On April 6, 1977, the Seattle Mariners play their first game, marking the return of Major League Baseball to the city. The California Angels defeat the Mariners 7-0 before 57,762 fans at the Kingdome. Senator Henry M. Jackson throws out the ceremonial first pitch, and then right-hander Diego Segui, the "Ancient Mariner," throws the first official pitch in franchise history.
Replacement for the Pilots
Baseball fans in the Pacific Northwest had waited for this since 1969, when the Seattle Pilots played one season and abruptly moved from their Arizona spring training site to their new home in Milwaukee, where they were renamed the Brewers. The Mariners were payback, an expansion franchise resulting from settlement of a breach-of-contract suit against the American League. Their roster was stocked with players made available in an expansion draft by the league's established teams. After spring training in Tempe, Arizona, the Mariners traveled north to launch their first season.
Opening Day festivities included a parade down 4th Avenue, with high school marching bands, police on motorcycles, and the players riding in antique cars. Entertainer Danny Kaye (1911-1987), one of the team's owners, told a Rotary Club gathering at the Olympic Hotel that forming the Mariners was, "the most thrilling thing in my life. This will be a team you can be proud of" (Frisino). Manager Darrell Johnson (1928-2004) said the team was 25 to 30 percent better than he expected. Mindful that many Rotarians had brought children, Kaye predicted none too boldly that "within the lifetime of somebody in this room you will see the World Series flag flying over the Kingdome" (Frisino).
Packing the Dome
The night-time opener drew a crowd of 57,762 -- a major league record for an evening game on Opening Day. Traffic backed up on 2nd Avenue. With Pioneer Square lots charging "'special prices' as high as $3" and fans parking "as far away as the Yesler Terrace housing project," The Seattle Times described the scene as "reminiscent of a football game" (Wyne).
Seattle's opponent was the California Angels, a veteran team loaded with talent. The Mariners lineup was modest by comparison and mostly unproven. Underscoring that point were the player salaries. The Angels had at least six players each making $180,000. The total of their six salaries exceeded the entire Seattle payroll.
The Mariners batting order: Designated hitter Dave Collins (b. 1952), second baseman Jose Baez (b. 1953), left fielder Steve Braun (b. 1948), right fielder Lee Stanton (1946-2019), third baseman Bill Stein (b. 1947), first baseman Dan Meyer (b. 1952), center fielder Ruppert Jones (b. 1955), catcher Bob Stinson (b. 1945), and shortstop Craig Reynolds (b. 1952).
On the mound for Seattle was "The Ancient Mariner," 39-year-old Diego Segui (b. 1937), who was making his 600th major league appearance. He had been the Pilots' most valuable player in 1969 but had not pitched in the big leagues since 1975. Opposing him was Angels left-hander Frank Tanana (b. 1953), 23, one of the league's top pitchers the previous season.
Boos for Bowie
The stands around the playing field were draped with the red, white, and blue bunting traditional for opening games. Senator Henry M. Jackson (1912-1983) threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn (1926-2007) was introduced and booed. The Mariners got a thunderous standing ovation when they took the field for the first time. Segui's first pitch was a strike to Jerry Remy (b. 1952), but the Angels' leadoff hitter ultimately walked and stole second base. Don Baylor (1949-2017) doubled him home, giving the visitors a 1-0 lead.
The crowd's next chance to cheer came in the bottom of the first when rookie second baseman Baez lofted a single to short right-center field for the first hit in franchise history. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported that the crowd's roar was so loud that "the place shook" (Sherman), but the inning ended with the first Seattle baserunner in Kingdome history stranded on base.
The excitement gradually ebbed as the visitors extended their lead. They added another run in the second inning and two more in the third when Joe Rudi (b. 1946) hit a home run -- another first for the Kingdome. The Angels loaded the bases with two outs in the fourth and Rudi coming to bat, at which point Johnson took Segui out the game, replacing him with relief pitcher John Montague (b. 1947). Rudi doubled, driving in two more runs. The damage could have been worse for Seattle. Baylor tried to score from first base on Rudi's hit, but a strong relay from Jones to Reynolds to Stinson allowed the Mariners catcher to tag the runner out at home and end the inning.
A Quiet Exit
With the Angels dominating, "the Kingdome was somehow transformed into a giant mausoleum as early as the fourth inning," the P-I's Steve Rudman wrote ("Rudi Rude …"). California scored its final run in the fifth on a double by catcher Terry Humphrey (b. 1949). As the P-I's J Michael Kenyon put it, "The faint of heart started for the exits in the sixth inning" ("57,000 Cheer …").
The Mariners momentarily made the game more interesting in the eighth inning by loading the bases with two outs and Stanton in the batter's box. He worked the count full – three balls and two strikes – before Tanana got out of the jam with a called third strike, "the best curve I threw the whole game" ("57,000 Cheer …")
Tanana pitched all nine innings for the victory. He allowed nine hits – including two doubles by Stein -- but also had nine strikeouts, including three each by Jones, who three months later became the Mariners' first All-Star, and Stanton, who ended the season as the team's home run leader. The losing pitcher was Segui, who was charged with six runs in three and two-thirds innings. Montague was relatively strong in relief, allowing four hits and one earned run in the final five and a third innings.
"Tanana was just too much for us tonight," Johnson said. "… But he didn't embarrass our hitters. We got nine hits." Reynolds, who had two singles, said, "Yes we were jittery, so many people and all that. Once we got untracked we played decently. We'll be back" (Zimmerman).
The Mariners got their first victory two nights later, rallying to beat the Angels 7-6. They finished the season with 64 wins and 98 losses, barely avoiding last place in the American League West.