The Cancer That Wasn’t

I looked up an interesting online chat I had with a friend back on 12/18/2009, which I assume is either the day or a day after we traded Carlos Silva and cash to the Cubs for Milton Bradley.  I’m reminded of this conversation mainly because of this post in the Seattle Times Mariners Blog.  I think Geoff Baker goes a long way in explaining what essentially went wrong and ultimately why Wakamatu was (and probably had to be) fired.

Anyway, getting back to Silva for Bradley, this was just one step in a string of – what I perceived at the time – positive moves for the ballclub.  Moves towards contending in 2010.  In conjunction with Figgins, Cliff Lee, and maybe forcing myself to believe a little too much in some questionable players like Kotchman, Jack Wilson, and yeah, Ken Griffey Jr.  Let’s face it, I talked myself into another 15-20 homers out of him with a ceiling as high as .250 in the batting average department.  I wasn’t even close to expecting the Shaun Alexander-like dropoff that we got.

More than anything, though, Silva for Bradley made me giddy.  Even more than Cliff Lee (which sounds insane in retrospect).  I’d base that clearly on my loathing of Silva; getting a half-dead invalid would’ve been a bonanza of a deal.

In my zeal, I took to G-chat and said, “Holy shit dude. Jack Z. is an absolute jedi! How he got the Cubs to take Silva is amazing to me”.

To which my friend replied, “didn’t the m’s get milton bradley though”?

The conversation went on about how Bradley is a cancer and that’s a huge risk to take on, especially considering the harmonious environment we enjoyed in 2009’s pleasant surprise of a season.  Ultimately, I made the argument that I’d take one great (even pennant-winning) season followed by a decade of futility, so long as Bradley could just make it through one year happy; punctuating my point with saying Silva is even worse than the worst possible form of cancer imaginable.

At least we could agree on that.

Of course, the funny thing about 2010 is:  Milton Bradley has been anything but a cancer, as far as I can tell.  Yeah, he did have that meltdown, which resulted in a couple/few weeks of personal time to work through his anger issues.  But, since then, it appears he’s been a model citizen, if not exactly a lightning rod of ass-kicking on the baseball field.  I couldn’t tell you when last he played, since Michael Saunders appears to be getting every chance available, but that doesn’t appear to have made him a clubhouse cancer in the slightest.

No, this season wasn’t foiled by Milton Bradley:  Tumor, but then again it wasn’t exactly helped by him either.

There are approximately two schools of thought when it comes to clubhouse chemistry:

1.  A harmonious atmosphere will beget happy, stress-free players who will then go out and produce in a meaningful way on the baseball field, which will result in more wins for the team.

2.  Winning and winning alone begets a harmonious atmosphere (which, hell, is harmony even necessary if you’re winning?)

So, what was it last year?  Were we a happy team because players like Griffey and Mike Sweeney came in and lifted the dark clouds with their tickle fights and hugging contests?  Or were we a happy team because we won 85 games when we really weren’t expecting much after a 100-loss season the year before?

I dunno, does it even matter?  This year’s clubhouse was bad – maybe not 2008 bad, but bad nonetheless.  And it resulted in lots of losses.  Combined (bad atmosphere + lots of losses) = manager and most coaches fired before season’s end.  If we were still losing, but all the key players still respected Wak & Co., and there weren’t so many blatant lapses in judgment on the basepaths and in the field (and at the plate for that matter), then my money would be placed on Wak getting one more year to see if he could turn it around.

But, that’s the thing.  It would’ve required all the players to be on board, not just the young ones getting a shot at extra playing time thanks to a shot season.  And yes, without a doubt, Griffey leaving so abruptly and contentiously played a major part in Wak losing the clubhouse and losing the front office support.

Nevertheless, I refuse to believe that Griffey is the sole cancerous culprit in upending not only the Mariners season, but Wak’s brief managerial career.

I’m not so naive to think that by simply removing the tumor (Griffey and his discontent), you’ve solved your cancer problem.  But, let’s face facts, there were problems with this team long before Griffey made his value known with the lowest hitting totals in all the land for a regular DH.  All signs pointing to the real villain:  Lack of Discipline.

Wak is his own worst enemy in this tragedy, and he Belief System’d his way right out of a job.  It’s one thing to give proven players a long leash and hope that they’ll play their way out of slumps; but it’s quite another to let them drag you through the muck because they want to go chasing bunny rabbits.  I would argue that his judgment in deciding who to have the long leash with vs. who to yank around has been flawed all season.  And I know that desperate times called for desperate measures (you know, back when the AL West was still somewhat within grasp), but sometimes you have to make a stand.  Look at the April trends and make the snap judgment that some guys just won’t be playing their way out of it.  Some guys are just done.

Mike Sweeney should’ve been our starting DH much earlier, that’s all there is to it.  Either you keep Griffey at his word that he’d accept a reduced role and nip his influence over the rest of the clubhouse in the bud, or you make him Honorary DH For Life and see if all those players who admire such a dying goat at the plate can pick him up with their own production.  But, you can’t let him fester as long as he did, then set the whole mess in motion by benching him without a conversation as to why.

The cancer spread like wildfire from there, but the ultimate source wasn’t Griffey.  It was Wak all along.  I agree that he’ll get another shot at the majors, and I bet next time he learns from his mistakes this year.  2009, all he had to do was coast along, let his veterans fix the clubhouse chemistry, and absorb all the accolades of a winning season.  This year, there would be no such coasting.  The futility of the offense wouldn’t allow it.  In the end, Wak made good on some of the tough decisions, but far too late for his own good thanks to a Belief System gone awry.

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