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

Some Data/Trivia About the ’95 Season

A few days ago I looked through the Mariners’ media guide for 1996 and came up with some pieces of information about the ’95 season I thought people might be interested in. So, here they are:

The smallest home crowd was 9,769, vs. Oakland, on June 27.

The largest home crowd was 54,573, vs. Oakland, on September 23.

The Mariner with the most RBI in a game was Mike Blowers, with 8 vs. Boston on May 24.

The team made its most errors in a game, 5, vs. Toronto on July 13.

The Mariners most runs scored in a game was 15, four different times: Tuesday, May 2, Wednesday, May 24, Saturday, August 5 and Sunday, August 6.

The Mariners’ most steals in a game was 5, on May 29 vs. New York.

The longest hitting streak was 14 games, by Edgar Martinez, from August 13-26. Edgar also had a 37-game streak of getting on base.

Edgar’s OBP peaked at .504 on August 25, and at the end of August, he was hitting .369 with an OBP of .501 and slugging percentage of .661.

He played seven games at a position besides designated hitter (third base in four games, first base in three games; and he made an error at each position).

Felix Fermin was the worst Mariner hitter, by a sizable margin: he had 39 hits in 200 at-bats, for a .195 average, and his six doubles gave him a .225 slugging percentage. He also drew six walks, for a .232 OBP: his OPS+ was 20. Fermin started 60 games at shortstop and second base: ’95 was his last full year in the majors.

The longest losing streak for a pitcher was Dave Fleming’s 6, from May 5 through June 19.

The most consecutive scoreless innings for a starter was 18, by Randy Johnson from August 16 to September 8.

The most consecutive scoreless innings for a reliever was 15 2/3rd, by Jeff Nelson from July 3 to August 1.

The Mariners were 52-30 on turf and 27-36 on grass fields in 1995.

The Mariners threw eight shutouts, six of them when Randy Johnson started the game.

The team was 33-40 in one-run and two-run games.

The best record against another team was 10-3 vs. Texas; the worst record was 5-7 vs. Boston and the Royals.

Seattle was 9-4 vs. New York (6-1 at the Kingdome). For the entire season (counting the ALDS), the Mariners were 12-6 vs. the Yankees, with six of the 12 wins coming in the team’s last at-bat.

Attendance in August was 310,114, over 13 games at the Kingdome, for an average of 23,854.

Attendance in September was 449,736, over 14 games at the Kingdome, for an average of 32,124.

The last day of especially low attendance was 12,102 for a game on Tuesday, Sept. 12, vs. the Twins.

Kingdome attendance was still only 26,524 on Wednesday, Sept. 20 vs. the Rangers, but it doubled the next day to 51,500, with the Mariners tied for the division lead and playing the Angels at the Dome.

Attendance was higher for the three Oakland games in late September, which was a weekend series, than for the two-game Angels series in the middle of the week that followed the A’s series.

The Mariners had 43 comeback wins in the regular season, 12 of them in September, and made comebacks in 8 of the last 11 wins.

The 182 homers in ’95 set a new club record.

August 2 was the only time that the Mariners were 13 games back, but they were 12.5 games back on August 16, and 11.5 games back as late as August 24.

The Mariners were 17-5 in their last 22 games.

Raul Ibanez was the team’s minor league player of the year for ’95; Bob Wolcott was the minor league pitcher of the year.

The Mariners were 25-11 after August 23; the Angels were 12-23 over the same time.

The team made up six games on the Angels in 13 days, from August 24 to September 6, despite going just 7-5.

For the season, the Mariners had eight home games that drew under 12,000; another 14 drew under 15,000.

On the other hand, nine home games drew over 40,000, and four of the last six home games drew over 50,000.

The Mariners were 27-3 in the Big Unit’s starts, and 52-63 in all other games.

Johnson (18-2) set an A.L. record for best winning percentage in a season in ’95 (minimum 20 decisions), breaking Ron Guidry’s .893 mark (25-3) for the ‘78 Yankees.

He also set a then-major league mark for Ks per 9 innings with a ratio of 12.35, breaking Nolan Ryan’s 11.48 mark in 1987 with Houston.

Johnson equaled a career-high in pitches with his 160-pitch complete game at Cleveland on July 7.

He had 14 games in which he allowed one run or no runs.

Nineteen different times Johnson threw over 120 pitches in a game, including each of his last five starts.

Johnson was 7-0 with a 1.45 ERA for his final 10 starts.

Joey Cora was the lead-off hitter in 43 games.

Norm Charlton was the A.L. pitcher of the month for September.

Charlton became the closer in late August; he had a .89 ERA in his last 19 games.

Charlton had his first save in two years on August 3 of ’95.

The Mariners’ team ERA in June was 5.44; the team went 11-17 that month.

Blowers had three grand slams in 15 days in August; Buhner had two grand slams that month too.

Here are some more items, this time from the 1995 post-season media guide:
Buhner set a new MLB record for the highest single-season RBI to hits ratio, at 121 to 123: 40 of the 123 hits were homers.

Randy Johnson missed three starts in August and early September, and was second on the M’s in starts, with 30: Bosio made 31 starts.

Griffey was playing in late ’95 with seven screws and a metal plate in his wrist.

Edgar was 18 for 46 against the Yankees in the ’95 regular season, with 7 homers and 20 RBI in 13 games.

Jeff Nelson spent seven full years in the minors before joining the M’s in 1992.

The M’s hit 10 grand slams in ’95, and had 8 shutouts. Their home attendance, 1,640,992, was lower than their road attendance, 1,777,159. They only lost 1 game to the Yankees at the Kingdome all year.

Johnson’s 294 strikeouts were more than triple the second-best M’s pitcher, Bosio, who had 96 Ks.

The M’s had 43 come-from-behind wins in ’95, 12 of them in September, and 8 of their last 11 wins were comeback jobs. They had 16 wins in their last at-bat, two of them from Chad Kreuter singles.

The M’s David Arias (now known as David Ortiz, or Big Papi) led all Mariners rookie league players with a .332 average, 37 RBIs in 48 games, and an OBP of .403. He played mostly at first, and stole two bases.

Other notable M’s minor-leaguers in 1995 who didn’t play for the Seattle club included Derek Lowe, Jose Cruz, Jr., Shawn Buhner, Jay’s brother, Raul Ibanez, Craig Griffey, Ken’s brother, Jason Varitek, and Don Wakamatsu.

Finally, a list of some players you probably don’t remember being on the 1995 team: Chad Kreuter, Gary Thurman, Greg Pirkl, Arquimedez Pozo, Warren Newson, Marc Newfield, Bill Risley, Bob Wells, Darren Bragg, Rafael Carmona, Tim Harikkala, Jim Mecir, Jim Converse, Dave Fleming, Steve Frey, John Cummings, Tim Davis, Kevin King.

A Conversation With Mariners Announcer Tom Hutyler: Ken Griffey Jr., the Indians Series, and the Kingdome

My conversation with Mariners public address announcer Tom Hutyler continued by comparing the ’95 and ’01 Mariners and talking about the Kingdome, his signature announcement of Ken Griffey Jr., and the 1995 ALCS. Here’s part two of our conversation (see part one here):

Arne: I know most people have fonder memories of the ’95 season than the ’01 season. Is it the same way for you?

Tom: Oh, yes. In 2001 it was not a new deal. The drama of what happened in 1995 wasn’t there. 2001 was a foregone conclusion from May or June onward. We had the All-Star game, and the Mariners had eight or nine players on the team. The only question was would they reach the 116-game record. Then 9/11 happened, and people knew it wasn’t so important how many wins they had. 1995 was so much more impactful, so unlikely, such a storybook ending. There was the fantastic finish, the underdog coming up from nowhere. Actually the most dramatic game after ’95, I’d say, was the game against the White Sox, Carlos Guillen’s bunt to win the game. That was the end of the 2000 playoffs against Chicago.

Arne: Was it sometimes a drag coming into the Kingdome in the summer?

Tom: Sure, it could be. In the summer, during the really lean years, you’d have 4,000 people on an August afternoon. I didn’t really need a microphone; I could have just leaned out the booth and shouted: everyone would have heard me. The sunny, warm days are few and far between here. People would say, “I should be out on a boat, in a park, somewhere outside,” enjoying the absolutely gorgeous weather. Sometimes I’d wish the same.

Arne: People tend to overlook the Indians series when they think about the ’95 season. Is there a particular memory you cherish from those games?

Tom: I was just going to say, Wolcott’s performance in game 1 was amazing. It’s too bad he could never recapture that performance. There was such promise for the future with him. Buhner’s performance that series was pretty remarkable. We thought the Mariners were going to go on to win the World Series. The series had a lot of emotional highs and lows. The Indians had a lot of talent. Looking up and down that lineup, you saw really good players, really good pitchers.

Arne: I noticed that even late in game 6 the Mariner were down just 1-0, and you thought maybe this will be like the Yankees comeback. I think the Mariners would have played game 7 at the Kingdome. So, with Griffey coming back to the team, are you anticipating announcing his name again?

Tom: That was the first name I introduced that became imitated by people. Scott Bradley, who was a catcher for a few years with the team, told me, “You know you’ve made it when that happens.” Out on the streets, people would stop me and ask me to do “Ken Griffey Junior.” I’ve had a lot of people ask about my response to him coming back to Seattle. So it’s kind of like a singer getting to do a hit song again, on a much smaller scale of course. I’m really looking forward to it. In 2007 I did, but it was different because he was with the visiting team. I think it’ll be really fun.

My son’s 18, he was 9 when Griffey left, and my daughter’s 27. He was a big part of their lives. So they’re happy he’s back, and it’ll be good. The only drawback is that issue about how you can’t go home again, you can’t replicate that feeling of however many years ago. He might hit a few of those high-arching homers, but the catches in center field aren’t going to happen again. But I think people are smart enough to know he’s not the same man now; they can’t expect the same things to happen, and maybe it’s enough just to have him back.

(go back and read part one)

How A Yankees Fan Became a Mariners Fan

I moved to Seattle in 1989, and, upon attending a game at the Kingdump, my first reaction was to turn to the person I was with and ask, “Do the games here really count?”

I grew up in New York, and spent scads of my summer free time at Yankee Stadium. Don’t get me wrong; I grew up with the horrible Yankees teams of the 1960s — Horace Clarke, Jerry Kenney, Fritz Peterson, Mike Kekich, Buddy Barker. Yes, I saw Mickey Mantle play, but his legs were shot by then, and maybe his liver was, too (although I still remember him hitting two home runs on Old-Timers Day, only to have the Yankees fall 3-2). Like Seattle fans, I remember Jim Bouton — but I remember him coming into a Yankees game in relief in 1967, where the world champion Orioles blew out the Yankees 14-2, and it was so bad that my 9-year-old self began to cry. I hated George Steinbrenner from the moment he bought the team, practically — he cut injured Mel Stottlemyre, my favorite player, in spring training so he wouldn’t be obliged to pay him a full year’s salary. And I remember what it was like in 1972 when the Yankees stopped stinking so badly, and actually began to compete for the pennant again. Then Steinbrenner treated Dave Winfield like dirt — all Winfield did was have the best 1980s of any player on the planet.

So when I came to Seattle, my loyalties were still with the Yankees.

It got no better when the 1994 season was destroyed by the strike. I actually had season tickets to the Mariners in 1992; I bought them with some of the money I inherited after my father died. I knew my father would appreciate that; he was the main reason I was a baseball fan. But when the strike ended baseball, I vowed never to pay for a baseball ticket again. (The fact that the ceiling tiles had fallen in the Kingdump, sending the Mariners out to play nothing but road games like the team in Philip Roth’s THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, didn’t help, either.)

And I made it through the 1995 season, not expecting much after Griffey injured himself, and watching the team sit at the mark of mediocrity for much of the year.

But then the Mariners began to win — stunningly, improbably, spectacularly. Each night a different player was the hero, whether it was Tino Martinez or Joey Cora, or Norm Charlton resuscitating his seemingly dead career. Jay Buhner — it was me, not George Costanza, who first yelled, ‘Why did you trade Jay Buhner?’ — urged the Mariners to play on to win the division and not to limp into the Wild Card. And then Griffey came back and put the team on his back.

And yet, I was only listening to the games on the radio, only occasionally catching them on TV.

But when it looked like the Mariners might actually make the playoffs, I went and ordered playoff tickets. I believe I ordered them in sets of three. Somewhere, on an old computer, I still have a very big TIFF file of the entire sheet. (I also have the sheet from 1996, when they missed the playoffs.) I took the day off to watch the Mariners/Angels playoff game on television. Mariners fans may love Dave Niehaus (as I loved Phil Rizzuto, who also had difficulty dealing with what was actually happening on the field), but to me, the signature call of the 1995 season was Rick Rizzs calling Luis Sojo’s double, concluding with his haggard, “Everybody scores!”

And then, before the Mariners could even get home, they were down 2-0 to the Yankees.

And the series turned around. Clutch hits were contagious. And I remember the feeling, standing way up in the upper deck behind home plate, believing firmly that the game was not over when the fifth game went to extra innings, even after Randy Johnson gave up the lead. The Kingdump was known for keeping noise in (although my main recollection was, as a new spectator, shouting something derisive at a visiting player, and HEARING THE TAUNT ECHO throughout the building), but what I remember the second-most about that game was the never-ending waves of the decks jouncing and bouncing as newly born Mariners fans — I don’t think there had been fans prior to August of 1995 — shouted and screamed and jumped and jumped. And when Edgar stroked that double, and Griffey came tearing around third — well, that may indeed have been the most exciting game I’ve ever attended. Fans chanted for minutes after Griffey touched the plate, stood for minutes before leaving, and it was as loud OUTSIDE the Kingdump as it was within.

But still, my favorite memory is of Game 6 of the ALCS. The Mariners actually led the Series 2-1, but fell in the final three games, sending Cleveland on to the World Series to lose to the Braves. When it became obvious that the game would probably end with the Mariners losing, I turned to my seatmate, and said, “I hope that the fans give the Mariners a round of applause for this great effort.” I know that in New York something like that could never happen, not at least for the Steinbrenner Yankees.

And so, when the final out was made, I was pleased. The crowd stood and shouted approbation and applauded. That would have been enough.

But.

Even as Joey Cora cried in the dugout, there was no sign that the applause would end. Seattle fans got it that night. They understood that they had witnessed six weeks of baseball that have rarely been equaled in the sport. (Maybe last year’s Rockies matched the streak the ’95 Mariners put on, except that the Rockies did it for two fewer weeks.)

That moment is the moment I treasure the most from 1995. Yes, I remember many great moments, and, sadly, the older I get, there are some I no longer actually remember. But standing in that stadium, knowing that the Mariners had given the city of Seattle everything a baseball team can give a community, and knowing that the community got it — that was heaven in a real sense.

By Mike Flynn