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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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Everybody Scores: An Interview With Rick Rizzs About the ’95 Mariners

Not long after spring training started, I spent a few minutes talking with Rick Rizzs about his memories of the ’95 Mariners from a broadcaster’s perspective, and we discussed a few elements of the season. Here’s how the interview went:

Arne: Was there any sense coming into the 1995 season of what the Mariners could do?

Rick: There was a great nucleus, Junior, Randy, Edgar, but nobody really knows what’s going to happen before the season starts.

Arne: Coming off the strike that stretched into the scheduled start of the season, were fans upset at baseball?

Rick: The fans were upset, they were frustrated, sure. There was anger. But people really just wanted to see baseball again. The strike had extended into April, and we had spring training for two weeks before the season started in late April. There had been replacement players scheduled to begin the season. Thank goodness it didn’t come to that. The Mariners would’ve lost more games early, they wouldn’t have been in position later in the season to make their run.

Arne: At what point in the season did it begin to feel like the Mariners could do something?

Rick: All the pieces of the puzzle came together: everybody stepped up and got the job done. After Junior broke his wrist on May 24, Diaz and Amaral made some great plays. Edgar hit about .400 while Junior was out. Blowers played a huge role; he had something like 98 RBIs that year. Tino of course.

If you remember, that was the first year of the wild card, and in July, people were thinking in terms of that. But then Buhner said “hey, forget the wild card, let’s win the division,” and the Mariners picked up Charlton on waivers from Philadelphia in July, they made some trades for Coleman and Benes and people got serious.

Arne: As the season went along, the Mariners played under the rumor that they were moving to Tampa. Was there a sense that they were really going to leave without something happening?

Rick: Yes, that was the season that saved baseball in the Northwest. I remember on the 19th of September the vote on the stadium funding took place. Texas had the Mariners beat but they made a comeback against Jeff Russell. Coming out of the park after the game we learned there were 500,000 votes, and it lost by 1,000. That was for the 1/10th of 1 percent sales tax on restaurants, bars, car rentals, the lottery. But then a task force and the legislature got together and put together a creative funding package just as the Yankees series was ending.

Arne: How about the Angels playoff?

Rick: You know it was the 3rd largest comeback in the history of baseball. The Mariners had tied up the division to end the season, coming into the playoff with the Angels. You had Randy Johnson and Mark Langston starting. The Mariners had traded away Langston for Randy in 1989, and now they were matched up against each other. Just a great game. In the bottom of the seventh, Blow was on third, Tino on second, and Cora on first, and I remember Vince Coleman had a great at-bat. He fouled off pitch after pitch, finally on the 11th or 12th pitch he hit a low line drive to right and Tim Salmon made a great catch. Then came Sojo, and “Here’s the pitch. Swing, and it’s a ground ball, and it gets on by Snow. Down the right field line into the bullpen. Here comes Blowers. Here comes Tino. Here comes Joey. The throw to the plate is cut off. The relay by Langston gets by Allanson. Cora scores! Here comes Sojo! Everybody scores!!!”

Arne: People don’t seem to remember the Indians series so well; I haven’t really had anyone write about it. The Mariners were up 2-1 on the Indians, then lost the last three games and the series was over. Why do you think they faltered?

Rick: Sure, there was that stirring game in game 3, Buhner going from hero to goat to hero, hitting the homer in the second, not getting that fly ball in the eighth inning, then winning the game with his home run in the 11th. You know, it had taken so much just getting into the playoff with the Angels, then coming back from 2-0 against the Yankees. Randy had pitched three innings in game 5. The Mariners had to use Wolcott, who hadn’t even been on the roster, to start game 1.

Coming into the Cleveland series, you thought this is going to be their year, they had the magic working. But they just ran out of gas, they’d left everything on the field against the Angels and Yankees. They tried to drum up the energy, but they’d used all their magic dust just to get there. The Indians had so much talent, Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Omar, and of course Jim Thome at third, but also their pitching, Dennis Martinez, Orel Hershisher, Charles Nagy.