The 1983 Mariners as told by their own magazine

our hero - on deck magazine, 1983

Last weekend I discovered an official M's program from 1983 in a thrift store. What follows is what they describe in the business as "journalism".

It's your usual piece of bar-room trivia: "Who was the first Mariner in the Hall of Fame?" There is no Gaylord Perry Way, or even a Gaylord Perry Alley, but for a season and a half the elder spitballer performed competently in an era when we saw all too little of it. And so even though Perry's 300th win was a tiny thing for Seattle, shared among a dozen teams and a couple of decades, the team took it as their own. It was all they had.

If a baseball team were conceived as a person, as they often are when the author demands it, 1983 would be the M's as awkward pre-teen. The Kingdome was no longer novel, the All-Star game of 1979 in the past, the roster shambling toward but not yet reaching self-sufficiency. The team exceeded expectations the previous year, staying in contention all the way through May, and it looked as though the lovable losers would finally make their long-awaited push past .500.

Alas, it didn't work out that way. Owner George Argyros, showing the kind of business acumen that would make Jeffrey Loria pause, withdrew some twenties from the local Seafirst Bank and signed Steve Henderson and Pat Putnam, both of whom spent significant time in the minors the previous year. Sadly, they were the best hitters on the team; regression hit the team hard, and Alvin Davis, Mark Langston, Phil Bradley and company were a year away. The team lost a hundred games and fell into a new cycle of ineptitude.

But when this magazine was published, in April of '83, fate hadn't yet bared her teeth. There's some optimism among the pages I'll now present to you, as well as idiosyncrasy and a little irony. I'll present some select passages with comment; click on any of the images to enlarge them, if you wish.

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We don't talk much about the early Mariners managers, except when we mention Maury Wills with a wistful smile. We're still not very good at evaluating them, and even if we were he had less than nothing to work with. But in my opinion, when you've got a perennially awful club, you've got two choices: scream at the top of your lungs or laugh your way through it. Lachemann did the latter, and again with the Marlins in their early years. Some coaches get labeled as "losing team coaches", I guess, like Jim Riggleman. To his credit, Lachemann's still around, coaching first for the Rockies, so he's done something right.

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One of the highlights of 1983 was the expansion of the team's television contract to 50 whole games, at least one against every team. That computer looks like the kind of thing grad students used to play Adventure in the offseason.

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If you weren't around for it, it's hard to explain the wild popularity of the San Diego Chicken. Donruss gave him a baseball card in their 1982 set. What did he do to make himself so beloved? I have no idea.

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How did the Mariners do in their early years? Let's ask their first five top draft picks: Dave Henderson, Spike Owen, Darnell Coles, Al Chambers, and Tito Nanni.
Img_0008 "Pete O'Brien will add some left-handed punch to the lineup," the man typed, and then stopped as he heard a faint peal of laughter from somewhere he could not place.

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One benefit to the expanded television coverage was the fact that it brought to the team a young, untested broadcaster by the name of Rick Rizzs. Dave looks suave in his dot matrix suit.

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True story: Dave Edler was the first autograph I ever got as a kid, signed on a stolen ball from a baseball camp at Western I attended one summer. But what I love about this entry is the fact that the Mariners loaned Edler to the Royals at the start of 1982. Is this actually legal? Do teams still do it? How would it make you feel if your company told you to go work for a competitor for a month or so, because there weren't enough desks and your boss owed a guy a favor?

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Yes, that is the real-life autograph of John Moses, whose -4.1 career fWAR easily ranks as the worst in the history of the franchise. I sense your jealousy, in advance, as I write this.

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Bryan Clark is long forgotten now, but he was one of those little moves that actually worked out for the early Mariners. A PTBNL way back in 1978, Clark couldn't strike anyone out and couldn't keep it in the zone. After three years in the minors, though, he'd honed what little skill he had to the point where he was able to put in three servicable years as a swing man. It's hard to care about three wins above replacement thirty years after the fact, but three wins they remain. Also: at some point, phone booths weren't just myth.

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HISSSSSSSSSSSS

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How big a deal was Gaylord Perry in 1983? Fans had the opportunity to buy this "valuable collector's" poster for the low, low price of $28.00. Adjusted for inflation, that comes to $63.54 in 2012 dollars. It does look pretty neat, though, and if you'd like a copy there are a couple on eBay for less than $63.54.
The 1983 Seattle Mariners were the most forgettable team of a forgotten era. It's human nature to erase the Bryan Clarks of our mind to make room for the Bobby LaFromboises; this is why we have tombstones and almanacs. Still, the next time someone gets worked up over a stupid and trivial roster move, or the trade of a familiar and inferior former compatriot, stop for a moment. Instead of thinking how how pointless it'll feel thirty years from now, try to think of how vital things felt thirty years back. The vitality is what holds all history together.
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