You know all about the greatest players in Seattle Mariners history: the Ken Griffeys, the Edgar Martinezes, the Jay Buhners, the Randy Johnsons, the Ichiros. You even know about the unsung heroes: Alvin Davis, Harold Reynolds, Mark Langston, Jamie Moyer, Dan Wilson, Tino Martinez, Omar Vizquel. You’re so well-versed in your M’s history that you even know the bad players: Bobby Ayala, Al Martin, Jeff Cirillo, Scott Spiezio. So what else is there to know?
How about the most randomly awesome players in team history? Guys who, for one reason or another, were beloved by fans for the strangest of reasons. Those honorable few who put together sub-par careers and hinted at mediocrity, yet still managed to hold down a roster spot for an extended period of time. Players who, had the M’s not spent years flirting with futility, may never have even put on a major league uniform.
The following 11 players may never be mentioned in the same breath as the greatest players of all-time, but mention just one of their names at a party and you’re sure to get a laugh or two from the crowd. On to the list.
11. Mike Schooler
A husky, hard-throwing right-hander with a porn ‘stache and a white man’s Jheri curl, Mike Schooler was the M’s closer back when the team hardly knew what a save was. Listed at 6’3″, 225 lbs, Schooler was an intimidating bullpen presence who famously entered games to the not-so-intimidating tune of School’s Out, by Alice Cooper.
Over the course of five seasons (1988-1992), Schooler racked up 98 saves for the Mariners and was the team’s career leader in that category until Kazuhiro Sasaki broke the record a decade later.
Schooler’s best years were in 1989 and 1990, when he notched a combined 63 saves, while posting ERAs of 2.81 and 2.25, respectively.
Schooler was released by Seattle in March of 1993, then spent the entire ’93 season with the Texas Rangers. In September of that same year, the Rangers released the reliever and he never appeared in a big league game again. Sixteen years later, School may be out, but not easily forgotten.
10. Alex Diaz
Diminutive and daring are two adjectives that come to mind when one recalls the great Alex Diaz. A switch-hitting backup outfielder, Diaz spent the 1995 and 1996 seasons with the Mariners after being selected off waivers from the Milwaukee Brewers’ organization.
Fans recall Diaz’s career year in ’95 when the defensive specialist played in 103 games as a fill-in in center field for the injured Ken Griffey, Jr. Platooning with Rich Amaral in Junior’s absence, Diaz quickly became recognized for his balls-to-the-wall style of play in the Kingdome’s cavernous outfield.
With courage to rival that of a punch-drunk bodybuilder on steroids, Diaz had a knack for making diving catches with little concern for his physical well-being. On multiple occasions, Diaz would race back for a fly ball, then dive away from home plate, onto the warning track, and even into the fence to snag what would otherwise be an extra-base hit.
No matter the situation or playing surface, Diaz was willing to sacrifice himself to the team every day he was in the lineup.
9. Charles Gipson
With a name strikingly similar to that of longtime Good Morning America host Charles Gibson, Gipson became a well-recognized figure on the Mariners’ bench in the late 1990s.
A jack of all trades who possessed blistering speed and a rocket for an arm, Gipson would play seven different positions for the team from 1998 through 2002. In 2001 alone, Gipson made appearances at second base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field, right field, and designated hitter, not to mention his frequent appearances as a late-inning pinch runner.
Resembling a throwback from another era, Gipson wore his socks high, his hair in a mini Afro, and was unabashed in showing his love for the game. Following stints with the Yankees, Tampa Bay, and Houston, Gipson disappeared from the bigs in 2005 and hasn’t been seen since.
8. Hiram Bocachica
A utility outfielder who played just one season (2004) with the Mariners, Bocachica established a cult fan base as a super-sub on the Mariners’ bench.
Though he possessed average skill both offensively and defensively, Bocachica was best known as the subject of a well-publicized website that still exists today. At every Mariner home game, a group of fans would arrive displaying a banner that boldly advertised the iconic HiramBocachica.com.
Arguably, Bocachica’s greatest M’s moment came late in the ’04 season when he climbed the right-center field wall to make an impressive highlight-reel catch on what would have been a home run.
Shortly after the 2004 season ended, Bocachica left town as quickly as he had arrived, departing for Oakland following the completion of his one-year contract. He’s still active today as a member of the Seibu Lions in Japan’s Professional Baseball League.
7. Erik Hanson
A lanky, 6’6″ right-hander with a three-quarters delivery, Erik Hanson was at one time the ace of the Seattle Mariners pitching staff. The team’s 1986 second-round draft pick, Hanson possessed a wealth of talent that he could never quite capitalize on over the course of his 11-year major league career.
From 1988 to 1993, Hanson was a mainstay at the top of the M’s rotation. Along with Randy Johnson and Brian Holman, Hanson put together some good seasons (18-9, 3.24 ERA, 211 strikeouts in 1990) and some bad seasons (8-17, 4.82 ERA in 1992) while with Seattle.
It was during this time that he garnered the fans’ adoration as an innings eater and strikeout artist. That wasn’t enough to keep him in the Emerald City, however. Hanson was traded to Cincinnati in 1993 along with Bret Boone in exchange for catcher Dan Wilson and some guy named Ayala.
His post-Mariners career included a 1995 All-Star Game appearance while with Boston, and he called it quits in 1998 after a three-year stint with the Toronto Blue Jays. These days, Hanson is more likely to be found on the links, where he’s become a tournament-winning amateur golfer.
6. Greg Briley
The Mariners’ first-round pick in the 1986 amateur draft, Briley was a short-statured utility man who lent his talents to a number of defensive positions over the course of his five-year stint in Seattle.
Nicknamed “Pee-wee,” Briley was listed at 5′8″, 165 lbs and more closely resembled a teenager than a big league ballplayer. Wearing wire-rimmed glasses and a thin mustache that belied his youthful appearance, the left-handed batting, right-handed throwing Briley appeared in games at second base, third base, designated hitter, and all three outfield positions as a Mariner.
Following the 1992 season, Briley was released by the M’s and signed a contract with the expansion Florida Marlins. He spent the entire ’93 season with Florida before retiring from baseball in 1994. Since his playing career ended, Briley has been a coach in various capacities with big league organizations. This season, he is employed as the hitting coach for the Kannapolis Intimidators, a Single-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
5. Henry Cotto
Blessed with more hair on his upper lip than on the entirety of his skull, Cotto was a trendsetting outfielder who enjoyed a six-year stint with the Mariners.
After getting his start with the Chicago Cubs and New York Yankees throughout the early part of the 1980s, Cotto was obtained by Seattle in a trade with the Bronx Bombers in December of 1987. A backup in New York, Cotto became a starter for the M’s in 1988 and went on to have a career year, appearing in 133 games and stealing 27 bases along the way.
By 1993, Cotto had been written out of the team’s future plans and was sent to Florida in exchange for one-time Mets great (loose definition of the word “great”) Dave Magadan, who also happened to be Mariner manager Lou Piniella’s cousin.
Cotto appeared in his last big league game with the Marlins that same year, then retired from baseball in 1995. Like his ex-teammate Greg Briley, Cotto entered retirement by becoming a coach, and has even spent time instructing younger players in the Mariners organization. Most recently, Cotto has been memorialized in a blog paying homage to his most famous accessory, that infamous ‘stache.
4. Russ Davis
Acquired in an ill-advised trade with the New York Yankees following the 1995 season, Rusty was a highly-touted prospect who was supposed to be the M’s third baseman of the future. Uh, not so much.
Despite his shortcomings as a baseball player, Davis was a reasonably entertaining figure in Mariners history who provided his share of intriguing, if not glorious, moments.
For instance, there was the time in 1996 when Davis broke his leg in gruesome fashion on the Kingdome turf, fracturing the bone so badly that it protruded through his skin.
Then there was the “Bad Dancing” commercial of the late ’90s, which featured Davis in the video room mimicking the dance moves of a rhythmically-challenged Mariners fan. The third baseman deadpanned his speaking line (“I think he’s pretty good.”), then became an icon of sorts by breaking out into a never-before-seen gyration that only sort of resembled dancing.
Perhaps Davis’ greatest claim to fame was becoming the first player in history to hit a home run at Safeco Field. He did that in 1999, one of many clutch hits he would provide over the years.
After the ’99 season, Davis signed with San Francisco as a free agent and lasted two years in the Bay Area before calling it quits from big league baseball.
3. Doug Strange
With a name as quirky as his abilities, Strange was a clutch pinch-hitting specialist who played for the Mariners during the 1995 and 1996 seasons.
Though he was officially listed as a third baseman, Strange would appear in games at first base, second base, third base, left field, right field, and DH during his time in Seattle. More adept with the bat than the glove, Strange earned his stripes as a switch-hitting slap hitter off the team’s bench.
Despite hitting just five home runs in his Mariner career, Strange became a Seattle legend in 1995 when he hit a walk-off blast during the team’s miracle late-season run to the playoffs. He would fashion a number of timely hits during that year, and became a key component of the team’s success.
After one-year stints with Montreal and Pittsburgh following his tenure with the Mariners, Strange called it quits from the game of baseball and hasn’t been heard from since.
2. Joey Cora
Who knew that tears could be so powerful?
The man best known for weeping openly following the end of the Mariners’ magic carpet ride of 1995, Joey Cora became a sacred figure in the eyes of Seattle sports fans almost from the moment he came racing out onto the Kingdome turf.
With pins in his cap, a smile on his face, and a unique batting stance that dramatically shrunk his 5’8″ frame, Cora defined his career as a Seattle Mariner in the middle part of the ’90s.
Characterized by good defense, timely hitting, and speed on the basepaths, Cora was the catalyst to the M’s lineup in 1995, dramatically sliding into first base on a bunt base hit that would eventually set up the Mariners first ever playoff series victory.
Though ’95 was his calling card, 1997 was an All-Star year for Cora, who batted .300 with a career-high 11 home runs that season.
By 1998, however, Cora had begun to falter at the plate, and was ultimately traded to Cleveland in exchange for David Bell.
In the 2008-2009 offseason, Cora nearly made a return to Seattle as manager, though was beaten out for the position by Don Wakamatsu.
Currently, he is the third base coach for the Chicago White Sox.
1. Bucky Jacobsen
A Bunyanesque figure who appeared in just 42 career games as a big leaguer, Jacobsen is perhaps the king of folk heroes when it comes to Mariners baseball.
Standing 6’4″ and weighing in at over 250 lbs, Bucky was a larger-than-life being who made a lasting impression on the 2004 Seattle Mariners.
As a career minor leaguer, Jacobsen spent the first half of ’04 absolutely destroying Triple-A pitching. After batting .312, with 26 home runs, and 86 RBI, Mariners fans began clamoring for the promotion of the gentle giant. Amidst a dismal season, the front office granted the fan base their wish and called up the power hitting first baseman on July 16th.
Jacobsen became a mainstay in the starting lineup shortly thereafter and attained legend status by socking nine home runs in just 160 at-bats. Seeking to capitalize on their cheap investment, the Mariners began pumping out Bucky paraphernalia left and right, creating t-shirts, hats, and other souvenirs bearing Jacobsen’s likeness.
The hype was short-lived, however, as a knee injury forced Bucky to the bench for most of September. The pain refused to subside in the offseason, and Jacobsen never could quite heal properly. His short stint in the big leagues was his only taste of major league action.
Five years later, the 33-year-old Jacobsen is now a retired ex-baseball player, who was last seen playing in the Mexican Leagues in 2007.
In spite of his brief career, Mariners fans will never forget July and August of 2004, better known as the Summer of Bucky.