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All Over The Map: Who named the Seattle Mariners?

Mariner Moose attends the ribbon cutting ceremony to officially open T-Mobile Park against the Seattle Mariners and Boston Red Sox during their Opening Day game at T-Mobile Park on March 28, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)

The Seattle Mariners are 3-and-My-0-My after an incredible home opener victory over the Boston Red Sox this week.

Were it not for several twists and turns, we might this morning be celebrating the Seattle Pilots, the city’s original Major League Baseball team who played one season in 1969. Or, if an even earlier attempt to bring a team here had been successful, it might be the Seattle Indians who had triumphed Thursday night.

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Credit for naming the team that we have today, in honor of the region’s marine roots and nautical traditions, goes to Roger Szmodis. Szmodis was one of dozens of people who suggested the name in a contest that was held in the spring and summer of 1976. His accompanying essay was deemed the best by the selection committee, and he won season tickets for 1977 and a trip for two to see a road game.

When it was announced in August 1976, the name “Mariners” rubbed some people the wrong way because it didn’t begin with “S.” It didn’t necessarily bother anybody, but “Mariners” had also been the name of a World Hockey Association team from San Diego, and was the nickname of the teams at Bellingham’s Sehome High School dating to the mid 1960s.

It’s easy to forget now, but that Bicentennial summer was heady times for local professional sports in the Pacific Northwest. And the names of all those teams had one thing in common: they all began with “S.”

  • The Seattle Sounders, of the North American Soccer League, were just two years old, and had just moved from tiny Memorial Stadium to the giant new Kingdome. The Sounders were named for a geographic feature.
  • The Seattle SuperSonics had made it to the NBA playoffs for first time the previous spring of 1975 and again for the second time in 1976. The Sonics were named for an ultimately failed Boeing jetliner.
  • The Seattle Seahawks were completely new, and were just a few days away from their first-ever NFL pre-season victory in that same shiny new Kingdome against the San Diego Chargers. The Seahawks were named for a seabird (the Osprey).

Some of the other potential baseball team names that were considered (with varying degrees of seriousness) in 1976 included:

  • Seattle Sovereigns
  • Seattle Utopians
  • Seattle Totems (the hockey team by that name had flirted with NHL status, but was defunct by 1975; Seattle Times sports columnist Hy Zimmerman was pushing this particular option)
  • Seattle Schooners
  • Seattle Seagulls
  • Seattle Seatacs (perhaps the goofiest of all)
  • Seattle Sultans
  • Seattle Centurions

Now, about that contest. When it was first announced in February 1976 that a team was headed here as a replacement for the Seattle Pilots, one of the main investors was entertainer Danny Kaye. Kaye is perhaps best remembered for the 1956 film, “The Court Jester,” and the scene featuring the classic line, “The pellet with the poison’s in the vessel with the pestle; the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.”

At a press conference in Seattle on February 7, 1976, Danny Kaye was in what was apparently a typically goofy mood. When questioned about what the team would be called, Mr. Kaye answered irreverently: “We’ll have a great big public thing,” – meaning a contest – “and then we’ll pick ‘Rainiers.’”

“Rainiers” was the name of Seattle’s previously most successful professional baseball team, of the Pacific Coast League. That team was owned for years by Emil Sick, who also owned Rainier Beer.

It was the ultimate product placement before that term was even invented — and it also paid tribute to the mountain, of course.

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