Mariners: Thanks for the memories

  • Larry Henry / Sports Columnist
  • Wednesday, October 18, 2000 9:00pm
  • Sports

I was walking through the local pharmacy when I passed an aisle where two men were talking.

I heard the name “Ramsay” and the remark “they have a left-handed hitting catcher coming back.”

It wasn’t 16 hours after the Mariner season had come to a close and already fans were looking ahead to next season.

I can understand why. I’m already anticipating spring training myself.

I like this team.

I like the players, I like their style, I like their scrappiness.

I like it that they depend on pitching, defense and a well-timed hit.

I like the stolen base, the hit-and-run, the sacrifice fly.

I like manager Lou Piniella walking out to whisper in the ear of baserunner Mike Cameron at a key moment in the division playoffs. And Cameron promptly stealing second.

I like Carlos Guillen laying down a bunt to squeeze home the winning run in the clinching game of the division playoffs.

I like to see kids such as Freddy Garcia pitch magnificently in pressurized playoff games.

I like to see David Bell make like Brooks Robinson at third, turning plays that leave the robbed batter mumbling to himself.

I like it that this team won with a bunch of not-quite-over-the-hill guys. Players like Edgar Martinez, Rickey Henderson, Mark McLemore, Stan Javier, Jay Buhner, Joe Oliver, Tom Lampkin, Jamie Moyer and Jose Mesa. They have tremendous heart and pride and they want only to win.

I like the younger players and how they competed. I like the leadership that Alex Rodriguez showed. I like how Jose Paniagua matured with the help of Mesa.

I like the quiet steadiness of John Olerud, his slashing doubles into the gap, but I like most of all the way he flashes the leather at first base. He’s got the soft, sure hands of a surgeon. I’d rather watch him field ground balls than watch Mark McGwire hit balls into the seats.

I like the grittiness of McLemore, his all-out style of play, diving to his left or right to stop ground balls that look like sure hits. Do you know this old man had only eight errors all year and ranked second among American League second baseman in fielding? Furthermore, I found it remarkable that at the age of 35, he stole a career-high 30 bases.

I like Buhner and his tough Texas resolve to keep coming back from injury. Not only coming back, but playing very well. I mean, the guy hit 26 home runs and drove in 82 runs in only 112 games. The Mariners have got to bring him back, not just for what he does with a bat and glove, but for the attitude he sets. At a banged-up 36, he is still the heart and soul of this team.

I like Cameron. How can you not like him? He came in here as the most scrutinized player on the team, one of the most scrutinized in all of baseball, due to the fact he was replacing perhaps the best player in the game. Remember all of those critics who thought the Mariners got robbed in the Ken Griffey trade? You don’t hear much from them now, do you? Not after the year Cameron had. He showed he can hit, he can run and he can field.

Reporters appreciated the fact that he was almost always there in the clubhouse to answer questions after games. He was the go-to guy.

You can tell something about a younger player by the way the older players treat him. The veterans on this team like Mike Cameron.

I don’t see him doing anything but getting better. He probably won’t hit many more home runs than he did this year (19), but with work and experience he should cut down on his strikeouts (133), become a better hitter (.267) and increase his stolen bases (24).

The one big thing he did: He cut out all the talk about Griffey, a major accomplishment in a region where Junior was once king.

I like Oliver and how he went down to Tacoma without a peep early in the season, then came back up and supplied some big hits. The M’s would have been in big trouble without this 36-year-old catcher. For his contributions, he was deservedly named the Unsung Hero by the Seattle Chapter of the baseball writers.

I like Javier, another oldie who brought a very professional approach to the game, a guy who played all three outfield positions and even started a couple of games at first base. A clutch hitter, he batted .313 with runners in scoring position, driving in 35 runs.

And that catch he made in right, rising above the fence to bring a ball back into the playing field and catching it as he came back down, will surely be on the M’s highlight-film.

People worried when the M’s signed Henderson. They had heard the horror stories that emanated out of New York when he was with the Mets, but he came here, did his job as leadoff man, caused no problems. I still don’t know how he can, at 41, steal 31 bases.

The M’s missed Lampkin, that left-handed hitting catcher the men in the pharmacy were discussing. Who knows what he might have provided when Piniella went to his largely left-handed hitting lineup against the Yankees in Game 6 of the ALCS Tuesday night. There might have been a Game 7.

I want to see the likable Lampkin make a comeback from Tommy John surgery and have a season like he had in ‘99 when he batted .291. If anyone can, he will.

Another guy I’m pulling for is Moyer, the hard-luck pitcher who had his postseason end before it ever began with a fractured kneecap. It wouldn’t surprise me if he wins 15 games at age 38.

I know that Martinez will still be batting .300 when he’s 38 (and 39 and 40). He said in spring training if he could stay healthy this year, he thought he could put up some big numbers. He stayed healthy, he put up huge numbers – career highs in home runs (37) and RBI (145).

Edgar may be slow afoot, but he’s still outrunning Father Time.

Some of these guys may not be here next season, but for one year they came together and brought baseball fans in the Northwest some of the best entertainment we’ve ever had.

For that, we say, thank you.

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