My Griffey Hall Of Fame Weekend Experience, Day 2

I stayed up through the whole game, everyone!  Keep your chins up!

Allow me to re-introduce myself ...

Allow me to re-introduce myself …

Look, I’m not gonna lie to you, Day 1 kinda got away from me a little bit.  It took me a while to get going on Day 2, but I eventually ventured out of my apartment, grabbed a couple coffees and some scratch tickets, and even worked in a shower before I sweated myself through the second game of the weekend.

I threw $190 into scratch tickets and walked away with $30 when all was said and done, but it’s not all champagne wishes and caviar dreams for Steven A. Taylor.  There’s also copious amounts of line waiting!  We left South Lake Union around a quarter to 3, Ubering our way to 1st & Edgar Martinez Way to the sight of yet another fuckload of people waiting in lines to grab Day 2’s prize:  a mini Griffey HOF plaque.  We, no joke, got in the same line for the Left Field Entrance, at about the same distance as I was for Day 1.  And lo and behold, we got our plaques.

Bee-you-tiful ...

Bee-you-tiful …

We opted to stay in the stadium, as opposed to making our usual trek to Sluggers, because the 24 Retirement Ceremony was starting at 5:30, and we sure as shit didn’t want to miss it.  Since we were starving, food was our #1 priority.  I made the mistake of ordering a Mariner Dog (ate two bites and threw the rest away) and some Club Level “garlic” fries.  You tell me, is this abomination an appropriate order of garlic fries?

Horse. Shit.

Horse. Shit.

That’s either garlic powder, or parmesan cheese, but there’s NO FUCKING GARLIC on that shit!  Safeco, I expect better.

Once I got rid of that shit, I ended up walking a million miles to get a mediocre slice of pepperoni pizza and a cup of chocolate soft serve ice cream, before turning my attention to the $6 Tecates they sell at the Hit It Here Cafe.  Beer:  you can’t fuck up beer.

Let your freak flag fly ...

Let your freak flag fly …

The ceremony was fantastic.  The Mariners know how to do one thing well, and that’s throw a party for their greats.  The usual suspects showed up, from Alvin Davis, to Dan Wilson, to Jay Buhner, to Jamie Moyer, to Edgar Martinez wearing a backwards cap, to Dave Niehaus’ widow; while a bunch of shockers popped in, like Steve Largent, Cortez Kennedy, Gary Payton, Spencer Haywood, Rickey Henderson, and others.  Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Kobe Bryant, and even Jeff Gordon had jumbotron salutes.  It was truly a star-studded affair.

The Great One ...

The Great One …

We even got a Griffey speech with almost no blubbering!  It was everything you could ever want from a ceremony!

Retire them numbers ...

Retire them numbers …

Then, the game happened, and I don’t even know anymore.  Like the previous night, Mike Trout hit a 3-run homer in the first to put the Mariners at a huge disadvantage.  Unlike the previous night, the Mariners were unable to respond with more than a single run in the bottom half of the inning.  But, in spite of Taijuan Walker’s mediocre return from the DL (4 innings, 6 runs), the Mariners continued to chip away!  1 run in the first, another in the third (Guillermo Heredia’s first ever homer), 2 runs in the fifth (Guti homer, to pull him within a triple of the cycle), and 4 runs in the seventh (a Leonys Martin sac fly, and a MONSTER 3-run homer from the hero of the night, Shawn O’Malley).

It was truly a magical night.  Shawn O’Malley even followed up his game-winning homer with a diving stab the next inning to take a hit away from them, resulting in chanting from the sellout crowd.  Was I JUST complaining of O’Malley’s defense earlier this week?  I don’t recall that!  Surely t’was some other blogger!  Was I among those leading the chants for the rest of the evening?  No hypocrite guy, but MAYBE!

Big ups to the bullpen tonight, for picking up where Taijuan failed to leave off.  Cody Martin went 2.2, Drew Storen got the last out in the 7th (and the win).  Wilhelmsen came in to dominate the 8th, and Edwin Diaz got the game sealing double play to close out the 9th.  Bing, bang, boom, Mariners defeat Angels 8-6, and we all went home delirious.

Day 3 happens later today, and I, for one, can’t wait.

Let your body move to the music ...

Let your body move to the music …

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).

What Going To Bed Before The 9th Inning Looks Like

It was all lining up against me.  The A’s were in town; they’ve been notoriously tough to beat in Safeco Field the last couple years for some reason (even though they’ve been largely terrible in general).  Jay Buhner was in the booth, riding a 1-40 streak when calling Mariners games.  We let another starter off the hook and then our bullpen largely prevented our own starter from getting the win it looked like he deserved through five innings.  Plus, it was already past 10pm, and I gotta wake up before 6am to go to work!

Yes, I’m weak.  But, I’ve seen the meager defeat go out with a whimper in the 9th inning far too many times.  True, Robinson Cano mashed a 2-run homer in the 8th to bring the game to within one run, but come on!  What were the odds the team would repeat that feat just one inning later?  With two outs.  In a 1-2 count …

Hell, this is why people tell you to never leave a game early.  I can’t argue with ’em!  People who stuck it out to the bitter end – people who left the TV on for another 20-30 minutes – were rewarded with the kinds of positive memories those of us who found out about the result this morning can only dream about.

That’s the difference with this team, compared to years past.  Count them out at your own risk.  I’ve seen this team come back from large deficits that would’ve been impossible for prior Mariners squads.  It’s one telltale sign – at least from an eyeball test perspective – that this team is for real.

It’s remarkably impressive the way Scott Servais’ moves are working out.  He hasn’t done a ton of tinkering with the batting lineup this year.  For the most part, he’s got a lefty-heavy and a righty-heavy lineup, where certain guys will move up or down in the lineup depending on which way they bat.  But, within those splits, there haven’t been any real major shakeups until this week, where Leonys Martin took over leadoff duties from Nori Aoki.  We’ve seen this in past seasons, and it generally deserves the world’s biggest eye roll.  “Going with the hot hand” in baseball is pretty pointless, because most good hot streaks last about a week, and then the player reverts to prior form; conversely, most cold streaks don’t last very long either, and it’s only a matter of time before a veteran will turn things around.

I mean, how many times have we seen Dustin Ackley, batting in the bottom third of the lineup, start to spray the ball around pretty good, followed by the manager moving him up to leadoff, followed by him not getting a hit for a week, followed by him moving back down to the bottom third of the lineup?

Oh, so you’re telling me Leonys Martin sprays the ball around on the road against the likes of the Orioles and Reds – in two very hitter-friendly ballparks – and now all of a sudden he’s worthy of batting in the leadoff spot?

But, shit man, I’ll be damned if he isn’t worthy!  Two hits on Monday, the game-winning 2-run homer last night, he’s striking the ball well, his power is showing no signs of reverting back to career norms, his confidence is through the roof, and I’m, like, one more hitting career being turned around for the better before I start a Church of Edgar Martinez and worship him as our lord and savior

(we’ll meet on Friday nights; if you don’t have your own Light Bat, one will be provided; B.Y.O. Bud Lights)

Servais isn’t all lineup shuffling either.  I think his bullpen usage has been outstanding.  While it takes most other managers at least a good, solid month of sucking before they move on from a trusted veteran arm, Servais has been on top of this thing!  Joel Peralta hadn’t looked superb when his numbers were great, but the team needed him in that 8th inning role, what with all the injuries.  Once his numbers started to reflect just how poorly he’d been throwing, it wasn’t more than a few outings before he was busted to the back-end of the bullpen, in favor of guys like Nick Vincent and Mike Montgomery.  Now, I know they weren’t perfect last night – Vincent, in relief of Karns in the 6th, gave up a couple of inherited runners; then Montgomery gave up a couple of Vincent’s runners in that same inning – but I think those moves were totally, 100% defensible.

Nick Vincent has the best K-rate of anyone in the bullpen worth a damn.  Karns was running into that third time through the order and gave up a couple of hard-hit balls; given his youth, I think it’s reasonable to doubt that he’d be able to get out of that jam.  When you need a strikeout, put in your best strikeout guy, in this case Vincent.  Now, it didn’t work out, but the move is justified.  And, while Montgomery was unable to get out of the 6th without giving up more damage, he ended up going another three innings of shutout ball to 1) get the win, and 2) save the bullpen from further usage.

Where would we be without Mike Montgomery right now?  To think, he was a guy on the bubble going into Spring Training, and very well may have been cut or traded had everyone been healthy!

The rest of the kudos will be spread around:

Seth Smith had a 3-hit day to bump his average back up to respectability.

Robbie Cano had a 3-RBI day to maintain his league lead.

Nelson Cruz had a timely and overlooked RBI single in the 3rd, when it looked like the Mariners might squander a scoring opportunity after putting the first two batters on base.

Nori Aoki had a couple of hits, including that double in the bottom of the 9th, with 2 outs, to prolong the game and get it to the hero of the evening.  That’s one of those deals that also gets overlooked, but without that hit, we’re singing a different tune this morning.

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 26: Happy Felix Day Indeed!

I’ve been to some big/odd/random professional baseball games in my day.  My very first game ever was in 1996 against the California Angels, on April 15th.  The Mariners were down 9-1 in the top of the fourth inning and ended up coming back to win 11-10; at the time, it was the greatest Mariners comeback in franchise history.  A-Rod hit a homer out of the 9-hole, Norm Charlton pitched 2 innings to get the win.  It was an amazing game, just me and my dad (I think, I was 15 at the time, so who knows how good my memory is).

The most important game I ever went to was on September 23, 1997, against the Anaheim Angels.  The Mariners jumped out to a 4-1 lead in the bottom of the first thanks to an A-Rod single and a Jay Buhner 3-run bomb.  Randy Johnson was on the mound and would give up two more runs – three in total – over 8 innings.  In the ninth, Heathcliff Slocumb gave up a leadoff single as the Mariners clung to their 4-3 lead, then got a fly ball out and struck out the next two guys to lock down the save.  What made this game different is that it was the game that officially locked the Mariners in as A.L. West Champions.  Randy’s record went to 19-4 and we were going back to the playoffs for the second time (in franchise history) in three years.

In Cheney Stadium, in early August, 1998, I saw the first start for Freddy Garcia in a Rainiers uniform.  I was somehow graced with seats right behind the catcher thanks to a family member, and we were amazed at the kid as he spun 7 innings of 1-run gold.  The trading of Randy Johnson was universally panned (as it should have been), but no one could deny the Mariners got some talented prospects in return.

I also saw Ken Cloude’s first start in a Mariners uniform (August 9, 1997).  Now, you may be wondering why this is such a big deal; well, I’ll tell you.  It was a 5-2 defeat to James Baldwin and the Chicago White Sox, dropping the Mariners to merely 15-games over .500 (GOD, those were the days).  Ken Cloude was a prospect from the minors we were all hoping would settle down the back-end of the rotation (when guys like Bob Wolcott, Scott Sanders, and Dennis Martinez were failing terribly).  In the end, Cloude didn’t add up to much, and his Major League career was very short lived.

But, on August 9, 1997, he got the closest I’ve ever seen to a perfect game/no hitter (IN PERSON) in my entire life.  Ever since I first got into baseball – and specifically getting into keeping score while at a baseball game – it’s been my dream to one day keep score of a no hitter by a Mariners pitcher.  Oddly enough, the closest I’ve ever gotten in person was at a Rainiers game, as Derek Lowe (yeah, THAT Derek Lowe) pitched a no hitter into the 8th inning (but that’s neither here nor there).  Cloude ended up perfect through 5 innings (with the Mariners clinging to a 1-0 lead at the time).  He gave up a walk in the 6th, but still had a no hitter going into the 7th.  It’s unfortunate the Mariners couldn’t play add-on in this situation, as he gave up a single/walk/single to lead off the 7th.  Paul Spoljaric came in and gave up all three of Cloude’s runs that he inherited.  We went on to pull to within 3-2, but for some reason Lou left Bobby Ayala in there for 2.1 innings.  He was actually solid until the 9th, when he gave up a 2-run homer to seal it.

So, Ken Cloude is my high-water mark of pitching perfection.  Obviously, I’ve seen better-pitched games (any number of Randy Johnson and Felix Hernandez games will attest to that).  But, no one is touching Cloude for the 18 outs he got before giving up a hit.

Last night, I thought Felix might’ve had a shot.  To be fair, I ALWAYS think Felix has a shot at perfection, because Felix is perfect in every way.  But, as soon as he struck out the side in the top of the first without much fuss, I knew we were on to something.  He was perfect through 14 batters, until Trevor Plouffe knocked a solid single into right field.  So, the dream continues.  No perfect scorecard for me, but I’ll keep trying.

Doesn’t mean the game wasn’t a rousing success!  How about this:  both pitchers went the distance!  When was the last time we’ve seen that?  Phil Hughes was solid, but obviously not good enough as he gave up a monster bomb to Nelson Cruz in the second, and the first extra base hit of the year to LoMo in the form of a solo homer in the fifth.  The first homer would be all Felix needed, as he got the 9-inning shutout.  He was dynamic.  We’ve seen stuff like this from him before, but it seems to be so rare when he’s this economical.  He ended up with 102 pitches total.

A sight for sore eyes, I’ll say that much.  The day started out on kind of a bummer with Iwakuma going on the DL.  We’ll have to wait to see if he’s able to turn his career around; for the record, I STRONGLY doubt he’s had this issue with his trap muscle dating back to late last season.  But, if he did, and this is what’s caused the majority of his problems, then I say Get Well Soon.

In the meantime, I’m going to be day-dreaming of this Felix start for the rest of the weekend.

Mariners Tidbit 25: Team Hitting

A quick look at the superficial stats shows the Mariners are VERY middle-of-the-pack in the American League.  What, not impressed?  Well, you SHOULD be!  I can’t remember the last time the Mariners weren’t last or next-to-last in the usual hitting categories!

  • Batting Average:  6th in the A.L. (.247)
  • On-Base Percentage:  still terrible, but shockingly 9th in the A.L. (.300)
  • Slugging:  7th (.403)
  • OPS:  7th (.703)
  • Home Runs:  4th (19)
  • Total Bases:  7th (206)
  • Strikeouts:  4th fewest (!)
  • Walks:  2nd fewest (frowny face)

I’m sure you’ve noticed what I’ve noticed, but I’m going to recap it anyway.  Nelson Cruz has easily been the best hitter on the team, and he owns just about every category they make.  Cano and Seager have picked it up to be their usual great selves.  Brad Miller has had about the exact opposite of his 2014 April (in that he’s actually been quite good).  Austin Jackson hasn’t been total death (and even managed to muscle out his first homer as a Mariner).  Seth Smith has been the second coming of John Jaso, and is the only one able to truly work a count to his advantage.  Dustin Ackley has been spotty, but useful, and has come up big a time or two.

The only real pieces of dead weight have been LoMo and Zunino (not counting our bench, which has thus far underperformed, but what do you really expect from a bench?).  You can argue LoMo has been INCREDIBLY unlucky with hard hit balls hit right at people.  To that end, you gotta figure his numbers will pick up.  One good LoMo hot streak will put him right where he’s always been (which still isn’t ideal, but at least isn’t a black hole).  Then again, I can’t remember the last time I’ve talked about a guy being THIS unlucky.  It seems like we’ve been saying this his whole Mariner career!  Who IS LoMo, really?  He’s a guy with mostly warning track power, a consummate pull hitter who couldn’t beat the shift to save his life, and someone who should probably walk more, but obviously doesn’t.

THE GUY HAS ZERO EXTRA BASE HITS, THREE WEEKS INTO THE SEASON!

I mean, what is that?  Mike Zunino has been the absolute worst, most lost player at the plate this year by a thousand miles and he still has a couple homers and a double to his credit.  I’m not super convinced that it’ll ever click for him at the plate, but I suppose that’s not the worst thing in the world.  Jay Buhner struck out a million times and was only a .254 hitter in his career, but he’s still one of the best power hitters we’ve ever had.  I feel like if you put Zunino in the Kingdome, he’d have Jay Buhner’s hitting career.  The fact that he’s stuck in Safeco is automatically going to reduce his numbers pretty drastically; but, if I can get 25-30 homers out of him per year, I’m all right with that.

In short, this is an offense that can get the job done.  If Mike Zunino is your worst everyday batter, you can have worse problems.  I’ll take my worst batter who will still mash a ball 450 feet on occasion and play solid defensive catcher.  Everyone else will be/should be fine.

Now, just got to get that pitching warmed up, and you might see a team go on a nice little run.

Looking Back At The 2014 Mariners: The Hitters, Part III

Consider this the third in a series of looks back at the 2014 Mariners.  For once, it’s going to be more than, “They fucking sucked, I’m sick of thinking about this shit, I’ll see you in February.”  I’m sure I’ll toss out the usual “What Went Right” and “What Went Wrong” posts as time and desire permit, but right now I’m taking a look at the players.  In short, I’m going to list all the players who accumulated a stat for the 2014 Mariners, and I’m going to talk about each of them individually.

I’m also breaking this up into three parts, because we’re pushing 7,000 words here.

Click HERE for Part I
Click HERE for Part II

Logan Morrison – Following the signing of Corey Hart, the Mariners hedged their bet by trading away Carter Capps to the Marlins for their version of Justin Smoak.  LoMo played a little more outfield than Smoak ever could have dreamed, and he was a lot more injured, but the sentiment is still the same:  a guy with a lot of power potential who just never put it together, for a maddeningly long amount of time.

He’s yet to play a full season (only over 100 games once in his 5-year Major League career), and he’s yet to be all that effective at the plate.  Encouragingly, 2014 was his best year ever, so there’s hope yet.

He hit .262/.315/.420, with 11 homers and 20 doubles in 99 games.  He had only 9 games in the outfield, with the rest at 1B or DH, which is promising.  Let’s keep him there.  He was a VAST improvement over Justin Smoak (who got the lion’s share of starts early in the season at first base) offensively, and wasn’t all that bad defensively either.  He’s club-controlled and if he can stay healthy, might just be a viable starting first baseman for us.  He’s no All Star or anything, but at this point I’ll just take anyone who’s above replacement.

Outlook for 2015:  Slot him in as your starting first baseman.  At best, the Mariners will only be able to bring in one right-handed slugger, and you have to figure that guy will play primarily at DH.  If, in some incomprehensible universe, the Mariners bring in two sluggers, then I suppose you could be looking at LoMo as a platoon option at first/DH.  But, I bet he sticks and makes us all forget about that time he smashed a bat against a wall in frustration and cut up his face, causing him to miss some time.

Humberto Quintero – Says here he was a third catcher down the stretch and had as many at-bats (2) as Felix Hernandez (as many hits too).

Outlook for 2015:  He’s a free agent.  Either he’ll be back in Tacoma, or he’ll be with some other team’s AAA squad, or he’ll be somewhere else.

Stefen Romero – As per usual, the Mariners were desperate for right-handed outfield bats.  Stefen Romero was pretty good in Spring Training and won a spot on the Major League club.  He stunk.  He was sent down and brought up multiple times.  In that aforementioned game in Atlanta where John Buck hit the game-winning home run, Romero hit a game-tying 3-run home run that ultimately led to Buck’s magic.  This day would be the highlight for both of these men in 2014.

Outlook for 2015:  I dunno.  Tacoma probably.  Outside shot at a bench spot with the Mariners, but I wouldn’t count on it.

Michael Saunders – I’m just going to come out and say it:  Michael Saunders was the third best position player on the Mariners in 2014 behind Cano and Seager.  That’s really saying something, considering he only appeared in 78 games.

Why did he only appear in 78 games?  Well, to start the season, he was on the bench, behind Almonte, LoMo, Romero, and others.  When he got a chance to play – however infrequently – he consistently produced.  But, he missed a huge chunk of June with an injury; then again missed some of July, all of August, and some more of September with another injury.

Is this what the team considers Michael Saunders to be?  This injury-prone fourth outfielder who needs regular days off to stay healthy, fresh, and productive?  Probably.  Not for nothing, but when you’re talking about these guys who play all-out all the time, I tend to agree.  Yeah, he’ll give up his body to make a play, but he’ll be paying for it later.  That’s why I never understood all the vitriol with Ichiro never diving.  Do you want him falling all over the field going after balls?  Or, do you want a guy you can count on to be in your lineup every single day?  Same thing with Shaun Alexander.  Until the end of his career, he was very durable.  Why?  He went down and out of bounds rather than take unnecessary hits.  I love Beastmode and Jay Buhner as much as the next guy, but I’m just sayin’, there’s nothing wrong with taking care of yourself and living to fight another day.

Outlook for 2015:  He’s looking to get a raise in arbitration.  He should certainly be back.  Pencil him in as a fourth outfielder with a chance to win a starting job if things break right.  If you wanted my prediction right now, though, I’d say he’s not starting.  I’ve got Ackley in left, A-Jax in center, and Free Agent X or Trade Acquisition Y in right.  Still, it’ll be nice to have Saunders back, as I DO think he’s a bona fide Major Leaguer.  He’ll be even more valuable if we manage to find three viable starters to play ahead of him in the outfield.  No more crappy Endy Chavez for us if we can help it!

Kyle Seager – LOVE me some Kyle Seager, boy!  Hot damn that kid is damn hot!

He led the team in homers with 25 and RBI with 96.  He made his very first All Star game and got a couple flimsy hacks in.  He’s been a regular since July 2011 (the same time as Ackley) and he hasn’t let us down once!  In his three full seasons, he’s hit at least 20 homers and batted between .259 and .268.  All the while, improving dramatically with his defense at third base.  This is reflected in his WAR, which has gone up from 2.6 in 2012, to 3.9 in 2013, to a whopping 5.8 this year.  He was only bested in that number by Felix and Cano, which puts him in rarefied air.

And the best part?  He can still get better!  Particularly at the plate.  I agree with LMC, he can and SHOULD be hitting in the .280s.  And, if this team manages to produce some heavy hitters in this lineup, I think he’d be an ideal 2-hole hitter.  Regardless, I have no problem with him batting fifth, IF we find a legitimate cleanup guy.

Either way, I love the fact that there’s someone besides Cano and Felix who I don’t have to worry about.  He doesn’t slump for extended periods of time.  He’s not afraid to hit in Safeco.  He doesn’t get injured.  He doesn’t have extreme splits at the plate.  Thank God for Kyle Seager!

Outlook for 2015:  I’ll have what I’m having!

Justin Smoak – Ahh, the anti-Seager.  Before the season – indeed, even before Spring Training – Smoak was touted as the starting first baseman.  He was someone LMC declared would one day lead the league in doubles.  Instead, he’s successfully led the league in facepalm moments.

His April was no good after his first seven games.  His May was even worse.  In June, he was either sent down to Tacoma or injured.  Either way, he sucked dick the rest of the way.  .202/.275/.339.  THIRTEEN doubles.  PRETTY sure that’s not even close to league-leading.

Outlook for 2015:  He’s arbitration-eligible and due to make some serious coin if he stays.  He’s also out of minor league options, so we can’t just stash him in Tacoma when we’re sick and tired of looking at him.  I have to believe, with every fiber of my being, that he won’t be back.  He’s been given every chance in the world to succeed and he’s been dreadful at every turn.  It’s time for him to go elsewhere and fail miserably for someone else.  If he’s lucky, the Rockies will sign him and he’ll parlay a hot Spring Training into an okay career, making us all wonder, “What If”, except I’ll tell you What If:  he never would’ve made it in Seattle!  It’s Bandbox or Bust for Smoak.

Jesus Sucre – This was the guy we brought up to replace John Buck.  He’s a better receiver of baseballs – he can frame a pitch well and has a pretty good arm – but he’s nothing with a bat in his hands.

Outlook for 2015:  I’m almost certain he’ll be back in Tacoma.  There’s an outside chance he’s back up here as a backup to Zunino.  But, I have to believe that “backup catcher” is once again one of our middling priorities in the upcoming offseason.

Chris Taylor – He was called up and played his first game on July 24th.  He would’ve been called up sooner, but he had to go on the DL for a brief period.  Either way, his promotion was made possible by Brad Miller being a suck-ass for the first few months of the season.

In total, he played in 47 games.  He had a great batting average (.287), but only hit 8 balls for extra bases (with no triples or homers).  His defense was a step above Miller’s, so there’s your trade off.  Miller is a guy who will hit for power, but he won’t walk, so if he’s not striking the ball flush, then he’s not doing much for you.  Taylor is a guy who will never hit for power, but he walks a little more and doesn’t strike out NEARLY as much.  He also gives you better defense.

Or, put it this way:  Taylor was worth 1.5 WAR in his 47 games; Miller was worth 1.6 WAR in 123 games.

So, what do you value?  Premium power at a premium position?  Or defense and stability?  If Miller plays up to his potential (meaning:  hitting for a high average and cutting down somewhat on strikeouts, while maintaining his power), then his ceiling is one of the best offensive short stops in baseball.  I think Taylor is pretty much at his ceiling right now, meaning he’s anywhere from a 3.5 to 4.5-WAR player (if he can keep it up through a full season).

Outlook for 2015:  I guess we’ll find out next year.  It’ll be interesting to see the short stop position battle shake out in Spring Training, and it’ll be even more interesting to see if the winner of that battle can hold onto his job.  Gun to my head:  I think Miller has the edge in this race.  I think they love his power and are willing to put up with some defensive lapses and slumps.  Not TOO MANY slumps, mind you, but I guess we’ll see.  Taylor is a nice Plan B to have.

Mike Zunino – Right out of the gate, just know that Mike Zunino isnt going anywhere.  He’s the entrenched starter as catcher and will be for years to come.

With that out of the way … KIND OF a woofer of a 2014.  Here are the positives:

  • He stayed healthy and played in 131 of a possible 162 games.  That’s quite a workload!
  • He threw out 28.3% of base stealers (28 of 99), which I want to say is good (at least, it’s a vast improvement over the duds we’ve had here since Dan Wilson retired).
  • He was in the upper echelon of pitch-framers, stealing more would-be balls as strikes than most other catchers in baseball.
  • His Catcher E.R.A. was 3.18 (I don’t even know what that means, or if it’s even a good stat or not)
  • He only had 8 passed balls all year (considering he catches Felix on a regular basis, VERY impressive).
  • He hit 22 home runs.
  • He’s only 23 years old and already has a year and a half of Major League experience under his belt.

You notice that most of his positives are defense-related, yet I’m seeing here that his Defensive-WAR was only 0.3 and his overall WAR was only 0.6.  According to other metrics, he actually had NEGATIVE defensive runs saved numbers.  What the shit?

I was all prepared to come on here and talk about what a stud he’s been defensively, and about what a black hole he’s been at the plate.  Turns out, not so fast.

With my untrained eye (and mediocre grasp of advanced stats), I think he’s still good defensively.  I know for a FACT that he’s the best catcher we’ve had in YEARS.  Again, probably since Wilson.  I also think that his bat stinks, but it’s sure to get better.  It would almost have to, as I don’t think it can get much worse.

He had 476 plate appearances in 2014.  Of those, 337 were against right-handed pitchers and 139 were against lefties.  Here are his splits:

  • Vs. Lefties:  .252/.295/.427, 8 doubles, 5 homers, 42 strikeouts, 30.2% Ks
  • Vs. Righties:  .176/.237/.394, 12 doubles, 2 triples, 17 homers, 116 strikeouts, 34.4% Ks

That’s gotta tighten up.  He’s a home run blast waiting to happen, but much more often he’s a strikeout waiting to happen.  And against righties, he’s remarkably worse.  That’s gotta change, because we can’t just save him for lefties.  We’ve got to hit on this guy because he’s THAT important to our future.

Outlook for 2015:  Starting catcher.  You probably want to keep him towards the bottom of the lineup again.  Which isn’t the worst thing in the world.  Let him get his feet wet and maybe one day he’ll be a 5-hole or 6-hole hitter.  I’m not too worried yet, but his offense has to pick up.  If he hits in 2015 the way he did in 2014, I’m going to be VERY concerned.

What Ken Griffey Jr. Means To Me

With Junior being inducted into the Mariners Hall of Fame tonight at the game against Milwaukee, dozens upon dozens of articles and blog posts are being written about the legend.  So, here’s mine.

Some people relentlessly love Ken Griffey Jr. with the intensity of a million suns.  He was their favorite player growing up, he saved baseball in Seattle, and he single-handedly made the Mariners worth watching.  Some people simply respect the man, but refuse to let go of the fact that he forced a trade out of the city, he forced his way to only one team (thereby killing any leverage the Mariners may have held in the deal), and when he came back as a 40 year old, he walked out on the team mid-season.

As hacky as it sounds, I fall somewhere in the middle.

Truth be told, I don’t CARE about Griffey forcing a trade.  In fact, I highly support it.  This franchise has been cheap since day one.  The Mariners have never been about “winning ballgames” so much as “making money”.  Which means, pouring as few resources into the product on the field as possible while pocketing as much as possible.  When the team used that miracle 1995 run to force the city into giving it a new stadium, everyone thought this might be the dawn of a new day.  Then, they jerked Randy Johnson around and effectively broke up what could have been a dynasty.  Any subsequent success they enjoyed after trading off Randy and Griffey, and letting A-Rod walk, was purely coincidental and – obviously – not enduring.

As for his walking out on the team, I don’t know what to tell you.  Would you rather he have STAYED?  With his sub-.200 batting average and his non-existent power?  The true greats, sometimes it takes them a lot longer to admit that they’re finished in the game they’ve dominated for their entire lives.  And sometimes, that moment comes at an uncomfortable point in their lives.  In Griffey’s case, it happened to coincide with the middle of a go-nowhere baseball season.  His career was two months too long, but just know that those two months were probably the worst two months of his entire life.  No one with his passion for baseball ever wants to walk out on his team.  So, try to stop being upset with him for two minutes and imagine how heart-breaking that was for him.

With that unpleasantness aside, I’d like to point out that Ken Griffey Jr. was never my favorite baseball player.  As a kid – and especially as a Seattle kid – I never really ran with the over-achievers or the front-runners.  I always liked me an underdog of sorts.  If EVERYONE loved Ken Griffey Jr. the best, then I would be a Jay Buhner guy, or a Randy Johnson supporter.  But, the fact of the matter is, I don’t think I necessarily HAD a “favorite”.

Like most Seattleites, I jumped on the Mariners’ bandwagon late in the summer of 1995.  I don’t remember what sparked it, to be honest; it’s been nearly 20 years and I was only 14 at the time.  I didn’t keep a good record of events in my teenage years.  I probably accidentally walked into the living room as my parents were watching the local news and they had a story on the streaking Mariners.  As I’m sure you’ve been told a million times before, the 1995 Mariners had a bit of a standings comeback on their hands as they chased down and overcame the California Angels.  Truth be told, I probably came in around the tail end of that season.  The games leading up to the one-game playoff, and then the entirety of the playoffs themselves.

That’s me.  If you were a fan of the M’s before 1995, then bully for you.  If you were a fan of the M’s before Griffey, then here’s your medal.  You’re TRULY the One Mariners Fan.  I started out as one of those people I loathe – a bandwagon jumper.  But, I put all my effort into devouring the sport, starting in 1996, and I haven’t looked back.

I got four years and change with Griffey.  Suffice it to say, I was late to the game on this one.  So, it’s hard for me to declare Griffey – or really ANYONE from those teams – as my “favorite” Mariner.  I kept trying to adopt newcomers or underdogs throughout the late 90s, but no one ever stuck around long enough, or produced enough, for them to be worthy.  Until Felix came along, but that’s a post for literally any other day.

Put me in the camp of those FOR Ken Griffey Jr., though.  I don’t have the eloquence of a better writer to tell you what his swing did to my loins.  Or how his diving catches made my panties moist.  Or why in God’s name his infectious love for the game helped lure me into one of the most boring spectator sports this side of soccer.

Any ill will I feel towards the man has nothing to do with how he left this team twice, but rather with this team’s overall lack of success.  In the mid-90s, I didn’t understand the overall baseball landscape.  I didn’t understand that some franchises were whales and others were minnows.  I didn’t understand that it was completely up to the franchise’s owner whether or not he wanted his organization to be a whale or not.  I knew there were good teams and bad teams, but beyond that, I had no idea.  I just knew that the Mariners were insanely talented, and therefore they should contend for championships until the end of time.

Hell, I didn’t even know that the Wild Card was a brand new thing!

Now, my overall outlook on those Mariners teams is one of disappointment and regret.  Some of them were great, but they were not great enough to go all the way.  Those offenses were some of the best of all time, but those pitching staffs were dreadful and always held us back.  And, even for as great as those offenses were, they still always managed to go into hibernation when the shit hit the fan in the ALCS.

Those teams – and in turn, guys like Griffey and Buhner and Martinez and Randy – fell short of the ultimate goal.  They say it’s supposed to be about the journey and not the destination, but 20 years later, when you’ve forgotten all about the intense highs you experienced on the journey, all you have left is the destination.

The Seattle Mariners – with Ken Griffey Jr. – had two playoff appearances.  They lost in the playoffs both times.  Ken Griffey Jr. was the greatest man to ever wear a Mariners uniform and I love him dearly for his contributions.  But, unfortunately, he wasn’t enough to put us over the top.  That by no means is HIS fault, but rather the organization’s.  So, as everyone falls over themselves praising the Seattle Mariners for this special day, this goosebump-inducing display at Safeco tonight, just remember whose fault it REALLY is that we’re one of two organizations in Major League Baseball to never reach the World Series.

You’re the best, Griffey.  It’s just too bad you had the misfortune to be drafted #1 overall by the worst franchise in baseball history.  You should be celebrated today by some other, more worthy organization, looking back fondly on all the rings you helped bring a luckier city.

Shoot Me Now: The Mariners Are Still Terrible, June 2013 Edition

In the April 2013 Edition, I was pissed off.  In the May 2013 Edition, I was more resigned to my fate:  another shit season, when does Training Camp start and all of that.

Now?  Oddly, I’m hopeful … questionmark?

The team went from five games under .500 at the end of April, to seven games under .500 at the end of May, to now TWELVE God-foresaken games under .500.  What’s there to be hopeful about?  The best player on this team continues to be Raul “I Will Never Die” Ibanez; our outfield is absolutely riddled with old people, injuries, or guys sucking dick at the plate; the back 60% of our rotation has continued to flash JUST enough excellence to not get thrown out on their asses despite some truly terrible pitching …

I could go on and on.  The hitting with runners in scoring position is still all out of whack, the team still hits an inordinate amount of solo homers, the bullpen has been a trainwreck ever since Wilhelmsen was demoted to mop-up duty and we’ve gone Closer By Committee, the team now has a losing record at home for the first time in a long time, and the team is three games under .500 in 1-run games.

There, I’ll stop trying to cheer you up now.

So, why am I oddly hopeful?  Truth be told, it lies exclusively inside the over-sized batting helmet of Nick Franklin.  That kid is a DELIGHT to watch play the game of baseball.  Right this moment, 31 games into his Major League career, he’s hitting .295/.363/.482 with 9 doubles, 4 homers, 15 RBI and 5 stolen bases.  I know as soon as I say we’ve FINALLY found a prospect worth his weight, he’ll be exposed as a fraud and fall down to the Mendoza part of our lineup with all the other hacks on this team, so I’ll just say that I’m excited.

Nick Franklin and Kyle Seager.  That’s two.  We just need seven more and we’ve got ourselves a respectable fucking lineup!

Right behind those two on the Hope Bus, we have Mike Zunino and Brad Miller.  In the last month, the Mariners decided to say, “Fuck It” and give the keys to the catcher position to our uber-prospect Zunino.  Thus far, 13 games in, he’s batting .227/.261/.341.  Obviously, it’s way, way, WAY too fucking early to make any logical estimation of his abilities as a Big Leaguer.  Nevertheless, he’s got 2 doubles, 1 homer, and a game-winning, walk-off RBI to his credit.  I don’t know if he’s comfortable at the plate yet, but I know that I’M comfortable with HIM at the plate (especially over Henry Blanco, who was brought in to replace Kelly Shoppach last month as the veteran mentor du jour).

Miller is our very latest addition to the team.  He just finished his third game over the weekend and already he’s got 2 doubles and 2 stolen bases.  This kid’s a firecracker.  In fact, I’m loving 80% of this infield right now!  It’s the Whitest Infield In Baseball, but with Seager, Miller, Franklin, Zunino, and Smoak, I’m not gonna lie to you, I will TAKE that.  If the first four guys pan out, and Smoak can maintain a .250-ish batting average with a .350-ish on-base percentage … I’m telling you, it feels so close I can taste it.

Of course, if I start falling in love with this portion of the team, I’m doomed to continue repeating the mistakes of the past.  Then again, what other choice do I have?  I can always bitch about things later.

The outfield portion of this team, however, scares the bejesus out of me.  Guti is Guti, in that he’s nothing but a rotting corpse stuffed behind some attic insulation.  Michael Saunders has officially lost whatever magical amulet he held in his possession last season (which wasn’t really all that magical anyway, unless you consider .247 with 19 homers something special), so that sucks.  Would’ve been nice to have counted on him, but I guess that’s over.  Dustin Ackley, after being sent down to Tacoma to work on his mental deficiencies, was converted to an outfielder.  In his second game upon returning to the Mariners, Ackley dove for a ball and sprained his thumb.  He’s one of dozens of guys on this team who is injured, unavailable, but whatever we’re going to refrain from putting him on the DL.  Michael Morse IS on the DL, because he’s this-generation’s Jay Buhner circa 2000.  Jason Bay hasn’t been a complete flop, but he’s also someone I’m not going to miss after this season ends.  Endy Chavez almost never walks or hits for extra bases, but has been passable thanks to a batting average over .270.

Which just leaves Ibanez.  He of the 41 years of age.  He of the 19 home runs in 61 games (which puts him tied for 6th in the AL with Jose Bautista).  Not only does he lead the team in homers and RBI, Raul Ibanez leads the team in TRIPLES!  That’s a useless fact, but then again, this is a useless team, so what are you gonna do?  Raul Ibanez, in spite of the fact that we’re all irritated he’s doing good while so many of our younger kids are doing bad, has been one of the most watchable parts of this team, and I for one am glad he’s here.  Just imagine how many more games the Mariners would have lost without him carrying this team.

I feel like a broken record with this pitching staff, so I’m not going to dwell on it too much.  Iwakuma and Felix both still have ERA’s under 3.  Iwakuma, with the better ERA, has seen the home run bug strike him.  He’s also slowed down on the pace of strikeouts.  But, look, I’m not going to hate on one of the team’s premier pitchers just because he’s coming back down to Earth a little bit.

The race to see which old fuck of a starting pitcher gets the DFA first is in the home stretch, and I have to imagine Bonderman and Harang are neck and neck.  Bonderman has slightly better numbers, but Harang has those two complete-game shutouts to his credit.  If I had to guess, I’d say Harang is one more bad start away from being gone.  Erasmo Ramirez is torching (for the most part) down in Tacoma since his return from injury, and I have to think this team wants to see as much of him as possible these last three months of the season.  There are other young guys in Tacoma seemingly on the cusp, in case the Mariners want to see if there are any takers for Joe Saunders.  I mean, shit, this team was able to trade Erik Bedard, I think they can get something for ol’ Safeco Joe.

Blake Beavan has returned to the bullpen and made four appearances in June.  Except for one outing against the A’s, Beavan has been a solid mop-up guy in blowouts.  In the end, I think that’s the role he’s destined for; but right now he’s frequently out-pitching both Harang and Bonderman, so you have to believe he’s in line to get some starts pretty soon too.

As I said earlier, the bullpen is a mess.  Wilhelmsen had his best outing in weeks just yesterday afternoon, so we’ll see if he’s figured out how to locate his pitches again.  If this team is going to avoid the absolute bottom of the American League, it’s going to need someone to dependably close out games.  I wouldn’t anticipate Wilhemsen getting traded before the deadline (unless this team is just going to clean house as much as possible, or throw him into a more blockbuster-type deal), but if he can regain his confidence in closing games, we might be able to trade him in the offseason.

Welcome to the Dog Days, everyone!  2013 officially sucks for baseball.  Start counting down the days to Training Camp, when we will be talking about football and nothing but football, and I’ll essentially be writing the same article day in and day out:  Why The Seahawks Will Be Super Bowl Champs.

The Best Players On The Worst Teams, Part II: Other Seattle Mariners

Ken Griffey Jr. played in 22 seasons.  He’s one of the most accomplished Major League outfielders of all time.  He’s most associated with the rise of baseball in Seattle, from a mere afterthought to making this a Baseball City (even though you and I know this will always be a Football City).  And yet, in all those seasons, he was only a member of three playoff teams.

There’s 1995, obviously, where the Mariners got to within a couple games of the World Series.  Then, there was 1997, where the Mariners won a total of one playoff game.  Then, after the 1999 season, he forced a trade to the Cincinnati Reds … where they NEVER made the playoffs with Griffey on the roster.  Nine years!

Obviously, part of the blame goes squarely on Griffey himself.  Had he stayed with the Mariners, maybe those teams in 2000 and 2001 still make the playoffs.  Hell, MAYBE those teams in 2000 and 2001 go to the World Series.  We’ll never know, because he forced his way out.  Anyway you slice it, though, if we had a healthy & happy Ken Griffey Jr. on those teams, it would’ve been a considerable step up from Mike Cameron.  And that’s saying something, because I really liked Cammy!

Junior didn’t make the playoffs again until 2008, when he was traded to the White Sox and they lost in the first round.  The Reds didn’t make the playoffs again until 2010, where they also lost in the first round.  Junior is a First-Ballot Hall of Famer, but he’s one of the unluckiest guys in the world.  For all the injuries he sustained, preventing him from being the best player in baseball history, and for all the shitty teams he was on.  I mean, 8 of the 9 Reds teams he was on had losing records!  7 of the 13 Mariners teams he was on had losing records as well.  That’s a lot of failure for someone who deserved much better.

***

It’s tough finding a lot of “great” Mariners for this list.  Let’s face it, most of the great Mariners enjoyed quite a bit of success.  You can’t throw guys like Edgar or Wilson or Bone on this list, because they were here for all the playoff runs.  And you can’t throw someone like Randy on this list, because he went on to have tremendous success after leaving this team.

However, there HAD to have been some quality players from the 80s to throw on this list!  Like, Alvin Davis for one.  Mr. Mariner!  He played 8 seasons in Seattle, and only once had a winning record.  He played 9 seasons total, finishing his career as a California Angel, and not once ever made the playoffs.

Harold Reynolds was another.  10 seasons in Seattle, only one winning record (that 1991 season is such a tease!); 12 seasons in the Majors, not one playoff appearance.

Jim Presley was another decently good Mariner, with 6 seasons in Seattle (no winning records) and 8 seasons in the Majors (no playoff appearances).  These are kind of the obvious names that come to mind when I think about the Mariners in the 80s.  I’m sure there are some other quality M’s out there, but not too damn many (because if there were, we’d be talking about teams that actually won some ballgames).

***

There’s one other player I KINDA want to put on this list, but his later career in Philadelphia disqualifies him.

When I was thinking of a list of players, Raul Ibanez popped into my head.  He started his career in Seattle, in the Good Ol’ Days, but he rarely got a chance to play.  Then, he signed with Kansas City where he became a bona fide Major League hitter.  Then, he came BACK to Seattle on a five year deal where we only had one winning season.  To that point, through the 2008 season, Ibanez had been involved in 13 Major League seasons, but only got a single taste of playoff baseball.  In 2000.  Mostly as a pinch hitter with the Mariners.

Then, after the 2008 season, he signed almost immediately with the Phillies and proceeded to make the playoffs in three straight years.  In 2009, they lost in the World Series to the Yankees.  In 2010, they lost in the NLCS to the Giants.  In 2011, they lost in the NLDS to the Cardinals.  That’s some hard luck, but the point is, those were some good teams!  He capped it off with a stint in New York in 2012, where the Yankees made it to the ALCS before being swept away by the Tigers.  So, we’re talking about four consecutive playoff appearances.  You can’t say Ibanez didn’t have a chance at glory.  No one is feeling sorry for the guy, even if he is back in a Mariners uniform in 2013.

If we were simply talking about Raul Ibanez:  Seattle Mariner, then yeah, he would qualify for the list.  2013 makes 11 seasons with the Mariners, with only one playoff appearance to show for it.  But, his career away from this black hole takes him out of the realm of the truly depressed.  Indeed, it provided him with a career he can look back on fondly.