SEATTLE -- There’s no big mystery as to why “Mariners” was chosen as the nickname for Seattle’s Major League Baseball team when the franchise began in 1977, given Seattle’s nautical ties and location on the waters of Puget Sound. But as for the man who came up with that moniker? That’s another story.
When the American League awarded an expansion franchise to Seattle, the team owners -- a group consisting of actor Danny Kaye and five Seattle-area businessmen -- decided to hold a fan contest to name the team.
More than 600 names were submitted from about 15,000 entries, and while numerous fans suggested “Mariners,” the team chose the entry from Roger Szmodis of Bellevue, Wash., because they liked his explanation the best.
“I’ve selected Mariners because of the natural association between the sea and Seattle and her people, who have been challenged and rewarded by it,” wrote Szmodis.
Which all was well and good until the Mariners attempted to contact Szmodis to give him the winning prize: a pair of season tickets, plus an all-expenses-paid trip to see the team play on the road for one series during its inaugural campaign.
One problem: Szmodis never showed up to claim his prizes.
Hal Childs, the Mariners' director of public relations at the time, explained the situation to the New York Times during that first year.
“It's really gotten to be a mystery,” said Childs, who passed away in 2017. “We've written him a letter, stopped by his apartment and left messages for him to contact us. But we still haven't heard from him. Maybe we'll have to put out an A.P.B. [all-points bulletin] on him.”
Forty-three years later, the mystery remains unsolved. Randy Adamack, who replaced Childs as PR director in 1978 and still works for the Mariners as a senior vice president and special advisor, said he tried tracking Szmodis down as recently as a year ago as part of a history project.
Searching on Google, Adamack discovered someone named Roger Szmodis who lived in Pennsylvania, and he sent a letter asking if he was the same Roger Szmodis.
“I never heard back,” Adamack said. “I don’t know if the guy got it or not, but he never responded.”
So in an interesting piece of team lore, the Mariners name lives on. And so do a pair of season tickets and an all-expenses-paid trip that appear destined to go unclaimed forever.