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King Félix to be inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame on August 12

Go ahead and tell everybody he’s the man

Félix Hernández thanks the King’s Court after his final game on September 26, 2019
Still ours
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

On August 12, Félix Hernández will become the 11th member of the Mariners Hall of Fame. That he would eventually receive the honor was a foregone conclusion: the Mariners’ pitching leader in career WAR, strikeouts, and ERA easily meets the criteria for selection, outpacing the field on the primary criterion for induction, on-field impact while playing for Seattle.

The six-time All-Star’s induction will be a three-day event over a weekend series against the Orioles. The celebration kicks off with a fireworks spectacular after the game on Friday, August 11. The main event will then be his induction into the Mariners Hall of Fame before the game on Saturday, August 12. Details for the ceremony haven’t been announced, but past inductions suggest it’ll feature speeches from Félix and other Mariners luminaries, video highlights and tributes, and lots and lots of applause. If you miss out on tickets to Saturday’s game for one reason or another, Sunday, August 13, will be your chance to get a King Félix bobblehead.

Signed out of Valencia, Venezuela at 16, Félix was quickly recognized as the prince who was promised. Two years before his debut, Dave Cameron at his young blog bequeathed him the nickname King Félix. Twenty years later, Cameron now works for the Mariners. It’s hardly an exaggeration to suggest that Félix Hernández was the central character during the development of a mainstream baseball blogosphere.

At 19, and armed with a fastball clocked at 97 mph (which was a lot back then), Félix’s 2.8 bWAR rookie year was one of the lone bright spots in the lousy 69-win, 2005 season. Unfortunately, “one of the lone bright spots” would define his career; he was by far the best player of the Wild Card era to never reach the playoffs and became an icon of the 2-1 or 1-0 loss.

But what a bright spot he was. By 2009 he was one of baseball’s biggest stars, and his changeup inspired a hundreds of imitators and revolutionized the game. Over his 2009 to 2014 peak, he struck out more than 200 batters every year and racked up 37.2 fWAR, second only to Clayton Kershaw’s 37.3. It’s hard to say whether the higher high was his 2010 Cy Young win or his 2012 perfect game against the Rays, which remains the most recent one in MLB.

As big an honor as that Cy Young Award is, its legacy is equally important. It was a watershed moment for advanced statistics, as Félix’s 13-12 win-loss record in 2010 would have been disqualifying for most voters before that. But his dominance was too great to ignore, and outside of fantasy baseball, win-loss record has barely been in the conversation ever since.

Of course, to us, he was more than a collection of statistics, advanced or otherwise. Constantly breaking the fourth wall to play to the crowd, he was a fan favorite from his very first season. His starts became Félix Day, a recognition that no matter how bad the rest of the team was, there was at least one Mariners game every week that was worth watching.

Eleven years into his tenure, his relationship to the club and the city was as strong as anyone in Seattle sports history: Any Mariner could have clapped back at the Canadian Invasion, but only Félix could embed it with so much pathos. In one of my all-time favorite pieces of baseball writing, our own Kate Preusser explained why when he said Safeco Field was his house, nobody could doubt it.

It was his house because he made it so. Yankee fans blithely assumed he didn’t belong in Seattle and that New York could easily swing a trade package or outbid the Mariners for his services. They couldn’t. He was the great one who decided to stay. And consequently, right up there with “My, oh my,” “Félix is ours, and you can’t have him” became one of the most indelible phrases in Mariners history. That loyalty to Seattle was returned by a generation of adoring fans. He more than earned the “K” chants in his iconic King’s Court fan section down the left-field line.

Even as he declined, he remained Seattle’s consummate showman. His friendly rivlary with former teammate Adrián Beltré never failed to entertain, and he wore his whole heart on his oversized sleeves the night of his final game in 2019.

And now this summer, the King will rightfully join ten other members of the Hall: Alvin Davis, Dave Niehaus, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martínez, Randy Johnson, Dan Wilson, Ken Griffey, Jr., Lou Piniella, Jamie Moyer, and Ichiro Suzuki, the last of whom was inducted this past summer.

That he’s receiving the honor so soon, just one year after he became eligible, is a bit of a surprise. His final few years weren’t always the smoothest ride. But when he threw out the ceremonial first pitch for the Mariners’ first home playoff game in 21 years, it was clear that however rocky the end of his tenure may have been, both he and the organization prioritize the good times in his 15-year career with the Mariners, the only team he ever suited up for on an MLB diamond.

Félix approaches the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of 2022 ALDS Game 3 Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Looking forward, selection to the Mariners Hall of Fame has a lower threshold than number retirement. To date, the Mariners have only retired two of their players’ numbers, 24 for Griffey and 11 for Edgar, as well as Jackie Robinson’s 42, which is retired across MLB. Seattle’s policy on number retirement requires either (A) election to the Baseball Hall of Fame and at least five years with Seattle or (B) coming “close” to election while having spent the bulk of one’s career as a Mariner. The retirement of Ichiro’s 51 is all but a certainty after his presumptive election to Cooperstown in 2025. Félix will appear on the same ballot, but is unlikely to get the honor in his first year and perhaps ever. So whether 34 hangs in the centerfield bleachers will likely depend on the team suits’ interpretation of what it means to come “close.”

But that’s a story for another day. For now, we can block off our calendars for the second weekend of August, buy tickets, and look back on one of the great careers in Mariner history.