An Interview With Jack Perconte

Ten years ago today, the Kingdome blew up. (On purpose.) I'm not going to sit here and write a heart-rending tribute, because the Kingdome was an awful, awful place, but it was a meaningful place - to me, because of names like Edgar Martinez, Rob Ducey, and Trace Armstrong, and to you, because of other ones. It's with that in mind, then, that I'm attaching an interview with ex-Mariner Jack Perconte, done and sent to me by Arne Christensen, who you can read at 1995 Mariners. Perconte spent two years in Seattle, and as far as long-time Mariner fans go, his is a name that will forever be associated with the dreary sarcophagus that the M's, Seahawks, and Bacon Bowl all used to call home.

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Jack Perconte is familiar to older Mariner fans as the solid-playing second baseman who joined Alvin Davis, Dave Henderson, Jim Presley, and Ken Phelps in the Seattle lineup in 1984 and 1985. His Mariners career was shortened by the arrival of Harold Reynolds in 1986 as his tabbed replacement, but he ranked among the league leaders in hits in '84 and steals in both '84 and '85. And he already had a World Series ring from his time with the Dodgers in 1981. Perconte went from a player to a teacher of baseball when he moved back to suburban Chicago after his MLB career ended in 1986 with the White Sox.

He still teaches the game to players of various ages at his baseball training academy in Naperville, Illinois, writes a regular column at Seamheads.com, and has written two books, The Making of a Hitter and Raising an Athlete (both of which can be bought at his website). Looking ahead to the 10th anniversary of the Kingdome's implosion on March 26, 2000, I asked Jack some questions about the mid-'80s Mariners, his memories of the Kingdome, and his time as one of the bright spots in the long string of mediocre Mariner teams.

Arne Christensen: What position were you in coming into spring training in '84? You hadn't played much in '83 with Cleveland.  Were you confident you'd succeed, nervous, eager to have the chance to prove yourself in a starting role?

Jack Perconte: The Mariners had traded for me that off-season, I am sure that was because of manager Del Crandall's suggestion - because I had played for Del in the minors. I was always a little short of confidence my whole career but I felt assured that I would be given a good opportunity to make the club because of Del's presence. I was coming off a AAA season where I had won the batting title so I felt cautiously optimistic. Always a little nervous but that is a good thing and extremely eager to put the memory of my 1982 Cleveland Indian play behind me.

AC: This may be repeating the previous question, but what happened in '84 to enable you to win the starting job at second and elevate your play that year?

JP: I was basically obsessed with proving I could play in the bigs. I was able to concentrate through my lack of confidence and was able to maintain focus day in and day out. It certainly helped to have Crandall, who believed in me, putting my name in the line-up every day no matter my previous day's performance.

AC: From looking through the archives, it looks like your departure from Seattle was pretty bitter. Looking beyond your own release, what was wrong with how the Mariners' management operated in those years?

JP: I was very fond of everything about my Seattle experience so when I was released, great disappointment set in. My words may have come across as bitter but it was mainly disappointment and some immaturity on my part. 

I don't believe the organization was any different than most teams - trying to make it all work - but of course they had not won much over the years so they were still trying to figure it all out. I didn't believe then or now that they were out to hurt me personally with my release - just trying to put the best team on the field that they could. The front office people and on field coaching staff were all good people from what I experienced. Of course, all players feel like they can help a team so it is always hurtful when released.

AC: I saw a 1992 letter to the Seattle Times that said, "What this team needs is a steady, inspirational leader (and producer) such as Seattle had a few years ago in Jack Perconte." It sounds like you were a popular player: a lot of the Seattle fans had a particular appreciation for you, and I guess some of them still do. Where do you think that came from?

JP: I only knew one way to play and that was all out. I believe my teammates and the fans appreciated that. Of course, part of my "hustle" was due to feeling insecurity over whether I belonged and could succeed in the majors. Give the person who wrote that about me a huge hug from me. It is nice to be remembered.

AC: Was it more satisfying to start the two years for the Mariners and play pretty well for mediocre teams or to be a backup/late-season call-up on the '81 Dodgers and win a World Series?

JP: Personally, by far to play for the Mariners because I was a much more integral part of them - however, I am proud of my Dodger contributions, although they were quite minor ones. Having received a World Series ring and trophy from the Dodgers I have great fondness of being part of that team success and have appreciated the Dodger days more and more as time passes.

AC: What was the Kingdome turf like? Did it give true bounces, did it have nasty seams, or was it essentially just standard, predictable Astroturf?

JP: I would say standard and predictable. Because of the true bounces off turf, it helped my fielding percentage immensely. I did not possess great major league hands so the true hops helped - I could get use to the speed with concentration, so not having to adjust to inconsistent hops like on natural outdoor fields helped my defensive game.

AC: As a second baseman, how did you adjust to playing balls off turf instead of dirt and grass? Was it something fairly easy to get used to?

JP: As mentioned above, great concentration can overcome most anything so if one stays focused and has good fundamentals, fielding on any surface is manageable. My defensive weakness showed up more on turning double plays than fielding the ball.

AC: How did the turf affect you as a base stealer and running the bases? I noticed that you had very good steal numbers in 1984 and '85, and wonder if the Kingdome had anything to do with that.

JP: I believe it did - not having to worry about wet turf helped. It also had a lot to do with batters behind me in the order. I came to understand how they would be pitched by teams so I learned to pick the best pitches to run on.

AC: Could you describe the atmosphere of playing in the Kingdome, not so much the field, but in terms of the fans, having air conditioning and a roof over your head, things like that. I see attendance in '84 was only about 10,000 per game, so I imagine the team had to motivate itself much of the time.

JP: Playing in the big leagues was motivation enough, not to say that playing in front of bigger crowds wasn't desired and a little more exciting. My goal was to concentrate on what needed to be done so that often, I was oblivious as to the size of the crowd. The Mariner fans always seemed knowledgeable and appreciative of our efforts as far as I can remember.

AC: What were the benefits of playing in a dome? I talked with Mike Pagliarulo about going to Minnesota in 1991, and he said the dome helped him get a productive routine established.

JP: I would agree with that. Also, indoors took out some of the elements (wind, rain, snow, dusk, shadows, sun, etc...) that can make playing outdoors a little more difficult.

AC: What was your reaction to the Kingdome's demolition? Had you been back in the place since your playing career ended?

JP: I watched the demolition at home and I was surprised with how sad I felt. I was back the year after I retired, maybe 1989 or so, but never since.

AC: What were some of the idiosyncrasies about the Kingdome?

JP: Nothing stands out besides being indoors - it was still baseball and the same for both teams.

AC: What's your basic memory of the place? Is there nostalgia for it, or is it just too hard to have fond memories of a dome?

JP: In general, ballplayers (at least me) judge ball parks not by their fans, looks, location, etc... but by how well I (we) played in a park. With that as the standard, the Kingdome was my "Field of Dreams."

AC: I know Mark Langston was the Mariners' emerging headline pitcher when you were with the team. Was he someone you could identify right away as a major talent? If so, was that mainly because of his fastball?

JP: I was new to the Mariner organization in 1984 so I didn't know much about any of the players. It was evident from the start of spring training that Mark had everything it would take to be very successful. Along with the great arm, he had the poise, class and demeanor of a major league pitcher. I don't believe it was a tough call to keep him on the big club that year. It was a joy to play behind him and I believe everyone got a little more "jacked up" on the days he pitched.

AC: What are your memories of Mike Moore and Dave Henderson as Mariners? I remember Hendu's ebullience and his gap-toothed smile as much as I remember his skills as a player.

JP: Two more great guys to be around and play with -Hendu had such a joy of playing that was contagious and Mike Moore I remember as always coming to the park ready to give his all - a real professional with great talent.

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