Retired numbers: Seattle Mariners
Griffey and Martinez were no-brainers, but why hasn’t anyone else been honored?
Seattle is the 13th destination on my every-other-Friday tour of baseball’s retired numbers — and it’s going to be a shorter stop than most of those that came before.
Why? Well, to be blunt, the Mariners really don’t have much to work with. The franchise’s overall record since its creation in 1977 is a dismal one — 409 games below .500. Seattle has won just three divisional crowns in 44 seasons, and it has never qualified for a World Series.
Nor is a lack of team success the only problem. The Mariners have also suffered a shortage of individual excellence.
Only six Hall of Fame players have donned Seattle uniforms — and three departed not long after they arrived. Gaylord Perry turned in two mediocre seasons for the Mariners in his mid-40s, Rickey Henderson was penciled into just 92 games, and Rich Gossage made only 36 relief appearances.
The Mariners, as I’ll discuss below, have further complicated the situation by adopting strict criteria for retiring numbers. Most franchises demonstrate flexibility in honoring their past heroes. Not Seattle.
The end result: Only two Mariners have been rewarded with retirement ceremonies. Will any other numerals be added to the facade above center field at T-Mobile Park? There’s only one solid candidate.
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Mariners’ numbers already retired
Both of Seattle’s honorees can also be found in the Plaque Gallery at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
No. 11 Edgar Martinez, who wore a Mariners uniform his entire career (1987-2004), won American League batting titles in 1992 (.343) and 1995 (.356). The designated hitter and third baseman was named to seven All-Star squads. He ranks first in Seattle history in on-base percentage (.418), games played (2,055), runs scored (1,219), and runs batted in (1,261).
No. 24 Ken Griffey Jr. spent 13 of his 22 seasons in Seattle (1989-1999, 2009-2010). The center fielder was the AL’s Most Valuable Player in 1997, led the league in home runs four times, and made 10 All-Star teams as a Mariner. Griffey is the franchise’s all-time leader in wins above replacement (70.6) and home runs (417), and he’s a close second to Martinez in RBIs (1,216).
Mariners’ candidates for retired numbers
There are five plausible candidates to join Martinez and Griffey in Seattle’s pantheon. Let’s review them in numerical order.
No. 14 Lou Piniella played for four clubs, primarily the Royals and Yankees, during an 18-year career. He never took the field for the Mariners, making his mark instead as the team’s manager (1993-2002). Piniella guided Seattle to seven winning seasons in 10 years, capped by an astounding 116-46 mark in 2001. He was named the American League’s Manager of the Year in 1995 and 2001. (The franchise’s other 19 managers, by the way, have combined for seven winning seasons in 34 years.)
No. 15 Kyle Seager is still active (2011-2020) as a third baseman, but he warrants future consideration. Seager already ranks fifth in Mariners history in games (1,321) — three more seasons should vault him comfortably into third place — and he’s fourth in hits (1,267) and homers (207).
No. 34 Felix Hernandez (2005-2019) was once a premier starting pitcher. He won the Cy Young Award in 2010, when he led the league with a 2.27 ERA. Hernandez tops all Seattle pitchers in several career categories, including starts (418), innings (2,730), wins (169), and strikeouts (2,524).
No. 51 Randy Johnson won his first Cy Young by going 18-2 for Seattle in 1995. He spent 10 of his 22 seasons with the Mariners (1989-1998), yet opted for a Diamondbacks cap upon his 2015 induction to the Hall of Fame. Johnson is one of three Seattle pitchers with more than 100 wins. He’s second to Hernandez in strikeouts (2,162), but first in franchise history in strikeout rate (10.6 per nine innings) and fewest hits per nine innings (6.9).
No. 51 Ichiro Suzuki (2001-2012, 2018-2019) made a splash when he arrived in Seattle, winning the Rookie of the Year and MVP awards in his initial season. The right fielder won batting titles in 2001 (.350) and 2004 (.372). His WAR of 56.2 exceeds all Mariners but Griffey and Martinez. He has the highest batting average (.321) and most hits (2,542) in franchise history, and he’s second only to Martinez in games in a Seattle uniform (1,861).
Multiple ceremonies would seem to be warranted in Seattle, but there’s a catch. The Mariners, unlike most clubs, have adopted official criteria for number retirement. A former player or manager must meet either of these conditions:
Been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and been in a Mariners uniform for at least five years.
Come close to such election and spent his entire career or a substantial portion of his career with the Mariners.
That would seem to rule out three of the five contenders:
Piniella had a fine managerial career — not only with the Mariners, but also with the Yankees, Reds, and Cubs. (Let’s forget about his three-year stretch in Tampa Bay.) Will he ever make the Hall of Fame? It’s possible, though far from a cinch.
Seager is a fine player — one of the best ever to take the field in Seattle — though there is nothing about his record that screams Cooperstown.
Hernandez looked like a possible Hall of Fame candidate as late as 2015, the year he turned 29. His career line through that season was 143-101 with a 3.11 ERA, including six top-10 finishes in Cy Young voting. But he flopped to a 26-35 mark with a 4.89 ERA after turning 30.
That leaves two candidates, who fortuitously wore the same No. 51. It’s a virtual lock that Suzuki will be elected to the Hall of Fame — and that the Mariners will retire his number soon thereafter.
The logical decision, of course, would be to honor Johnson at the same time, given that he is already in the Hall and that he spent nearly a decade as Seattle’s dominant starter.
Will a No. 51 double ceremony happen? We have a long time to wonder. Suzuki won’t become eligible for induction to Cooperstown in 2025.