It's a shame that Seattle is left out in the Pacific Northwest, virtually neglected by either the heads of sports franchises. Sure, they have a football team in the Seahawks that went to the Super Bowl a couple years ago and their soccer team is winning rave reviews for their attendance and the atmosphere it creates at games. But coming into existence around the same time as the Seahawks, Major League Baseball's Seattle Mariners have been dutifully playing out season after season and quietly have been building a history as well, and MLB Productions has decided to bestow the "Essential Games" box set honor on their behalf.
Before getting into the set itself, a few words on the franchise. And let's not mince any words, for the first decade of their existence they were bad. Not by expansion team standards, though there were some of those moments, but from their inaugural 1977 season to 1990, they lost at least 90 games seven times and came within sniffing distance of a break-even .500 record once. However, things started turning when the team's prized prospect Ken Griffey Jr. cracked the roster and there was some ownership stability, with Nintendo of America purchasing the team. Combine Griffey's emergence with longtime Mariner Edgar Martinez (along with outfielder Jay Buhner and pitcher Randy Johnson, both acquired in trades), and the foursome became baseball stars. Adding manager Lou Piniella to the fold, the team raised their success to the next level. Under Piniella's leadership, the team won three American League West titles, culminating in a 116 win season in 2001.
Considering the talent mentioned above (along with players like Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki and then-youngster Alex Rodriguez), you'd think their success was inevitable, yet they could never push themselves over the hump, losing the American League Championship series three times in seven years (twice to the New York Yankees and once to the Cleveland Indians). After Piniella's departure the team held firm in two subsequent seasons, winning 93 games each year, however finding themselves on the outside of the playoff hunt, where they have been ever since.
The team's heyday during the Piniella is celebrated in this box set of four games that mix regular season and playoff success. The list of games includes:
10/2/1995 - The Mariners won 16 of their last 21 games to close out the regular season and play the California Angels in a one-game playoff, where they blew open a 1-1 game with eight runs in the final two innings while Randy Johnson struck out 12 Angel batters en route to a 9-1 win.
10/8/1995 - Less than a week later, facing the New York Yankees in a decisive Game 5 AL Divisional Series, the Mariners scrambled to send the game into extra innings before coming from behind in the 11th inning on Martinez' double that sent Griffey Jr. home and the Mariners into their first ALCS.
10/6/2000 - If you told me that Mariners starters would be limited to five hits and one run batted in while beating the Chicago White Sox to sweep the ALDS I'd have called you a liar. But using pinch-hitting heroics, the Mariners won in the bottom of the ninth inning 2-1 to advance to the ALCS.
9/19/2001 - Jamie Moyer limits the Anaheim Angels to three hits over six innings, leading the Mariners to a 5-0 shutout, clinching the Division pennant for the club.
A word on the packaging; while in a sturdy cardboard box with four slim line cases that include the game's program on the front and box score on the back, the inside of the cases is plain white paper. Normally the packaging of these games would include inning-by-inning synopses of action, including outs, home runs, etc., but this step by MLB productions feels a bit lazy in the process. I can understand it to some degree, as their perspective may be that they're starting to use "second tier teams" as part of this continuing process to get great team performances on video, but a note to those who are interested in these sets for this small inconsistency.
At the end of the day while it may be a little oversimplifying the matter, I'd hope that the Mariners regain some postseason shape or form. Simply put, the city deserves to see a champion again as the last one was a) more than three decades ago and b) the team that did it (the NBA's Seattle Sonics) have since relocated to Oklahoma. Because if these four games are the apex of the franchise's history, I'd hope there's more time and money sunk into surpassing that effort, because Seattle needs a champion that they can all be boastful for.
All of the games are presented in full frame video and it looks like there has been a little wear and tear to them. Not from a game play perspective, but the broadcast captions look fuzzy and nearly illegible. The games also include the MLB productions watermark in the upper right corner for sports disc aficionados. It's a minor deterrent, but better than the alternative of not having these on disc at all.
Two-channel Dolby stereo abounds for all games, but in a slight twist, the Mariners' KIRO radio team broadcasts can be selected as an audio track. They sound clear like the television broadcasts due, but are prone to a few more gaps of silence in them. They're a better option than hearing Brent Musberger call baseball for ABC, that's for sure.
All of the bonus material from the disc can be found on the 4th (or 9/19/01) disc, and it includes more than an hour of footage (1:01:59), including tributes to some of the Mariners stars named, along with individual performances of no-hitters (like Chris Bosio) and the on-field celebration for their win over the Yankees.
All in all, the Essential Games of the Seattle Mariners fit the bill for those fans of the Pacific Northwest baseball team. While it'll do for the diehards, it's not as slickly produced as some of the other sets usually are, so I hope this is more a blip from MLB productions, rather than the start of a continuing pattern.