Remember the first baseball game at the Kingdome?
It wasn't the Mariners' April 6, 1977 opener under the Big Bumbershoot, a 7-0 loss to the Angels.
"About a week before the Mariner opener, Dick Vertlieb, the Mariners' first GM, called me," remembered Johnny O'Brien, first operations head of the Kingdome. "He asked if we might arrange a `secret' game in the dome to be sure everything was set, like the big screen."
O'Brien's brother, Ed, brought in the Seattle University team he coached to play Western Washington.
"I remember the first Western batter hit a groundball to short," Johnny recalled, "and instead of hustling all out for first, he watched himself on the big telescreen the whole way down the basepath."
Seattle U. won, 8-1. If only the history of the Mariners at their homely homepark were so successful.
Before Ken Griffey Jr. took center field for the first time, before Lou Piniella and Alex Rodriguez arrived, there more grins than wins, more fun and games than close ballgames.
But what do you expect form a team twice owned by commedians (Danny Kaye, one of the original owners and David Letterman, who was part of Jeff Smulyan's Emmis Broadcast Group).
Today, as the park once described as a "concrete coffin" closes on Mariner baseball, it's time to remember some of the Kingdome's zany moments.
-- -- -- ONCE UPON A SIGN "Junior, hit it here" -- -- --
Just as there is a Lesser Seattle, forever will there be Lesser
The dawn of Junior in 1989 was preceded by a dozen years, most of them played in the Time of the Trident, the club's first logo until George Argyros revealed the downward prongs were a symbol of bad luck in Greek mythology.
In those days, the Mariners were to baseball what the Keystone Kops were to movies. Seattle had a few fine players, but one way or another, it never translated.
Yet, looking back on the 22 1/2 seasons of the Accident on Occidental is rendered fond by the mists of memory. There may not have been a lot of wins in the first dozen years in the facility built for utility, but there were a lot of laughs.
Example: On the final out of Gaylord Perry's 300th career victory May 6, 1982, second baseman Julio Cruz took four or five steps toward first with both hands on the groundball he had just gloved.
"I was trying to find the dry side to make a throw," Cruz said. "Gaylord had so much Vaseline on the ball it was almost impossible."
On Aug. 23 that year, Gaylord had his own lesser moment, tossed for doctoring a ball for the only time in his career.
-- -- -- ONCE UPON A SIGN "Bald is Buhnerful" -- -- --
In the early years, there were personalities, Bill the Beerman, Rick the Peanutman, Tuba Guy, Cat Guy.
You don't remember Cat Guy? Over the years, he's had as much tape time on SportsCenter as Griffey. He's Alan Cox, the lanky fellow from the grounds crew made famous on July 14, 1984. That's when Cox was jumping around the outfield in the eighth inning of a game against Boston while one of the Kingdome's cats (how else did you think they controlled the rats?) scratched him badly as he tried to carry it off the field.
"I had to go to the hospital for tetanus shots," said Cox, who lives in Seattle and now works for a courier service. "After that they brought the Humane Society in and taught all of us how to pick up cats. What did I know? I grew up with dogs."
Cruz, the Mariners' best player on those first teams, looked back on the first years as, "cuckoo times."
"We were really trying to win games, but sometimes it was tough to tell," said Cruz. "All people remember is Maury (Wills), Rick Honeycutt, Wimpy (Tom Paciorek) and Lenny (Randle)."
Randle was a handy player, but his most memorable position was not third base or anywhere in the infield. It was on his hands and knees. On May 27, 1981, Randle was immortalized for blowing the ball foul.
Kansas City's Amos Otis had topped a ball along the third-base line. "I saw Lenny get down on all fours and remember thinking, `This is a play I gotta see,' " Cruz said. "He'll never make a throw from there."
Randle crawled alongside the ball, his face nearly glued to it as it rolled inside the line. As it slowed, he got it to roll foul.
He said he was not blowing on the ball but calling to it. "I yelled at it to go foul, `Please go foul . . . please go foul!' " he said.
The umpires awarded Otis a hit. The Mariners lost, 8-5.
Randle's mighty blow only tied with two others for tops that month. On May 8-9, Paciorek hit game-ending home runs to beat the Yankees on back-to-back weekend nights, the latter in front of a Boeing Night crowd of 51,903. After that game, the throng cheered him out for the majors' first recognized curtain call.
-- -- -- ONCE UPON A SIGN "Edgar esta caliente" -- -- --
From the beginning, baseball in the Kingdome was expected to be like shooting marbles in a bathtub, but distances - now a hot topic at Safeco Field - and the long ball always were the focus.
As soon as the expansion Mariners' first workout in 1977, they questioned the Dome's measurements, which were posted in fathoms (Mariner theme, 1977-80) as well as feet. It turned out the park was about 8 to 10 feet shorter all around than distances on the walls.
Before they pushed the left-field fence back from 316 feet to its present 331, and built up the Walla Walla (named in a contest) in right field from 11 1/2 feet to 23 feet, Paciorek had his twin shots . . . Willie Horton lost his career 300th on June 5, 1979, when a ball he crushed to left smacked a speaker 102 feet above the field and came down a single . . . Doug Rader for years had the lone long ball hit into the upper deck in left, now so unrare (11 players, 15 times) that Mark McGwire did it twice in one inning in 1997 . . . Jim Presley tied the 1986 opener with one homer in the ninth and won it two innings later with a grand slam.
-- -- -- ONCE UPON A SIGN "Older women for Omar" -- -- --
Not that it's been all offense. There has been lots of standout defense and baserunning.
For defense, most might rate Griffey's amazing cat-on-a-curtain play on a ball hit by Baltimore's Kevin Bass to the wall in right center on May 26, 1995, when Griffey caught the ball and shattered his left wrist, forcing him to miss 10 weeks.
Or they may take Bo Jackson's throw on June 5, 1989, nailing Harold Reynolds with a peg to the plate on the fly - 300 feet from the warning track.
Or even Omar Vizquel's daring charge and barehand on the bouncer behind the mound to close Chris Bosio's no-hitter.
All OK plays, but Lesser Seattleites will pick Glenn Wilson's genius on June 28, 1988. On a ball smoked by Texas' Jeff Kunkel under the right-field bullpen bench, Wilson hurried over, picked up a ball and threw it into the game - a ball from the bullpen ball bag.
"It was white with red stitches," Wilson said. "When I saw Dr. Bobby Brown's name on it, I knew I had the right ball."
Knowledgable sorts may play it straight on baserunning, choosing Cruz's record 32 consecutive steals, or Reynolds' club mark of 60 stolen bases in 1987 or Rodriguez's 46 in 1998, when he also hit 42 homers - or even Griffey's dash from first to score the Yankee-beating run on Edgar Martinez's double.
Great footwork all, but none better than the basepath events of July 9, 1985, when the Mariners had two runners tagged out at home on one play - by a catcher with a broken leg. Phil Bradley ran Toronto's Buck Martinez down as he was thrown out by Jesse Barfield, and broke Martinez's right ankle.
Gorman Thomas, who hit the ball, was sneaking toward third when Martinez threw the ball into left field. George Bell threw it back to the plate and the ball somehow rolled/bounced into the mitt of Martinez, who was lying awkwardly atop the plate. As Thomas carefully tried to avoid stepping on the prone player while touching the plate, Martinez reached up and tagged him out.
Martinez went to Providence Hospital and missed two months. Bell hit a grand slam in the 13th inning to win that game, in which the previous 32 hits were all singles.
-- -- -- ONCE UPON A SIGN "RUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUPE" -- -- --
Struggling to draw fans, the Mariners turned anything into a promotion. In 1978, there was the July Fourth laser light show that smoked the fans out of the building.
In the 1979 Mascot Competition won by Spacey the Needle over the Bulgarian Rabbit, a man showed up wearing only a diaper and calling himself "The Baby."
"We had all the mascots run or ride or skate or do their thing from the left-field tunnel to the plate," recalled Randy Adamack, now Seattle vice president of communications. "The Baby crawled. When he stood up at home, his hands and knees were all bloody. I think we gave him second place for his pain."
Before the 1979 All-Star Game at the Kingdome, Seattle had the San Diego Chicken in for six straight games. In one, the Chicken was bothering Yankee players, so one threw his glove at the big, yellow bird. The Yankee was Lou Piniella.
There have been Paper Plane Contests (closest of 10,000 flipped from the 300 Level to the pickup at second base wins the truck), Beat the Yankees Hankies and a memorable Helmet Night in August 1981. Rene Lachemann protested a call by throwing players' helmet from the dugout and the fans followed his lead.
Bobby Ayala Goatee Night (1997) did not work, but Buhner Buzz Night may be the biggest success (in its sixth season, 15,870 men, 186 women) since Funny Nose Glasses. The Mariners gave them away on May 8, 1982 - Lachemann wore a pair to exchange lineups at home plate - and drew 36,700, almost 10,000 more than watched Perry's 300th win two nights before, confirming to naysayers that Seattle was no baseball town.
Lesser Seattle fans knew this at the pre-Opening Day workout in 1983 when they found the grounds crew had painted the bullpen plates on the turf backward, the pointed side facing the mound.
And all this time you thought the best grounds-crew story was the one from April 25, 1981, when Maury Wills had the batters' boxes extended a foot toward the mound to help Paciorek hit Oakland's Rick Langford. A's Manager Billy Martin took one look and started screaming until Wills was suspended.
Wills, who once banned dogs from the clubhouse, although none had ever been brought in, called Cruz to the mound in the same series before the league gave him his two days off without pay.
"He hated Rickey Henderson, and Rickey had stolen second," Cruz said. "He told me to hold him on second like I was a first baseman. So there I stood, my foot on the bag, my glove stretched out to the mound. Rickey said, `What are you doing?' and I told him I was following orders. Then on the first pitch, he stole third."
The Mariners' favorite promotion came on one of several Singles Nights in 1989. Brainstorming Letterman-like Top 10 pickup lines for the big screen, their No. 1 was: "Hi, my name is Jeff, and I own a baseball team."
-- -- -- ONCE UPON A SIGN
"I adora Joey Cora" -- -- --
Wills was fired not long after the batters' box fiasco, Lachemann became manager and a new era of zaniness ensued. Lachemann practically lived in the manager's office the rest of that season.
"I have all the beer I want and don't have to worry about driving home," he said, "and I never have to mow the lawn."
Lachemann brought better baseball for a time. The Mariners were in the AL West fight until August, 1982, a year that began with relief pitcher Bill Caudill stealing the keys to the tugboat that was supposed to bring in relievers Opening Night. Caudill finally gave the key back just before the start of the game was delayed. The relievers refused to use the boat, and Ed Vande Berg ran in front of it all the way to the mound.
Caudill and Larry Andersen, who invented the rally (inside-out) cap one May night in the Kingdome bullpen, stole the boat one evening that August and had it outside the Kingdome just before gametime, selling pictures and pennants and promising World Series tickets. With Caudill wearing a life ring around his neck, they made $500.
After Caudill was removed from the team hotel in Cleveland by police, he got the nickname "Cuffs." After that, Lachemann would call him in from the bullpen by holding his wrists together.
Fans sent Caudill police badges and equipment, including a pair of handcuffs with which he attached a number of unsuspecting people to Kingdome railings, including teammates and one night, Judy Argyros.
-- -- -- ONCE UPON A SIGN "Alex will you marry me?" -- -- --
If some Mariner seasons weren't disastrous enough, the Dome has been home to fires, fights and falling tiles.
Two top-of-the-card fracases stand out - the 1990 brawl with Milwaukee in which Jeff Schaefer bodyslammed Tom Trebelhorn to the turf, and the 1996 brouhaha featuring Mariner catcher John Marzano and Yankee Paul O'Neill. That battle behind the plate nearly spilled through a mistakenly opened door that led to the Mariner executives' field-level private box.
Only two fires have been detected at Mariner games, not counting the usual late-inning conflagrations on the field.
Caudill set the first during a hitting slump in late 1982, burning bats outside the Mariner clubhouse.
"Hitters thought it was funny," recalled Henry Genzale, former Mariner clubhouse manager, "until they found out he had torched their game bats, about an hour before gametime."
Texas pitcher Bobby Witt is thought to have set the other, crawling under the stands to light the Mariners' bullpen ballbag alight on Aug. 17, 1989. Pitcher Jerry Reed dumped a water cooler on the flames but explained, "First, I carried my teammates to safety. What else would you expect from a reliever?"
One of the oddest displays of firepower came with George Bush's 1985 visit to a Mariner game. When the Mariner victory ship fired its cannon, the Secret Service detail dived on top of Bush with guns drawn.
"We had forgotten to tell them about the cannon," Johnny O'Brien said.
About an hour later, the Secret Service lost Bush, in the Kingdome. He and Cale Campbell, the longtime elevator operator began swapping ex-fighter pilot tales.
"They were still yapping when we reached the ground and the Secret Service guys fanned out from the elevator, but Bush and Cale were still talking, and did so . . . until the elevator doors closed," O'Brien recalled. "A bit later, Bush said that maybe we should go out and let the guys know everything was all right. You never saw a dozen more relieved men in your life."
The beginning of the end for the Mariners at the Kingdome came on July 19, 1994, when the ceiling tiles fell. The team embarked on a 20-game trek on which Seattle lost eight of the first 10 games, then banded together to win nine of the last 10 before players went on strike on Aug. 12.
There were other natural near-disasters. The old ballpark celebrated its 20th season on May 2, 1996, by surviving an earthquake that measured 5.4 on the Richter scale. As 21,711 fans chanted, "Let's play ball . . . let's play ball," umpires suspended the game until the next night, when it became a 6-4 loss.
"Being from Florida we don't exactly see earthquakes every day," pitcher Sterling Hitchock said. "I thought at first the crowd was just going nuts. Then I realized there weren't enough people in here to go that nuts."
-- -- -- ONCE UPON A SIGN "Refuse to lose" -- -- --
When Lachemann was fired on June 25, 1983, it was an ugly day even for the Dome. Gaylord Perry and shortstop Todd Cruz also were dumped. Del Crandall came in as manager, but the move was so touchy the Mariners did not introduce him before the game.
It started a decade of ups and down for the club, moves to kids, veterans, back to kids. Part of this second change to younger players came when General Manager Hal Keller locked himself up with Chuck Cottier and his coaches for four hours in the manager's office after a loss in July, 1985. Finally, they agreed to let Keller bring up Harold Reynolds.
For a time in 1985, Argyros threatened to bankrupt the team corporation unless he got a better Kingdome lease. None of the changes worked and interest waned. Lee Pelekoudas, Seattle's assistant GM, remembered a night when a foul ball fell into the stands behind the right-field bullpen, "and no one went and picked the ball up. There was no one there." Those were the days when the team actually piped crowd noise through the PA system.
One of those kids who rode through those turbulent times was at the heart of possibly the most poignant moment in Kingdome history, Oct. 6, 1991. It was the last at-bat of Alvin Davis, whose character and gentility shone through the dark years around him. While there had been no announcement Davis would not be back, the fans knew and rose in a prolonged ovation.
Since Seattle finished with its first season over .500, Davis fittingly went out a winner. Four years later, the amazing success of 1995 showed that fans would come inside for a winner, something long debated.
Any questions left about Seattle being a baseball town were answered on Oct. 2, 1995. After the American League West ended in a tie on Sunday afternoon, the Mariners waited until a Seahawk game was over, then sold 52,236 tickets in a matter of hours.
Fifteen years after the people talked about the Mendoza Line, a .200 average named for Mariner shortstop Mario Mendoza, they were focused on the Magic Number in the standings.
But through it all, the good and the bad, the Mariners played indoors when everyone in Perry's Perch or The Boneyard knew that was not natural. The odd times when someone would open the door beyond the left-field foul pole, a shaft of summer twilight would beam onto the turf in short center, a reminder of what could be.
What could be, soon will be, Safeco Field.
And the memories of the Mariners at the Kingdome, at last looking lovable, will fade like the echoes of Abner, the old Sicks Stadium bell that Dave Niehaus would ring for the runs the Mariners had scored in an inning, so many years ago. -------------------------------
The Kingdome had its share of wacky moments, but there was some great baseball, as well. Here are the top 10 baseball moments, according to Bob Finnigan, Seattle Times Mariner beat writer.
1, 1995 playoff series win over the Yankees - climaxing with the Ken Griffey Jr. sliding home on Edgar Martinez's double on Oct. 8, 1995.
2, 1995 pennant race, winning 16 of the last 19 games at home, six in the last at-bat.
3, 1995 AL West playoff win over the Angels, with Mark Langston lying on his back at home after Luis Sojo's bases-clearing triple.
4, The Griffeys, Senior and Junior, making baseball history on Aug. 31, 1990, in the lineup together against Kansas City, linking identical singles and runs scored in their first back-to-back at-bats;
5, Two no-hitters, by Randy Johnson over Detroit (June 2, 1990) and Chris Bosio over Boston (April 22, 1993).
6, The 300th win of Gaylord Perry's Hall of Fame career, May 6, 1982;
7, The last game of Nolan Ryan's Hall of Fame career, Sept. 22, 1993;
8, The final at-bat of Alvin Davis, Oct. 6, 1991;
9. The three-win weekend sweep of the Tigers, who entered the Dome 35-3, May 25-27, 1984
10. The All-Star Game, July 17, 1979, won by National League, 7-6;