Former Mariners catcher Bob Stinson turns back the clock to 1977.
(As told to Jim Street)
Bob Stinson, nicknamed “Scrap Iron” by Dodgers executive Fresco Thompson after running through a fence to catch a potential home run in the minor leagues, spent four of his 12 Major League seasons with the Mariners – from 1977-80. He caught the first pitch thrown at the Kingdome in ’77 and the ceremonial final pitch, in July 1998, following the Mariners’ last game at the ‘Dome before moving into Safeco Field. Stinson was selected by the Mariners from the AL West champion Kanas City Royals in the 1977 expansion draft and played in a career high 372 games with Seattle, including the first one in franchise history, on April 6, 1977 in front of 57,762 fans. Now living in Florida and playing golf almost daily, Stinson recalled that game, a 7-0 loss to the Angels, and events leading up to that historical Wednesday night game.
The season-opener at the Kingdome that year was the first time in my (Major League) career that I started a game behind the plate on Opening Night. It was very exciting and memorable. It was a new team and new city for me, almost like being in a different league in a new division.
I missed my old team, which was in the playoffs the previous season, and had a good chance of getting to the World Series (in 1977). As an expansion team, everyone was predicting that we wouldn’t do real well. In fact, on our flight to Seattle from Tempe, Ariz., where we had Spring Training, Hy Zimmerman, one of the writers covering the team, came to the back of the plane, sat next to me and asked: ‘Stins, with the Mariners being an expansion team and all, when do you think you’ll be out of the playoff race?’
I was just kidding around and said, ‘The first day.’
Well, it was in the paper the next day and when I got to the park for a workout, I got called into manager Darrell Johnson’s office. He reamed me out one side down the other.
He said, ‘You know it and I know it, but we can’t let the public know it. They are paying our salaries.’
Heck, I was just trying to be funny.
To be honest, I thought we would have a competitive team if we played good, fundamental baseball, moved runners over, played good defense and got good pitching. We didn’t have much power.
My introduction to expansion baseball was, well, eye-opening. First of all, I reported to spring training and there were something like 50 pitchers and three catchers in camp. The Mariners didn’t have a minor league system at the time, and it apparently was easier to sign pitchers than catchers. The three of us caught every bullpen session every day. By the time the position players arrived, we were worn out. It was like boot camp in the military, but all three of us came out of camp in the best shape of our careers.
The roster was finally set and we came back to Seattle for the regular season, somewhat confident, but we didn’t know what to expect. There was a big parade downtown to welcome Seattle’s new baseball team and that was great. Never forget it.
Our first series was against the Angels. Never forget that either. They started Frank Tanana, two of the best pitchers in the big-leagues, in the first two games. We started Diego Segui in the opener and it didn’t go well, although he did make history – the first pitcher to start the first game for two expansion teams. He was the starting pitcher for the old Seattle Pilots (in 1969).
The Kingdome, which was brand new, was filled with spectators, something like 55,000 or so; (57,762). It was like a playoff game type of atmosphere. The game got off to a rough start, especially for me.
(Jerry) Remy led off with a walk and promptly tried to steal second. I came up throwing, but my front foot went out from under me when I stepped on the plate. The ball sailed into center field. I looked at the plate and the grounds crew had painted it some kind of finish that made it really slippery. It looked nice, but that was not a real good idea.
Remy eventually scored and we ended up with our first loss of the season. We had nine hits, but no runs in the (7-0) loss. Tanana shut us out, and Ryan did the same thing the next night.
I had one of the hits on Opening Night and even though we lost, it was an otherwise good night all around. It was fun to be a part of franchise history. And, for the record, we didn’t finish in last place. The Oakland A’s, who played 161 games, finished one-half game behind us.
(Note: The Mariners won 68 games, 10 more than the Blue Jays, the other expansion team that year).
Jim Street covered the Mariners for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and MLB.com from 1986-2010. This story initially appeared in Mariners Magazine.
California Angels 7, Seattle Mariners 0
Game Played on Wednesday, April 6, 1977 (N) at Kingdome
CAL 1 1 2 2 1 0 0 0 0 – 7 9 1
SEA 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 – 0 9 2
California Angels AB R H RBI
Remy 2b 3 1 0 0
Grich ss 4 0 0 0
Bonds rf 5 1 0 0
Baylor dh 3 1 1 1
Rudi lf 5 1 3 4
Solaita 1b 5 0 1 0
Bochte cf 3 2 2 0
Chalk 3b 5 0 1 0
Humphrey c 4 1 1 2
Tanana p 0 0 0 0
Totals 37 7 9 7
DP: 2. Remy-Grich-Solaita, Tanana-Solaita.
E: Chalk (1).
2B: Baylor (1,off Segui); Rudi (1,off Montague).
HR: Rudi (1,3rd inning off Segui 1 on 1 out).
SH: Remy (1,off Segui).
Team LOB: 10.
SB: Remy 2 (2,2nd base off Segui/Stinson,3rd base off Segui/Stinson); Bonds
(1,2nd base off Segui/Stinson).
Seattle Mariners AB R H RBI
Collins dh 4 0 0 0
Baez 2b 4 0 2 0
Braun lf 3 0 1 0
Stanton rf 4 0 1 0
Stein 3b 4 0 2 0
Meyer 1b 4 0 0 0
Ruppert Jones cf 4 0 0 0
Stinson c 3 0 1 0
Reynolds ss 4 0 2 0
Segui p 0 0 0 0
Montague p 0 0 0 0
Totals 34 0 9 0
E: Meyer (1), Reynolds (1).
2B: Stein 2 (2,off Tanana 2).
GDP: Braun (1,off Tanana).
Team LOB: 9.
California Angels IP H R ER BB SO
Tanana W(1-0) 9 9 0 0 2 9
Seattle Mariners IP H R ER BB SO
Segui L(0-1) 3.2 5 6 4 3 3
Montague 5.1 4 1 1 3 3
Totals 9 9 7 5 6 6
Time of Game: 2:40 Attendance: 57,762