Mariners Bloop and a Blast: Two trades that saved the franchise
After entering the league in 1977, the Mariners as expected struggled, but no one expected 14 straight losing years. Once again it looked like Seattle and baseball just didn’t go together, but something changed.
The original Seattle MLB team, the Pilots, lasted only one season, 1969, before Bud Selig and the Milwaukee Brewers took over the franchise. And who knew how much longer their second opportunity would’ve continued if it weren’t for two trades and a draft pick that finally allowed the Seattle Mariners to field a winning baseball club.
The start of a new beginning began in June of 1987. After coming off of a 67-95 ’86 season, the Mariners had the first pick in the draft. They, as we now know, struck gold drafting a toolsy outfielder in Ken Griffey Jr.
Griffey was the starting piece of the franchise turnover, but still, it was difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel if you were a Mariners fan. Thankfully, their front office acquired two additional players in two years who would form a quality core with Griffey for years to come.
In July of 1988, the Mariners and the New York Yankees pulled off a four-player deal centering around struggling outfielder Jay Buhner and DH Ken Phelps. At the time the trade was made, it was not particularly notable, but for the Mariners, the deal became a complete steal years later.
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The Mariners struggled the rest of the ’88 season, but Buhner blasting ten bombs in 192 at-bats made for a bright spot in a dark year.
Unlike the Yankees-Mariners swap, the deal the club swung the next season was a blockbuster the day it was completed. A tall, lanky left-hander named Randy Johnson was traded from the Montreal Expos for an established top of the rotation arm in Mark Langston. The Expos were contending for a division title in the ’89 season, and trading for Langston looked good at the time but didn’t at all age well.
With Johnson and Langston in ’89, the Mariners finished around the 90 loss mark once again. But with development, experience and the emergence of others, the Mariners finally had something cooking out on the West Coast.
A Winning Team
In 1990, the Mariners continued to lose, but in 1991, Johnson, Buhner, and Griffey led the ball club to their best season in franchise history. Buhner hit 27 home runs and drove in 77 runs while Griffey hit .327/.399/.527 and Johnson won 13 games as the ace of the staff. The team was finally winning, and their ’91 success was expected to be sustainable.
In years to come, Omar Vizquel blossomed. Tino Martinez and Edgar Martinez emerged. And in 1995, it all clicked. The Mariners were finally American League Division Champions.
The team won the Western Division by a game over the Angels that year, and later in the ALDS, they beat the Yankees in one of the greatest series’ of all time, thanks to Edgar’s bat and Griffey’s legs.
They, unfortunately, lost to the Indians in the Championship Series, but the bottom line was the Mariners finally put themselves on the map.
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The image of losing Seattle baseball was erased after that season as the Mariners kept on winning up through the early years of the 2000’s. They were respected as a quality opponent, and it is in large part thanks to the two critical additions of future HOF’er Randy Johnson and all-star Jay Buhner.