Bright spots were tough to come by for the Seattle Mariners during their first decade or so in existence, and sometimes those light flashes were tough to see even when they were there.
Just ask Phil Bradley.
When Bradley came up to the M’s for the first time, in September of 1983, they were mired in another miserable season — they’d finish at 60-102 and in last place in the old American League West.
The young outfielder didn’t do much to brighten the mood, hitting .269 with just a couple of doubles in 21 appearances. But that brief showing and a minor league track record that showcased a high batting average, solid on-base skills, and top-tier baserunning were enough to get Bradley another look the next spring.
And, in 1984, the 25-year-old three years removed from a collegiate career at the University of Missouri stuck. In 373 plate appearances across 124 games, mostly in the outfield, Bradley hit .301 with 21 stolen bases.
Though Bradley made only 81 starts and hit no home runs at all, that showing added up to a 1.4 WAR, not too bad for a part-time rookie.
Thing was, though, hardly anybody noticed.
It wasn’t because the Mariners suddenly got good — they didn’t, though 74-88 and a fifth-place finish were vast improvements over 1983.
No, the problem for Bradley was that he was a rookie in the same season that teammates Alvin Davis and Mark Langston also broke through to the majors.
For his part, Davis hit .283 with 27 home runs and 116 RBI, easily snatching the American League Rookie of the Year Award from Langston, who went 17-10 with a 3.40 ERA and led the Junior Circuit with 204 strikeouts (and the bigs with 111 walks).
Shortstop Spike Owen turned in a pretty nice sophomore season, too, and third baseman Jim Presley flashed a healthy power stroke in about half a season.
Add in big (by Mariners standards) showings from starter Jim Beattie, second baseman Jack Perconte, and slugging DH Ken Phelps, and there was at least a twinge of excitement around the M’s.
Just not so much around Bradley.
But he had made the majors and looked like he might be around for at least awhile, so it wasn’t too surprising to see him start appearing on our baseball cards, like this 1984 Fleer Update deal:
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Issued not long after Davis copped his ROY award, that first Fleer Update was a bit like Bradley — it was there, we were happy (or at least OK) to have it, but we didn’t really know what the future held for it.
We already had the Topps Traded set, after all. Did we really need a second year-end set?
Though Fleer would produce another 132-card Update set in 1985, we wouldn’t really know for sure for sure that we loved them until Roger Clemens took off in 1986 and we went back to dredge up his rookie cards.
There was no Rocket in 1984 Topps Traded, but he was right there on card number U-27 in the 1984 Fleer Update set.
And it had become clear by that time that the things were pretty scarce, too, by mid-1980s standards, at least.
In the meantime, the Seattle Mariners sort of held serve, finishing 74-88 again in 1985 (though they slipped to sixth place).
It wasn’t Langston and Davis who kept the M’s afloat, though.
The 1984 AL strikeout leader struggled in his sophomore campaign, going 7-14 with a 5.47 ERA. That put him in negative WAR territory after a 4.4 effort as a rookie.
Davis fared better, but his .287/18/78 were a steep falloff from his ROY form and cut his WAR in half.
In the rotation, 25-year-old Mike Moore took up the slack with a 17-10 record and 3.47 ERA that accounted for 6.3 WAR.
And then there was a second-year guy named Phil Bradley, who took over the leftfield job from Barry Bonnell and hit an even .300 with 22 stolen bases.
Typical Bradley stuff.
What wasn’t typical, though, were the 26 longballs he clubbed, or the 88 runs he drove in, or, really, the 100 runs scored, 33 doubles, and eight triples.
Suddenly, at age 26, Phil Bradley had found his power stroke.
By the time that second-run Fleer Update set came out in the fall of 1985, Bradley had run up 4.8 WAR on the season to lead all Mariners hitters, his first (and only) All-Star berth, and a few MVP votes.
Before most of us even knew who Roger Clemens was, we went scrambling to find those Phil Bradley rookie cards we knew had to be hiding in a corner of our collection, somewhere.
For those collectors who took a chance on 1984 Fleer Update, Bradley was part of the reward.
Just like he was for M’s manager Chuck Cottier, who took over the team in the second half of 1984 and who stuck with Bradley in 1985.
Phil Bradley may not have been a superstar, or a Rookie of the Year, but he was a rare beacon in Seattle and helped keep the fans warm after the glow of expansion had dimmed, and before the megawattage of a Ken Griffey, Jr., smile.
Those 1980s Mariners teams may not have been much to write home about, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t fun to watch … or collect:
That’s a team-autographed ball from the 1984 Mariners, including Phil Bradley (of course) among the 25+ sigs.
Check out the full listing on eBay right here (affiliate link).
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