Bob Condotta is now the Seattle Times’ reporter on the University of Washington sports beat, covering men’s basketball and football. But back in ’95 he was covering the Mariners for the old Bellevue Journal-American, attending most of their games at the Kingdome, the final regular season series in Texas, and all of their playoff games. I wrote to him after seeing a posting that mentioned the ’95 Mariners during his relief appearance on Geoff Baker’s Mariners blog earlier this year. The eventual result was the following interview about the season.
Q: What were your feelings about the Mariners and major league baseball in general coming into the ’95 season, after the strike ended? And, did the Mariners’ comeback change your attitude?
A: I was a little less jaded back then and so happy to have a job reporting on sports in the Seattle area, which had always been my dream, that I didn’t really let the strike influence my feelings about anything all that much. I knew it would be an exciting and pivotal year for the Mariners as a franchise, and since I wanted the team to stay, I hoped it would turn out well. So once the strike ended and they were back playing ball, I quickly forgot about it and just focused on the season at hand.
I remember that there were a lot of mixed feelings at the Kingdome on Opening Night among fans — I think that’s the last Mariners’ opener that didn’t sell out — but I was just glad to have baseball back. I might not feel that way if the same thing happened now (the NBA is close to losing me forever over its handling of the Sonics’ situation) but I did back then. So that said, how the season evolved really didn’t bring me back to baseball since I came back pretty quickly anyway at that time.
Q: Which game do you see as the most remarkable/most memorable one of the Mariners’ regular season?
A: Like a lot of people who were there — and there really weren’t that many as the official attendance was 17,618 — I’d say the Aug. 24 game against the Yankees at home when Griffey hit a game-winning home run. Most view that game as the beginning of the streak that brought the team back and saved baseball in Seattle. My personal memory of it is that I almost missed the game. I was also assigned to do a Seahawks story that day so I was at their practice in the early afternoon and decided at the last minute to try to get to the Kingdome for the M’s game, as well — it was a 3:30 (or right around there) first pitch. I’ve seen hundreds of games since then and barely remember any of them.
But I have all kinds of vivid memories of that game (some of which I’m sure may be a little embellished with time) — Andy Benes getting hammered early and Piniella leaving him out there; Vince Coleman almost striking out with two outs in the ninth, then drawing a walk and stealing second and third; Cora hitting that little liner that Tony Fernandez misplayed; and then Griffey’s never-a-doubt home run. I won’t say I had any idea that day that what ended up happening would happen. But I did know that something was happening.
Q: Could you compare Edgar, Randy, and Junior. Which of the three was the best Mariner of ’95, and which do you have the most appreciation for now as a major leaguer, and as a Mariner?
A: I must confess that I covered mostly just home games in 1995 and then never was a regular Mariners beat writer again. The Journal-American covered only home games then (except we went on the road for the last series and the playoffs and a lot of spring training) so I never got close to any of the players the way the regular guys did. So I don’t necessarily have great personal insight into those guys that would be a lot different than the everyday fan.
Edgar was the consummate professional in every way, from the way he dealt with the media to the way he approached his at-bats. He always was respectful and tried to answer your questions. Johnson was incredibly dominant that season, but even then some of his prickly personality came out. I remember a game in July when he pitched well and the team won, but he didn’t get the win because Bobby Ayala blew the save (imagine that?) only to have the Mariners win it in the bottom of the ninth. Despite the team’s win, Johnson seemed unhappy afterward, talking about how frustrating it was to pitch like that yet get nothing for it — that had happened to him a few times that season. I’m one of those who thinks the way his Mariner career ended puts a pretty big smudge on his legacy. On the other hand, that season wouldn’t have happened without him, so he deserves a lot of gratitude, as well.
As for Griffey, everybody knows he missed much of that season and batted only .258 for the year. But I’d forgotten a little bit just how great he was in the playoffs that year. It seems like everybody always focuses on how incredible Edgar was. Yet Griffey hit .391 with five homers in the series against the Yankees, and .333 with another homer against the Indians. If he’d ever been on the right time, I have no doubt Griffey could have been a Mr. October, since that was the only time he ever really had that chance. Not sure I can pick a “best” of that season — take out any of them and the season doesn’t happen. And for overall contribution to the Mariners, I couldn’t pick between Griffey and Martinez. To me, they are the two most-defining players in franchise history, which is why it’s so fitting that they were the two key players in the defining moment in franchise history.