CoronaVision: M’s at White Sox, 4/16/1992

marc w · March 14, 2020 at 11:48 am · Filed Under Mariners 

On Friday, I watched the Governor’s press conference closing schools in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties. As a Thurston County resident, we weren’t mentioned, but we all knew it would only be a matter of time. Everything moved quickly, the way the sports world dominoes had fallen the day before. I was set to take my youngest to her first soccer practice of the year, but the league cancelled all practices about 90 minutes before it was set to start. A few hours later, we were notified: schools were closing, effective Monday, until late April. It was an odd end to an unforgettable week, as we went from thinking Covid-19 might not impact our lives very much, to getting used to the idea that sports would take place in empty stadiums, to basically all sports leagues postponing or cancelling their seasons, a grim procession described here by the Ringer’s Michael Baumann. I’m going to be working from home and simultaneously trying to be a teacher.

It’s a daunting task, and one I don’t really feel equipped for. I’ve been trawling twitter and youtube for lesson ideas, particularly in math. Luckily, my twitter feed of nerdy baseball people overlaps with math twitter, and I’ve got some ideas, though admittedly, I’m not sure my best laid plans can survive first contact with frustration, boredom, or elementary-age attention spans. Teachers are trained for this, and I’m…not. A part of me wants to really dive into the surreal nature of our present moment, and get them to journal this stuff – the frustration of missing out on anticipated field trips and just the routine of school. It’s why I’m doing this (don’t worry, I’m gonna get to baseball in a bit). I think there are object lessons in why we teach kids math all around us, and how you evaluate arguments and claims. But I’m also cognizant that they may want a break from all of that, from this unseen enemy that’s taking all of their favorite activities from them, and leaving them with an unprepared pseudo-teacher and his scrawled math problems.

When my oldest was very young, she watched whatever I watched on TV. Not having any idea of the choices on offer, she took interest in what interested me, and baseball was familiar and soothing, as I’d taken her to countless Rainiers games from the time she was a baby. I’d thought that perhaps she’d grow up with baseball as a way to mark time, the way it is for so many fans. If I see an old box score, or scroll to the right baseball-reference page, I often get little memories coming back about thinking so-and-so was going to lift the M’s to glory, or what a calamitous trade had brought us whatshisface, and in the process, memories of what it was like to be the kid thinking those thoughts. Of course, my kid eventually found other, less Dad-ish, forms of entertainment, and she’ll mark time some other way.

But for me, this game brings back a flood of memories:

The M’s open the 1992 season full of promise. They’d just had their very first winning season in 1991, as Ken Griffey Jr. had made the leap from potential star to the undisputed face of baseball, and Edgar Martinez turned in his second consecutive 5 WAR season. The pitching staff was rounding into shape following the franchise-altering Mark Langston trade, and 2nd round pick Erik Hanson had established himself as the ace of the staff in 1990, only to lose much of 1991 to injury. With Hanson back, with Randy Johnson’s ascent in progress, and with what would be the first of many transcendent Edgar seasons ahead, the M’s had to like their chances in 1992. One potential issue was their new manager, Bill Plummer. After contract negotiations broke down, the M’s parted ways with Jim Lefebvre, their most successful manager in their short history. Plummer’d been the third base coach and had been in the M’s system since his playing days, so while it wasn’t exactly encouraging that Lefebvre was gone, they had an inside man to keep things on the right track.

The season started inauspiciously. Opening day saw the M’s blow an 8-3 lead when the M’s bullpen gave up *9* runs in the 8th, capped by a pinch-hit three-run HR by Gino Petralli of the Rangers. Mike Schooler, who’d been lights out in 1990, and battling through injury in 1991, was in the death throes of his career, but no one knew it yet. The M’s would go on to start 0-4, but they were trying to turn things around: they’d swept the Royals in 3, and headed to Chicago to take on the Sox. In the first game, they lost 1-0, but shut out Chicago in game 2 behind 7 2/3 scoreless from their out-of-nowhere rookie, Dave Fleming. This is the rubber game of the series, with the Sox coming at at 5-3 and the M’s at 4-5.

Back in Tacoma, the spring of 1992 was an exciting time. I’d just received something I wanted desperately, but thought I’d never actually get. Metallica’s “Wherever We May Roam” tour was winding its way across the globe, having spent the latter part of summer 1991 in Europe and then the winter in the US. They played in Hartford as this game was going on, then took a break to fly to London for the Freddie Mercury tribute concert – Mercury died of AIDS-related illness in late 1991. But they’d be back to play Seattle in May, and I’d just received a ticket and permission to go with my friend. Not only my first big concert, but my first big concert on my own, without parents. It wasn’t exactly a window into adulthood, but it was a vision of what teenage freedom could be, when the amps were cranked loud enough. My parents told me to be worried of crowd behavior, but the crowd was remarkably civil. The night of the show, my friend and I filed in to Seattle Center towards the Coliseum, while a very different crowd went to the Seattle Opera House.

Back on the south side, things had gotten off to an inauspicious start. The M’s new manager had somehow filed a line-up card that had not one but two first basemen. Both Pete O’Brien and Tino Martinez were listed at 1B, meaning that the M’s had to make one a DH *and* then lose the DH for the rest of the game. Pete O’Brien became the DH, popped out with the bases loaded and no one out, and then was lifted for pinch-hitters the rest of the game, as the M’s had to make an unplanned bullpen day. This is the same Pete O’Brien who started the famous Brian Holman game at DH back in April of 1990. With Holman carrying a perfect game late, the M’s somewhat inexplicably moved O’Brien to 1B for defensive purposes, replacing Alvin Davis. They’d lose the DH, but that wasn’t really the point. Unfortunately, the M’s had a long inning in the 9th, and Alvin Davis’ spot in the order came up again. Brian Holman, three outs from immortality, had to grab a bat. He slapped a grounder to 2B that Tacoma Tigers legend Mike Gallego misplayed, so Holman had to run the bases. The M’s scored 4 runs in the inning, but Holman was taken out of his routine and plunked into a warm-up jacket. In the bottom of the inning, the A’s pinch hit for Gallego with ex-Mariner Ken Phelps.

The M’s line-up was:
1: Harold Reynolds
2: Edgar Martinez
3: Ken Griffey Jr.
4: Kevin Mitchell
5: Pete O’Brien
6: Tino Martinez
7: Jay Buhner
8: Dave Valle
9: Rich Amaral

That’s an impressive line-up, even if Amaral was still a year away from his break-out/only good season. The M’s would finish 4th in batting WAR, per Fangraphs, but they couldn’t overcome a disastrous pitching staff – one which led the league in walks by a mile thanks to Johnson, Schooler, and young righty Jeff Nelson. We think of the late ’90s as the height of the steroid era, but the early ’90s show why chemical enhancement proved so attractive: the M’s were one of only four teams with a SLG% above .400, and the league as a whole slugged .377, easily lower than the nadir of our recent little batting ice age in 2014, when the league slugged .386. And because both base hits and were less prevalent in 2014, the league’s ISO was lower still back in 1992. HRs were rare, even for Griffey, who’d soon begin a historic HR tear, but set a then-career high in HRs in 1992 with just 27.

In the second inning, the Sox broadcast discusses Bill Swift, who’d earned his third win for San Francisco that day. Swift was the centerpiece of the trade that netted the M’s Kevin Mitchell, the 1989 NL MVP. After hitting 47 HRs for San Francisco, his dinger production dropped a bit as the league must’ve changed the baseball following the spike of 1987. Mitchell would spend one injury-plagued and largely ineffective season in Seattle, while Swift followed an encouraging 1992 with a brilliant 1993 that saw him finish 2nd in Cy Young voting.

The White Sox and M’s each scored in the first. The M’s starter Rich DeLucia, a righty, had a sinker, curve, slider, and change, and threw from a whippy, low-3/4 arm angle. He didn’t throw particularly hard, though, while the Sox Alex Fernandez was something of a fireballer for the time. In the second, the Sox push across another 2 runs on a double from Ozzie Guillen (who’d see his season end in about a week) and a sac fly/error on a bad throw by Griffey. They’d add to it in the third on a two-run HR by George/Jorge Bell, the 1987 AL MVP with Toronto.

The top of the fourth saw Pete O’Brien’s spot in the line-up come up again, and thus it was DeLucia’s time to hit. The M’s pinch hit with Dave Cochrane, who doubled to right, but was stranded there. Jim Acker would take over on the mound for Seattle after that – a guy I must confess I’d forgotten completely. 1992 was the end of his career, a career that began back in 1983 with Toronto. He’d walk 12 and K 11 in 30+ innings for the M’s in 1992.

The M’s close the gap to 5-2 in the 6th on a solo shot by Tino Martinez, but Fernandez managed to go 7 IP yielding only the two runs. Acker kept the Sox scoreless through 2 1/3, and with the pitcher’s spot coming up, was lifted for the lefty Dennis Powell in the 7th. Powell wasn’t exactly a LOOGY, though guys like Jesse Orosco were already bringing that concept to the league. He struggled mightily for the M’s from 1987-1990, and then was sent down to AA by Milwaukee, who picked him up after the M’s let him go. Coming back to the M’s in 1991 on a minor league deal, he worked as a starter for the M’s AAA affiliate in Calgary, but didn’t get back to the big leagues until 1992. Still, pause a while and reflect that Plummer brought in Powell, a lefty with large career platoon splits, to face lefty Ozzie Guillen, but also Tim Raines, a switch-hitting star. It worked out, but it’s not shocking to me that Plummer would not manage again in the big leagues.

In the 8th, the White Sox go to young righty reliever Scott Radinsky, who’d later pitch (well) with the Dodgers. Radinsky was great when healthy, but lost a lot of time to injury. That gave him some time to devote to his other occupation: punk singer. His bands Pulley and Ten Foot Pole got a lot of attention, with both releasing music on up and coming label Epitaph (soon to be a giant label thanks to Rancid, NOFX, and the Offspring, then pivoting to post-hardcore and emo). Take a listen here.

With one out in the 9th, the Sox turn the ball over to their closer, Bobby Thigpen. Thigpen set the all-time single-season record for saves in 1990, a record that would stand until 2008 (and would be equalled in 2018 by the M’s Edwin Diaz). But after that breakout year that got him Cy Young and MVP votes, he was only above-average in 1991. And as we saw in this game, things’d get worse in 1992. With one out, he’d give up hits to Dave Valle and Greg “Pee-Wee” Briley. After getting the second out on a Harold Reynolds on a fielders choice, Edgar doubled. Thigpen then intentionally walked Ken Griffey Jr., leaving the game up to Kevin Mitchell with Edgar on 3B (after a WP). Mitchell got a center-cut fastball and smashed it to 3B, but right at gold glover Robin Ventura, who threw to 2B to end the game. In the first, Mitchell struck out with the bases loaded and nobody out, then grounded out with the tying run on 3B.

1992 turned out to be one of the low-key depressing years for the M’s, with the promise of their young rotation spoiled by too many walks and the ominous decline of Hanson. The bullpen was a mess, as Schooler would be sent packing at the end of the year. So too would Plummer, replaced by the fiery former Yankee player and manager, Lou Piniella. Edgar would be lost for most of 1993, but a huge trade involving Hanson would get the M’s Bret Boone, Dan Wilson, and new closer Norm Charlton. Griffey would hit 45 HRs, sparking a HR revolution in the game. He’d lead the league in 1994, but the strike wiped out much of the second half of the season, and reduced the length of 1995, an M’s season you may have heard about. It was the last time before right now that we’d be without regular season baseball for any long stretch of time.


4 Responses to “CoronaVision: M’s at White Sox, 4/16/1992”

  1. Stevemotivateir on March 15th, 2020 9:21 am

    I think Boone was traded with Hanson to get Dan Wilson, then of course he returned as a free agent. Mitchell was traded for Charlton.

    Those might be two of the most underrated trades in Mariner history.

  2. drw on March 17th, 2020 2:19 pm

    From Baseball Reference:

    November 2, 1993: Bret Boone: Traded by the Seattle Mariners with Erik Hanson to the Cincinnati Reds for Bobby Ayala and Dan Wilson.

    November 17, 1992: Kevin Mitchell traded by the Seattle Mariners to the Cincinnati Reds for Norm Charlton.

    But also:

    December 11, 1991: Kevin Mitchell traded by the San Francisco Giants with Mike Remlinger to the Seattle Mariners for Dave Burba, Michael Jackson and Bill Swift.

  3. 11records on March 17th, 2020 5:02 pm

    Dennis Powell!!

    Dennis is probably one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. We used to have season tickets to the Cannons in Calgary, and I’d talk to him around the pen all the time.

  4. Stevemotivateir on March 17th, 2020 8:37 pm

    What’s kind of funny is that it’s mid-March. The regular season wouldn’t have started yet, and here many of us are suffering like it’s been ages since we’ve caught a game (spring, or otherwise).

    Kind of telling how important the game is to so many of us.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.