Remembering Mark Langston

Mark Langston was the first “good” pitcher the Mariners farm system produced. He was born on August 20, 1960, in San Diego, CA. Langston was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 15th round of the 1978 amateur draft, but did not sign.

In the 2nd round of the 1981 amateur draft the Mariners selected Langston out of San Jose State University (he signed on June 17, 1981). He was impressive at each minor league stop. In 1983, his final full season of minor league baseball, he went 14-9 with a 3.59 ERA in 28 starts.

His K/BB ratio wasn’t outstanding but it did not slow Langston down, as he bypassed Triple-A completely and made the Mariners 1984 Opening Day roster. Langston was 23 years old when he broke into the big leagues on April 7, 1984.

The Mariners must have felt like they won the lottery in 1984. Mark Langston was hands down the best rookie pitcher in the American League, but he was beat out for the A.L. Rookie of the Year Award by fellow teammate and first baseman Alvin Davis. Davis received 25 of the 28 1st place votes; Langston received the other three.

1984 Rookie Season
35 games (33 starts), 17-10, 3.40 ERA, 204 K in 225 IP
– Led AL in K (204 – 4th in MLB)
– Led MLB in Walks (118)
– Led AL in K/9 (8.16)
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With huge expectations heading into his sophomore campaign, Langston came up short on delivering them. Glancing over his 1985 season statistics, it’s clear that an injury that shut him down on June 5th affected him the rest of the season.

5/21: 0.1 IP, 3 H, 3 ER
5/31: 3.2 IP, 5 H, 4 ER, 5 BB, 0 K
6/5: 4.1 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, K — did not pitch again until July 22nd

Of his 13 starts after coming off of the disabled list, Langston failed to go 6+ innings in 9 outings; he was hurting.

1985 Season
24 starts, 7-14, 5.47 ERA, 72 K in 126.2 IP
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Langston was a bit of a wild card in 1986. He led the American League in strikeouts with 245 but also led the league in earned runs. One obvious note to this season was that he overcame his injuries by logging a career-high 239.1 IP (with an impressive 9 complete games). His record was sub .500 and his ERA was a bit high, but he showed flashes of dominance. If fans had their doubts Langston could be the Mariners ace, this season proved he was on the right path (if not already).

1986 Season
37 games (36 starts), 12-14, 4.85 ERA, 245 K in 239.1 IP
– Tied for MLB-high with 129 ER
– 9 complete games/0 shutouts
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Building on a strong ’86 campaign, Langston came out firing. From April 17th to May 29th, he did not have a start go less than 7 IP (including 4 CG over this stretch). His 1st half of the season did not match his 2nd, but that did not hold him back from being selected to his first All-Star Game (pitching 2 shutout innings in that game).

Langston threw 272 innings for the M’s and gobbled up 14 complete games in the process. It also marked the 3rd time in his young career that he would lead the A.L. in strikeouts with 262. With a 19-game winner, strikeout-leading left-hander… the Mariners had something special.

1987 Season
35 starts, 19-13, 3.84 ERA, 262 K (1st in AL) in 272 IP. 14 CG.
– 1st All-Star appearance
– 1st Gold Glove
– 1st half of season: 10-8, 4.46 ERA, 8 CG
– 2nd half of season: 9-5, 3.03 ERA, 6 CG

In 1987 All-Star game: 2 IP, 0 H, 0 ER, 3 K (pitched 5th/6th inning)
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Langston again went over 30 starts, over 230 K, and over 260 IP. The Mariners were not contenders any season Langston was in Seattle but the baseball world had taken notice of the lefty putting up some incredible numbers. He was an ace, an all-star, a strikeout king.

Langston was heading into what many baseball purists claim as “prime seasons” of a career. How much better could he become and how much would it cost? The Mariners were not known for spending big bucks in the 80’s, but the team apparently felt they’d have a great chance of signing him before the 1989 season completed. Note: At this point in time, the Mariners had never had a winning season.

1988 Season
35 starts, 15-11, 3.34 ERA, 235 K in 261.1 IP
– 2nd Gold Glove
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The 1989 season started with much speculation on what the Mariners would do about Langston’s impending free agency at the end of the year. According to Langston’s agent, the Mariners could have signed him in February of 1989 for 3 years at $5.4 million. (Reminder: George Argyros, the Mariners owner at the time, was looking to sell the franchise).

In late March, the Mariners seemed ready to shell out that sum, but it was too late. Langston’s agent wanted the Mariners to match the same 3-year $6.7 million deal Dwight Gooden had recently received from the Mets.

1989 Season with M’s: 10 starts, 4-5, 3.56 ERA, 60 K in 73.1 IP

Remember now, Langston was a 28-year-old lefty who had led the American League in strikeouts three times. Argyros wouldn’t budge and Langston was dealt to Montreal, where he finished the season.

— May 25, 1989: Traded by Mariners with a PTBNL (Mike Campbell) to Expos for Gene Harris, Brian Holman and Randy Johnson —

On May 25th, the Expos were in 4th place in the N.L. East division, but only 3 games back in that race. They were looking to make a push with one of the best arms in all of baseball. How’d he fair in the N.L.? 24 starts, 12-9, 2.39 ERA, 175 K in 176.2 IP, 6 CG, 4 shutouts.

In August of 1989 he turned down an Expos offer of 3-years for $9 million.

By the time Langston hit free agency, the Mariners had new ownership. Jeff Smulyan led a group of investors and bought the team in August of 1989. Smulyan faxed a proposal of three years for $10 million but Langston’s agent would not consider anything less than a five year deal.

December 1, 1989: Langston signed with the California Angels. The final payout: five years, $16 million, including a $1.5 million signing bonus.

Little did the Angels know that in 1995, Langston would return to Seattle for the biggest game in Mariners history; a one-game playoff pitching against none other than Randy Johnson. The Mariners won the game, won the A.L. West and were going to their first ever playoff series (vs the Yankees). We all know how that series ended!

Mark Langston was the best pitcher the Mariners had ever had (up until The Big Unit). He had some incredible seasons for some very lacking teams. Some old school fans may be annoyed with his decision to bolt for the cash, but when you really break it down, Langston did far more “good” for this franchise than people give credit for.

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Played with Mariners from 1984 to 5/21/1989

5/10/1988 at TOR: 16 strikeout game
6/25/1986 vs CLE: 15 strikeout game
9/9/88 at MIL: Now rare “10.1 CG” loss

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4 comments on “Remembering Mark Langston

  1. I just subscribed to your blog because you’re so fucking awesome. I appreciate your dedication to the past. Makes me remember through all the weed induced hazes, my childhood. Thanks dude.

  2. Hey there, you’ll love this story. Mark Langston was part of one of my favorite (pre-1995) Kingdome moments.

    When he was traded in 1989, it was a big deal because he was our first real homegrown star to leave Seattle. Yeah we had Alvin Davis too, but Langston was a much bigger “name” player at the time. It was a big part of my childhood when the Mariners actually traded their one big ace pitcher to the Expos.

    Flash forward a year later. It is July 11, 1990. Mark Langston is on the Angels now, and he is about to make his first Angels appearance in the Kingdome after leaving Seattle. And it was a fairly big deal at the time because his opponent in his return game was going to be Erik Hanson. Who, at the time, was more or less the “new” Langston. Hanson (18-9, 3.24 in 1990) was our big young budding Mariners ace who had replaced Mark Langston.

    So it was Hanson against Langston. The new Mariners ace against the old one. Again, at the time, this was a really big deal. Prior to 1995 I would say this was the single most hyped Mariners game I can think of off the top of my head. In fact, I remember more hype about THIS game than I remember there being for Gaylord Perry’s 300th victory back in 1982. If you were a Mariners fan at the time, the Langston-Hanson matchup in 1990 was about as epic as it got.

    I was actually there at the game that night. My dad got us tickets, and my entire family went, and when I first entered the Kingdome about an hour before the game, I saw a sign hanging in left field that made me laugh my ass off. In fact, it still makes me laugh my ass off, and that is why I remember this game so well.

    You remember how the fans all made signs in the Kingdome during the 1995 playoffs, and how it was a part of the story? Well they made signs back in 1990 too. And this one was my favorite.\

    Written in big red bold letters on a bedsheet was the following message:

    WELCOME BACK MARK LANGDON!

    To me, this sign was the single most “Seattle” Kingdome sign ever. Because no banner has ever summed up better what it was like to be a Seattle sports fan in the 80’s and early 90’s. Either the guy really loved Mark Langston, but he was too stupid to realize he had managed to spell his hero’s name wrong, or it was the most brilliantly passive-aggressive way to tell a primadonna that we didn’t want him or need him (or even remember him) on our beloved Mariners anymore. And that was what I loved so much about that sign. EITHER ONE OF THOSE EXPLANATIONS WAS POSSIBLE BECAUSE WE WERE TALKING ABOUT A SEATTLE MARINERS FAN!

    “Welcome back Mark Langdon.” That was written by either the most clueless baseball fan alive, or it was the most backhanded non confrontational Seattle style insult ever. You decide. To this day I don’t know which one it was. And that’s what I love about it. In Seattle we don’t say “fuck you”, in Seattle we pretend we don’t even remember your last name. That’s just how we do up there.

    There is no way I can think about Mark Langston without thinking about that totally Seattle “Welcome Back Mark Langdon!” sign.

    Oh yeah, P.S. the Mariners won that game 2-1. Mark Langdon pitched a complete game and lost. Here is the boxscore: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SEA/SEA199007110.shtml

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