When Jeff Smulyan bought the Seattle Mariners in 1990, he had some cutting-edge ideas to draw new fans – from music and videos to a ‘Singles Night’ promotion in which the No. 1 pickup line of the night was ‘Hi, I’m Jeff Smulyan and I own the Mariners.’
It was a goofy time, when the team couldn’t draw 20,000 fans to a Mark Langston-Roger Clemens matchup. One of the Smulyan group thoughts: Let’s create a mascot.
They hatched a contest for school kids to come up with a mascot, draw it and submit. For every contest, someone has to be the final judge – so Smulyan appointed a blue-ribbon panel that included then-Governor Booth Gardner, a few others and …. me.
We sorted through thousands of entries – sea slugs, old sailors, banana slugs complete with slime trails, baseball bats, a baseball with legs and arms, dogs, pigs, a sea-god with trident, at least one cat and a giant Dave Niehaus head on legs.
Eliminations were easy. Mr. Gardner was charming when we met, laughed easily and with appreciation for the artwork of children and their imaginations. He didn’t seem overly impressed meeting a sportswriter, but neither was he dismissive.
“This could be my legacy,” he joked at one point. “We’ve got to get it right.”
In the end, we went with a moose. It wasn’t that tough a call. Personally, I’ve always loved moose – my family knew it and perpetually sent moose gifts to me. I had traveled from Maine to Wyoming in search of photographing one without ever seeing one in the wild.
As I recall, once the decision was made, Mr. Gardner was interviewed. I was not. I didn’t take it personally. He was a man who handled his stature with humility and humor- and his office with diligence and honor.
All told, we probably spent an hour together in 1990. It was an enjoyable 60 minutes, and I recall him kidding about that banana slug with its slime trail.
“That could lead to impeachment,” he said.