Mariner of the Day: Mark Langston

January 29, 2008 · Filed Under Mariners · 39 Comments 

In total, Mark Langston contributed as much to the overall success of the Mariner franchise as any other player in franchise history, and I’m not at all joking.

Drafted in 1981 in the second round, Langston was pick #35, the M’s second in that round — they took Kevin Dukes with #27, and he never made the majors. Three good pitchers came out of that round, Gubicza right ahead of him, and Frank Viola two picks later (John Elway was drafted at the end of the round, other picks were Darrin Jackson, Mike Gallego, and Sid Bream). Three years later, Langston started 33 games for the Mariners and went 17-10 with a 3.40 ERA in the Kingdome. He gave up only 16 HR, walked 118, and struck out 204. He finished second in Rookie of the Year balloting, behind Alvin Davis.

Between Langston and Jim Beattie, the Mariners had two worthwhile pitchers and a chance to win even with their undistinguished offense. It’s too bad his relief was so wretched. That 1984 team went 74-88 with an offense made up of Alvin Davis and parts of Dave Henderson and Ken Phelps. It was the second-best finish in franchise history.

That closeup on his baseall caard didn’t do him any favors, though.

Click on the picture for the ebay auction. The guy only wants $1 for that card.

Then he sucked in 1985. Really sucked. And he was better but not good in 1986.

1987, though, he went crazy.

1987: 19-13, 272 IP, 14 complete games, 30 HR, 114 BB, 262 K, an ERA of 3.84 when the league ERA was 4.74
1988: 15-11, 261 IP, 16 HR (!), 110 K, 235 K, an ERA of 3.35 against a league ERA of 4.17.

That’s crazy. The M’s 78-84 finish in 1987 was as much Langston’s as anyone’s.

In 1989, then, he had to be traded. The M’s sent him to Montreal for what many people thought was a pretty crappy haul: Gene Harris, Brian Holman, and Randy Johnson. Their record with the M’s:

Brian Holman: three seasons including 1989, started 80 games, threw pretty well.
Gene Harris: tossed to the Padres in 1992 after three seasons of unremarkable relief
Randy Johnson: Leads the Mariners in career (with the M’s) ERA, win percentage, WHIP, H/9, K/9 (at 10.58, he’s 2.4 ahead of Mark Langston at 8, shutouts (19, ten more than Langston at 9), walks (hee hee), wild pitches (66), and hit batsmen (89).

The single-season Mariner board is dominated by Randy, Jamie Moyer, Langston, and Erik Hanson’s brief glory (we’ll get to that).

Trading for someone like Randy, you never know what you’re going to get. The minor and major leagues are both chock-full of pitchers who, if only they could do that one thing, would be truly great. Refine their command a little. Locate their fastball consistently. Throw their breaking pitches for strikes. Randy Johnson at the time of the trade was a huge, painfully thin, emotional pitcher with amazing talent and an uncertain future. He turned into a sure Hall of Famer.

But back to Langston. Like many players of the time, he signed with the Angels and made our lives pretty much miserable from 1990 on, until 1995, when in the one-game playoff against Randy, Randy pitched one of the finest games in Mariner history, a complete-game three-hit shutout in which he gave up one home run – the only run – walked one and struck out 12. 12.


And then there’s this:

MARINERS 7TH: Blowers singled to left; T. Martinez reached on a
fielder’s choice on a sacrifice bunt [Blowers to second]; Wilson
out on a sacrifice bunt (third to second) [Blowers to third, T.
Martinez to second]; Cora was hit by a pitch; Coleman lined to
right; Sojo doubled to right [Blowers scored, T. Martinez
scored, Cora scored, Sojo scored (error by Langston)
struck out; 4 R (3 ER), 2 H, 1 E, 0 LOB. Angels 0, Mariners 5.

I don’t want to dwell on that, too much. It was one play, and the M’s would have won the game without it. And as much as my adoration for Randy threatens to overwhelm everything, we should recognize what Langston did for the generally hapless Mariner teams he played for: his record was 74-67, he started 173 games, threw 1198 innings. He struck out 1,078 hitters. His career RA/9 stood at about 4.5, his ERA at 4.

And for three full years when he was here – 1983, 1986 and 1987 – Langston was one of the few Mariner starters in that time I could see was pitching that night and not walk up those exterior ramps without having resigned myself to seeing the team get pounded for the loss (“Mike Trujillo’s starting? Why?”).

That deserves a moment of recognition. Thanks, Mariner of the Day Mark Langston. It was good seeing you play while you were here.

(and just to pre-empt the inevitable, Randy Johnson did not quit on us, I’ll be banning everyone who says otherwise, and I’m not kidding)