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Art museums might have losing Mariners to thank

In 1995, it had been 18 years since the Mariners had first taken the field in Seattle. Those dozen-and-a-half seasons had produced equal amounts of expansion team excitement and disappointment, and a roster of colorful characters. But the team never made it to the post-season.

From the late 1970s to the mid 1990s, the Mariners functioned as a farm team for better-funded clubs, and a mild diversion at best with a cast that included one-of-a-kind players such as Bill “Cuffs” Caudill, Lenny Randle, Rupert “Rupe” Jones, Gaylord Perry, and Alvin Davis.

All that changed on October 2, 1995 when the M’s beat the Angels in a one-game tiebreaker at the Kingdome and headed to the Division Series. The city and the region were electrified that late summer and early autumn to a degree that defies description with mere words. For diehard fans and people who’d ignored the team for years, it defined a brief era that deserves its own permanent exhibit in a history museum.

It’s trite to say so, but if you weren’t here, it’s impossible to accurately convey the excitement and novelty of a contending Seattle team. And you didn’t need Twitter or Facebook to keep up with the story, since they didn’t exist. The viral buzz around the ’95 Mariners was bigger than the Seahawks’ Super Bowl campaign in 2005-2006, and it was downright telekinetic. All we had were newspapers, the static-y AM radio, and the brilliant play-by-play and storytelling of the late Dave Niehaus.

That the legendary 1995 Mariners didn’t even make it to the World Series is, perhaps, laughable to fans in other parts of the country. But there’s no denying that the team’s comeback in the Division Series to beat the Yankees is regarded as legendary far beyond the 206, 425, and 360 area codes. Even Edgar Martinez’s game-winning hit in the Kingdome that night is iconic enough to be known throughout the world of baseball simply as “The Double.”

But now it’s 18 years since that magical 1995 effort. Another lackluster baseball season has drawn to a close. Another once-promising manager has moved on. Safeco Field is going on 15 years old. It’s been almost three years since Dave Niehaus’ microphone went silent. The Sonics basketball team is but a memory, playing under an assumed name in the Witness Protection League along with the Seattle Pilots. At the moment, the Seahawks have rightfully captured the hearts and minds of local sports fans.

For a little perspective, it’s worth going back to 1970 and the words of Jim Bouton, who pitched for the Pilots for most of their one and only season of Major League Baseball in Seattle in 1969. Bouton published a book called “Ball Four,” a now legendary expose of the seedier, seamier side of pro ball. The best parts of “Ball Four” are Bouton’s transcriptions of the salty language of the Pilot’s manager Joe Shultz and the description of the decrepit old Sicks Stadium along Rainier Avenue. But Bouton also gets a little philosophical about his temporary home, too.

“I enjoyed living in the Great Northwest for most of a season, and I’m sad that Seattle didn’t get to keep its franchise,” Bouton writes. But, he continues, “a city that seems to care more for its art museums than its ballpark can’t be all bad.”

That Seattle cared more for its art museums than its crumbling ballpark back in 1969 is undoubtedly true. Heck, it was probably still true in 1994. The ’95 Mariners changed all that, of course. But the Seahawks notwithstanding, the last dozen or so baseball seasons have probably given the city’s art museums their biggest boost in years.

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