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Originally published July 28, 2012 at 5:11 PM | Page modified July 28, 2012 at 8:11 PM

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Randy Johnson, Dan Wilson's return sparks memories of Mariners' golden era

The legendary pair's induction into the Mariners Hall of Fame offered a chance to recall a time of great talent and personalities.

Seattle Times baseball reporter

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One complaint about the Mariners and their fans (and some media, for that matter) is that they live in the past, specifically clinging too tightly to 1995.

There's some truth to that, but the obsession with their (relative) glory days will dissipate when there's a better present. And 1995, along with the era closely surrounding it, was pretty darned amazing. So was the cast of characters that populated that vintage of Mariners baseball.

I was reminded of that anew on Friday while watching a video tribute to Randy Johnson and Dan Wilson at a luncheon to honor their induction into the Mariners Hall of Fame, which took place Saturday.

It was hard not to be stirred by the images of Johnson storming off the mound, eyes ablaze after a big strikeout, gesticulating and screaming to no one and everyone. You can count Wilson — an integral, if much less flashy, part of those teams — as one of those stirred as he watched from the podium.

"I think the thing that struck me, as a player you understand that intensity," he said. "But having been out of the game, to see Randy's intensity, the fire, I'd kind of forgotten about that, and how awesome that is.

"For me, that's what struck me — and how fun it was."

Fun — that's a condition too often missing from Safeco Field these days. It takes a pennant race to truly reach the pinnacle of enjoyment in a baseball season, and that one was our first, and still our best.

Johnson was asked about one particular, iconic image: him embracing Wilson after finishing off the Angels in the one-game playoff for the division title at the Kingdome. You know the one.

"That was the most powerful moment while I was here, '95," he said. "Had we not won the division, we never would have played the Yankees. We got more fan support, more attention, when we won that one-game playoff. We gave fans and national media more time to figure out who we were up in Seattle."

What they discovered, among other things, was an endearing battery comprised of two guys who couldn't have been more polar opposite. Wilson was mannered and smooth, so baby-faced that Ken Griffey Jr. joked in a video message Friday that "when Dan was traded here from the Reds, Jay (Buhner) and I looked at each other and said, 'Did they throw in the bat boy, too?' With that boyish look you had, we thought you were part of a boy band."

Johnson was rough around the edges, mulleted and mean, someone you didn't want to cross on game day — or any other day. He played with a grudge and, all these years later, wasn't apologizing for it.

"I wasn't the easiest to work with, I'll admit that," he said. "I wouldn't change that, because that's what made me me, and why Dan is him, because he could handle me back then. Some catchers couldn't. I'll make up for not being nice back then by saying, 'Dan, let's go get a beer tonight.' "

Both Johnson and Wilson thrived under Lou Piniella — another of the charismatic characters who make that era so compelling. Wilson mentioned playing with four first-ballot Hall of Famers — Johnson, Griffey, Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro — before turning on the podium to Edgar Martinez and saying, "Gar, we know you're going to be the fifth one in the Hall of Fame. Can't wait for that day. Coming soon."

All but Ichiro intertwined with Johnson and Wilson between 1995 and 1998 (and all but Martinez eventually left Seattle). The fact that period produced just two playoff appearances, and no World Series, is an enduring mystery and the organization's ultimate underachievement. Johnson says flatly that the 1995 Mariners were more talented than his 2001 Diamondbacks, who won the World Series over the Yankees (the Yankees knocked out the 116-win Mariners in the American League Championship Series)

"The (Mariners) team we had, the amount of talent we had, was unparalleled to any team," Johnson said. "All that being said, yes, I'm surprised we didn't do more. Not a lot materialized, not as much as everyone hoped."

Wilson has the distinction of being on every Mariners playoff team — 2000 and '01 in addition to '95 and '97. He talked about how his buddy Rich Amaral, who made the trip to Seattle for the ceremony this weekend from his home in Southern California, used to give him surfing lessons.

"He'd say the key is to be patient and catch a good wave," Wilson told the crowd at Safeco Field during the luncheon. "As I look out over my baseball career in Seattle, what a great wave it was for me in Seattle."

It was the greatest wave this organization has ever known, cresting in 1995. And while we wait for the next one, we'll keep reminiscing about the Big Unit, Dan of Steel, and the rest of those bygone players. It might be nostalgia overkill, but at times like this, with Johnson and Wilson at the forefront, it still seems right.

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

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About Larry Stone

Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
lstone@seattletimes.com

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