All acceleration as the Sons of Babe Ruth battery a abettor belt of moonshots, from Giancarlo Stanton’s opposite-field arctic ropes to Aaron Judge’s rainbows to Gary Sanchez’s rockets.
As the New York Yankees chop and drudge their way through the MLB almanac book this summer, they are demography asleep aim at a single-season home run almanac that has lasted 21 years, a arresting accomplishment that has withstood bashed balls, baby ballparks, the laws of force and the analysis of time.
For added than two decades, the 1997 Seattle Mariners accept maintained Murderers’ Row cachet in the almanac book by advantage of their 264 home runs. But through this season’s aboriginal 74 games, the Yankees are on clip to bash 268.
“The egocentric ancillary of me says, hey, they allegation to abatement short,” Ken Griffey Jr., who led the Mariners bruisers with 56 homers in ’97 and was called the American League MVP, tells B/R. “But it’s article the media can allocution about and draw absorption to the bold itself, and I anticipate that’s important.
“Like my dad says, if you’re in the chat and it’s positive, it’s good.”
And what a account the ’97 Mariners were. There was Junior and Bone and Edgar, R.J. and A-Rod (before he became A-ROD™). In ’97, Griffey, Jay Buhner, Edgar Martinez and one of the best starting pitchers on the planet, Randy Johnson, were in their prime. No abode in baseball was louder than the Kingdome.
And no aggregation in history burst added home runs.
“Oof,” exclaims Alex Rodriguez, who, like abounding of his old teammates, didn’t apprehend the ’97 M’s still authority the record. “That’s a lot of home runs. A lot of slugging.
“It was a great, abundant calendar because it had a aggregate of balance, adeptness and acceptable hitting. And the adeptness to accomplish contact. Actual rarely do you accept three abundant right-handed hitters and [two] abundant awkward hitters, so from a antithesis point of view, it was awesome.
“I aloof remember, abnormally at the Kingdome, it acquainted like we had three or four homers nightly.”
Buhner ripped 40 homers that summer, Paul Sorrento 31, Edgar Martinez 28, A-Rod—in aloof his additional abounding season—23 and Russ Davis 20. Griffey and Sorrento swung from the larboard side; Buhner, A-Rod and Martinez from the right. Outfielder Jose Cruz Jr., who popped 12 homers afore a midseason barter to Toronto, was a switch-hitter. If these guys aback popped up activated in the Saturday morning animation lineup, it wouldn’t accept been a surprise.
“I’ll acquaint you, one affair I bethink is afraid easily at third base,” says John McLaren, who accomplished there for administrator Lou Piniella that season. “That happened often.”
It would be accessible to say these Mariners put up video bold numbers, because, well, they were. Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr., produced on the Nintendo 64 platform, was aggressive during this time and would admission May 31, 1998. And with it grew a accidental of backward-cap-wearing kids throughout America absolutely putting up video bold numbers.
“N64? I consistently played it,” Andrew McCutchen, San Francisco Giants outfielder, says. “And already you put the cipher in, it was a home run. They’d all go to left-center. That brawl is going, activity gone. Every time.
“You could butt it and it’d still be a homer. You was cheating if you played with bodies who couldn’t put the cipher in.”
More on that N64 bluff cipher in a bit. On absolute chunk throughout ’97, though, it seemed like the Mariners had their own battery codes. No aggregation had added swag than the traveling bedrock ‘n’ cycle hardball bazaar that was those Seattle Mariners.
And cipher was added beautiful than the King of Air-conditioned himself, Ken Griffey Jr.
“Certain things he did aback then, that’s why guys do it today,” Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper says. “We all were absolutely big admirers of Griffey. He fabricated the bold a lot of fun not alone for himself, but for his teammates as well. He was so gifted. It’s absurd how able he was.”
And how magnetic, both afresh and now. Six of Seattle’s 10 bigger best crowds to this day came in ’97, in a clinking adhesive arch that allegorical Seattle bi-weekly columnist Art Thiel already referred to as an “audio riot.” The 3.2 actor admirers alive through the turnstiles that summer still stands as a Mariners single-season record.
“That accurate group, it’s like your aboriginal love,” says Tim Hevly, the Mariners’ carnality admiral of communications, now in his 29th analysis with the club. “It’s like your aerial academy girlfriend.”
The ’97 home run battery unofficially started Sept. 1, 1996. The analysis had been a disappointment. After a activation playoff win in the ’95 bounded annular over the Yankees, the Mariners fell aback to the backpack the afterward year and would absence the playoffs. But in that aboriginal September game, Baltimore Orioles administrator Davey Johnson paused the affairs to ask the umpires to analysis Rodriguez’s bat for cork. Griffey and the assemblage ample it was simple gamesmanship. McLaren says article had happened continued ago in the amateur amid Johnson and Piniella and they never cared for ceremony other. It was addition cleft in their claimed one-upsmanship, McLaren figured.
Whatever—plate adjudicator Ted Barrett complied and bedeviled A-Rod’s bat. What happened abutting as the Mariners bashed advanced after absence a exhausted was a moment for the ages—and one A-Rod aloof this April memorialized on article that didn’t abide aback then, Instagram. The kid met the Kid amid the bowl and the on-deck circle, and Griffey, the No. 3 hitter, tossed the bat he was accepted in the on-deck amphitheater to Rodriguez, who promptly took it and launched the actual abutting angle into the seats.
“He was application my bat in the aboriginal place,” Griffey says. “So, here’s my added bat.”
Says A-Rod, who hit .509 with a .909 slugging allotment adjoin the Orioles in ’96: “The affair that sticks out is that Lou Piniella was a abundant drillmaster to all of us. He admired hitting, admired teaching hitting. I anticipate some of the abundant numbers that added up at the end of [’97] was absolutely the way we approached offense. And a lot of that came from Lou Piniella’s DNA.”
The Mariners addled aboriginal already the ’97 analysis formed around. On Aperture Day, Griffey airtight two home runs adjoin New York Yankees ace David Cone.
“It seemed like Junior consistently did article on Aperture Day,” says Mariners radio man Rick Rizzs, now in his 33rd analysis with the team. “Opening Day, Mother’s Day, Fourth of July, final bold in the Kingdome, whenever his ancestor showed up … any bold of significance, it seemed like Junior homered.”
“Such a abysmal lineup,” says Mike Blowers, an infielder on the ’97 aggregation and now a Mariners television analyst. “That was a difficult calendar to get through. And in that ballpark, it acquainted like addition was activity to bang a acreage ambition every night, alike whoever was hitting eighth.”
Says Griffey: “It takes everybody, alike the guy who hit one, he’s allotment of that record. It’s not aloof captivated by one guy; it’s captivated by a team. Best of the guys, nobody’s cerebration activity up there, I’ve gotta hit a home run. Our aesthetics for hitting was, Let’s get on abject and if goes out, it goes out, but if it doesn’t, we’ve gotta account some runs. I anticipate if you attending at best championship teams they’re adapted about 1,000 runs, 1,000-RBI mark. That’s what you shoot for.”
The ’97 Mariners, who won the AL West but absent in the analysis alternation that autumn to Johnson’s Orioles, accomplished with 925 runs denticulate and 890 RBI.
“Junior was advised the best amateur in the bold at the time,” Martinez says. “We had abundant players. And personalities, characters. Randy was tall. Jay was bald. Junior, his personality and ability. And Alex was so talented, too.
“It put our aggregation on the map.”
As it was happening, they were still adolescent abundant to be clear by the acrimony the years eventually bring. Later, A-Rod’s aggregate of crisis and ego would put him alongside with Griffey. But in ’97, things were still new and fresh, and aback an off day hit at home, A-Rod (then 21) and Griffey (27) would comedy together.
“I took my accomplished aggregation Jet-Skiing,” Griffey says. “We were a abutting team. Hell, during the bang years (’94-95), you would see six of us amphitheatre golf. We were terrible, but we’d comedy golf. Aback you’re a abutting team, you do things together.”
Rarely was there a bad day. On those occasions aback Griffey biconcave into a alarm at the plate, McLaren would kid him: Go aback to actuality the Kid at Cincinnati’s Moeller Aerial School. Or: Put on some music and get your apperception at ease.
“He’d aloof smile at me,” McLaren says.
“He’d accord me, Is that all you got?” Griffey says. “Stuff like that. Anybody can do it once, can you do it again? Things like that. But it was everybody.”
One day Buhner was demography batting practice, and Piniella had alone him bottomward in the lineup.
“Bone was pissed,” McLaren says. “I happened to be in allegation of the assurance that year, and we had a account on balls. Buhner starts flipping them [with his bat] into the stands bottomward the aboriginal abject line, and I don’t say annihilation because in the aboriginal annular of BP you usually go oppo.”
Second round, Buhner’s still accomplishing it, and McLaren tells him to abdicate demography brief hacks and exhausted the accursed bat. Buhner shoots back, “Oh, noooo, you appetite me to be a table-setter.”
Martinez remembers and smiles.
“We had a fun accord with Mac,” he says. “Him and Jay were consistently giving ceremony added a adamantine time. They kept the aggregation loose. Mac was consistently aggravating to get a acknowledgment out of Jay.”
Sometimes, batting convenance was alike added memorable than the games, which was adage article with this crew.
“More fun than I’ve anytime had in baseball,” McLaren says of his BP bullpen duties. “I so enjoyed it. I had fun with those guys. No. 1, aback I threw to Junior, it didn’t accomplish any difference, he’d hit annihilation I threw. Buhner was different. On the aftermost round, those guys acclimated to comedy Home Run Derby. It was cool. They formed on their acclamation for the aboriginal three circuit and afresh let it rip. They’d accept ancillary bets. I’d change speeds and Buhner would get so pissed. OK, all right, that’s right, try to appearance me up.”
The epicenter of Seattle’s clap advance was the Kingdome, an all-purpose, accurate catacomb that opened in March 1976 and was the Mariners’ home through the aperture of Safeco Acreage in July 1999.
It was like amphitheatre arena baseball and had the barn feel of your bounded Costco. Speakers and roof-support affairs aerial aloft the amphitheatre apparent were in play. The abhorrent area was large, but the acreage ambit in ’97 were small: 331 anxiety bottomward the larboard acreage line, 312 bottomward the adapted acreage band and 405 to asleep center. The centermost of the arch roof was aloof 250 anxiety aloft the field.
They could actuality 59,166 into the collective (as compared to Safeco Field’s accommodation today of 47,943), which helps explain both the record-setting appearance in ’97 and the eardrum-pounding noise.
“You apperceive what I remember? The fireworks,” says Nomar Garciaparra, afresh Boston’s ambush and now a Dodgers television analyst. “They went off aback the assurance went out. That was a loud abode to play. It was loud, the bombs were loud. They’d hit one out and there would be smoke in the air, and afore that cleared, they’d hit another.”
It wasn’t some biased Coors Field-like home-field advantage. The ’97 Mariners clubbed 131 homers in the Kingdome and 133 on the road. But…indoor fireworks?
“There were so abounding homers, one game, it looked like the Kingdome was on fire,” Rizzs says. “There was aloof a huge, gray fog that wafted over the outfield.
“Fly assurance were boxy to see. There was no abode for the smoke to go.”
Well, abreast the 250-foot acme of the roof, there was one place.
“We’d try to accessible the bear [to let the smoke escape] aback we were amphitheatre defense, afresh abutting it aback we were amphitheatre offense,” Griffey quips.
Two decades later, the fable of the Kingdome endures.
“I heard that abode was awesome,” Bryce Harper says.
“We’d about-face on Ken Griffey,” Garciaparra says, “and he’d bunt, and we were like, ‘Cool, it didn’t go out,'”
Like McCutchen says, if you knew area to get the bluff cipher to the N64 Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr. game, Griffey bunts would about-face into home runs. And you bigger accept Junior himself was in on that action.
“If I’m activity to comedy somebody, I can’t let them exhausted me!” Griffey says, laughing. “Yes, I knew the bluff cipher to N64.”
At home in Florida, McCutchen’s ancestors could not allow the game, so Andrew, who grew up idolizing Griffey, would skedaddle beyond boondocks to his accessory Brian’s house.
“We’d comedy together, he’d get to hit with [Griffey] once, afresh I’d get to hit with him once,” McCutchen says.
Based out of Redmond, Washington, about adapted bottomward the artery from Seattle, Nintendo of America approached Griffey’s agent, Brian Goldberg, and explained its affairs for the game. One, Griffey was a video bold amateur himself and had been for years. And two, Nintendo at the time was the majority actor of the Mariners.
So with echoes from those ’97 Kingdome fireworks still popping, Griffey catholic to a barn in San Diego for three canicule that winter to go through the motion abduction contest that were adapted to aftermath the game.
“I had a lot of fun accepting in spandex with all the sensors on me and active around,” Griffey says. “It was appealing sweet, actuality able to say, ‘Hey, I was on a video game.'”
Griffey had a Nintendo arrangement absorbed up in his locker during those canicule and generally would comedy in the adviser during downtime. Sometimes, he would alike comedy his own N64 game. You would anticipate that would accept set him up for badinage amid his teammates. But for a actual simple and allusive reason, it did not.
“Most of the time I saw him in his armchair amphitheatre that game, it was with a Make-A-Wish kid,” Blowers says. “It was important.”
Rizzs tells the adventure of a adolescent ancestors acquaintance stricken with blight whose dying ambition was to accommodated Griffey. So the boy’s ancestors came to the Kingdome one day, and Rizzs begin Griffey in the clubhouse, explained the affairs and asked if Griffey could maybe say accost to the boy as he was advancing for batting practice. Abutting affair Rizzs knew, Griffey had the boy in the clubhouse, built-in at his locker, amphitheatre Nintendo for 20 minutes. The boy anesthetized abroad a brace of months later.
“He did that all on his own,” Rizzs says, speaking of Griffey. “He is one of the best arresting animal beings I’ve anytime met in my life, as able-bodied as the greatest baseball amateur I anytime saw.”
Griffey became allotment of the Make-A-Wish Foundation aboriginal in his career, and at 48 today, he still is, ciphering he visits with 30 or 40 of their kids annually.
“My affair is to accord addition beatitude for two or three hours after alive the outcome,” he says. “I owe it to them. I comedy baseball. As I alarm it, I got two hours of fun. These kids accept 24 hours of pain.”
The tentacles from that Mariners aggregation still amplitude into the present. The home run almanac will abide in abode until at atomic after this summer, the Nintendo bold featuring Griffey is appearance its 20th ceremony and Nike still produces his shoes.
“You anticipate about guys in ’90s, you anticipate about Griffey,” Bryce Harper says. “I do. That’s the era I grew up in. You knew the swing, you knew the contour of the swing, everybody knew. He’d hit the home run and airing out of the box and that little attending he would give. He had the sweetest exhausted of all time.”
As Griffey emphasizes, alike the guys who hit one home run that year are a allotment of the almanac (take a bow, account outfielders Rich Amaral and Raul Ibanez and advancement catchers John Marzano and Rick Wilkins). Regarding the accustomed thumpers…
“When guys are on base, it’s adamantine to angle about a guy,” says Griffey, who burst 23 two-run homers that season, three three-run homers and one admirable slam. “You’re activity to airing me to amount the bases for Edgar to appear up? It helps aback a guy is benumbed hitting abaft you. We were putting guys in spots area they were able to swing.”
Griffey remembers the calendar to this day, from Sorrento’s golfing accomplishment to third baseman Russ Davis’ Alabama drawl.
Even admitting he didn’t homer, the 6’10” Johnson stands as an ballast of the berserk band afterward this admired aggregation developed as well.
“Randy and I still allocution about photography,” Griffey says. “He took it in college, I took it up later. Our kids went to the University of Arizona. I’ll alarm him, or he’ll alarm me. I see him at the Hall of Fame. It’s been fun to watch him over the years. It was easier to angle abaft him than in advanced of him.”
“It was a fun bunch,” A-Rod says. “In abounding means we had two role models, right? Two guys who had Ph.D.s from Harvard in hitting. One from adapted ancillary in Edgar Martinez and one from larboard ancillary in Ken Griffey Jr. So in abounding means they set the accent for the absolute offense.”
Two decades later, Griffey afresh was a video bold awning boy, this time for Sony’s MLB The Show, abandoned aftermost year. This year the awning went to New York’s Aaron Judge, an adapted best accustomed that it is Judge’s Yankees ample against Griffey’s Mariners.
“The record’s activity to get burst at some point, whether it’s the Yankees this year or a aggregation bottomward the road,” Blowers says. “It’s air-conditioned it’s lasted this long.”
Slugger Mark McGwire, afresh Oakland’s aboriginal baseman and now San Diego’s bank coach, sees affluence of similarities.
“The Mariners were one of those teams you couldn’t absolutely angle around,” he says. “You appetite to, but you can’t because of who’s hitting abaft them. Like the Yankees do now.
“You accompany up some names from that Seattle aggregation in ’97, if you ask admirers to name them they wouldn’t realize, oh, that guy, too. You anticipate of the covering guys, aloof like with the Yankees you anticipate of Judge and Stanton. But afresh there are six added guys, like Didi Gregorius and Miguel Andujar. It was like that in Seattle. With A-Rod, it was like, oh my gosh, he’s so young, what’s he activity to do?
“I’d be actual afraid if not this year or abutting year, the almanac is not shattered.”
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a civic columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Scott on Twitter and allocution baseball.
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