On August 11-13, Mariners pitching legend Felix Hernandez will be enshrined into the Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame. King Felix will join Mariners legends like Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, Ichiro Suzuki, and Ken Griffey in his rightful place among the Seattle legends. With the Mariners likely in the playoff hunt when the Orioles come to town for that weekend’s series, the Shakespearean career arch for Hernandez will come to an ironic end.
The 36-year-old made his debut in the big leagues as a 19-year-old bright-eyed kid from Venezuela back in August of 2005. With an infectious smile, a lovable personality, and a wicked arsenal attached to his right arm, Felix quickly became King Felix, a truly must-watch event. A young and talented pitcher through his first four seasons, Felix entered into one of the most dominant runs we’ve seen from an American pitcher over the next seven seasons.
From 2009 to 2015, Felix Hernandez was right up there with Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw as the best pitchers on the planet. Armed with a plus fastball, a world-class changeup, a devastating sweeping curve, and an underrated sinker, Felix averaged over 220 strikeouts per season during his seven-year reign. The six-time all-star, Felix finished in the top 25 of MVP voting six times and a top five Cy Young vote-getter four times, including winning the prestigious award in 2010. King Felix’s crowning moment was his perfect game over Tampa Bay on August 15, 2012. To this day, that remains the last perfect game in MLB.
Felix likely would have won multiple Cy Youngs and maybe some more MVP votes back in the day if he wasn’t one of the unluckiest pitchers of all time, as well as pitching in an era that based their voting on outdated statistics. We talked about Felix being unlucky, and boy was he. While his prime was legendary, it coincided with potentially the darkest times of the Mariners 20+ year playoff drought. I can remember year after year hearing broadcasters Dave Simms and Rick Rizzs talk about how great it will be when Felix finally gets the chance to pitch in October…it never happened.
During his seven-year prime, the Mariners only broke .500 twice, never reaching 90 wins. During his 15-year playing career, the Mariners finished above .500 only five times. The closest Felix would get to the playoffs was on the final day of the regular season in 2014. Felix was dominating as usual, but when the Athletics defeated Texas to clinch the final spot, Felix was pulled early to a standing ovation. It was an emotional moment, and also the last time we’d see the best of Felix Hernandez.
Felix had another dominant start to the 2015 season, but as his arm velocity and break began to decline rapidly, his greatness seemed to evaporate overnight. As the Mariners fielded good enough to be wildcard teams from 2015 through 2018, it was sad and frustrating to see Hernandez struggle to help the team get over the hump. This clearly led to a rocky ending to his career with the organization, as he disappeared from the limelight as the man that was the greatest pitcher in Mariners history had become nearly unrecognizable, struggling to make a Spring Training roster before retiring quietly.
A true legend caught out of time between the brightest days of Seattle Mariner baseball, it was a bittersweet moment to see the King throw out the first pitch in Seattle for game 3 of the ALDS classic against Houston. Your heart was filled with the joy of seeing a legend, one that provided the only joy as a Mariner fan that grew up watching baseball from 2001 to the present day, standing on a playoff mound. The joy is met with deep regret that this was only a ceremonial first pitch, and not the real deal. Felix deserved that chance.
I expect Mariner fans will feel a similar way in August as the King is properly given his crown in the team’s hall of fame. As Seattle likely makes a push to not just get to October, but win, I can’t help but think of the memories Felix gave me, and how badly I wanted to see him get his moment. This is a pretty great moment nonetheless, and I can’t wait to see him take his rightful place among the greatest in franchise history.
Long Live the King!