking balls to Martinez, both outside. It was impossible to pitch to Martinez, regardless of the situation, but Wetteland wanted to keep the ball outside, hoping Martinez would end up hitting the ball hard somewhere for an out and keep the damage to a minimum. Wetteland’s breaking ball was not working and he could not afford to walk Martinez. Down 2-0 in the count, he delivered a fastball straight down the middle. Martinez swung under the pitch, sending a high pop down the first base line in foul territory and the Yankees almost caught a break. Randy Velarde made a mad dash for the ball, nearly tripping over the visiting team bullpen mounds in the process.

Stretching as far as he could, he stabbed at the ball, but it dropped just out of his reach in foul territory. Had Velarde caught it, Vince Coleman would most likely have scored from third base giving the Mariners the lead, but considering how the Mariners’ bullpen had pitched in the series, a one run lead would not have assured victory. Instead of an out, Martinez was presented with a second chance.

Wetteland fired two more fastballs and Martinez fouled off each of them. The tension and anticipation inside the Kingdom on each pitch was utterly nerve racking. The count now 2-2, Wetteland got the sign from Mike Stanley, brought his hands to his belt, checked the runners, and delivered a fastball straight down the middle. “I wanted to get just one good slider over to Edgar (but) I had to come in with it (a fastball). When you do that you have to live with the consequences,” said Wetteland. Martinez, following through with a lightening fast swing, sent the ball screaming to straight away center field. It was hit so hard that fans didn’t have enough time to contemplate whether it may or may not go over the fence. The ball quickly sailed over the center field wall just to the right of the 405 foot mark and crashed into the batter’s eye tarp for a grand slam. Mariners’ announcer Dave Niehaus, sounding like he might blow a vocal chord, could barely contemplate what he was seeing. “Get out the rye bread and the mustard…a graaaaand salaaami,” the overly excited broadcaster screamed into his microphone. “I don’t believe it, my oh my!” In the Mariners’ dugout, Lou Piniella high fived Lee Elia with both hands.

The crowd reaction surpassed anything that had ever taken place inside the Kingdome to that point. It was ear-shattering, painful, and unreal. A mix of elation and pure pandemonium.

Martinez, mild mannered and rarely one to wear emotions on his sleeve, raised his right arm in triumph after seeing the ball clear the fence. The emotional display was certainly justified. Martinez had just hit the biggest home run in the history of the Mariners’ franchise. “I was only trying to make contact,” said Martinez. “I was surprised it went out. I was so excited. As a kid you always dream of hitting a home run like that, and here it is in the playoffs.” His team, once down 5-0 and looking at the end of their season, was now leading 10-6. Just two hours ago they had been thinking about spring training in 1996. Now they were starting to think about Game 5 the next night.

John Wetteland stood dejected on the mound. Things had collapsed so rapidly it was hard to contemplate what had just happened. “It was just a poor, ugly, non-inning,” said Wetteland after the game. “I started off bad and things caved in on me from there. The walk, the ball off Griffey’s foot…it was just ugly all around.” Seconds after Martinez’s shot had crashed behind the centerfield wall, Buck Showalter was already making his way towards the mound. Chaos ensued all around him as “Shout” blasted from the loud speakers and 57,000 people sang along. Just a minute after giving up the home run, Wetteland sat on the bench in stunned silence.

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.”

Our story for 1995

We were living in Leavenworth and I can remember that entire fall like it was yesterday. I think the first thing I remember was driving south to teach a seminar in the Tri-Cities and coming home in the afternoon with one of those mid-week Mariner matinees on the radio and Dave and Rick talking about Refuse to Lose. It was mid-September and they were putting the post-season tickets on sale the next day. Unfortunately, I had another another seminar to teach–this one in Wenatchee. My kids (at that time my son was 16 and my daughter 14) were in school so there was no way for them to buy tickets. My wife (at the time) hated baseball with a passion but it has always been a way for me and my kids to connect. Even today, 14 years later, my son and I e-mail about the Mariners on a daily basis. We still do games together. My daughter a little less, but it’s one of the few things we have in common and we still find the time to do at least one game each year.

So how was I going to get tickets. We had made the trip over from Leavenworth six or seven times that summer. We had grown totally distraught early in the year when Junior broke his wrist and we had watched unbelieving as the rest of the team sucked it up and played better than they ever had. I knew that we just had to be in the stands if they went to the playoffs.

So, I was standing in front of about 200 people in an East Wenatchee auditorium when tickets went on sale at 10:00 am. I told my audience we would take a short break while I made a phone call. I dialed and prayed. Ten minutes came and went and I was still on hold, 20 minutes and the crowd I was teaching had filed back in. I was still on hold but I had to start speaking again. So I handed my cell phone (it was huge compared to what we all use today) to someone in the first row and I told them to let me know if anyone picked up. About 10 minutes later someone did. I excused myself and told the crowd I had to take a phone call again and I was sorry, got on with the ticket agent and scored three tickets in the 2nd deck right over Junior in centerfield.

When I got off the phone no one in the audience of 200+ could figure out why I was jumping up and down and screaming until someone said, “You just got playoff tickets? Didn’t you?” I admitted that I had and the crowd started applauding. It was beyond cool.

Jump forward a few weeks to the night of the one game playoff against California. I wasn’t able to get tickets to that game. I was sure we would have it won long before that (because I was a total believer) but a good friend went and we sat in the pizza parlor he owned in Leavenworth (me and my kids) and watched that game. When they finally won we went nuts.

But the next two games were two of the worst of my life. Watching the games from Yankee Stadium with my kids as we lost both of them and knowing that if you couldn’t get Jay (still my all-time favorite baseball player) to win for you in Yankee Stadium then maybe things were over. It made me hate the Yankees and that bastard Jim Leyritz more than any group of people before or since. I still hate the Yankees. Maybe the Mariners were just too tired. Maybe my kids and I would only get to use one of those precious tickets I had bought in front of 200 audience members.

So two days later, I went to my kids schools and picked them up around noon and we made the drive to the Dome (sorry, I have always capitalized it–it was kind of shrine to me) and watched them win. OMG! It was incredible. We did Refuse to Lose. We got lost leaving the Dome that night but we didn’t care–we had won. Did I mention I had one of the worst colds of my life. So here I am driving over Snoqualmie Pass twice a day for three days and not able to take any cold medication. My kids and I talked more in those three days of traveling than we ever had before. (I guess five days if you count the Cleveland games).

The next day my kids went to school and I went to work. Thankfully I work for myself so I could go in at 4:30 am and get my days work done and then I picked them up again at noon and we headed west. The second night was even more unbelievable than the first. When Edgar makes the Hall, it should be more about that game than about The Double. A three run homer and a grand salami. Our seats were just above where that ball (the salami) went out and we couldn’t see it go. (Remember how bad the sight lines were in the Dome looking down from the upper decks.) We had to wait for the rest of the Dome to go NUTS when the ball went out to know he had done it.

That third night. Oh geez! I still get tears in my eyes when I think of it. Nothing makes me emotional like that game. Up and down, up and down. The whole night. Still today, I count it as one of the five best days in my life, maybe top three. I remember so much of it. And when Joey pulled off that wonderful bunt and then Griff pushed him on to third we just knew that there was no way we were going to lose. It wasn’t possible. I don’t care if Babe Ruth (or any other of the Yankee legends of the past) had come back from the dead and pitched that inning or got to bat first in the next one, we knew there was no way we could lose. If you were there when you saw Edgar come up, you knew too. There was no way for us to lose. We didn’t even have to refuse at that point. It was destiny.

I can still see that swing in my mind. It was so sweet. That ball bounding into left field. It didn’t even look like it was hit that hard. But we knew we were tied. I was watching the ball and my son grabbed my arm and screamed that Junior was going for it. OMG! I had never, NOT EVER, seen him run that fast. Even after a fly ball in centerfield. When he scored—pandemonium.

If you were there and as into the Mariners as we were you will understand when I say that I am sitting here in my kitchen right now, typing this, with tears streaming down my face. That was it. I could die happy. Now don’t get me wrong. I lead a GREAT life. I have remarried (to a woman who likes baseball) and I have moved to Redmond so I don’t have the Leavenworth drive to get to Safeco and my kids have grown and are two of the best people you could ever want to meet but that night was beyond special. That night stands out. It is perhaps my most vivid memory. And not just the game. The exhilarating drive home with my kids. I look back now at those five games (the three with the Yankees and the two with Cleveland) and the trips to and from the Dome and I think that’s when we truly connected. We had been close before but my son and I found a common ground that we have kept going for all these years. And it’s a memory that I can replay over and over again of the best of times with my kids. For that I am truly thankful.

I want to mention the other two games. Well, really only one. For the life of me, I can’t remember the first game with Cleveland. I remember that Hershiser pitched for them and that we had a young kid on the mound who loaded the bases in the first and then got out of the jam but I can’t remember his name. Was it Dave Fleming? (My son would know but it’s too early to call him.) [It was Bob Wolcott.] I do remember that, of course, Cleveland won. And I remember they won the next night too. And that we were done. But you know what? If you are like me, that last night…when it was over…that was the second best night of the playoffs. Sure Joey cried in the dugout while Alex comforted him but if you were there you remember that we in the stands didn’t Refuse to Lose, we refused to leave. We screamed, cheered, applauded and just kept going until the team came out. My kids and I had a two and a half hour drive to go home after a loss but we stayed for almost an hour until they came out and we thanked them for what was perhaps the best month of baseball in the history of the game.

I grew up in Southern Cal. I learned baseball from Vin Scully listening to Dodger games on my bedside radio after my parents had told me to go to bed. Before 1995, the best game in baseball history had been the night Gibson hit the home run off Eckersley to win the first game of the World Series in 1988. And then my boys in blue going on to win in just five games from the Mighty A’s. Well September and October of 1995 made that look like little league. It was magic. Truly magic. Thank you so much for putting this site together. It made me write this down which I have never done before.

By DrKoob

THE BEST SIX WEEKS OF MY LIFE

“I’m sitting here in Pioneer Square, and I’m eating a Luis Sojo Burger. This is unbelievable. I think I’m going to cry. And I better take it all in, because I know this will never happen again in my lifetime.”

For those of you who weren’t there in 1995, you will never understand what that season meant to the city of Seattle and to the people who grew up following the Mariners. Because I’m not exaggerating when I say this. That season changed everything. EVERYTHING. Everything that is good or bad about Mariners baseball all came about because of those epic six weeks in 1995. If the Mariners hadn’t made that playoff run, in the manner that they did, at the time that they did, I doubt they would even still be here today.

My backstory as a Mariner fan is a little bit more personal than most. You see, I wasn’t one of those “The New M’s!” fans who jumped on the bandwagon when Ken Griffey Jr. showed up in 1989. Nor was I was one of the “Refuse to Lose” fans who suddenly showed up in 1995. No way, sir. I was a diehard. My brother and I were Junior Mariners going all the way back to 1981.

I was 7 years old in 1981. And that was the first summer that my parents signed me up to be a “Junior Mariner.” Have you ever heard of the Junior Mariner program? Of course you haven’t. The Mariners only had about 7,000 fans a game back then. They were the most ridiculous franchise on the face of the Earth. But my mom signed me up to be a Junior Mariner in 1981, which meant I got a package in the mail containing a crappy plastic batting helmet, a 99 cent batting glove, and free tickets to 8 games during the 1981 season.

Oh, and they weren’t the good games, mind you.

No way.

The Junior Mariner (aka free) games were the ones against the A’s, the Rangers, the Indians, and the Twins. Good lord. Did you ever watch a game between the 1981 Mariners and the 1981 Twins? Of course you didn’t, no one did. I swear, they had so few fans in the stands those nights that they probably would have let me pitch.

So anyway, that’s my backstory. I grew up as a Junior Mariner, my family attended between 20-30 games in the Kingdome every year of the 80’s, and I grew up learning to love a team that in no way was ever going to amount to anything. Seriously, do you know what the highlight of my childhood was as a Mariners fan? The fact that one time we scored 7 runs in an inning against the Yankees. I had never seen this before. Seven runs in an inning? By the Mariners? This feat boggled my mind.

Remember, Al Cowens was considered our “cleanup” hitter back then. As an 80’s Mariner fan, you learned not to expect much.

Through it all– good and bad– I was there in the Kingdome for everything. I sat behind the stupid plexiglass in left field. I fell in love with players like Todd Cruz. I thought Mickey Brantley was going to end up in the Hall of Fame. I convinced myself that you could field a contender with players like Greg “Pee Wee” Briley. Heck, I still say that 1989-90 Erik Hanson was one of the best pitchers of all time.

Year in and year out, I was there, and I loved my Mariners. I followed them with a passion. I was so passionate about them, in fact, that after a particularly frustrating loss in 1989– followed by me smashing a bat into a wall– my mom suggested I might want to attend some sort of anger counseling class. She said my life depended far too much on if the Mariners won or lost that night. And do you know what? She was right. I literally had days of my life where I was pissed off just because Mike Schooler blew a save in the 9th the night before. The Mariners were all I ever thought about when I was a teenager.

As you can guess, I had an unhappy childhood.
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What I remember when I was at game five

I was seventeen-years-old when the Mariners clinched the division in 1995.  I rarely follow baseball in this day and age but I was an avid fan of our Mariners and baseball in general.  My mother worked for a Fortune 500 accounting company in Seattle so she was given tickets to game five. Center-right of home plate, about 20 rows back.  I don’t remember the entire game but I remember the atmosphere.  Everybody was going crazy.  Regardless of what was happening there was an air of inevitability in the air; absolutely electric.

Then, bottom of the ninth, Edgar Martinez came to bat and drilled a pitch over the left fielder and into the wall.  I believe that RBI drove in Griffey but that doesn’t matter, what matters is the single best moment in my life as a baseball fan.

I remember the second Martinez tattooed that ball, as the ball travelled past the left-side and left field fans, there was this wave following the ball as it drifted over the left fielder.  The Kingdome had to go but I’m telling you that between the Sonics, the Seahawks and the Mariners there was never a louder indoor moment in my experience.  I couldn’t hear for nearly two hours after the game but it didn’t matter.

I got near Martinez before the game while he was waiting to take a few swings at batting practice, literally within 15 feet or so.  I said, matter of factly, “Gonna win the series for us?” and he simply said, “Ok.”  It was awesome cause he had that smile that told me not to keep my hopes up.

I had a stroke nearly seven years ago and I have lost and never recovered almost my entire teen and adolescent memory but I’ll never forget that day and I’ll miss going to the Kingdome and watching how crazy the ball travelled through that air conditioned outfield.

By Aaron Rogers

Interview With Bob Condotta

Bob Condotta is now the Seattle Times’ reporter on the University of Washington sports beat, covering men’s basketball and football. But back in ’95 he was covering the Mariners for the old Bellevue Journal-American, attending most of their games at the Kingdome, the final regular season series in Texas, and all of their playoff games. I wrote to him after seeing a posting that mentioned the ’95 Mariners during his relief appearance on Geoff Baker’s Mariners blog earlier this year. The eventual result was the following interview about the season.

Q: What were your feelings about the Mariners and major league baseball in general coming into the ’95 season, after the strike ended? And, did the Mariners’ comeback change your attitude?

A: I was a little less jaded back then and so happy to have a job reporting on sports in the Seattle area, which had always been my dream, that I didn’t really let the strike influence my feelings about anything all that much. I knew it would be an exciting and pivotal year for the Mariners as a franchise, and since I wanted the team to stay, I hoped it would turn out well. So once the strike ended and they were back playing ball, I quickly forgot about it and just focused on the season at hand.

I remember that there were a lot of mixed feelings at the Kingdome on Opening Night among fans — I think that’s the last Mariners’ opener that didn’t sell out — but I was just glad to have baseball back. I might not feel that way if the same thing happened now (the NBA is close to losing me forever over its handling of the Sonics’ situation) but I did back then. So that said, how the season evolved really didn’t bring me back to baseball since I came back pretty quickly anyway at that time.

Q: Which game do you see as the most remarkable/most memorable one of the Mariners’ regular season?

A: Like a lot of people who were there — and there really weren’t that many as the official attendance was 17,618 — I’d say the Aug. 24 game against the Yankees at home when Griffey hit a game-winning home run. Most view that game as the beginning of the streak that brought the team back and saved baseball in Seattle. My personal memory of it is that I almost missed the game. I was also assigned to do a Seahawks story that day so I was at their practice in the early afternoon and decided at the last minute to try to get to the Kingdome for the M’s game, as well — it was a 3:30 (or right around there) first pitch. I’ve seen hundreds of games since then and barely remember any of them.

But I have all kinds of vivid memories of that game (some of which I’m sure may be a little embellished with time) — Andy Benes getting hammered early and Piniella leaving him out there; Vince Coleman almost striking out with two outs in the ninth, then drawing a walk and stealing second and third; Cora hitting that little liner that Tony Fernandez misplayed; and then Griffey’s never-a-doubt home run. I won’t say I had any idea that day that what ended up happening would happen. But I did know that something was happening.

Q: Could you compare Edgar, Randy, and Junior. Which of the three was the best Mariner of ’95, and which do you have the most appreciation for now as a major leaguer, and as a Mariner?

A: I must confess that I covered mostly just home games in 1995 and then never was a regular Mariners beat writer again. The Journal-American covered only home games then (except we went on the road for the last series and the playoffs and a lot of spring training) so I never got close to any of the players the way the regular guys did. So I don’t necessarily have great personal insight into those guys that would be a lot different than the everyday fan.

Edgar was the consummate professional in every way, from the way he dealt with the media to the way he approached his at-bats. He always was respectful and tried to answer your questions. Johnson was incredibly dominant that season, but even then some of his prickly personality came out. I remember a game in July when he pitched well and the team won, but he didn’t get the win because Bobby Ayala blew the save (imagine that?) only to have the Mariners win it in the bottom of the ninth. Despite the team’s win, Johnson seemed unhappy afterward, talking about how frustrating it was to pitch like that yet get nothing for it — that had happened to him a few times that season. I’m one of those who thinks the way his Mariner career ended puts a pretty big smudge on his legacy. On the other hand, that season wouldn’t have happened without him, so he deserves a lot of gratitude, as well.

As for Griffey, everybody knows he missed much of that season and batted only .258 for the year. But I’d forgotten a little bit just how great he was in the playoffs that year. It seems like everybody always focuses on how incredible Edgar was. Yet Griffey hit .391 with five homers in the series against the Yankees, and .333 with another homer against the Indians. If he’d ever been on the right time, I have no doubt Griffey could have been a Mr. October, since that was the only time he ever really had that chance. Not sure I can pick a “best” of that season — take out any of them and the season doesn’t happen. And for overall contribution to the Mariners, I couldn’t pick between Griffey and Martinez. To me, they are the two most-defining players in franchise history, which is why it’s so fitting that they were the two key players in the defining moment in franchise history.