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.

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.

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.