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They Were Mariners: Danny Tartabull

There have been many Mariners in history, both remembered and forgotten. Let this one not soon be forgotten.

I'd like to think that I know a lot about the Seattle Mariners. I've been a fan for most of my life, but one can't blame me for not being born early enough. Blame my parents for not getting "down to business" sooner, if you must.

Still, I don't know everything about the Mariners. There is still a lot that I don't know. So when I was perusing through past trades that the Mariners have made with the Kansas City Royals, consider me stunned when I saw the name "Danny Tartabull" on the page.

What? We had Danny Tartabull? When?

As Seattle fans, we've become accustomed to complaining about missed opportunities and bad trades. Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb. Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez. (Read: The entire Bill Bavasi era.) I mean, we are so used to re-living these terrible memories that I was mostly just surprised that I had never heard about the trade that sent away Tartabull after a stellar rookie season. Especially without getting much in return:

Seattle sends Danny Tartabull and Rick Luecken to the Kansas City Royals for Scott Bankhead, Mike Kingery, and Steve Shields.

Huh? Who? What?

Tartabull was drafted by the Reds in the third round of the 1980 amateur draft and was selected by the Mariners in the short-lived and long-forgotten "Free Agent Compensation Draft," a system that only lasted from 1981-1985. Because the Mariners lost Floyd Bannister in Free Agency to the White Sox, a Type A Free Agent, they were able to select Tartabull out of the Reds minor league system. What?

The Reds loss however was the Mariners gain and Tartabull became the first middle infielder since Ernie Banks in 1960 to hit 40 or more home runs during a minor league season when he had 43 for AAA Calgary in 1985.

The next year he became a regular for Seattle but moved to the outfield because of that whole "defense" issue. Tartabull hit .270/.347/.489 with 25 HR, 96 RBI and 25 doubles for the Mariners, finishing fifth in the AL Rookie of the Year vote behind winner Jose Canseco. (He finished one spot ahead of Ruben Sierra, a player he was eventually traded for ten years later.)

He was one of the most promising young hitters on a team that featured almost no regulars over 30. He was second on the team in home runs to Jim Presley (in 82 fewer plate appearances) and his .836 OPS was third on the team behind Presley and Ken Phelps. Still, Seattle decided to free roll his rookie success into a deal with the Royals in an effort to improve in more areas.

The LA Times said about the deal:

The Mariners, meanwhile, acquired two of the Royals' most-promising players. Bankhead, 23, was 8-9 with a 4.61 ERA with the Royals after joining the team May 7. Kingery, 25, hit .258 with three homers and 14 RBIs for the Royals after joining the club July 7.

It's unfortunate that until recently, baseball had no other stats besides Win-Loss record and ERA.

Bankhead had a few good seasons with Seattle. He played with the Mariners for five seasons and went 14-6 with a 3.34 ERA in 1989, striking out 140 batters in 210.1 innings. He was eventually let go after the 1991 season. Interestingly, the last time he pitched in the majors was with the Yankees in 1995, however he was long gone before New York faced Seattle in the unforgettable playoff series.

Mike Kingery was already 26 when he debuted with Seattle. He played 120 games for the Mariners that year, most of them in right field, and hit .280/.329/.449, which would be by far his longest and most productive season with the M's. He was let go after 1989.

If you search for Steve Shields in Google, you'll most likely be asked "Did you mean Scot Shields?" But he was not a relief pitcher of the same caliber as that. He pitched one season in Seattle, posting a 6.60 ERA. Luecken, the player sent to the Royals with Tartabull, had a short 56 game career with three different ball clubs.

What it all comes down to of course, is Tartabull.

After trading him away, the Mariners played five different regular right fielders in five seasons until finally giving the job to Jay Buhner in 1991. Coincidentally, a year later the Yankees, the team from which Buhner was acquired, made Danny Tartabull the richest player (by salary) in baseball.

He played five seasons in Kansas City and averaged .286/.371/.513 with 25 HR, 85 RBI, 28 doubles, 70 runs, and made the All-Star game in 1991 when he led the league in slugging percentage. He was not a perfect player, he was had flaws in his game, but he certainly would have been one of the Mariners most exciting players during a decade in which they had little to get titillated about.

We'll never know what would have become of the Mariners and Danny Tartabull had they just held onto him, and we can't look back and be bitter about the alternate dimensions in which we do not live, but it certainly would have been interesting to see him in the Kingdome for a little bit longer.

And maybe his television debut would have actually been on Frasier instead of Seinfeld.


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