The Groz Remembers: Norm Charlton’s renaissance with Mariners proved that in baseball, you never know

Feb 28, 2018, 12:55 PM

We periodically check in with Dave “The Groz” Grosby, 710 ESPN Seattle’s resident historian, to hear a story from Seattle sports past. Here’s what came to the Groz’s mind while considering the Mariners’ start to spring training, which always features a few veterans towards the end of their career trying to catch on with a team.

It was the All-Star break in July 1995 when the Philadelphia Phillies gave up on an original Nasty Boy. Norm Charlton was only 32 but hadn’t resembled the fearsome lefty he had been earlier in the decade with the Cincinnati Reds, and after 25 appearances and a 7.36 ERA, the Phillies had had enough.

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Norm was of course well-known in Seattle – he had done an excellent job as Mariners closer in 1993, when he reunited with former Reds manager Lou Piniella after arriving in a trade for Kevin Mitchell. But after compiling 18 saves and a 2.34 ERA for the Mariners, he left the following season as a free agent to Philadelphia and missed the entire 1994 campaign because of injury. His comeback appeared to be over when he was cut on July 10.

The Mariners were stumbling along at 34-37 and seven games out of first on July 14. I was doing the pregame and postgame shows for the Mariners in ’95 and did sportscasts on KIRO Newsradio during the afternoon, usually from the dugout, so I was in the ballpark four hours before game time when I saw a familiar-looking figure walking out to a bullpen mound.

It was “The Sheriff.”

He began to warm up, and to my untrained eye he looked finished, bouncing pitches to the plate with suspect control. I felt my judgement was confirmed when Piniella ambled out and watched Charlton throw two or maybe three pitches, then turned around and walked back in the clubhouse.

Of course, I was wrong. Lou had seen what he needed to see and the M’s signed Charlton that day. He was mainly a setup guy at first, but when Lou gave him the closer job in late August he was never better, saving 11 games during that memorable September drive. He finished the season with 13 saves and a 1.51 ERA and followed with a terrific postseason. A few years later he left via free agency but was resigned by the club before the 2001 season and was an important part of the Mariners’ 116-win squad.

Norm loved to engage and had the brains to talk anything with anyone, holding three degrees from his time at Rice University – truly a renaissance man.

He was for me a reminder that in baseball you never know what a man has left in the tank, especially if you’re just a dumb broadcaster. When things seem the darkest, when you’re taking a shot in the dark on someone who’s got no opportunity, no chance, in baseball you never know.

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The Groz Remembers: Norm Charlton’s renaissance with Mariners proved that in baseball, you never know