The Mariners began every spring training session by dancing like loose-limbed marionettes on the outfield grass at Tempe Stadium. The frolicking was part of the aerobic exercising prescribed by Manager Rene Lachemann to improve the team's endurance, flexibility and, Lachemann hopes, its sixth-place finish of last year. The new approach also includes new faces in the lineup, a new rightfield wall in the Kingdome and new promotional efforts in the front office.
"Last year we were more offense-minded," President Dan O'Brien says, "with some defensive shortcomings and less than adequate pitching. We've lost some of the offense but we've substantially improved in defense. We'll have to see how the pitching unravels."
Unravel is exactly what it has done in the past. Last season the team had the worst ERA in the majors—4.23. Raising the rightfield wall from 11� to 23 feet may help that some. This March the Mariners signed 43-year-old Gaylord Perry, the balding peanut farmer who needs three wins to become the first pitcher to attain 300 career victories since Early Wynn did it in 1963. The front office no doubt hopes to parlay a few early wins into a box-office bonanza, but Lachemann says, "I hope we're not just looking for three wins. I'm looking for 10 or 15."
Perry and the rest of the starting rotation—lefty Floyd Bannister and righties Gene Nelson, Jim Beattie and Mike Moore—will benefit from improved defense. Jim Essian, who came to Seattle with Shortstop Todd Cruz in the deal that sent Tom Paciorek to the White Sox, gives the Mariners the best catcher they've ever had; Cruz provides range at short that was absent last year. "Balls that we dived at and missed, other teams were turning into double plays," says Lachemann, who has a double-Cruz double-play combination with Todd and Second Baseman Julio. Manny Castillo, obtained from Kansas City, led American Association third basemen in fielding percentage the past two years.
On offense, the Mariners hope Rightfielder Al Cowens will help replace Paciorek, who was second in the league in hitting (.326) and game-winning RBIs (13). Bruce Bochte has moved to left to make room for rookie First Baseman Jim Maler. At 6'4", Maler provides a big target. He also hit .305 with 19 homers and 99 RBIs last year in AAA. Designated Hitter Richie Zisk, the 1981 AL Comeback Player of the Year, hit .311 and a team-leading 16 homers for the M's.
In the past, Seattle fans have been asked to bide their time as the young franchise developed a farm system. Time's up. Maler and pitchers Moore and Bob Stoddard, for example, were developed by the Mariners. "We have the nucleus for the future right now," says Maler, acknowledging that the team is still several years from contention.
Seattle has a new team song, Diamonds in the Dome. This season, at best, they'll be diamonds in the rough.