The Mariners franchise is ultimately the result of a lawsuit. When the Seattle Pilots failed to meet stadium expectations, and attendance numbers plummeted, the team was sold to Bud Selig and moved to Milwaukee after just one season in Seattle (1969). The city, county, and state joined forces to sue the American League for breach of contract – disregarding the fact that “their” team had gone bankrupt in just one season, and the owners had no choice but to sell the franchise (and actually made multiple attempts to sell to local buyers). The lawsuit lasted until 1976, at which time Major League Baseball offered Seattle an expansion franchise, if they would drop the suit. They agreed, and the cities of Seattle and Toronto were granted expansion franchises for the 1977 season.
The franchise didn’t produce a winning team until 1991, but never enjoyed any real success until 1995, when they reached the playoffs for the first time. From 1995-2003, they had winning records eight out of nine seasons, and reached the playoffs 4 times. But, in that time, they were never able to reach the World Series, accumulating a combined 5-12 record in the ALCS. Since 2003, they have not had a winning season.
The Mariners have yet to retire anyone’s jersey number (other than the obligatory #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson), though I can’t imagine why at least one from the list below wouldn’t be retired soon. They have fielded 2 MVP’s, 2 Cy Youngs, and 3 winners of Rookie of the Year. With just 38 seasons of history to go with, you wouldn’t expect much from this list – but, there are some clear future Hall of Famers that came through Seattle (though, none are in the HOF yet). Keep in mind, as you see the order of these names, we’re only taking into consideration what these players accomplished in Seattle – not their entire careers.
5. Alex Rodriguez (1994-2000) – he only played 5 full seasons in Seattle before leaving for the ridiculous amount of money offered in Texas. But, in those 5+ seasons, he played better than Ichiro ever did (the one name you might think is missing from this list). While Ichiro was basically a slap-single hitter, with good speed, A-Rod was a 5-tool player. He won a batting title, hit 40+ HR three times, drove in 100+ runs four times, and in ’98, he became just the third player in baseball history to hit 40+ HR and steal 40+ bases in the same season. And, in spite of playing in less than half as many games, Rodriguez accumulated a better defensive WAR than Ichiro did in his 11+ seasons in Seattle. A-Rod is 3rd on the Mariners’ all-time batting list (.309), 6th in OBP (.374 – Ichiro is 9th), 1st in SLG (.561 – Ichiro isn’t in the top 20), 1st in OPS (.934 – Ichiro’s is below .800), 4th in HR (189 – including 3 of the top 9 seasons in Mariners history), 7th in RBI (595 – 3 of the top 10 seasons), and 4th in OPS+ (138 – including 2 of the top 10 seasons in team history; Ichiro barely cracked the top 50 with his best season).
4. Edgar Martinez (’87-’04) – there are some who are screaming that Martinez belongs in the HOF. I’m certainly not one of those. Aside from the fact that a DH already has a few things going against him (specifically – he essentially plays about 1/6 of the game), what about Martinez’ 2200 hits, 300 HR, and 1200 RBI in 18 years screams domination? One of the best Mariners in history, but not the kind of all-time great that belongs in the Hall. That being said, he did win 2 batting titles, and led the league in OBP 3 times, and OPS once. He was a 7-time All-Star, and finished as high as 3rd in MVP voting (’95). On the Mariners’ all-time lists, he ranks 2nd in batting (.312), 1st in OBP (.418 – including seven of the top eight OBP seasons in franchise history!), 4th in SLG (.515 – 3 of the top 11 seasons), 2nd in OPS (.933 – including 2 of the top 3 seasons in team history), 2nd in HR (309), 1st in RBI (1261), and 1st in OPS+ (147 – including 4 of the top 7 seasons).
3. Randy Johnson (’89-’98) – Seattle may have its first HOF member next year, when Johnson will be eligible for the first time. He spent 10 of his 22 seasons with the Mariners, which is more than anywhere else. Though, he did spend 8 years in Arizona, where he won 4 of his 5 Cy Youngs, and won a World Series MVP. So, we’ll see. But, as far as Mariners go, Randy belongs near the top of every list. While in Seattle, he led the league in strikeouts 4 times. And, the year he won his AL Cy Young (’95), he also led the league in ERA, WHIP, and K/BB ratio. Among Seattle’s pitchers, all time, Johnson ranks 2nd in ERA (3.42 – including 2 of the top 6 individual seasons in franchise history), 2nd in wins (130 – includes 3 of the top 7 seasons), 2nd in win pct. (.637 – includes the two best seasons in team history), 2nd in WHIP (1.25), 1st in K/9 (10.59 – which includes the seven best seasons in Mariners history), 1st in strikeouts (2162 – 4 of the top 6 seasons), 3rd in K/BB ratio (2.45), and is tied for 1st in ERA+ (128).
2. Felix Hernandez (’05-present) – a couple years ago, “King” Felix would not have been this high on the list, though many Mariners fans anticipated him reaching this level. But, he’s now in his 10th season in Seattle, and has surpassed Randy Johnson in many areas. At this moment, I might would rank Hernandez & Johnson as a tie for the 2nd greatest Mariner in history. But, assuming Hernandez finishes this season pitching anywhere close to the way he is at this moment, he will likely surpass Johnson in a number of areas in which he currently trails, either late this year or early next. Felix has won a Cy Young already, and you figure between now and 2019 (the end of his contract), he has a good chance of winning another. This 4-time All-Star (probably about to make his 5th appearance in a few weeks), ranks 1st on the Mariners’ all-time ERA list (3.15), 3rd in wins (118 – though, if you know anything of the run support Hernandez has received in his career, you know he should have already surpassed Johnson here), 6th in win pct. (.573 – again, this is without even a decent offense behind him), 1st in WHIP (1.19), 2nd in K/9 (8.46), 2nd in K’s (1815), 1st in K/BB ratio (3.33), and is tied with Johnson for the best career ERA+ (128).
1. Ken Griffey, Jr. (’89-’99, ’09-’10) – while there might be a couple accumulation categories where Edgar leads Griffey, there’s no question who the better player actually was. Ten consecutive All-Star games, ten consecutive Gold Gloves, and 1 MVP, along with four more top-4 finishes while in Seattle. If Johnson isn’t a first-ballot HOFer next year, or if he isn’t inducted as a Mariner, there’s no question that the 2016 class will include the first Mariner HOFer in Griffey. And, were it not for injuries, I believe Griffey might very well be at the top of the all-time HR list, instead of Bonds (he averaged just 115 games per season from ’94-’06, and still averaged 33 HR per year during that time). On the Mariners’ lists, Griffey ranks 7th in batting (.292), 6th in OBP (.374), 2nd in SLG (.553 – including 5 of the 7 best seasons in franchise history), 3rd in OPS (.927 – including 4 of the 8 best seasons), 2nd in total bases (3495 – this, in spite of having over 1,200 fewer plate appearances than Martinez or Ichiro, who are 1st & 3rd, respectively), 1st in HR (417), 2nd in RBI (1216), 4th in stolen bases (167), and 3rd in OPS+ (144 – including 3 of the top 5 single seasons in Mariners history).