Former broadcaster believes Mariners magic will prevail
Anybody 40 years of age and older in western Washington knows who sportscaster Tony Ventrella is. Over the decades, you could watch Tony on every TV station in town.
Ventrella had a storied career over the past half-century, covering all the major sports stories and some news as well. You could hear him commenting often on KIRO 710 AM. He is a community activist and even ran for Congress. He is a published author. And, if you needed a haircut, he could do that too.
We checked in with him after Game 1 of the ALDS, where Seattle is currently taking on the division-rival Houston Astros.
MyNorthwest: By all accounts, Tuesday’s game was a devastating loss. What now?
Tony Ventrella: This is not the first time this has happened to the Mariners. This team has and will come back. This year’s team is better than the ’95 version. There’s still hope they can win this series, but it depends how well the young players come back after that kind of loss. This club is just as good as Houston. If they can win the game tomorrow (Thursday), they can win this series. This series is up for grabs. I think they’ll win Thursday and win the series!
MyNW: What are your favorite Mariners memories?
Ventrella: Actually, there are two or three. On the first day I spent in Seattle, sort of being recruited by KOMO-TV back in 1980, they said ‘do you want to go to a ballgame at the Kingdome?’ The Kingdome was cool then. They were playing the Yankees. And the Yankees weren’t very good in 1980 and neither were the Mariners. I remember there were about 4,000 people. And I’m thinking, ‘what a cool stadium, but nobody’s here.’
Then, of course, the obvious ones. The California Angels one-game series in 1995. I was working for KIRO-TV. They had a memorable five-game series against the Yankees. [Game 2] at Yankees Stadium in the rain, 15 innings, Yankees win. They win and I’m thinking this is over. Then of course, the Mariners when the next three. ’95 carries the most memories for me, because it was a great team and very similar to this year’s team.
MyNW: How do these Mariners compare to other pro teams historically?
Ventrella: Yes, as a matter of fact, there are two. It’s funny you ask because, depending on the age of the listener, some people are going to go, wow, he’s going way back. But you know, these are my memories.
So the two teams that come to mind, one is the 1960 Pittsburgh Pirates. The Yankees played the Pirates in the World Series. Yankees were a very powerful team. They had won something like eight championships since 1948. And here they were, going for number nine and heavily favored.
So Game 1, the Pirates win 6-4. Game 2, Yankees win 16-3. Game 3, the Yankees win 10-0. The Pirates went on beat the Yankees 12-0. Next game, 6-0. The seventh game is at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. The game goes to the 10th inning, and a little-known second baseman named Bill Mazeroski hits a home run over the left field fence and the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the Yankees in one of the greatest upsets in World Series history.
Roberto Clemente and Julio Rodriguez
Ventrella: The reason the Pirates remind me of the Mariners? They had a wonderful player from the Dominican Republic named Roberto Clemente. We have a wonderful player named Julio Rodríguez.
They had a catcher named Smoky Burgess who had a lot of home runs and hit .333. In this series, we have Cal Raleigh.
The Pirates had all these unsung heroes, as do the Mariners.
There are other teams. In the ’69 series, the Baltimore Orioles were heavily favored over the New York Mets. And again, the Mets had guys like Al Weiss, Tommie Agee, and Ron Swoboda who I would compare with Crawford, Raleigh, and Frazier. Nobody knew who they were when the season started.
But the Mets somehow beat the heavily favored Orioles in five games, and we called it magic. And the thing that people need to remember is baseball has magic. You cannot explain certain things like the bloop single that drove in three runs by Crawford and the clinching hit the other day. That’s why I love baseball.
Many things make these Mariners special
MyNW: What makes this team special?
Ventrella: Well, in my view, two things. The manager is No. 1. The M’s couldn’t have picked a more perfect manager. Because, you know, Scott Servais has a sort of a calmness that you see when you look at his face. When they take the one shot of him in the dugout, regardless of where the game is, they could be up, they could be down, it could be extra innings. His face doesn’t change, it looks the same.
He is not a little Lou Piniella. Obviously, he’s not a guy who’s going to kick the bases. That worked for the Mariners in ’95. But then it didn’t work a few years later. He’s a guy who knows every single one of his players, which is kind of like Pete Carroll for the Seahawks. He gets to know them, regardless of what their talent level is. He tries to boost them to the next level. So I would say he is the No. 1 reason they are where they are today.
Obviously, Julio (Rodríguez) being a super rookie and a great player for years to come is another thing that makes this team special. Then there’s the great pitching.
The players get along with no problems in the clubhouse
Ventrella: And I’m going to call it magic because how in the world do you explain some of the things that are happening here? There’s the home run that Raleigh hit that got them into the playoffs.
They were playing lousy a few days before that. They had lost seven of 10 on a road trip. They looked terrible. All of a sudden, they come back.
So there’s the fact that these guys all get along. There is not a single problem player in that clubhouse. And that is very rare in today’s major league sports. And that’s the reason. As far as I’m concerned. They can beat Houston. I think it’ll take five games, but they will beat them.