1997 was a long time ago. Mariano Rivera was just 27 and it was his first year as the full-time New York Yankees’ closer. In 1996, Rivera such a ridiculous season that he was 12th in the American League in MVP voting as a non-closing relief pitcher. Still, he wasn’t yet the untouchable first-ballot Hall of Famer we know today. In fact, the Yankees tried to trade Mo to Seattle for Randy Johnson. And the Mariners turned the deal down.
The Mariners would eventually trade Johnson to the Astros for Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen and John Halama during the ’98 season. The trade wasn’t horrible for the Mariners as Garcia went on to make two All-Star teams and pitch at a level that would earn him some Cy Young consideration in his five and a half years in Seattle. Guillen would be with the Seattle organization for 6 years before turning into an All-Star in Detroit.
Heck, the Mariners even made the playoffs in 2000 and 2001. (They were eliminated by the Yankees both years.) The Yankees lost to the Indians in the Division Series in ’97. (The Marlins won the World Series that year. Wooo!) Would Randy Johnson have helped? Well, David Cone and Andy Pettitte gave up a combined 17 runs in their 3 starts, so The Big Unit might have helped. At that point, the Yankees were definitely the losers in the story.
Of course, they then won 3 consecutive World Series and turned everyone outside New York against them. This might not have been possible without Rivera in the bullpen. Would the Mariners have had such success with Rivera on their roster? If Johnson had been in New York for his 4 consecutive Cy Young seasons, would we have been granted so many years of Yankee playoff shortcomings? We’ll never know, but it’s strange to remember a time when Mariano Rivera was nothing more than trade bait.