The Mariners’ Five Greatest Hitters
Ken Griffey Jr. (1989-99, 2009-10)
Born on the same calendar day (November 21) and town (Donora, Pennsylvania) as Stan Musial, The Kid followed The Man to superstardom and became the face of the Mariners after 12 years of constant losing and a parade of fleeting, fringe star ballplayers in Seattle.
Arriving in the Emerald City with great fanfare, Griffey was reunited during his second and third seasons with his father (former Cincinnati Bid Red Machine cog Ken Griffey Sr.) for onsite tutoring with a genealogical bent; the pair made history when they became the first father-and-son combo to play together on the same team, and in a 1990 game they even hit back-to-back home runs.
After showing sure but steady improvement to go with modest power over his first four years, Griffey broke out as a big-time slugger in 1993—surpassing 40 homers for the first of seven times in his career, including long shots in eight straight games to tie a record. In 1994, Griffey was one of a handful of players in hot pursuit of Roger Maris’ season home run record—before the season-ending labor strike cut halted his chase with 40 notched in 111 games. (He was on pace for 58.) A fast starter, Griffey set records in 1994 with 32 homers before the end of June, and 13 during April 1997. (Both marks have since been broken.)
The home run parade continued unabated through the rest of Griffey’s time in Seattle; he launched 49 jacks in 1996, a career-high 56 in 1997 to help the Mariners set an all-time team mark with 264, added another 56 in 1998—including his 300th career shot, making him the second youngest player to reach the milestone—and 48 more in 1999, a year split between the bandboxed Kingdome and the more pitching-friendly Safeco Field, which opened that year. He was a deserving All-Star and Gold Glove winner in center field for all but his rookie year in Seattle.
By now considered the heir apparent to Hank Aaron’s all-time career home run mark, Griffey—with a year left on his contract—made it well known that he wanted to play for the Reds, where his father performed and where many family and friends resided. (He reportedly also made grumblings about Safeco Field’s cool, heavy marine air and worried that he wouldn’t be able to catch Aaron playing half his games there.) Rather than lose Griffey outright to free agency, the Mariners traded him to the Reds a year before his current pact expired. Seattle’s loss would ultimately become Griffey’s as well; in eight-plus years in Cincinnati, his play gradually began to regress and he missed 460 games mostly due to a long line of injuries that cost him his shot at reaching Aaron.
At age 39, Griffey returned to the Mariners for an encore that magnificently paled to his first tour of duty in Seattle; he provided some pop but little else (hitting .214) in 2009, then lost the power completely in 2010 amid accusations of clashing with manager Don Wakamatsu and nodding off in the clubhouse during games. He announced his retirement two months into the season, returning once again a year later to the Mariners in a front office capacity.
Griffey’s 630 career home runs currently place him seventh on the all-time list, and he’s one of the few sluggers during the steroid era who has been considered clean of using performance-enhancing drugs. That certainly made him a favorite with Hall-of-Fame voters who, early in 2016, punched his name on 99.3% of the ballots—at the time, the highest-ever percentage for any player.
Edgar Martinez (1987-2004)
Few players have taken better advantage of the designated hitter role as has Martinez, whose already shaky defense at third base took an essentially permanent hit in 1993 when he suffered a major knee injury during an exhibition game in Vancouver, Canada.
To that point, the left-handed hitting New York native had evolved into an outstanding hitter and was coming off an AL batting title with a .343 average. Recovered and playing DH full-time by 1995, he won a second batting crown, recording a career-high .356 while showing off a newfound penchant as a hitting machine with very good power and a sharp eye; over the next seven years through 2001, Martinez would hit .330 and average 28 home runs, 110 RBIs, 100 runs and 107 walks per season. His five on-base percentage readings from 1995-99 (topping out at .479 in 1995) are the five highest in Mariners team history. Martinez left his glove in the clubhouse but rarely needed it; in his final 10 seasons, he only made 34 appearances on the field, usually in emergency or mop-up situations.
Martinez’s first postseason series was a whopper; he hit .571 (12-for-21) with three doubles, two homers, 10 RBIs and six walks in the Mariners’ thrilling five-game ALDS triumph over the New York Yankees in 1995. Otherwise, he was a bust in October throughout his career, hitting just .206 in 29 other playoff games.
A seven-time All-Star and lifetime .312 hitter who holds Seattle franchise records with 514 doubles, 1,261 RBIs and 1,283 walks, the offensively gifted but defensively inept Martinez made for a challenging case among Hall-of-Fame voters who knew that, had he played before the advent of the DH, he may not have stuck around for nowhere near as long. But he made it to Cooperstown anyway, gaining 85% of the vote in his 10th try.
Alex Rodriguez (1994-2000)
Born in New York City and raised in Miami, where the Mariners drafted him straight out of high school as the majors’ number one pick in 1993, Rodriguez needed very little time in the minors to prove he was ready for the big time—debuting as an 18-year old for Seattle and, two years later, stunning baseball with a monster breakout year in which he hit a major league-high .358 on 215 hits with 54 doubles, 36 homers, 123 RBIs and 141 runs scored. Quite clearly, a superstar was born.
After a relatively quiet (.300-23-84) 1997 encore, Rodriguez returned to dominant form over the next three seasons for the Mariners, starting with a 1998 campaign in which he led the AL with 213 hits and becoming, after Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds (both of whom would later be proven as steroid users along with Rodriguez during their careers), the third major leaguer to hit 40 homers with 40 steals in the same season. Rodriguez hit over 40 homers again in 1999 and 2000, easily adding well over 100 runs and RBIs in each season while hitting close to or over the .300 mark; in 15 career playoff games for the Mariners, he hit .340 with three homers.
Unlike Griffey, the Mariners held onto Rodriguez through the final year of his existing contract in hopes of retaining him with a long-term deal. Like Griffey, Rodriguez scorned Safeco Field and publicly hinted on his own web site that he might stay—if the Mariners moved the fences in. (The Mariners would—13 years later.) In the end, hopes of Rodriguez and his mercenary agent Scott Boras accepting a hometown discount to stay in Seattle would come off as delusional as the Texas Rangers handed A-Rod a 10-year, $252 million deal that doubled the largest contract ever given to a pro athlete to that moment.
Seattle fans never forgave Rodriguez for leaving; whether as a Ranger or (later) a Yankee, he was vociferously booed whenever he returned to Safeco Field in the enemy’s uniform. The audible pummeling perhaps affected A-Rod, who after leaving the Mariners hit just .251 at Safeco Field—nearly 50 points below his overall career average.
Nelson Cruz (2015-18)
A powerful outfielder who struggled to stay healthy during his early years with the Texas Rangers, Cruz appeared headed for a premature dissolution when, in 2013, he was suspended 50 games after being pegged as one of Tony Bosch’s PED customers at the Florida “anti-aging” clinic Biogenesis. But after hammering 40 homers for Baltimore a year later, Cruz signed on with the Mariners and delivered the most prosperous years of his career as a designated hitter aging into his late 30s…all while remaining clean, we assume.
In his four years at Seattle, Cruz has seldom missed a game and powered up with impressive numbers. He belted 44 homers in his first year at Seattle in 2015, and followed that up with 43, 39 and 37 in the next three seasons to follow. Cruz has also contributed by averaging 104 RBIs per year at Seattle (including a career-high 119 in 2017) and his patience at the plate has been rewarded by drawing more walks—70 in 2017 for another personal best.
Although Cruz’s power numbers were assisted by the moving in of the fences at previously expansive Safeco Field, his tape-measure shots indicate that perhaps the move wasn’t necessary. Cruz has laid claim to, at some point, belting the longest home runs in the history of three different ballparks—Anaheim’s Angel Stadium, Minnesota’s Target Field and St. Petersburg’s Tropicana Field. Of course, those are disputed records, as determining home run distances is still not an exact science and varies depending on where one gets the information—either from ESPN or MLB Statcast.
Bret Boone (1992-93, 2001-05)
A third-generation major leaguer, after father Bob Boone and grandfather Ray Boone (not to mention the older brother of Aaron Boone) the humble-sized second baseman began his career with the Mariners before being dealt around the National League for seven years with modest results—then returned to Seattle in 2001 with an absolute bang, hitting .331 (nearly 80 points above his career average) and belting a career-shattering 37 homers with 141 RBIs to finish third in the AL MVP vote and hoist the Mariners to their record-breaking 116-46 season.
Boone attributed his out-of-nowhere campaign to hard exercise, weightlifting and dieting; Jose Canseco intimated in his infamous book Juiced that steroids might have been more behind the muscular and statistical spurt. Nevertheless, Boone leveled off over the next three years but remained a major threat, hovering around the 30-homer, 100-RBI mark through 2004; he made history with teammate Mike Cameron in 2002 when they hit back-to-back home runs—and did it again later in the same inning.
Hitting aside, Boone’s late-career boom also made him better defensively, winning three of his four career Gold Glove awards from 2002-04.
Seattle Mariners Team History A decade-by-decade history of the Mariners, the ballparks they’ve played in, and the four people who are on the franchise’s Mount Rushmore.
The Mariners’ Five Greatest Pitchers A list of the five greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
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