Robert Leon Huskey better known as "Butch" left a small and barely memorable impact on the 1999 Mariners. A large man at 6’3 and nearly 250 pounds he looked every bit the football player who turned down a scholarship to Oklahoma. As a hitter he showed promise of great power, but as a converted third baseman, his defense was Ibanezesque. Prior to the 1999 season he would be traded from the Mets to the Mariners in exchange for Leslie Brea. Brea, a class A reliever, would eventually pitch 11 innings with the Orioles and perform slightly below the Anthony Vazquez line.
Huskey was supposed to be the Mariner’s opening day right fielder as Buhner would play first and David Segui would move to left field. Buhner was recovering from Tommy John surgery but would prove able to play right field in spring training, moving Huskey and others (John Mabry, Charles Gipson, and Raul Ibanez) to left field. After the Mariners acquired Brian Hunter (the speedy one) in late April, Huskey, would play both corner outfield spots, DH and a little first base.
Huskey would make his first start in the second game of the season. He managed a single in his four at bats, as the Mariners lost 11-3 to the White Sox. His first great game would come on the first Sunday of the season, where he would hit two doubles and score twice as part of an 11-8 win over the A’s. The next day he would go 2 for 3 and launch his first home run as a Mariner, leading the team to a 6-3 win. His hot hitting that weekend almost overshadowed the fact that the Mariners had lost Carlos Guillen for the season and Alex Rodriguez for a month. From there Huskey kept hitting, finishing April with five doubles and two dingers, batting .345 but with only 8 RBIs (things we cared about back then).
On May 2, with the Mariners trailing the Blue Jays 2-1, David Bell led off the inning with solo home run. Griffey then singled. Russ Davis laid down a sacrifice bunt but Dan Wilson struck out swinging. With two outs and the game headed for extra innings, Huskey hit a line drive to left fielder Shannon Stewart that scored Griffey to win the game. Despite the slow start at 12-13 the Mariners were just two games back of Texas and hoping to gain ground.
His hot start continued into May as Huskey continued to mash dingers taking up the slack for the missing Rodriquez. The rest of the month of May was a blur of Mariner hitting. Sometimes the pitching was solid but more often it was awful. The Mariners averaged a little over 7 runs per game while giving up 6.4 runs, leading to a 15-12 record. Huskey’s amazing May helped keep the Mariners in games, despite their pitching struggles. During May, Huskey produced an OPS of 1.106, and hit 7 home runs. He also avoided grounding into any double plays.
On one magic night, May 17, 1999, Huskey managed four hits, blasting two home runs, one a grand slam, and driving in seven. The Mariners beat the Twins 15-5. A little over a week later he would hit a dinger and drive in three, again against the Twins, in another 15-5 victory. From that game until June 4th he would go on a nine game hitting streak. His hot hitting would continue into the middle of June. His overall OPS would reach as high as 1.029 before it began its slow but inevitable downfall.
During the rest of June, Huskey would continue to hit a few home runs but his on base percentage declined and his strikeouts increased. Late in June, Huskey played in the Mariners final game at the Kingdome, after starting in right field and going 0 for 4, he was replaced by Gipson in the top of the 8th. On that day, he provided the Mariner’s biggest suckfest with a -0.079 WPA; but with Griffey powering the hitting and Garcia pitching a solid game the Mariners prevailed 5 to 2.
July proved to be a difficult month for Huskey as he continued his late June slump. His strikeouts increased and his walks continued to drop. The homeruns became fewer and farther apart. His playing time decreased as the Mariners gave more time to the young prospect Raul Ibanez. On July 26th after only driving in two runs in last month, and the Mariners 11 games out of first, Huskey was traded for pitcher Robert Ramsay. His OPS was a respectable .849 at the time of the trade, nowhere near what it had been just six weeks earlier. Huskey would go on to have a solid rest of the season helping Boston to the wild card.
Huskey’s final game as a Mariner gave us one lasting memory, and perhaps the single moment for which he is most remembered. Two days before he would be traded, on turn ahead the clock night, (the shitty one, 1998 was the awesome one) with Gil Meche pitching, Jacque Jones drove a ball deep into leftfield. As you can see the results were entertaining.
What we can learn from all this.
Butch Huskey’s limited time with the Mariners provides an interesting lesson. His 15 home runs in 292 plate appearances seems impressive even considering the power output of the late 90’s. His numbers were probably Kingdome aided, although he hit only 7 home runs at home. On the other hand, he hit two in Colorado and one each in Minnesota and Boston. It is possible to assume that his hot start was partially a result of hitter friendly parks. Since the Mariners were now playing in Safeco it was likely that Huskey would have continued to struggle. A combination of hitter friendly parks with a hot streak led to results beyond the talent level of Huskey. This is a great example that even two and half months can be deceiving. So to all you who are pointing out what a great addition Morse is, we have a long way to go.
Huskey’s career is similar to Michael Morse. He was an infielder turned into a bad outfielder who provided value only when he hits. Morse is a bit more talented and has managed to stick around much longer. There are some differences, Huskey would not be able to follow up his solid year between Boston and Seattle and would be out of the majors at 28, the same age Morse began to break out. Morse has been more strikeout prone(22.7% to 17.7% career K rate), but also provides more power .199 to .175 career ISO). Where Morse’s numbers are much better than Huskey’s were is in BABIP, Morse has a career BABIP of .344 while Huskey’s was only .287. Morse’s BABIP is currently 51st on the overall career list on fangraphs. To give some perspective, Ichiro’s career BABIP is .347. Morse may have a great ability to keep a high BABIP, but it is still likely it will decrease, maybe not to Huskey levels but at least somewhat, as the highest of projections has him at .336 with one as low as .307. Morse has been around a long time but only has about 1700 Plate appearences in his career. It is probable that some, but not all of his BABIP could be a little lucky. Once could also make the argument the other way about Justin Smoak. While the Morse/Huskey comparison is not perfect, it is similar, and I could see/would enjoy seeing Morse run into a wall (as long as he stays healthy). At the very least Morse reminds me of Huskey.
Huskey was a solid addition who the Mariners were able to use for three months and then trade away for a prospect. This could happen with Morse, and might be the best case scenario. While Ramsay was not a top prospect he was a solid pitcher for the Mariners in his second season and may have continued to improve had brain cancer not interrupted his career.
Huskey was a slugger who once was harshly called a "zero tool player" but this was inaccurate. He could hit for power but little else, but power is a tool and for over two months that tool plus luck carried him. His two and a half months of great hitting would be an aberration because a player can’t live on power alone and he would quickly fade. After the 2000 season he would be granted free agency and sign with the Minnesota team that he had much of his 1999 success against. He would not continue his success and would be out of the major leagues after the 2000 season.
While he provided little in terms of Mariners history his short time in Seattle was exciting and provided at least some highlights. He was a random guy, but he showed that even the random guys have talent and can be brillant for a short and explosive burst.
This is my first fan post so please be kind. I don’t have the mathematical knowledge and depth of understanding to do deep statistical analysis and I have little to offer in mechanical analysis of on field plays, but I know history and I also have memories of the last 15 plus years of Mariner history. So that is how I might provide something to this community. I know this is a somewhat different type of post from the usaul fanposts so if it doesn't fit let me know. If you like it maybe next I will write about Rafael Bournigal.
The line between trivia and interesting history is often very difficult to determine. What I have tried to do is advance some knowledge to make Butch Huskey more than just the last Mariner to wear 42 as a regular number. I hope this didn’t become more trivia than interesting history. As a fan in 1999 I really liked Huskey, though now his defense would be seen as a huge liability. I also know the Morse comparison is a stretch. Still, while I did try to bring this to a current topic, the majority of this is to inform or remind people of the past. While the 99 season was a disappointment it still had some moments, and I think that is why we watch even when the team is bad.
Interesting Links Found While Researching