Mariners' Top 50 list still a work in progress


WALLA WALLA - Being from the Upper Midwest, and having visited there recently, I took particular interest over the weekend when the Minnesota Twins celebrated the 50 greatest players in franchise history.

For someone who was 17 years old when the Twins played their first season at old Metropolitan Stadium in 1961, and one who has remained a fan from afar ever since, it was truly a walk down memory lane.

There was something serendipitous about the weekend, too, considering the Twins were also celebrating 50 seasons in Minnesota as well as their first at Target Field, the sparkling new open-air stadium that is drawing rave revues from all across baseball.

This 50-greatest list does not include those who played for the Washington Senators - the team that played in the D.C. area from 1901 through 1960 - unless they accompanied the franchise when it picked up sticks and moved to Minneapolis in 1961. So don't look for the likes of Walter Johnson, Goose Goslin, Heinie Manush or Joe Cronin on it.

But the list is impressive nonetheless. It includes no fewer than 14 American League batting championships, five Most Valuable Player awards and four Cy Youngs.

Furthermore, there are five Hall of Famers on the Twins' Top 50 list, and potentially as many as eight others who are either still playing or are retired with a legitimate hopes of being voted in.

Rod Carew, of course, won seven of those batting titles between 1969 and 1981, with a high-water mark of .388 in 1977 when he flirted with .400 for much of the season. Tony Oliva and current Twin Joe Mauer are each three-time batting champions, and the late Kirby Puckett led the league in hitting in 1989.

Mauer, the Twins All-Star catcher, won last year's American League MVP, coming just three years after first baseman Justin Morneau was voted most valuable. The Twins' other MVP awards belong to Zoilo Versalles in 1965, Harmon Killebrew in 1969 and Carew in 1977.

Killebrew socked 49 home runs in 1969, the last of six seasons during his career in which he led the American League in homers. The Killer finished his career with 573 home runs, currently 11th on the all-time list.

Jim Perry was Minnesota's first Cy Young winner in 1970 when he posted a 24-12 record. Frank Viola followed in 1988 when he logged a 24-7 record. And Johan Santana won twice, posting a 20-6 record in 2004 and a 19-6 mark in 2006.

Although they played the majority of their careers elsewhere, St. Paul native sons Paul Molitor and Dave Winfield came home to record their 3,000th hit in Twins uniforms. Another St. Paul product, Jack Morris, played one season in Minnesota and pitched the most revered game in franchise history, a 1-0, 10-inning victory Atlanta in the seventh game of the 1991 World Series.

And Kent Hrbek, who grew up in shadows of old Met Stadium in Bloomington, played his entire career in Minnesota, won two World Series rings and became instantly famous on a national scale as a sumo wrestler when he leg-lifted Ron Gant off of first base for a crucial inning-ending out during the second game of that '91 Series.

As I considered the Twins' impressive list of 50 greatest players - a list, I might add, that has been hotly debated by some of the fans back home - it struck me that the Mariners are in the midst of their 35th season in Seattle. And I couldn't help but wonder how an M's Top 50 list might stack up 15 years from now.

So far, Mariners players have won five batting championships, two MVPs and one Cy Young Award.

Ken Griffey Jr., without question, will head any list of greats the Mariners put together. He was the American League's Most Valuable Player in 1997 and led the AL in home runs during four seasons, including 1997 and '98 when he crushed 56 homers each year.

Sans steroids, too, by every account.

Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki are a pair of two-time batting champions who are sure to be on the list. Suzuki also won the MVP in 2001.

Alex Rodriguez also won a batting title in a Mariners uniform when he hit .358 in 1996. And Randy Johnson is the franchise's only Cy Young winner - 1995 when he finished with an 18-2 record and pitched the M's into the postseason for the first time in their history.

Most of the regulars on that '95 team that beat the Yankees in a dramatic five-game division playoff series figure to be among the Mariners' immortals. Catcher Dan Wilson, first baseman Tino Martinez, second baseman Joey Cora, third baseman Mike Blowers, outfielders Jay Buhner and Vince Coleman, and pitchers Tim Belcher, Chris Bosio, Andy Benes, Bob Wolcott, Bobby Ayala, Bill Krueger, Jeff Nelson and Norm Charlton were all impact players along with Griffey, Martinez and Johnson on a team that is largely credited with saving baseball in Seattle.

Many of those players were still with the organization two years later when the M's again qualified for the postseason. Newcomers of note included pitchers Jamie Moyer and Jeff Fassero, outfielders Raul Ibanez and Jose Cruz, infielders Paul Sorrento, Russ Davis and Luis Sojo, and a second-year shortstop we came to call A-Rod.

By the year 2000, though, when Seattle made its third foray into the playoffs, there were many new faces in the dugout and some old familiar ones that were missing.

Junior had been traded to Cincinnati in one blockbuster deal, and the Big Unit was sent to Houston and then to Arizona in another major trade. Mike Cameron was the M's new center fielder, Freddy Garcia emerged as the ace of the pitching staff and Kazuhiro Sasaki was brought over from Japan to be the team's new closer.

John Olerud, a key free agent signing, took over at first base, Mark McLemore was the new second baseman, David Bell played third and enigmatic Rickey Henderson was the left fielder. And Gil Meche, Aaron Sele, John Halama and Paul Abbott rounded out a starting rotation that accounted for 66 of the team's franchise-best 91 victories.

However, that record was shattered in 2001 when Seattle turned baseball on its head by winning 116 games to equal the all-time record set by the Chicago Cubs in 1906.

Prior to that record-breaking season, however, the M's said goodbye to their third superstar in two seasons when Rodriguez forsook Seattle for the Texas Rangers and the biggest pile of money in baseball history.

Carlos Guillen replaced Rodriguez at shortstop and Al Martin was inserted in left field in place of Henderson. But the two key additions to that squad were free agents Bret Boone and Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki.

Boone, the M's new second baseman, slugged 37 home runs and drove in 141 runs in 2001 while Ichiro, who took over for Buhner in right field, batted .350 and stole 56 bases. And Sasaki saved 45 games, second only to the Yankees' Mariano Rivera in the American League.

The amazing season had a disappointing conclusion, however, when the Mariners lost to the Yankees four games to one in the ALCS. And the M's haven't been back to the postseason since.

That marks the franchise's second long dry spell. From 1977, the team's inaugural season, through 1994, Seattle baseball fans experienced just two winning seasons: 83-79 in 1991 and 82-80 in 1993.

But there were some notable players who went through town during those years. Such as catcher Dave Valle, first baseman Alvin Davis, second baseman Harold Reynolds, third baseman Jim Presley, shortstop Omar Vizquel, outfielders Phil Bradley and Tom Paciorek, and pitchers Mark Langston, Erik Hanson, Mike Moore, Floyd Bannister, Jim Beattie, Rick Honeycutt, Matt Young, Mike Morgan, Billy Swift, Mike Schooler and Bill Caudill.

And since that last playoff run in 2001, there are a handful of Mariners likely to make the list. Current staff ace Felix Hernandez for sure, plus reliever Arthur Rhodes, third baseman Adrian Beltre and current center fielder Franklin Gutierrez.

Second baseman Chone Figgins, closer David Aardsma and injured starting pitcher Erik Bedard are other members of the 2010 Mariners who could play themselves into consideration if they remain with the team.

And then there are those who have played in a Mariners uniform but might be better suited on some other team's Top 50: Starting pitchers Cliff Lee and Jarrod Washburn; closers Eddie Guardado, J.J. Putz and Rafael Soriano; outfielders Ruben Sierra, Gorman Thomas, Willie Horton, Randy Winn and Adam Jones; and first baseman Mike Sweeney.

By my count, this list of Mariners is already well over 60 names long. And I haven't included Lou Piniella, the only field manager of note in the franchises's history.

Some probably don't belong. There are others I may have missed. And there's still 15 years to go.

Let's all hope that M's prospects such as second baseman Justin Atchley, first baseman Justin Smoak and pitcher Michael Pineda barge their way onto the list in the near future along with as many other future difference makers as the Mariners can uncover.


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