The Definitive Mount Rushmore For Seattle Sports

That’s a bold proclamation, but I’m a bold individual.

Mount Rushmores:
Tuesday:  Seattle Sports Announcers
Wednesday:  Seattle Head Coaches/Managers
Thursday:  Mariners, Supersonics, & Seahawks (past & present)

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of 80’s Heavy Metal Bands?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Metallica, Guns N’ Roses, Def Leppard, and Motley Crue, and come at me bro if you think I’m wrong because I’ll fight this whole fucking town!

Today, it’s all on my shoulders to select the Mount Rushmore for Seattle sports.  It’s a daunting task, to say the least.  Am I man enough for it?  I dunno, probably not, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.

So, I suppose to do this right, there have to be some parameters.  Obviously, they have to be great at their sport; Hall of Fame level.  There’s an element beyond that, though; one that transcends their own personal greatness.  Popularity is certainly a part of it, not just in Seattle, but across America and around the world, but I’d be remiss if I put too much emphasis on their notoriety.  I think it matters not just that they were great on their respective teams, but great when compared to others in the history of the game and position they played.

For instance, Steve Largent is my favorite football player of all time, and at the time of his retirement he was the best the game had ever seen.  But, now?  Largent is 18th in the NFL in total yards, surpassed by the likes of Henry Ellard (played 2 more seasons, is not in the HOF), Andre Johnson (who is good, but does he strike you as transcendant?), and Reggie Wayne (who had one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time in Peyton Manning throwing to him; of COURSE he has more yards!).  I’m just saying that the greatness of the wide receiver position has been deminished in the wake of the NFL turning into a passing league.  I mean, Terrell Owens has the second-most receiving yards of all time (behind the great Jerry Rice) and he’s still struggling to make it into the HOF!  I don’t care about his reputation or his attitude or whatever; 20 years ago, if he’d retired with the most yards in NFL history, he would’ve been a first ballot enshrinee.

Also, look at someone like Felix Hernandez; my favorite player of all time.  Yeah, he’s great, and he’s in my Mariners Mount Rushmore, but compared to some of the greatest pitchers of all time, Felix is just another guy.  Maybe in another era, with the stuff he has, he would’ve put up numbers commensurate to some of the all timers, but he’s in the era he’s in, and it knocks him back accordingly.  You have to go above and beyond in these situations if you want to make my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore.

In an effort to make this easier on myself, let’s knock out a couple of really obvious ones.

At the top, in the pole position of my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore, I have Ken Griffey Jr.

Absolute no-brainer.  22 years in Major League Baseball, 13 years in Seattle, at the absolute peak of his powers and popularity.  #1 overall draft pick by the Mariners in 1987, in his first 11 years with the organization he made the All Star team 10 times.  10 Gold Gloves, 7 Silver Sluggers, and was the American League MVP in 1997.  He hit 417 of his 630 home runs with the Mariners.  He took the team to its first two playoff appearances in the history of the franchise.  He led the A.L. in homers 4 times and in RBI once.  He’s in the Mariners’ Hall of Fame, is the only actual Mariner to have his number retired, was a member of the MLB All-Century Team, and was the highest vote-getter in MLB Hall of Fame history in his first year of eligibility.  HE WAS THE MOST POPULAR ATHLETE ON THE PLANET!  He’s 6th on the all time home run list, and if you discount the cheaters that are Bonds and A-Rod, he’s truly in rare company (Aaron, Ruth, and Mays, are you KIDDING me?).

That’s what I mean.  Ken Griffey Jr. is the definition of a Mount Rushmore-type player.  He’s the greatest athlete the city of Seattle has ever seen and might be the greatest we will EVER see.  Anyone alive who got to see him play in his prime should thank their lucky stars.

At my #2 spot in my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore, I have Gary Payton.

Again, I think this one is a no-brainer.  18 seasons in the NBA, 13 seasons in Seattle, again at the absolute peak of his powers and popularity.  #2 overall draft pick by the Supersonics in 1990, in his Seattle years he made the All Star team 9 times.  2 All-NBA first teams, 5 second teams, and 2 third teams.  He was the NBA Defensive Player of the Year in 1996, as well as the steals leader the same year.  He is 4th all time in NBA history in steals with 2,445 (behind Michael Jordan, Jason Kidd, and a million miles behind John Stockton).  He’s also 8th all time in NBA history in assists with 8,966 (among the likes of Stockton, Kidd, Nash, Mark Jackson, Magic, Oscar, and Isiah).  When you’re talking true point guards, you’re talking the best of the best, and GP is right there.  He was always a defensive force, but his offense didn’t really start to take off until his fifth season in the league; yet he still managed to score 21,813 points, which is good for 31st all time, just ahead of Larry Bird, and just behind Clyde Drexler.

Again, we’re talking about some of the greatest players to ever put on a jersey and play the game of basketball!  I don’t know if people necessarily think of GP the way they think of Griffey, because Griffey might be the best or second-best centerfielder of all time; whereas there are a bunch of great point guards who are as good or even better.  But, I’m here to tell you that there really aren’t that many.

Guys like Stockton and Kidd played great defense and dished it out like no one else, but their offensive games were largely lacking.  They couldn’t take over a game and back down an opposing guard like GP could.  Nash and Iverson were awesome scorers, but they weren’t as suffocating on defense as GP would be.  Honestly, I think the only people in Gary’s league are Magic, Isiah, and maybe Oscar (but, I’ll be honest here, all three of those guys were either a little or a lot before my time, and I didn’t get to see them play in their primes).  Anyway, I’m talking about COMPLETE point guards, guys who played on both sides of the ball and did it damn well on both ends.  Not to mention from 1995 through 2003, Gary averaged over 38 minutes per game.

The only shame of it all is that he played in the opposite conference from Michael Jordan, and only got to face off against MJ the one time in the NBA Finals.  I think if those guys were in the same division and had to go against one another 4 times a year plus every year in the playoffs, it would’ve been one of the truly great rivalries in NBA history.  As it stands, Gary really didn’t have anyone who was his direct rival.  He was already established when Kobe was a young pup.  Kidd and Stockton were never much to speak of on the offensive side of the ball, so they never really challenged him at that end.  All the best scoring guards during Gary’s prime were in the East, or they were past their primes when Gary was in his.  That Finals series in 1996 was one for the ages, though.  It’s just too bad it was the first for that group in Seattle; I think the severity of the situation got to them mentally.  For the Bulls, it was old hat; just another business trip.  I think if the Sonics had gotten theirs in 1994 (like they SHOULD have), by 1996 it would’ve been like two equally fierce titans going against one another.  What could have been.

***

With the easy half of our Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore out of the way, now we get to the more difficult decisions.

For starters, where are the Seahawks?  I’m pretty sure you can’t have one of these without throwing a Seahawk on there, so let’s get cracking.

As I wrote about yesterday, there are currently 4 Seahawks in the NFL Hall of Fame (with this year’s induction of Kenny Easley).  So, yeah, a lot to choose from here.  At the top, I talked about Steve Largent a little bit, and I still stand behind that.  I think his candidacy for this list is pretty lacking, when you consider his current place in NFL history, which I very much believe applies here.

When you look at the rest of the Hall of Famers, I think one name clearly stands out, and that name is Walter Jones, my third choice for the Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore.

There aren’t really a ton of stats I can sit here and pull up to show Big Walt’s greatness; it’s not like the NFL keeps track of “pancakes” as an official stat (BTW tho, they absolutely SHOULD).  Jones made 9 Pro Bowls, was First Team All Pro 4 times, and Second Team twice.  He was on the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s.  He was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, and has had his #71 retired by the Seahawks.

If you want to get a little deeper, in trying to compare him to the other greats in NFL history, that’s a little trickier.  Pro Football Reference has their “Approximate Value” stat that tries to equalize things across all positions, and gives your career a numerical value accordingly.  Across all positions, in the entirety of NFL history, Jones is currently tied for 150th, which – when you think about how many players there have been – is pretty astounding.  I did the research, and there are only 26 offensive linemen ahead of him on that list, but the vast majority of them are either guards or centers.  Among just the left tackles, there are only 6 ahead of Walter Jones:  Anthony Munoz, Lomas Brown, Willie Roaf, Mike Kenn, Gary Zimmerman, and Orlando Pace.  Four of those guys are Hall of Famers, and the other two (Brown and Kenn) just played forever.  So, yeah, I’d say that’s pretty good company.

Anecdotally, Walter Jones IS one of the greatest left tackles in NFL history.  The combination of speed, size, technique, power, durability, raw talent; it’s something we probably will never see around here ever again.  It’s ultimately the durability issue that cost him the end of his career, as injuries and surgeries became too much and cut it short, but he’s also a guy who was able to play through a lot of pain and injuries and keep up his high level of play.  He may not be the force of nature, popularity-wise, that Griffey or even Payton were, but his talent and standing among the greats at his position relative to the history of the game more than makes up for it.  As such, Big Walt is my #3.

***

Which leads us to our Abraham Lincoln spot on the mountain.  Who is my #4?

The fact that this is far and away the most difficult choice for me ultimately leads me to believe that whoever I choose is not long for this spot.  I’m a firm believer in the Smell Test, or the Eyeball Test, or whatever you want to call it.  Is a guy a Hall of Famer?  That should be obvious; it shouldn’t take much more than 10 seconds to decide.  Either he is or he isn’t.  Obviously, there are people on the bubble who need arguments in their favor (*cough* EDGAR *cough*), but for me it’s a lot more simple.  Yes, Edgar is a Hall of Famer; NEXT!

But, I don’t really have a solid #4, which means my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore is sitting atop a pretty shaky foundation.  There are certainly guys in the running.  Edgar Martinez, for instance, would be a fine choice; but can I include a guy who’s not even in the MLB Hall of Fame (yet)?  Same goes for someone like Jack Sikma (who absolutely should be a basketball hall of famer).  There are plenty of former Sonics and Seahawks who ARE in their respective halls of fame, so it doesn’t seem totally fair.  On top of that, can you rank any of these other guys as among the greatest at their positions all time?

My actual belief is that the #4 player on my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore is currently playing for the Seattle Seahawks.  But, since his career hasn’t ended yet, is it really appropriate to put him on there now?  Frankly, I think we’re another 7 years of quality play out of Earl Thomas from him being the guy.  If he can keep it up, and manage to stay healthy, he will go down as one of the most talented and important free safeties in the history of the NFL, with this Seahawks defense going down as one of the elite defenses in the history of the NFL.  As I wrote about yesterday, he’s the straw that stirs the drink; others may come and go, play or be injured, but the constant is Earl Thomas.  And, most importantly, we got a clear and obvious look at what this defense is without him, in the final 5 regular season games and 2 playoff games last year:  it’s not pretty.

So, I WANT to put Earl in here, but I just can’t.  What if injuries plague him from here on out and cut his career short?  Well, that opens the door for Richard Sherman, who is already the greatest cornerback in franchise history and already has made a name for himself among the greatest to ever play the game.  He needs some longevity to go with that to be Mount Rushmore-worthy, and the biggest question here is:  will he play out the duration of his career in Seattle?  There are obvious, serious doubts there too.

Which takes me to Russell Wilson.  What if he plays another 15 years for Seattle, and leads us to another 2-3 Super Bowls?  Doesn’t he HAVE to be the #4 on my Mount Rushmore, simply for the fact that he’s the most popular, recognizable figure on this team, at its most important position?

So, you see the bind I’m in.  All three of those guys are worthy, but all three of them need to put on some more years before they can be taken seriously among the top three on this list.

Where do I go from here?  While I acknowledge all of the above is true, I refuse to put “Placeholder” as my #4, so I’ve gotta make a choice.  To me, I think it has to come down to a couple of names:  Cortez Kennedy and Ichiro.

The Tez falls a few points below Big Walt on the ol’ Approximate Value scale, but I’m not going to go through and count the number of defensive tackles ahead of him.  Here’s what I’ve got:  11 year career, all with Seattle.  First round draft pick, #3 overall.  8 Pro Bowls, 3 First Team All-Pros, 2 Second Teams.  NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1992.  NFL 1990s All-Decade Team.  His number 96 is retired, and he’s in the NFL Hall of Fame.  Unfortunately, he got saddled on a lot of bad and mediocre teams, so the 2-time College Football National Champion only made one NFL playoff appearance (losing in the Wild Card round).  In my estimation, Tez ranks among the best all time at what he did, which was an all-around defensive tackle who could both rush the passer and defend against the run.  His sack numbers are impressive – particularly when you consider the number of double-teams he had to face – but his total tackle numbers are even MORE impressive.  I mean, he had 3 seasons where he averaged over 70 tackles per year!  As a DT!  Those are linebacker and safety numbers!

Then, there’s Ichiro.  He’s not in the MLB Hall of Fame, but that’s only because he’s STILL playing, at the age of 43.  Here’s a guy who spent 9 years in Japan before coming over to Seattle.  From age 18-26 (where, for a lot of people, he’d be working his way through the minors and getting into his prime at the Major League level), his numbers are essentially rendered irrelevant by a lot of baseball fans.  He nevertheless, as a pro starting at the age of 27, has managed to get over 3,000 hits, 2,533 of which were in a Mariners uniform.

Let’s get into it:  he was with the Mariners for 12 seasons.  An All Star his first 10 years (including All Star Game MVP in 2007).  A Gold Glover his first 10 years.  A Silver Slugger 3 times.  A Fielding Bible Award winner 3 times.  American League batting champion twice.  In 2001, he was the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in the A.L.  He also led the league in stolen bases that year.  He also had over 200 hits in his first 10 years, and set the single-season record for hits with 262 in 2004.  Like Tez, Ichiro was saddled with some pretty bad Mariners teams after the 2003 season.  Yet, he stuck around and remained true to the organization long after he could’ve gone to any number of teams to play for a contender.

If you want to talk about popularity – particularly on a global scale – Ichiro sits up there with Ken Griffey Jr. in his prime.  Even across America, he was the face of the Seattle Mariners for a decade!  He was a dominant force at the top of the lineup, and he was equally as great at his defense in right field.  He stole bases, he kept the opposing team’s running game in check, and if he were in a better-run organization, he could’ve done even MORE with his offensive numbers.

Is he among the greatest outfielders of all time?  That’s a little tougher to nail down.  He wasn’t like a Griffey or a Mays; Ichiro’s game is speed and singles (among other things).  I think he ranks up there among the greats at his defense, and among the greatest all time leadoff hitters.  I think he’s the greatest Japanese-born baseball player of all time, which is not an insignificant feat.  And, I think when you tack on the fact that some of his prime years were spent in the inferior Japanese leagues, you have to wonder what could’ve been had he gotten to America sooner.

All of that considered, that’s why I’m making Ichiro my #4 on my Seattle Sports Mount Rushmore.

So, what do you think?  Griffey, Payton, Jones, Ichiro.  With a very strong likelihood that my future #4 will be someone on this current Seahawks team.  Maybe in another decade I’ll come back and write a new one of these for shits and giggles.

The Mount Rushmores For Each Seattle Pro Team

* That I choose to cover, because I don’t give a fudge about the ones I don’t.

Mount Rushmores:
Tuesday:  Seattle Sports Announcers
Wednesday:  Seattle Head Coaches/Managers

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of TV shows still airing new episodes right now?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Rick & Morty, Better Call Saul, Bob’s Burgers, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but ask me another day and I might give you four completely different shows.

Today is going to be the first of a two-parter, of sorts.  I’m going to split up my Mount Rushmores between the Mariners, Sonics, and Seahawks, with the goal of locking down an official Mount Rushmore for All Seattle Sports tomorrow.

First up:  the Seattle Mariners.

  1. Ken Griffey Jr.
  2. Edgar Martinez
  3. Felix Hernandez
  4. Ichiro

I thought this one was pretty easy, but I could see why people might want to make the argument for someone like Randy Johnson or Alex Rodriguez or even Alvin Davis, but ehh.  Griffey is Griffey; he’s the greatest player in Mariners history.  Edgar is Edgar; he’s the greatest hitter in Mariners history.  Felix is the King; his prime in a Mariners uniform was better than Randy’s prime in a Mariners uniform.  Had the Mariners never traded Randy, and he won a bunch more Cy Young Awards and whatnot, then yeah, Randy all day.  But, I’m going with the King because he’s my favorite player of all time and because he deserves to be on this list.  And, I’m going with Ichiro as my #4 due to his longevity and his sustained brilliance as this team’s leadoff hitter.  Again, it comes down to tenure over someone like A-Rod who had a short stint of supreme excellence before taking the money and running to the Rangers.  In the end, I don’t think A-Rod would end up on any team’s Mount Rushmore, and that’s exactly what he deserves.

Next up:  the Seattle Supersonics.

  1. Gary Payton
  2. Jack Sikma
  3. Fred Brown
  4. Shawn Kemp

You could go any number of ways with the Sonics.  Ray Allen, Lenny Wilkens, Gus Williams, Xavier McDaniel, Nate McMillan, Spencer Haywood, Slick Watts, Detlef Schrempf, Big Smooth, Dale Ellis, and on and on and on.  There were so many great players, so many great teams, and so many great eras of Sonics basketball.  I’ve got the Glove at the top because I think he was the best all-around player in team history.  He’s obviously known for his lockdown defense, but he really developed into a dominant offensive player over his career, becoming the team’s unquestioned leader.  Sikma was the best big man in team history, averaging a double-double in 7 of his 9 years in Seattle (as well as making 7 All Star Games).  Brown was a 13-year career Sonic bridging the early 70s, through the championship year, on into the mid-80s and the next generation of great Sonics teams.  And, finally, I’ve got 5-time All Star (with the Sonics) Shawn Kemp, the most explosive and athletic player in team history, who really developed into a force in the league, at a time when there were tons of great power forwards in the game.

And, without further ado:  the Seattle Seahawks (past).

  1. Steve Largent
  2. Walter Jones
  3. Cortez Kennedy
  4. Kenny Easley

Okay, so here’s the deal:  those are four Hall of Famers.  If you’re going to have a Mount Rushmore of Seattle Seahawks, you’ve gotta go with the actual NFL Hall of Famers, right?  Steve Largent, at the time of his retirement, had just about every single wide receiver record in NFL history; he was THE greatest, until Jerry Rice became THE greatest.  Now, many receivers have blown past Largent’s stats through the years, but the game is a lot different now than it was in the 70s and 80s.  Walter Jones, I think, is the greatest left tackle in NFL history; he absolutely belongs on this list!  The Tez is, without question, one of the greatest all-around DTs in the history of the league.  His ability to clog up the middle, command double-teams, and still create an abundance of pressure up the middle is simply mind-boggling.  And, as for Easley, he was a Pro Bowler 5 of his 7 seasons, and a first team All Pro in 3 of his 7 seasons.  Had he not had the health issues that forced him into retirement, he would’ve been an NFL Hall of Famer MANY years ago.  Essentially, he was Kam Chancellor before there was Kam Chancellor, at a time when the safety position was oft-overlooked.  His type of game-changing talent is generational and precious and should not be taken for granted.

There have obviously been other great Seahawks throughout the years – Matt Hasselbeck, Curt Warner, Shaun Alexander, Jacob Green, Dave Brown, Dave Krieg, Jim Zorn, and so on and so forth – but no one is on the level of the four above-referenced Hall of Famers.

Now, that having all been said, I think this current batch of Seahawks – since Pete Carroll and John Schneider joined the team – have some NFL Hall of Famers on it as well.  So, really, I had no choice but to split this part up.

We had the Seahawks (past) and now the Seahawks (present).

  1. Earl Thomas
  2. Marshawn Lynch
  3. Richard Sherman
  4. Russell Wilson

Obvious asterisk here in that Beastmode is not a current Seahawk, but he’s from this Pete Carroll Era, and that’s really what I’m talking about here.  I think Earl Thomas (assuming he comes back from his injury) is the best and most obvious future Hall of Famer.  Like Easley, in Earl’s first seven seasons, he’s made 5 Pro Bowls and 3 First Team All Pros.  He’s the heart & soul of this defense and really what makes this defense tick.  As you could see when the Seahawks lost him last year, this defense falls apart without Earl!  With him, it’s among the best in the league, and the primary reason why we’ve led the league in fewest points allowed so many times under Pete Carroll.  Next up, I think you have to go Beastmode.  I think, as it stands right now, he’s a borderline NFL Hall of Famer.  But, with a good season or two in Oakland, I think he blows past borderline into Obvious NFL Hall of Famer.  Lynch took this team from soft and old and carried it to back-to-back Super Bowls.  He allowed this team to bring its rookie franchise quarterback along slowly, and when it mattered most – in those playoff games – Beastmode brought his game to another level.  Ultimately, I think it’s his performances in the playoffs that will carry him into the Hall of Fame (in spite of his famous discontent with the NFL media), and it’s why I have him ranked so high on my list.  Third, I’ve got Sherm.  He’s the greatest cornerback in team history.  Period.  4 Pro Bowls and 3 First Team All Pros in his 6 seasons, and he has yet to miss a game as soon as he entered the starting lineup.  I don’t know how much longer he’ll be a member of this team, but as long as he is, he’s on my present-day Mount Rushmore.  And, fourth, I’ve got Russell Wilson.  I could’ve gone any number of directions here – Wagner, Kam, Bennett, Avril, K.J., Doug – and indeed, any number of those guys might end up making the Hall of Fame alongside my top 4, but I’m rolling with the QB.  In spite of the fact that for quarterbacks nowadays, it’s probably harder than ever to make the Hall of Fame, what with all the passing records that are falling, and how difficult it is to last in this league for 10, 15 years or more.  And make no mistake, Russell has A LONG WAY to go.  5 seasons, 3 Pro Bowls, no All Pros.  It’s especially questionable when you consider the step back he took last year with lots of injuries and behind an ineffective O-Line.  For this choice, I’m going mostly on faith, and I do have faith that Russell will reach all of his goals and go down as one of the greats of this era.  Disregarding all of that, right now, for what he is, Russell is the guy that stirs the drink.  This team doesn’t do what it’s done without Russell Wilson behind center.  No Super Bowls (plural), no division titles (plural), not nearly as many 10-win seasons (he’s 5 for 5 in his short career, no pun intended) with a replacement-level player.  Quarterback is the most important player on every NFL team, and the Seahawks are no exception.  As such, he’s making my Mount Rushmore over the rest.

Tomorrow, I’m going to pick from among the above-listed 16 players and come up with a definitive Mount Rushmore for Seattle Pro Athletes.  Weeeee!

Mount Rushmore: Seattle Head Coaches/Managers

Yesterday:  Seattle Sports Announcers

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of Stand-Up Comedians?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Dave Attell, Chris Rock, Tig Notaro, and Dave Chappelle, but ask me another day and I might give you four completely different names.

Today, I’m going to delve into the head coaches and managers of the various local sports teams.

In spite of the fact that Seattle is far from Titletown, U.S.A., this was actually a pretty difficult exercise.  Ironically, because there were TOO MANY good coaches to choose from!  I’ll tell you right now, this one is bound to be my most controversial Mount Rushmore of the week, but IDGAF.  Come at me, broseph!

For starters, right or wrong, I’ve put OVERWHELMING emphasis on those head coaches who led their respective teams to championships.  I mean, it’s obscene, which is why I’m going to start this post with my Honorable Mentions, and I’m going to lead off those Honorable Mentions with probably the most glaring omission (but hear me out):  Lou Piniella.

Look, I love Sweet Lou as much as the next guy, and if I were simply ranking managers of the Seattle Mariners, he’s obviously at the top of the list.  And, while much of this isn’t his fault, I would argue he’s not entirely blameless for the fact that the Mariners only made it to the playoffs 4 times in his 10-year career.  And in those 4 years, they failed to get past the American League Championship Series (often never really making it much of a challenge).  Those teams were absolutely LOADED with talent!  Are you kidding me?  Not even a single World Series appearance in the bunch?  I know, the organizational management of those teams was severely lacking; they bungled a bunch of trades, mishandled two of our greatest players (Griffey and Randy) to the point that both wanted out of the organization, and refused to pony up the cash to keep the best player on the planet – Alex Rodriguez – when he became a free agent.  That having been said, I’ve never really had much respect for baseball managers; what do they do besides write a lineup and make bullpen decisions?  Manage player egos?  Ooo!  Big whup!  Head coaches in other sports do that too, and they do a lot of other stuff that has more of an impact.  Naw, I’m not buying baseball and I’m not buying Lou Piniella.  If Mount Rushmore had 5 people on it, I probably STILL wouldn’t have him on it!

Because that leads me to my next omission:  Mike Holmgren.

At least he took the Seahawks to a Super Bowl!  I would argue both he and Piniella have to be credited with changing the culture of losing for their respective Seattle-based teams, but they JUST didn’t quite get it done when it mattered most.  There were some extenuating circumstances with Super Bowl XL and the officiating that I won’t get into here, but alas, Holmgren just misses the cut.

Some other Honorable Mentions include, in no particular order:  Chuck Knox (very underrated as the leader of the Seahawks in the 80s); Nate McMillan (doing a lot with a little in a mis-managed Sonics organization, particularly in the Howard Schultz years); Gil Dobie, Enoch Bagshaw, Hec Edmundson, Tippy Dye, Marv Harshman, and some of those other old-timer Husky football and basketball coaches (who are obviously WAY before my time); Jim Lambright (who somehow held the Huskies together after sanctions and an acrimonious split with Don James); and Lorenzo Romar (whose ignominious end to his tenure should do nothing to tarnish what was a tremendous achievement for Husky basketball).

So, without further ado, I present my Mount Rushmore of Seattle-based head coaches.

At the top of the list was the easiest pick of them all:  Don James.

The Dawgfather.  Head coach of the University of Washington football team, from 1975-1992.  He’s the closest thing we had to a Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier, or Joe Paterno (without all the child rape).  He led the Huskies to a National Championship in 1991 and was poised to continue to do so for years to come if not for the Lack of Institutional Control scandal that ultimately led to him resigning in protest for the unfair sanctions on the team.  Also, not for nothing, but the Huskies were robbed of a second National Championship in 1984 (to a bum BYU team who played a cupcake of a schedule), but that’s another post for another time.

Don James was the G.O.A.T.  We can only hope and pray Chris Petersen someday ascends to that level.

Next on my list, I’ve gone with Pete Carroll.

Like I said, championships are a premium to me when it comes to my Mount Rushmore of Head Coaches, and Big Balls Pete has one, with another Super Bowl appearance to boot.  He’s 17 wins away from being the winningest Seahawks coach of all time, which should go down in 2 years, tops.  After a couple of 7-9 rebuilding seasons, he’s won no less than 11 games every year (including playoffs).  Overall, he has 4 division titles in 7 years, 6 playoff appearances in 7 years, at least 1 playoff victory every time they’ve made the post-season, and with John Schneider (who certainly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of local GMs) built one of the best rosters in the history of the NFL, in the 2013 Seahawks.  He could retire right now and I don’t think there will be another local head coach that will bump him off my Mount Rushmore in my lifetime.

Third on my list:  Lenny Wilkens.

Oh yeah, here it comes.  I told you, titles baby!  Lenny took over as a player-coach for the Sonics in 1969 before being fired in 1972.  When he returned to the Sonics as just a head coach in 1977, he took a good team and led it to greatness.  Those Sonics teams went to back-to-back NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets in 1978 and 1979, winning it all the second time around.  The Sonics ultimately went another direction starting in the 1985/1986 season, but he still sits at #2 all time in franchise history winning percentage (keeping in mind, of course, that the Sonics died in 2008, and whatever record the head coaches of that team in OKC may have amassed has no bearing on the Seattle Supersonics).

Finally, the fourth name on my Mount Rushmore:  George Karl.

You may take umbrage with Lenny Wilkens’ inclusion on my list, and that’s fine, I understand.  You may take umbrage with the fact that I have George Karl over the likes of Piniella and Holmgren, and again, that’s your right.  But, you know what?  George Karl won a shitload of games in Seattle!  He has the best winning percentage of a head coach by a million miles over the other professional teams’ coaches at .719.  He took the Sonics to the playoffs every year of his tenure, won 4 division titles in 7 seasons, had the Sonics in the 1-seed twice (best regular season record in the entire league once); led the franchise to two Western Conference Finals, and led the franchise to the NBA Finals once (against the best team of all time, the 95/96 Chicago Bulls).  AND, not for nothing, but took the Bulls to 6 games when they probably had no business getting past Game 4.

I could go on and on.  Maybe only the Pete Carroll Seahawks have had more talent than the George Karl Sonics, but for all his greatness, there was a lot of failing.  George Karl led the first #1 seed to lose in the first round in NBA history.  His Sonics teams squandered two Michael Jordan-less years when they were ripe for back-to-back championships (the Houston Rockets, instead, took advantage of that glitch in the matrix).  And, ultimately, George Karl was destined to be run out of here by poor personnel management by Wally Walker (featuring the obscene signing of Jim McIlvaine and the trading of Shawn Kemp for Vin Baker).

Nevertheless, those Sonics teams were beautiful and exciting and ultimately tragic.  They ignited a love affair with sports within me that burns like a thousand suns to this very day.  At a time when the Seahawks were mediocre, and before the Mariners were relevant, we had the Supersonics and nothing else mattered.  There may have been better teams out there in the 90s, but no team was as thrilling to watch on a nightly basis.  When they were on, they were unbeatable!  When they were off, they were combustable; that’s just the way it goes sometimes.  But, George Karl had his hands all over that team, and was the main reason why we were able to take the next step to elite status.  Ultimately, the biggest tragedy of all is that George Karl doesn’t have an NBA title to his credit; he might be the best head coach in NBA history not to have one.

Okay, there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to let me hear about it.

Very Important Mariners Of 2017: Jean Segura

Click HERE for the list of other Very Important Mariners Of 2017.

On first glance, it feels like this name should be higher on the list, but when you consider he’s the first position player after the Big Three, it feels a little more appropriate.

For what it’s worth, I feel like we’re in good hands with Cano, Cruz, and Seager.  It would be pretty crippling if one or more of those guys got significantly injured or otherwise underperformed in 2017, but if I had to put money on it, I’d say we’ll be okay with those guys.  It’s with Segura – and some of our other new guys brought in to bring even more stability to this offense – that I start to really worry.

Last year, I’d say the Mariners’ offense was slightly above average.  It was good enough to get the job done, had the pitching also been up to the task.  With great pitching, last year’s team could have been a World Series contender, but that’s neither here nor there.  This year’s offense I’m projecting to be even better!  We just need the pitching to not fall apart and we should remain in contention for the full season; halfway decent pitching should be enough to get us over the hump.

I feel that way because with the addition of Segura – who we received in trade for Taijuan Walker – it looks like our Big Three has morphed into a Big Four.  Obviously, there are other additions to this team that I’m factoring into my overall opinion, but Segura is the biggest piece; hence why I’m so worried.

Segura has had four full seasons in the Major Leagues, but he only has the one great one.  Granted, for a change, his great season was last year – which makes him one of the few incoming players we’re NOT trying to bank on a bounceback performance – but still, the fact that we traded one of our biggest assets to get him is a real gamble on our part!

He hit 20 homers last year; his previous high was 12 (he also had seasons with 5 and 6 homers).  He hit 41 doubles last year; his previous high was 20 (with seasons of 14 and 16).  His slash line last year was .319/.368/.499/.867; his previous best season was in 2013 when he slashed .294/.329/.423/.752 (with his 2014 and 2015 seasons being pretty unremarkable in this department as well).  Now, if you sat me down and GUARANTEED me we’d get his exact 2013 production (with the aforementioned 20 doubles and 12 homers), or we could roll the dice to see if he could replicate his breakout season of 2016 (or, God forbid, actually improve upon it), I think I would shake your hand and take those 2013 numbers all day every day.  Because those numbers are LEAPS AND BOUNDS better than what we got out of Ketel Marte (who also went over to Arizona in this trade), and most other short stops we’ve had around here, since the A-Rod days.  However, my concern is – due to the perceived Seattle Mariners curse – he reverts even further and gives us those crappy numbers from 2014 or 2015.  It would be just so Mariners to give up two young, cheap, cost-controlled potential superstars for a guy who had one great season and then went right back to being a pumpkin.

I know they’re different circumstances, and different players, but I’m catching a big Adrian Beltre vibe off of this move.  Recall Beltre had the best season of his career the year before the Mariners signed him to a huge deal; then he reverted right back to his old numbers or worse.  Sure, his Hall of Fame defense made up for a lot of that – and if Segura gives us that type of defense (which, signs point to Probably Not), then fine – but it was still a case of a team paying for recent past performance and getting bit in the ass.

All that having been said, there are some encouraging parts to this thing.  Like I got into a little bit above, I think regardless of what we get, it’s a step up from Ketel Marte.  Marte is a fringe guy right now and might never develop into anything.  If he does, he’s probably a couple-two-three years away from being a bona fide regular MLB player.  For a team like the 2017 Mariners, in obvious Win-Now Mode, you can’t waste your time spinning your wheels trying to develop someone like Marte, who – for all the good he has in him – makes too many mental and physical mistakes to be a net positive.  With Segura, you’ve got a productive, veteran guy you can slot somewhere in the top of your order.  He’s also a guy I’m pretty confident can get on base at a good clip, which slides right into my next plus:  he’s speedy.  122 stolen bases the last four years.  With some of the speedy outfield guys we’ve got that can slot next to him in the lineup, it’s pretty alluring with the likes of Cano, Cruz, and Seager lined up behind them.  Segura, if nothing else, should score around or over 100 runs if nothing else, so long as he stays healthy.

And, hey, not to dump on Marte too much, but Segura’s defense should be good enough that he doesn’t give you a lot of the boneheaded throws and whatnot.

I’m not sold on Segura until I see him in some regular season action, but I’m better-than-50% confident he’ll be a quality player for this team, and I think that really bodes well for the offense and this team’s overall chances.

Cano, Cruz, Seager: An Appreciation

In football (and, I guess in all sports, but people seem to talk about it in football the most), the goal is to strike a healthy balance between offense and defense, between high-priced superstars and cost-effective elite youth, between a strong running game and an opportunistic passing attack on offense, as well as stout run defense and a lethal pass rush.  Of course, there have been teams that got by with a stark imbalance (usually a top defense and a meh offense), but even the teams who have won Super Bowls with high-flying offenses usually see an uptick in their defensive production, if only for that championship season.

The Mariners, for years, have been anything but balanced.  The pitching has usually been okay, but for the longest time, the hitting was non-existent.  In the Jackie Z “Rebuild On The Cheap Through Prospects” Era, the middle of our order was riddled with sick jokes.  Power hitters with no on-base abilities who struck out a ton, line drive hitters with warning track-power who struck out a ton, past-their-prime veterans who struck out a ton, injury-plagued veterans who couldn’t even stay off the DL long enough to strike out a ton, and so on and so forth.

It really wasn’t until we signed Robinson Cano in 2014, then paired him with Nelson Cruz in 2015, that we could say we had a middle-of-the-order we could be proud of.  But, there always seemed to be a straggler.  In 2014, Cano was top notch and Seager was Seager, but Kendrys Morales was a lump of crap, and all too many at bats were going to the likes of Logan Morrison and Justin Smoak.  In 2015, Cruz and his 44 homers were far and away our offensive MVP, and while Seager was still Seager, Cano was plagued with nagging injuries and had a forgettable first half of the season.  This three-piece didn’t really all put it together until 2016, but boy did they make beautiful music together!

Not since the trio of A-Rod, Griffey, and Edgar have the Mariners had a middle of the order this formidable.  Don’t take my word for it, though; take these numbers:

  • Cano – .298/.350/.533, 39 homers, 103 RBI
  • Cruz – .287/.360/.555, 43 homers, 105 RBI
  • Seager – .278/.359/.499, 30 homers, 99 RBI

I would like to point out, before we move on, that Seager would’ve had that 100th RBI had his line drive not hit the second base umpire in the last week of the season, as it most certainly would’ve scored the runner from second.

Anyway, as you can see, that’s a ton of production.  We were second in the league in homers, and 112 of our 223 (a hair over 50%) were from those three guys.  They missed a combined 12 games and led us to our best offensive season since the Lou Piniella days.

Cano had a career high in homers, which is particularly impressive coming off of his 2015, when we all wondered if he was beginning his decline a little earlier than scheduled.  He proved he’s still the superstar we signed up for, and even though his batting average dipped under .300 for just the third time since becoming an everyday player, the huge boost in his power numbers were most welcome on a team that stayed in contention throughout the season.  We’re 3 years into a 10-year contract; it’s comforting to believe we have at least a couple more high-level years to go with Cano before we face that inevitable decline.

Cruz has been something of a revelation since leaving the Rangers at the age of 33.  He’s always had impressive power, but lacked consistency.  Everyone figured he’d get a massive deal anyway, because this is baseball and GMs are dumb, but more teams than expected were turned off by his lack of defensive ability.  So, he signed a 1-year prove-it deal with Baltimore and turned out the best season of his career to date, with 40 homers and a 4.7 WAR over 159 games.  He parlayed that into finally getting that massive deal with the Mariners (4 years, $57 million) and somehow had an even BETTER season in 2015!  44 homers and a 5.2 WAR over 152 games (including a .302 batting average and .369 on-base percentage, which remain career highs with a minimum of 110 games played).  It was better than we could have possibly hoped for, considering he played half his games in Safeo Field (moved-in fences or no, it’s still a notoriously tough place to hit dingers).

It would’ve been pretty unrealistic to expect that upward trajectory to continue, and while it came to pass that Cruz’s numbers took a bit of a dip, it wasn’t the nosedive some of us feared.  He still hit over 40 homers and nearly pulled off a .290 batting average in earning another 4.7 WAR season.  Granted, he played a lot more DH than he did last year, but that’s not a bad thing.  Given his limitations in the field, he SHOULD be preserved by playing almost exclusively DH (outside of games in N.L. stadia).  Considering we’re halfway through his contract, and he’s still hitting as well as he did in Baltimore (combined with our tough luck with free agent acquisitions in the past), I feel like we’re playing with house money with Cruz.  Hell, his year THIS year could’ve been even better had he not been dealing with that wrist injury down the stretch!  Talk about a guy playing through the pain and producing at a high level!

Given what we’ve seen out of him over the first half of his contract, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect him to continue playing at a high level at least through the 2017 season.  One would hope, barring injury, that his decline doesn’t officially kick in until 2018 or beyond, but suffice it to say these declines can start at any time, and when they hit, it’s remarkable how fast a player can go from being at the top of his game to out of baseball entirely (see:  Sexson, Richie).

The real player I’m in awe of in 2016 is Kyle Seager.  I just don’t remember ever seeing a player like him before.  He consistently gets better with each passing season!  It’s incredible!  Usually those guys end up leaving Seattle, and finding their success with other teams.  There have certainly been Mariners players who have been better than Seager, but guys like A-Rod and Griffey were superstars as infants.  Edgar was already a pro hitter when he was still languishing in the minors.  Cano and Cruz obviously made their names elsewhere before cashing in here.  But, Seager is a true rarity.  A true find.  A homegrown stud at a difficult defensive position who was rewarded with a contract extension, and who continues to improve at his craft.  We’ve had Seager in Seattle for six years (five full seasons), and the best part of his game is that he could continue to improve for six more years!

He’s played in at least 155 games in every full year he’s been in the Majors.  Before 2016, he’d hit for an average of around .260 to .270.  He’s increased his homer production each and every year.  He’s got a gold glove under his belt.  He’s been an All Star.  But, this year, he took his hitting to a new level.  Yes, yes, the career highs in homers, RBI, and runs scored.  But, also career highs in average, on-base percentage, and slugging!  And, we’re talking considerable jumps:

  • .278 average, previous high of .268 in 2014
  • .359 on-base percentage, previous high of .338 in 2013
  • .499 slugging percentage, previous high of .454 in 2014
  • .858 OPS, previous high of .788 in 2014

This coincides with a smarter approach at the plate.  If you look at his spray charts this year compared to years past, you’ll see while he’s predominantly a pull hitter when it comes to homers, he’s much better at distributing batted balls evenly throughout the field.  Still a lot of ground-outs to the second baseman, but not nearly as pronounced as it was even two years ago.  If he can continue to improve in this regard, he might even be able to get teams to stop shifting so much when he comes to the plate.

I still contend there’s a .300 hitter lurking beneath the surface of Kyle Seager.  The more he works at hitting to all fields, the better his chances of cracking that barrier.  Of course, you take the good with the bad, and there are definite limitations to Seager’s game.  He’s got power, but not to all fields.  So, the trick is, maintaining that 20-30 homer power, while morphing into that .300 hitter I keep saying (every year) that we’re going to see one of these days.  It’ll happen, and when it does, I’m going to go hoarse from saying “I Told You So” so many times.

The best part of this 2016 Mariners team was its heart of the order.  These 3-4-5 hitters.  Even if they went through individual slumps, they weren’t long-lasting.  And, it seemed like there was never a point in the year where all of them were in a slump at the same time.  There was always one or two of these guys hitting to pick up the slack.  And, when all three were on at the same time, it was usually a bloodbath for the other team.  Now, whether that contributed to the hitters around them being better, or getting better pitches to hit, I couldn’t tell you.  I do know that we had 9 guys (including our fearsome Big Three) who had over 10 homers, which is pretty impressive.  I’m sure guys ahead of them (pitchers not wanting to walk guys ahead of Cano) and behind them (pitchers not wanting to give up more RBI, as there would most certainly be at least one guy on base by the time the 6-hole batter came up) saw better pitches to hit.  But, this was also a very veteran team, that by and large was able to work a count better than we’ve seen in over a decade.  So, it’s tough to say how the Big Three affected the rest of the lineup.

I just know what they were able to do, and it was the best we’ve seen ’round these parts in quite some time.

Ideally, we’ll get more of the same in 2017.  We’re probably going to need it, as I can’t imagine the pitching staff is going to drastically improve between now and then.  But, if they start to regress, at least we’ll have 2016.  It didn’t end in a post-season berth, but it was still an entertaining year of baseball thanks to these three guys.

Ichiro Is The Hit King America Deserves

I should start out by acknowledging that this comes from a place of total and complete bias.  I’m a huge Ichiro fan; I bought in from Day 1.  I know, I’m from the Seattle area, and you’d think it could be taken for granted that I’d be a huge Ichiro fan, but as many of you well know, there are PLENTY of local haters in the area.  Mariners fans who don’t understand Ichiro, who like him well enough but like to mock him just as often, or who simply dislike Ichiro and everything he stands for.  You’ll find plenty of Mariners fans who think Ichiro is a me-first prima donna – and maybe he was!  I have no idea.  All I know is that Ichiro is the greatest right fielder the Mariners have ever had – which is saying something, considering I was also a pretty huge Buhner fan.  Ichiro was a 10-time All Star in his first 10 seasons in the Major Leagues, a 10-time Gold Glover in the same period, a 3-time Silver Slugger, and an American League MVP and Rookie of the Year in the SAME SEASON.  If you took just his 11.5 seasons with the Mariners, right there you’ve got a Hall of Famer, discounting all that came before and all that’s come since.  How you couldn’t at least appreciate him for what he was, I’ll never understand.

He wasn’t Griffey.  He wasn’t some middle-of-the-order power hitter.  And, as a leadoff man, he didn’t even walk all that much.  But, he was (and, apparently still IS) a hitting machine, a guy who could steal you an elite number of bases (anywhere from 26-56 in his first 12 seasons), a guy who played flawless outfield defense, and oh yeah, a guy who also had a rocket arm.  The sheer number of runs he saved this team, by either chasing down balls, throwing runners out, or more importantly, preventing runners from advancing an extra base, has to be staggering.

Ichiro was the whole package, minus the power.  And, in an era where MLB contracts just started to get into the ridiculously staggering levels they are today, Ichiro never really felt like a burden financially.  He had 4 years with the Mariners where he averaged $17-18 million per season.  Over his entire Mariners career, he averaged approximately $12 million per season, which feels about right.  Hell, for a Hall of Famer, it feels like a BARGAIN!

On the All Time Mariners list, here are some of his ranks:

  • WAR – 3rd, behind Griffey & Edgar
  • Batting Average – 1st, at .322
  • OBP – 9th, at .366
  • Games Played – 2nd, at 1,844 (behind Edgar)
  • Runs Scored – 2nd, at 1,176 (behind Edgar)
  • Hits – 1st, at 2,533
  • Doubles – 3rd, at 295 (behind Edgar & Griffey)
  • Triples – 1st, at 79 (next highest has 48)
  • Stolen Bases – 1st, with 438 (next highest has 290)

I don’t care what anyone says, Ichiro in his prime was undeniably great.  And, now he’s back in the news.

Yesterday, he passed Pete Rose for most hits as a professional, with 4,257 and counting.  Pete Rose, famously, was known as the Hit King, with his 4,256 hits in the MLB.  Of course, to get Ichiro to his number, you have to include the 1,278 hits he accumulated in the Japanese professional league, which many like to denigrate as inferior.  I dunno.  Do they get paid to play the game of baseball?  Is that what they do for a living?

If we’re going to reduce the impact of hits in the Japanese league – likening it to hitting in AAA – then do we get to do the same to the era in which Pete Rose played?  I mean, come on!  Are you trying to tell me the pitchers and level of athlete in the 60s, 70s, and 80s were just as good as they are in the new Willennium millennium?  I’m afraid not, mon frere!  If I had to find an apt comparison for those bygone athletes who chain-smoked, drank religiously, hardly ever worked out, and couldn’t tell you what a “carb” was if their lives depended on it, I MIGHT be so bold and so insensitive as to compare their level of talent and athleticism to those playing in the Japanese league when Ichiro was over there getting his 1,278 hits (but, to be honest, that would be unfair to our overseas friends).

Look, I know these are meaningless numbers.  All of them.  Who cares who has the most professional hits?  If you care, then you’re doing it wrong.  The whole numbers thing with baseball is so pointless, I don’t even know why anyone talks about it anymore.  Didn’t Sosa and McGwire, and then Bonds and A-Rod already make a mockery of the whole thing with their steroids-fuelled abominations?  If you care enough to continue calling Pete Rose the Hit King, then you’re admitting that you condone Barry Bonds as the Home Run King and all that his numbers stand for.

If you’re going to get your panties in a bunch, then I’m afraid we’re just going to have to stop comparing different eras of baseball, because it’s really too much.  If you got in a time machine, pulled Pete Rose out of the 1960s, and had him start his playing career in Japan in the early 1990s, then had him follow a similar career trajectory as Ichiro, would he have become the animal he was in the 70s and 80s?  Or, would this generation’s level of talent and athleticism have overwhelmed him to the point where we’d never know the name Pete Rose?

Sorry ol’ Petey Pants, but I’m not buying it, and I’m not buying you as the Hit King anymore.  Ichiro’s my man!  Ichiro, the erstwhile 27 year old MLB rookie, who later this year is going to get his 3,000th MLB hit (21 away, as of this post), is the single greatest hit machine the sport of baseball has ever seen.  Granted, they may mostly be singles, and he may have a ton of the infield variety padding those stats, but no one said Ichiro is the greatest hitter.  Just like no one said Pete Rose was the game’s best hitter.  If that’s who you’re looking for, then you should probably go grab Ted Williams.  But, the Hit King is a different beast.  And today, that beast goes by the name Ichiro.

Look, America is swell, and it has a lot going for it.  But, America doesn’t need to be the best at EVERYTHING.  We don’t need to make every facet of our lives about who has the biggest cock, okay?  On this one, Japan gets to hold the record.  It’ll be all right!  America will still be good at other things!  Like mass gun murders!  And electing worthless, pieces of shit to be our political leaders!  And obesity, probably!

America:  All These Things & More! (just not the Hit King).

Are The Mariners (Gulp) Only Built For The Regular Season?

As we cruise into the final days of May, in first place in the division and one of the best teams in all of baseball, it’s only natural to be excited.  PLAYOFF FEVER, COMIN’ ATCHA!

It’s been so, so, SO LONG since we’ve had a baseball team this good, this well built.  It’s not like 2007 or 2009 where the winning was flukey and unsustainable.  It’s not even like 2014, where pretty much everything went right and we STILL came up a game short of vying for the Wild Card.  This is a team, from 1-25, that’s good enough to sustain through the whole season.  Yes, there will be lows, but I’d argue fewer and further between.  With a lineup this good and this veteran; with a rotation that looks pretty steady, and a bullpen that might be better than we thought (though, one might argue, some of these guys were due to regress in the positive direction after having down years in 2015), this team should be able to nip a lot of losing streaks in the bud, before they turn into total calamities.

So, let’s just take that for granted.  And, let’s assume that the team stays reasonably healthy, and doesn’t totally fall apart with injuries.  This, right here, in 2016, will be the Mariners team to take us back to the post-season.

What happens then?

One of my all-time sports regrets – and there are more than a few – is that 2001 Mariners team.  It’s a different feeling than the gut punch that was losing the Sonics, or the two Super Bowl defeats.  It’s even different from the other good Mariners teams who fell short.  In 1995, we were more or less just happy to be there (and just ecstatic to reach the ALCS); in 1997, it didn’t feel like an end of an era so much as the beginning of a long and fruitful stretch of post-season runs with the best core of players in all of baseball (it was, in fact, the end of an era, as Randy, Griffey, and A-Rod would all leave in ensuing losing seasons).

2001 stands alone, because it’s all at once a source of tremendous pride and abject horror.  I look back on that year with fond memories, because we won 116 motherfucking games!  We tied the all-time record!  We even hosted the All Star Game and got to show the world how great Safeco Field was and is!  It might be another 90-something years before we see a 6-month stretch of dominance like that again.  Sure, there will be 100-game winners, but 116?  In the American League?  That feels like a pretty safe number.  I had SO MUCH FUN watching that team day-in and day-out; I never wanted that season to end!

And then it did.  And HOO BOY was I miserable.

When you’re a kid (unless you’re some spoiled brat of a rich kid), you learn pretty early on that life isn’t fair.  You’re not going to get your way, and it’s totally arbitrary, and you don’t understand why, and it sucks, and you’re pissed.  But, in sports, you want to believe that the best team WILL win it.  You root for a team like the Mariners, you pay your dues (for the most part; as much dues paying as you can do when you become a fan in September of 1995), you wait your turn, and then here it is!  2001!  116 wins!  FINALLY!  It’s OUR time!  We are, clearly, far and away, the best team in all of baseball, and this is the year we get our championship trophy to celebrate it!

I didn’t get to root for a lot of successful teams growing up.  The Seahawks were the local turd in the punchbowl for the entire 1990s, I was never into college sports as a child, so I had the Sonics.  The Sonics may or may not have been the best team in 1994 – when they lost in the first round to the Nuggets as a 1-seed – but I find it truly hard to believe that they were the best team, when they couldn’t even beat an 8-seed who was just happy to be there.  That team, even if it managed to find a way to get to the next round, probably would’ve ended up losing to the Rockets or Jazz or Spurs.  It was flawed, and feasted upon all the bad teams, while cleaning up at home.  Then, by 1996, the Sonics were clearly NOT the best team, because they ran into the buzzsaw that was the 72-win Bulls.

Really, in my lifetime, the first team I rooted for that was LEGITIMATELY the best team in that particular sport that particular year was indeed the 2001 Mariners.  And, as such, that’s really the first time I got a taste of not only life not being fair, but sports not being fair.

With a little perspective, you start to throw caveats into the mix.  Sadly, the 2001 Mariners weren’t the best baseball team that year, they were just the best REGULAR SEASON team that year.

For, you see, a team like the Yankees, they won 21 fewer games in the regular season, but they were built for the post-season.  Our lineup was good, theirs was a little bit better.  Our pitching feasted upon all the run support they were given, their pitching was battle tested.  Their starting rotation was dynamic – with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and Orlando Hernandez.  Our starting rotation was entirely unremarkable – with Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, Aaron Sele, and Paul Abbott.  Their bullpen featured the greatest closer of all time in Mariano Rivera; our bullpen relied on a closer in Kaz Sasaki with a nothing fastball, who needed pinpoint command of both his pitches – especially his splitter – to get the job done.

In the end, what happened?  Well, the Mariners lost in 5 games, and didn’t score more than 3 runs in any of their defeats.  Likewise, an over-worked bullpen in the regular season ended up faltering in key moments late in the 50/50 games of that series, giving the Yankees a decided advantage.  We were a team built for the regular season.  Guys like Sele and Garcia absolutely thrived until the spotlight shone too brightly and they were forced to truly bear down.  And the hitting, solid up and down the lineup, simply couldn’t find a way to push runners home when they had the opportunities.

So, with all of this as preamble, I say again, if the 2016 Mariners make the post-season, as we’re all starting to expect they will, what happens when we get there?

In an ideal world, I’d just be sitting here enjoying the ride.  Let Future Steven worry about what happens in October; this is May!  October is MONTHS away!

But, I can’t help it.  I see a team like the Red Sox, and they look really poised to do well in the playoffs.  They’ve got an ace, just like we’ve got an ace, but they’ve got a couple starters behind their ace that look pretty great.  The Cubs and White Sox, shit, they’re ALL pitching!  The Royals have been there before, and you figure they’ve got another run in them to get back into contention.

The Mariners, you can tell right now, are going to need a lot of help if they end up making the post-season.

I like Felix, but I’m not sure about ANYONE after him.  That includes Taijuan Walker, who can be dominating, but is still young, and is still finding himself.  Kuma is not the rock-solid #2 starter we all remember from 2013.  Wade Miley is the epitome of a guy built for the regular season.  And Karns?  Who knows if he’ll still be pitching, or if he’ll run into an innings limit?  Sure, we’ve got Paxton down in Tacoma, just waiting for his opportunity to prove he’s got what it takes, but I think we can all agree, if this team is going to make a bunch of noise in the playoffs, it is GOING to need another dominant starter after Felix.

With Felix and Ace #2, I think I could be okay with Taijuan Walker holding the fort as our third starter.  Now, whether or not the team will go with him, or the more veteran Iwakuma, is up for debate.  We’ll have to see where those guys are by season’s end.  If Walker proves he has what it takes to really lock things up in the important games in September, I could see him supplanting Kuma.  But, if not, then you’re looking at Walker as your 4th starter, which means you probably don’t need him until the ALCS (although, I’d be PRETTY interested to see Walker out of the ‘pen in the ALDS, just to get some work in, throwing in the upper-90s, with his awesome change-up as an equalizer).

If we’re unable to make that deal for another ace, then you gotta really hang onto your butts and hope the hitting lineup has enough juice.  With no other incoming starting pitcher, we’re probably forced to go with Miley in a more prominent role, and that frightens me to no end.

I also don’t think it would hurt to bring in a superstar reliever.  For the regular season, I like our bullpen as is (when you factor in the eventual return of Zych and Furbush).  In the post-season, though, my confidence is wavering.  Cishek strikes me as the type of guy who’s MUCH too volatile in a post-season setting.  Benoit’s got a good, but not great arm.  Nick Vincent has been good against right handed hitters, but I don’t want to see him in a situation where he has to face someone like Big Papi or something.  Right now, I think I’m only REALLY sold on Mike Montgomery, who has looked OUTSTANDING in his bullpen role.  He’s got an additional 3-4 miles per hour on his fastball, he’s good to throw multiple innings, so he can really bridge the gap if a starter needs to be pulled after five innings.  He’s also super strong against lefties, in the event we need to mix & match late in a game.

I’m not saying you completely throw out the bullpen and try to start over with a bunch of deadline trades.  But, I’d like to see us take advantage of some sellers out there.  Maybe bring in another guy with closing experience, in the event Cishek falters down the stretch and we need to go with more of a bullpen by committee approach.  Like, for instance, maybe we’re able to work out a deal for one of the better Yankees relievers?  Maybe we offer them a package that features James Paxton or Nathan Karns as the centerpiece?

Maybe we go all-in on 2016, because let’s face it, there’s no such thing as dynasties in baseball, and you’ve GOT to strike while the iron’s hot, damn the consequences?

If we make the playoffs and look more or less the same in October as we do in May, I’m afraid there are going to be issues.  2016 looks to be the funnest season we’ve had ’round these parts in well over a decade, but just having fun can’t be the only goal.  In years past (and I’ve said this many times), I would have gladly taken a baseball team that’s just entertaining enough, just interesting enough to contend until football season starts, and then go ahead and fall apart if you have to.  But, this year?  When we’ve got Cano, Cruz, and Seager all in their primes, when we’re FINALLY able to make good with King Felix and give him a winner for the first time in his Hall of Fame career, we can’t just crack the ALDS and act like we’re just happy to be there.  We can’t go into this thing ready to say, “Well, there’s always next year.”  If the opportunity arises, and it costs us everything in our God damn farm system, I don’t care, you have to make the moves that transform this team from a Regular Season Dandy into a Post-Season Juggernaut.

Let 2001 be a lesson to you, Mariners.  That team was pretty happy just to be there.  That team was CONVINCED there would be plenty more chances to get back to the show and win it all.

That team was the last one in franchise history to make the post-season, in what has become the second-longest playoff drought in all of the major American professional sports, behind the Buffalo Bills.  And you don’t want to be compared to the Buffalo Bills, trust me.

The Mariners Won More Than They Lost Against The Yankees

It’s Monday, which means it’s time to talk about the weekend that was.

The M’s won an impressive one on Friday, 7-1, scoring in each of the final six innings to put it away.  Cruz and Cano had big games, we got a lot out of the DH combo of Smith & Guti, Adam Lind had something of a breakout game with a couple of hits, and Iannetta continued his torrid start to the season, which has been the most welcome of surprises.  Most everyone got in on the action offensively, except of course for poor Kyle Seager, who can’t buy a hit (but has plenty of Double Play foodstamps to throw around – THANKS OBAMA!).

Nathan Karns had a very Nathan Karns type of outing:  5 innings, 5 hits, 4 walks, 1 run, 7 strikeouts.  He got himself into and out of trouble in almost every inning, which is just something we should all get used to seeing, because that’s going to be the norm with this guy.  His inability to consistently pound the strikezone and get guys to hit into our defense is going to mean high pitch counts, low innings counts, and potentially a lot of crooked numbers.  In games like on Friday, where he was able to wiggle off the hook time and time again, he’ll resemble a bulldog like Erik Bedard.  You take the good with the bad with a guy like Bedard/Karns.  A tendency to Five & Dive, but at the same time (ideally) someone who can give you a QUALITY five innings.  Which, compared to some of the 5th starters we’ve seen in years past (weak-throwing flyball pitchers like Beavan and such), this might be a welcome change.  But, if Karns starts getting beat up more often than not (BECAUSE he’s putting so many people on base early in innings), then you’ll likely see him replaced by Paxton sooner rather than later.  It’ll be an interesting first few weeks of his Mariners career.

As the Mariners played add-on, the bullpen locked it down for the final four innings, including Peralta, who had been savaged in recent games by the long ball.

The Mariners won again on Saturday, 3-2, in a very Mariners-like performance, where the team scored three runs in the fifth inning, and no runs in any other inning.  Felix got the start, and for a while, this looked like the prototypical Hard Luck Felix Game.  C.C. Sabathia was working his magic through the first four innings, and it looked like a return to form for the erstwhile ace.  Felix, meanwhile, struggled in Karns-like fashion each and every inning, as he too was limited to five innings on the day.  It was a really weird day, if I’m being honest.  Felix had some of the most unhittable stuff I’ve ever seen out of him, but the downside was that he had pretty much no control over anything.  He threw about 80% offspeed stuff, and that shit was flying every which way but inside the strikezone.  As such, he only gave up 5 hits, but he gave up 6 walks.  When you add Saturday’s performance to his opening day start, there might be cause for concern.  I, however, choose to believe in the King, and like to see that he’s got such strong movement this early into the season.  He’ll harness everything, and get control over his command, and once he does, we could see a nice long run of dominance out of him this season.  As it is, he’s only got a 1.00 ERA, so the Felix Haters can eat all the dicks.

When Felix left the game, he had a 3-1 lead, and you sure as shit know none of us Mariners fans thought that lead was REMOTELY safe.  Vidal Nuno came in on his second consecutive day to throw shutout ball for an inning; he’s going to be a HUGE piece to this bullpen when it’s all said and done.  In the 7th, Nick Vincent gave up a solo homer to make it 3-2, and it was Hold Your Nuts time from there on out.  Benoit returned from his shoulder soreness to throw an uneventful scoreless inning, and Cishek came in for the 9th, gave up a couple hits, but ultimately got the job done for his first save of the year.  Last year, that game is a loss 11 times out of 10 games, so good on the bullpen to snap back after a rough homestand.

Yesterday, the Mariners lost 4-3, in a game that necessitated a dominant starting pitching performance, and ultimately didn’t see one.  Masahiro Tanaka was going for the Yankees, and he’s always been a tough cookie against the Mariners.  Quite frankly, seeing the Mariners get even 3 runs was laudable, as more often than not you’re lucky to get more than a single run against the guy.  Ultimately, when you get three runs off of a team’s ace, you need to find a way to win that game, and the Mariners just couldn’t hack it.

Hisashi Iwakuma is one of the more infuriating pitchers I’ve seen in a good, long while.  Not the same kind of infuriating as guys like J.A. Happ, or Carlos Silva, or even Jeff Weaver.  Unlike those guys, we’ve SEEN Iwakuma do really well in a Mariners uniform.  We KNOW he has greatness in him.  In the last two seasons, he’s had decent, if injury-plagued years, and in 2013 he had near-Cy Young quality stuff over 33 games.  When we all think of Iwakuma, we think of him in that 2013 context, where he solidified his reputation as a legitimate #2 starter on this team.  But, the truth is, even in 2013, he’s prone to these dumpy runs of mediocrity.  THAT’S what makes him so infuriating!  It’s not like he runs into a bad game here and there; even Felix has a bad game every now and again.  But, Iwakuma tends to string his bad games, or his so-so games, all in a row, before he has these prolonged stretches of quality starts.

Here are some of the stretches to which I’m referring (not counting his first year in the Bigs, as he was still getting over some shoulder issues):

  • 2013 – a five-game run where he gave up at least 4 runs per game
  • 2014 – a six-game run where he couldn’t get through the 6th inning in 5 of 6 games (and, more often than not, couldn’t even get through the 5th inning)
  • 2015 – a four-game run to start the season where he gave up at least 4 runs per game

I don’t know if it’s fair to saddle him with this run of three games to start the 2016 season as it being one of his bad runs, but he hasn’t been great by any stretch.  In 18 innings, he’s given up 22 hits and another 6 walks.  While he’s only given up the one homer (to A-Rod yesterday, ugh), teams are stringing their hits and walks together just enough to force him into this 0-2 start.  I wouldn’t say it’s dire straits yet with Kuma, but it would be really nice to see him overwhelm one of these teams soon with a dominant performance.

All in all, as I said before, a commendable hitting performance out of the M’s yesterday.  We were able to tie it in the fifth, but Kuma went right out in the bottom of the inning and gave up the fourth run of the day for the Yankees.  Even though Kuma was able to go 7 innings, and let the bullpen relax a little bit, those four runs proved to be too much.  Tanaka was also able to go 7 innings, and once the Yankees have a lead going into the 8th inning, you might as well forget it.  Dellin Betances is a fucking beast, and Andrew Miller is rock solid.  Can you even imagine what that bullpen is going to look like when Aroldis Chapman returns from suspension?  You better pile your runs up early, because you’re not budging that bullpen an inch in the late innings!

I do have to say something about Kyle Seager, though, because he’s been an absolute mess through two weeks.  He’s down to a line of .119/.245/.238, he was benched on Saturday to give him a day off to mentally unwind, and he’s just been a machine at grounding out to the right side of the infield (into the shift, which I have to believe is in his head more than anyone wants to let on).  I have confidence in his ability to turn it around, as I’ve seen these slow starts out of him almost every year of his career, but if this team wants to avoid digging a hole impossible to get out of, it’ll need Seager to start pulling his weight.

I like what I’ve seen out of Cruz and Iannetta.  Smith and Guti have had truly professional starts to the season.  Aoki’s been on a nice little run, and Martin has showed better power than I would’ve given him credit for prior to the season.  Dae-ho Lee has brought exactly what I expected to the table.  It’s really only a matter of time before Cano goes on a hot streak to get his numbers back to career norms.  Sardinas has brought what you like to see out of a guy off the bench.  Marte has had a rough go of it, but he’s young, and he has a knack for getting on base and using his speed to his advantage.  Lind’s rough start can’t be sugar-coated, but at least he looks like a guy who can hit it to all fields, so he’ll find some of those balls dropping in for hits sooner or later.  That just leaves Seager, who is bringing up the rear like a maniac.

When you think of a lineup, you’re going to see lots of peaks and valleys out of guys.  For instance, Iannetta is having a tremendous start to his Mariners career.  But, that other shoe is going to drop in a minute, and it would be NICE to see someone else hit one of his peaks at the same time as Iannetta’s inevitable valley, so the offense doesn’t go completely in the tank.  Iannetta is giving us Seager-like production right now, but that won’t last forever (if it even lasts much longer than these first two weeks); we’re going to need Seager to step it up just to maintain the status quo we’ve got going on right now!  That’s a scary thought, especially if it takes him much longer to pull out of this nosedive he’s been in.

Ken Griffey Jr., Hall of Famer

I’ve made no secret about it:  I’m one of those insufferable assholes who originally jumped on the Seattle Mariners’ bandwagon during the closing few weeks of the 1995 season.  I would have been 14 years old at the time, which quite honestly is pretty late in the game, as far as getting into a new sport is concerned.  You normally develop those lifelong attachments to your sports teams in your childhood, in the 8-10 years old range.

Ken Griffey's grotesquely swollen jaw ...

Ken Griffey’s grotesquely swollen jaw …

At some point in the mid-to-late 80s (I want to say the 1987 range), I started getting into the Seahawks.  By 1988, I was on a 3 packs a week habit (football cards, Topps).  By 1989 and 1990, it was probably closer to 6 packs (Pro Set).  I joined my dad’s work’s NFL Pick ‘Em pool against all the adults and even won some weeks (at $5 per entry per week, that was a solid chunk of change for a kid under 10 years of age).  I was a football lifer, no doubt about it.

In 1993, I started getting heavily into the NBA and the Sonics.  So, maybe they were my gateway drug into other sports.  Regardless, baseball has always been my third sports love, and that’s probably the way it’s always going to be (even though I mostly ignore the NBA now and will continue to do so until Seattle gets a team again).

I was always aware of the Mariners existing, as a kid.  They were consistently losing, so I didn’t really see the point in paying attention.  I didn’t have a parent or other type of older person I looked up to who were baseball fans.  I come from a family of football fans, period.  Any other sports would have to be pursued on my own.

But, in 1995, the Mariners were surging in the standings, and drawing attention all across the nation.  FINALLY, Seattle had winning baseball, and the sports bandwagoners ate it up.

I was also generally aware of Ken Griffey Jr., but I don’t know if I could say he was a hero of mine or anything.  My first sports idol was Steve Largent.  My second and third were, in some order, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton.  By the time I started getting into the Mariners, Griffey was more national icon than simply a local superstar.  And, when I was that age, contrarian that I was in my know-it-all teens, I didn’t want to be some mope who went along with the crowd (even though that’s exactly who I was, jumping on the bandwagon when I did).  I was more of a Randy Johnson man, or a Jay Buhner man.

But, that’s not to say I disliked Griffey.  Indeed, I revered him as much as anyone in sports.  He was truly one of the best baseball players alive, and to have him on the Mariners was some sort of good fortune I just took for granted at the time.  With all the stars on the Sonics, and an all-time legend in Largent on the Seahawks, I just figured every team in every sport had at least one superstar and they always would.

Looking back on it now, I sort of wish I’d been a fan from the very beginning of his career.  It’s hard to appreciate the whole arc of his story, when I started somewhere in the middle.  By the time I was paying attention to Griffey, he was the best player on the planet.  So, all I’ve known of him has been the mythology, and the slow fall from grace.

I had about 4.25 good years as a fan of Ken Griffey Jr. before he forced his way out.  Obviously, there was the 1995 miracle finish that came JUST short of a World Series appearance.  At that point, we figured the sky was the limit for the Seattle Mariners, and there would be many MANY consecutive years of playoff appearances.  In 1996, we were cut down by Randy Johnson’s injury, and a pisspoor bullpen.  In 1997, we made it back to the playoffs, but we sold our soul to do it (the Lowe/Varitek trade & the Cruz trade).  And even then, we lost in the first round.  1998 & 1999 were essentially lost seasons, and the beginning of the end of those Mariners teams (it really started with the Tino Martinez trade, but continued with the Randy Johnson trade, and climaxed with the Griffey trade).

So much of being a Mariners fan is being jerked around by ownership and then hoping for the best.  It’s been that way since the very beginning.  In my formative years as a Mariners fan, it was endless penny-pinching by ownership.  We made all those trades in the mid-to-late 90s, one by one stripping this team of all its quality players and superstars, and yet there really wasn’t a noticeable penalty.  By 2000 and 2001, the Mariners were magically one of the best teams in baseball, and you can look at the guys we got in return from some of those trades (Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, Mike Cameron) as real building blocks in our rise to prominence.  Those teams didn’t have the flash that the mid-90s teams had, but they were solid, and they got the job done in the regular season.

Yet, you can point to losing Randy Johnson (who would go on to win multiple Cy Young Awards), Tino Martinez & Jeff Nelson (who would go on to win multiple World Series titles with the Yankees), Ken Griffey Jr. (who went on to have moderate, injury-plagued success with the Reds), and later Alex Rodriguez (who took the biggest contract offer he could get, which obviously would never come from this Mariners organization), as the reason why this team never achieved any playoff success whatsoever.

If we focused on building around our stars, instead of shipping them off for adequate role players, maybe we wouldn’t have had some of the regular season successes we had in the early 2000’s, but a team with Randy, Tino, Nelson, Griffey, and A-Rod is sure as shit built for post-season glory.  It’s easy to look back on it now and say, “It’s so simple!”  But, at the time, with the Mariners rocking and rolling for the most part, it was understandable to think the good times would only continue.

When news hit of Griffey demanding a trade, I honestly don’t remember how I felt.  Disappointment, mostly.  I don’t think I really understood what was happening or why it was happening.  We were fed the line of Griffey wanting to be closer to home, closer to family, but I don’t think I entirely bought it then, and I still don’t think I entirely buy it now.  This Mariners organization has always been kind of a mess.  The product on the field always should have had better results.  But, the people in charge of personnel kept screwing things up at every possible turn, and the owners didn’t have the fortitude or the mental capacity to reward their very best players with contracts commensurate to their value on the open market.  On the one hand, you can laud the organization for getting SOMETHING in return for some of these players they shipped off; but on the other hand, God dammit!

My disappointment with the Griffey situation soured a bit when it became public knowledge that he ONLY wanted to be traded to the Reds, which severely limited our ability to negotiate the best possible deal.  Then again, knowing this organization’s track record in major trades, it’s highly probable that whoever they would have traded Griffey to would have seen a return on par with the bust of the century.  I think I let that rage subside when the Mariners managed to improve (helped in large part by Mike Cameron being a fan favorite), while the Reds never really did much.  In the end, I would come to feel sorry for Griffey, as it seemed he could never stay on the field for any prolonged stretch.  He had one quality year on par with his Mariners numbers, in his very first season with the Reds.  After 2000, you’ll see large gaps in his playing time due to injury.  By the time he managed to stay healthy for a full year again, it was 2007, his last All Star season.  In 2008, he was traded to the White Sox for their playoff run (losing in the ALDS), only his third appearance in the post-season (the other two, obviously, being with the Mariners).

In 2009, Jackie Z brought Griffey back on as our primary DH.  It was a way to see if he could prolong his career, while at the same time a nice gesture for the fans.  No one really expected much out of him or the team, but the Mariners managed a winning record against all odds, and Griffey himself had a decent campaign (19 homers in 117 games).  It would be the perfect end to a Hall of Fame career … until everyone got cute and tried to capture lightning in a bottle twice.  2010 was a definite black mark for everyone involved.  On the last day of May, Griffey had one hitless pinch hit at-bat in the 9th inning of a 5-4 loss to the Twins in Safeco Field.  This came after sitting on the bench for a full week, which was probably a sign of things to come.  Instead of milking out the last sour drops of his career, Griffey chose to retire on the spot, driving home to Florida and letting the team know via a phone call on the road.

Being a fan of Griffey was never dull, I’ll say that.  As a Mariner, he was the face of Major League Baseball for a decade; that was pretty cool.  He put up some crazy, insane, cartoon numbers as a hitter; he made some crazy, insane, cartoon plays in the outfield.  He was, without question, the greatest baseball player I’ve ever seen, and probably will ever see.  He has my utmost respect as an athlete, and I’ll always look back fondly on his Mariners career.

One of the great things you can point to with Griffey is that he did it the right way.  Meaning, he didn’t cheat.  He didn’t prolong his career and boost his numbers by ingesting illegal or immoral pharmaceuticals.  Of course, we don’t know that for sure, but I’m not going to sit here and try to make the argument that he might have.  What we know is that his name has never come up in any implications on the topic.  He’s never had the aura of suspicion like Bonds, Clemons, and Sosa.  He’s also never outright admitted it, like McGwire, A-Rod, Palmeiro and the like.  We do know that he saw most of the latter half of his career on the DL, as opposed to someone like Bonds, who not only saw most of the latter half of his career in perfect health, but putting up bonkers numbers he never even approached in the first half of his career.  If Bonds had chosen to stay clean, he most likey wouldn’t have broken the home run record, and he most likely wouldn’t have stayed as healthy as he did.  But, he would have been a Hall of Famer, and a first-ballot Hall of Famer at that.  Instead, he cheated, and he’s likely never getting in.

With Griffey, you can simply give him the ol’ eye test.  Knowing what we know – that he was never implicated, that he never admitted to doing anything illicit, that he found himself on the DL more often than not in the second decade of his career – you can watch him age through the years and put a pretty firm assumption down that he wasn’t doing anything wrong.  Griffey aged like a baseball player of his calibre SHOULD age.  He didn’t suddenly put on 40 pounds of muscle and start hitting 50-70 homers a year in his late 30s.  He put on however many pounds of fat, and was left to his natural born gifts to push him through to his 23 years in the Major Leagues.  That’s what it means by doing it the “right way”.  That’s why he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and why he received the highest percentage of votes for a first year nominee in the history of the Hall of Fame (all but 3 voters selecting Griffey).  In an era where the cheaters outnumbered the clean, Griffey stayed clean and STILL crushed everything in his path.

I don’t have a particular Griffey-centric moment that stands out above all others, except obviously I do, and it’s of him scoring the go-ahead run from first base against the New York Yankees in the fifth game of the ALDS in 1995.  It’s that, and obviously, it’s that iconic picture of him underneath Bob Wolcott and all the other Mariners mobbing him at home plate.  I don’t totally think it’s fair, though, because they call that moment “The Double” because that’s really Edgar’s moment more than it is Griffey’s or anyone else’s.  If I had to pick a moment that was just Griffey’s, I don’t think I could.  Because my memory has gone to shit, and because – again – I wasn’t a fan until that stretch run in 1995.  I didn’t see him play with his dad and hit back-to-back homers with Ken Griffey Sr.  I didn’t see him blossom into the superstar he would become.  Hell, I didn’t even see him break his hand while making that catch against the wall that kept him out of the majority of the 1995 season!

You know what weirdly stands out?  It’s not even a particular moment, per se.  But, in 1996, the Mariners were playing out a string of meaningless games, with no chance of making the playoffs.  There was a series in Cleveland, and one of the games was rained out (another had to be pushed back to a Day/Night Doubleheader).  In one of the rainout games, Griffey hit a homer, but since it was rained out and never finished (and since it didn’t go past the 5th inning), the game never counted.  The game was never made up, because it wouldn’t have made a difference for either team’s placement in the standings (the Mariners were out of it, and the Indians were so far ahead in their division that it didn’t matter).  So, essentially, the Mariners only played 161 games in 1996.  And, as a result of that game being rained out, taking away one of his home runs, Ken Griffey Jr. finished the season one homer shy of his first 50-homer season.  I remember thinking how much that SUCKED, as reaching that 50-homer plateau was truly meaningful to me back then.  Obviously, Griffey would go on to have back-to-back 56-homer seasons the next two years, but how cool would it have been to see him with three straight 50-homer seasons?

Ehh, maybe less cool, knowing what we know about that era and all the insane homer totals that were inflated by a bunch of cheating tools.  Nevertheless, Ken Griffey Jr. is our shining beacon of hope in an otherwise dark period for Major League Baseball.

Mariners Tidbit 62: Five Days Until The Trade Deadline

Since the All Star Break, the Mariners have gone … 5-5.  If you’re keeping track like I am, it’s really not surprising, as the Mariners are essentially a .500 team except for one terrible homestand in late May/early June where they went 2-9.  There are now three home games against the Diamondbacks, followed by the start of a 4-game series in Minnesota before the deadline.

Somehow, the Mariners have leapfrogged a couple teams in the Wild Card chase since the last time I looked.  Now there are only SEVEN teams the Mariners have to pass to get into the play-in game (6.5 games back).  As the Angels appear to be running away with the division (with the Astros only a game back), putting the Mariners 9.5 games out of the division lead, it would appear if anyone is hoping for a miracle turnaround, the Wild Card is the better bet.

In the last ten games, have we seen anything that would lead us to believe in such a turnaround?  Well, you could make the argument that the bullpen in this span has cost us as many games as they’ve saved us:  Beimel giving up the go-ahead homer to A-Rod of all people in the first Yankee game; Rodney giving up the go-ahead homer in the third Yankee game – with an asterisk denoting the offense only generated a single run; Lowe – after being remarkably great for the entire season – giving up a lead with a 2-run homer in the 8th to cost us one in Detroit; and finally, Fernando Rodney & Carson Smith combining for a collosal 4-run meltdown on Saturday against Toronto.  You can counter those instances of utter collapse with brilliant outings:  3.1 innings of 1-run ball to save our lone win against the Yankees; 5 innings of shutout ball to win in extras in Detroit; 2 near-perfect innings to lock down Felix’s 12th win of the season, against Toronto; and 4 innings of 1-run ball to help us take the Toronto series in extra innings yesterday afternoon.  The last one might have been the most impressive, considering Saturday was shot through the heart by J.A. Happ’s incompetence.

Obviously, a bullpen getting the job done only half of the time isn’t going to cut it.  But, aside from a couple pieces, the bullpen isn’t worthless either.

Fernando Rodney absolutely has to fucking go.  He had a long stretch of being terrible in May and early June (giving up runs in 10 of 14 appearances), then seemed to turn it around once his closer’s role was taken away (9 straight appearances giving up 0 runs), and since then he’s fallen apart (giving up runs in 6 of 8 appearances, blowing 2 saves and losing another).  Any potential trade value we could’ve gotten out of him has all been lost, and it doesn’t look like there’s anyone in Tacoma to take his place.  So, I don’t know how they’re going to get rid of him, but they need to figure it out.

Also, David Rollins doesn’t appear to be as good as he looked in Spring Training.  Maybe it’s the suspension and the long lay-off of real live pitching; maybe he’s just not ready to make the jump to the Major Leagues.  Either way, the team has a decision to make.  Fortunately for Rollins, there really isn’t anyone busting down the door from Tacoma demanding a spot in our bullpen.  But, if the team – for some reason – feels like it’s still got a chance to make a run at a playoff spot, Rollins could be the odd man out and sent back to the Astros.  If I’m him, I’m probably considering that to be a good thing, given the trajectory of these two organizations, so I guess either way he can’t really lose.

As for the starters since the Break, Felix has been Felix.  Iwakuma has been shockingly effective in his last few starts.  Walker has completely lost it again (of course).  Happ couldn’t get out of the second inning in his most recent start (and has been underwhelming for the most part since the end of April).  And, also of course, Montgomery has been a disaster just as soon as the team sent Roenis Elias back to Tacoma.  So, LMC can rag on the bullpen all he wants (to deflect from criticism of the offense), but the non-Felix part of the rotation hasn’t been so hot either.

Actually, if you want to look for hope, you can look toward the offense.  The Mariners are averaging 4.16 runs per game in the 31 games since Edgar Martinez took over as hitting coach.  The two may not be related, I have no idea, but the Mariners were averaging 3.38 runs per game in the 68 games pre-Edgar, so that’s almost a run per game improvement over that other guy (whoever that guy was).  Key components like Cano, Trumbo, and Zunino have all improved in the last month, which is promising.

So, we’ll see what happens this week.  Part of me wouldn’t mind it if the Mariners maximized the trade value of some of our expendable pieces (while at the same time knowing they aren’t all that valuable & likely won’t generate much of a return).  The rest of me wouldn’t mind the Mariners just standing pat and wallowing in their own poor roster construction; if for no other reason than to ensure Jackie Z is gone by this time next year.