The season that marked the 25th anniversary of the Seattle Mariners proved to be the most successful in the team’s history. Even the most devout Mariners fans were shocked, and critics of the team’s largely unsuccessful 25-year history were quickly silenced. This 2001 Mariners team would break the American league single season win record with 116 wins and give pride to its fans whose devotion raised even the oldest of Chicago Cubs fans' brows.
Going into the season, the Mariners were coming off their third playoff birth of all time, finishing second in the West earning them a Wild Card berth. That 2000 team made it to the ALCS with a victory over the White Sox, but was denied by a vengeful New York Yankees team coming off of a World Series win and eager to make reparations for 1995. In 2001, the Mariner fans wanted more, and the front office responded by bringing in some prime talent.
Ichiro Suzuki made his debut in 2001, and the Japanese legend quickly proved that his tremendous baseball talent transcended the Pacific Ocean. He batted .350 and stole 56 stolen bases, both MLB leading. There is no doubt that the 2001 Mariners would not have made history, or even close to it, without the addition of Ichiro, who won both American League Rookie of the Year and MVP.
The addition of Bret Boone cannot be ignored, no matter how much Mariners fans may want to in light of the accusations of steroid use that Boone faces. Boone led the Mariners with 37 homeruns and 141 RBI’s, acting as the prototypical slugger driving in Ichiro. With Boone playing such a prominent role for the 2001 M's, questions understandably arise. The guy went from being an average lanky second baseman with San Diego to having the muscular build of a power hitter. And just as the sharp improvement came, it went just as quickly, which proved 2001 as a statistical anomaly in Boone’s career.
The 2001 season should not be tarnished by the suspicions that surround Boone. It was sadly a time in the MLB in which accusations rightly cloud the achievements of possibly countless players. Additionally, the 2001 Mariners saw career years from many other players as well.
The Mariners boasted eight all-stars, the manager of the year in Lou Piniella, the ERA leader in Freddy Garcia and Rookie of the Year/MVP in Ichiro. Kazuhiro Sasaki had 45 saves, Jamie Moyer had 20 wins and both Mike Cameron and Edgar Martinez had over 100 RBI’s along with Boone. The 2001 Mariners were truly the greatest team ever assembled at either the Kingdome or Safeco Field.
In 2001, Safeco also hosted the All-Star game, which created an ecstatic atmosphere for the Seattle fans eager to play host to their eight All-Stars. The 2001 All-Star game was one of the most memorable in recent history, as it was the last All-Star game for the Iron Man, Cal Ripken Jr. Ripken lived up to his nickname when he hit a homerun, winning him MVP honors, in front of the Seattle crowd.
With 116 wins, the AL West champion Mariners headed into the playoffs with an outstanding pitching staff and potent offense. The Mariners beat the Indians in the ALDS in five games, but shaky performances, notably a certain 17-2 thumping in game three, proved the Mariners to be beatable heading into the ALCS.
In the ALCS, the Mariners faced off against the Yankees in a rematch of the 2000 Championship Series. Even with home field advantage, the Mariners were still turned away by the Yankees in five games. The sharp loss of momentum was hard for many Mariners fans to justify, but it can best be explained by the inexperience of the Mariners in post-season play as well as the loss in confidence during the ALDS.
With a World Series berth once again denied, many wondered how the 116-win season would stand in history. Great teams are made in September and October, and the Mariners simply did not perform when it mattered most. The same question exists for the 2007 New England Patriots. What does an amazing regular season performance mean without post-season success? In the Mariners case, an exception must be made.
The success of the 2001 Seattle Mariners put the team on the map as a viable MLB franchise. 25 years of shame were put to an end. Maybe if a team like the Yankees won 116 games and did not make it to the World Series the season would be unsuccessful, but this was the Seattle Mariners, a team that neither fans nor experts had come to expect greatness from.
What the 2001 Mariners meant to Seattle was and is unquantifiable. The historic season should only be the start to Mariner success. However, 2001 marks the last time the Mariners made the playoffs. In 2008, they became the first team to lose 100 games with a $100 million pay roll. The shame seamed to once again seep into Safeco. Last year though seemed like the delayed continuation of the legacy of the 2001 Mariners. And with hype building for the 2010 Mariners, the team is prepared to build off of the foundation that the 2001 team established.