The story of the 1995 Mariners is, admittedly, one that’s been told often, both because it is a great story, and because, sadly, it is one of the only great stories about the Seattle Mariners. It’s also a story that many fans have learned to be wary of, even cynical towards. For a younger fanbase, it’s hard to connect to a story that happened five years before current young star prospects Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic were even born; for the old guard, worn down by years of losing with clips of the ‘95 team offered as a nostalgic panacea, the saying “familiarity breeds contempt” certainly applies.
No matter what one’s relationship to the ‘95 team is, the fact is that each year that passes is another year away from the magic that was that heart-stopping 1995 team, a team that held the entire city in its thrall. Looking back at grainy images of players in tight pants and goofy sideburns running wild in a building that no longer stands can make the distance feel immense. The idea of fifty thousand-plus rabid fans packing a building to watch the Seattle Mariners play baseball seems more fiction than fact.
Thankfully, MLBN’s newest documentary, “The 1995 Mariners: Saving Baseball in Seattle,” thoroughly wrests the 1995 Mariners from the past and displays them in the living, breathing present. The film, which will air on MLBN on July 7 at 7 PM PT, pulls from over 30 hours of interviews with everyone from broadcaster Rick Rizzs to local radio host Mike Gastineau to former King County Executive Gary Locke, and a cross-section of former players ranging from the most well-known (Griffey, Edgar, Buhner, Randy) to the less well-known (Doug Strange, giving off a quintessential “just happy to be here” vibe). The MLBN folks also opened the vault to find vintage footage of the ‘95-era Mariners, the Kingdome, Seattle itself, and—most compellingly—the fans in the stands. While clips of the mania of The Double, Randy breathing fire, and Junior bashing home runs into the Kingdome’s fortress-like right field seats are easy enough to find, what really stands out are the fan reaction shots, which are blissfully plentiful here. Seeing the fans in relation to what was happening on the field, not just the on-field exploits themselves, hammers home the connection between the team and the fanbase. It also serves as a reminder that Seattle has been, and can be, a baseball town.
[A side note: the golden era of fan-made signs really needs to return. There are some gems in the film, but my favorite is the one that pops up during the discussion of the Angels’ late-season collapse, allowing the Mariners to overtake them for first place in the AL West: “Angels in the Outhouse.” And that’s not even getting into the more risqué Randy Johnson ones.]
The subject of the film may be familiar to longtime fans, but the presentation is novel, as the documentary heavily weaves in the adversity facing the Mariners that season: the imminent danger of the Kingdome’s deterioration, the lack of fan engagement for a perpetually losing team, the ongoing threat of relocation, and, once the team finally got good, the loss of its brightest star, when Ken Griffey Jr. broke his wrist crashing into the wall (there’s also a golden anecdote I didn’t know about Junior, arm in a sling, posting up in the bullpen in case he was needed for brawlin’ against the Yankees).
But maybe the most compelling argument for devoting an hour to watch the film is the fact that history has a way of repeating itself. Watching the other players describe what it was like when Junior joined the team—the word “magic” is used liberally—is a reminder that a special player can make a good team great. The Mariners have been thin on the ground for home-grown superstars over the last decade-plus, and their best players have been shackled to incompetent teams. But with the general health of the farm system improving, plus the current wave of young players, and the financial flexibility to acquire some non-home-grown talent, it’s not hard to see a good, sustainable team rounding into shape over the next couple of years. Mix into that a handful of Top 100 prospects, including two potentially luminous talents in Julio Rodriguez and Jarred Kelenic, and the ingredients are there for magic. It’s not hard to look at the images of people hugging and crying in the stands and remember that that was us once, and can be again.
The 1995 team wrote a check to baseball fans in this city that has yet gone uncashed, and that’s understandably a source of pain and frustration for fans. But they also left behind a blueprint, one that’s explored in beautiful detail here, for how to make Seattle a baseball town. The next time you’re at T-Mobile, take a look just north and sense the through-line that runs between those two places, the ghost of the Kingdome and the ‘95 team, and the living, breathing reality taking shape right before your eyes.
The 1995 Mariners: Saving Baseball in Seattle airs July 7 at 7 PM Pacific on MLB Network.
See the trailer here.