The Mariners have lately taken to running a mission for lost souls—and with better results on the average than most establishments of this sort can claim. Last year they rescued Al Cowens from the equivalent of baseball's skid row, and Cowens responded with one of the best seasons of a career that had apparently been going straight to the devil. Cowens hit .270 with 20 homers and a team-leading 78 RBIs. And as the regular rightfielder, he set a Seattle record with 14 assists. Cowens had played in 85 games for Detroit in '81 and had hit but one homer and driven in only 18 runs. After playing six competent seasons in Kansas City, he had moved three times in 1979-82. Now he has a new three-year, $ 1.2 million contract with Seattle.
"I was lucky to get the opportunity to play regularly again," Cowens says. "If it wasn't for Rene Lachemann [the Mariner manager], I don't know what would've happened. Anybody else would've sat me down, the way I started." A rusty Cowens was hitting only. 181 on May 7, but Lachemann kept him in the lineup. "He hadn't played much the year before, so I knew it would take him time to get back in the groove," says the patient manager. Cowens hit .292 for the rest of the season and so encouraged Lachemann and the Mariners that they are taking on three more reclamation projects: Steve Henderson, a .233 hitter in 92 games with the Cubs last year; Pat Putnam, one of the American League's best rookies in 1979, who hit only .230 in 43 games for Texas in '82 and spent most of the year in Triple A; and Clint Hurdle, the Kansas City rookie phenom of five years ago, who played only 19 games for Cincinnati last season (hitting .206) before being dispatched to Triple A oblivion. Henderson and Putnam came to Seattle in trades. Hurdle, who asked for and received his release from the Reds, pleaded with the club for a chance to make the squad this spring. Naturally, he got that chance.
"This is exactly the sort of opportunity we gave Al Cowens," says Lachemann. "These three players are all young enough to come back from bad seasons [at 30, Henderson is the oldest]." Henderson has the job in leftfield and Putnam has the inside track at first base. Hurdle? "It's up to him now, but he was the hardest worker in camp," says Lachemann.
Lachemann lost his best starter, Floyd Bannister, to free agency when he signed a multimillion-dollar contract with the White Sox. The Mariners must now hope that some of their younger pitchers, such as Edwin Nunez and Bob Stoddard, can pick up enough of the pitching slack to help out veterans Jim Beattie and 44-year-old, 307-game-winner Gaylord Perry. They must also hope that one of the three resurrected newcomers can give them the hitting they lost when Bruce Bochte (.297 in '82) decided, at age 32, to retire to Whidbey Island, in Puget Sound. It's a tall order.
Manager Rene Lachemann walked some 23 miles between dugout and mound in 1982, but his legwork paid off: Seattle's ERA went from the league's worst in 1981 to fourth best in '82. Led by Bill Caudill, the relievers came in with 358 men on base, let only 80 score and picked up 39 of 50 possible saves. A major shortcoming: The four players used at third base combined to hit .248.