Mariners replacement player from 1995 proud of experience

Perhaps the most memorable season in the history of the Mariners, which opened 20 years ago Monday, began after one of the more-forgettable episodes in the history of Major League Baseball.

Following a labor dispute between the players and owners that wiped out the end of the 1994 season, the sport’s powers decided they’d play in 1995 — whatever it took.

And because the players remained on strike when spring training began, teams found whomever they could to take their place.

Replacement players, they came to be called.

Guys such as Barry Aden, then a 33-year-old baseball coach and biology teacher at Liberty High School who once had envisioned a pro career after having been drafted, only to see his hopes derailed due in part to injuries.

For 41 days in the spring of 1995, though, Aden could call himself a Seattle Mariner, even if he knows that to almost everyone else he and his teammates were simply sub-Mariners.

“I literally got to live out my dream for 41 days,’’ Aden said.

And to him, that’s worth remembering, even if he knows that just about everyone else tried to sweep the replacement-player days under the rug as quickly as they could.

“It was like, ‘How quickly can we get that deep into our past?’ ’’ Aden said.

In Aden’s Tacoma home, though, those days live on.

In an office dedicated to a long baseball career — he has also been the coach of the semipro Seattle Studs since 1990 — Aden proudly displays mementos of his days with the Mariners.

The jersey he was given to wear for the regular-season opener that was never played. A team picture that features the replacement players with the coaches and manager Lou Piniella.

The rest he keeps alive in his memory.

“I have a weird mind for dates, times, stuff like that,’’ he said.

And he can recite almost everything that happened with the Mariners’ replacement team as if it were yesterday.

When the major-league owners decided to play the season, teams began rounding up whomever they could to fill a 32-man roster.

Their minor-league players were not on strike but could not be used.

Teams filled rosters largely with guys whose careers had ended or never really began. Many had experience at the minor-league level, and some had played in the majors.

Few had stories quite like that of Aden, who hadn’t played above the semipro level in more than a decade.

He had been a star at Liberty High, graduating in 1979, and then played at Centralia Community College. In 1981, he was taken in the second round of the draft — 33rd overall — by the St. Louis Cardinals.

Offered $40,000 to sign, he turned it down to go to Eastern Washington with a goal of earning a degree and becoming a chiropractor. Then he suffered a ruptured elbow tendon, and though he was named to the All-Pac-10 North second team (EWU then was part of the Pac-10 for baseball) he never had a sniff of pro baseball again.

Then came 1995. In part through his Seattle Studs connection, Aden knew then-Seattle general manager Woody Woodward, which helped him land a tryout.

He flew to Peoria, Ariz., and on “Feb. 20,’’ he recalls with ease, he threw a 60-pitch bullpen session with Woodward, Ron Romanick and Jim Beattie (both former major-league pitchers working for the team) watching. He hit 89 mph and was offered a spot.

He received the standard $5,000 signing bonus and regular major-league per diems that included $115 a day in meal money.

Aden knew that in the eyes of many people, including ballplayers he’d watched and admired for years, he was breaking a strike line and participating in a sham.

But, he said, “My thought process was that I was living a dream. I really don’t think I took any food off of their dinner plate. I really don’t believe that I was hurting them. It was more that I was benefiting myself. And that could come across as selfish.

“But if you asked 100 guys if you had this opportunity to go put on a uniform and go play for Lou Piniella for 40 days and you are going to take a little grief for it because some people aren’t going to be pleased with your decision, would you do it? I would bet you that 98 people would say yes.’’

Aden, establishing a role as a right-handed setup man, pitched in nine spring games.

He got a win in a game against Oakland, though not before going to a 2-0 count on a batter and getting a visit from Piniella, who promptly asked him if he wasn’t being paid well enough.

Aden said he responded yes and said Piniella replied, “Then pull your head out and start throwing strikes.’’

As Aden and the replacements began to think they might play regular-season games, the players union asked federal judge Sonia Sotomayor for an injunction to prevent the owners from implementing a new collective-bargaining agreement without the players’ approval.

The Mariners were scheduled to open the regular season against Toronto. But the Blue Jays were barred from playing with strikebreakers in Canada, so the games were scheduled for the team’s spring-training home in Dunedin, Fla.

On the day the Mariners were to leave, Sotomayor approved the injunction, ending the 232-day strike.

Replacement players would have received another $5,000 bonus had they made the trip to Florida.

Instead, Aden and the rest were sent home. He was offered a chance to stay with the Mariners and pitch in the minors. But at 33 and with three children, he turned it down. So a few days later, Aden was back teaching and coaching at Liberty High.

“It was a real culture shock,’’ he said. “I literally got to live a dream for 41 days and then back to reality.’’

When he returned, he also got a death threat, one deemed serious enough that the Mariners hired a security guard to follow him around for 10 days.

Aden has moved on from teaching but has stayed with the Studs, coaching 14 players who have reached the majors, including Tim Lincecum and Willie Bloomquist. A few years ago he was inducted into the National Baseball Congress Hall of Fame.

“A lot of people think that I played for the Mariners way back when, but if they bring that up I’m quick to point out I only did spring training and I was a replacement player — I don’t call myself a scab — and that I never got to play in a real game, and that’s about it,’’ he said. “It’s one of my baseball accomplishments, and I’m very proud of it, but I’ve also got almost 900 wins (coaching), and I’m more proud of what I’ve been able to do (coaching).

“It’s just something I got to do that I think others wish they had.’’

Article courtesy of the Seattle Times