The Top Ten Biggest Seattle Sports Disappointments

It’s a cloudy-ass day in July and we haven’t had any sports that I give a shit about in over three months, so why not kick off the month with a big ball of negativity?!

Once again, in the absence of any decent sports news, I take inspiration from the Brock & Salk podcast, where one of the listeners asked the question of who is on your Seattle sports Mount Rushmore for biggest disappointments? I’m clearly unable to limit my disgust to just four individuals, so you get a Top Ten from me (with an extra Honorable Mention – FREE OF CHARGE – because these disappointments are like my babies, I can’t leave any of them out!).

Being a Sports Disappointment is obviously a nebulous concept with lots of different definitions, so here’s mine (for the sake of today’s argument): these are people who we expected to be great when they came here, and ultimately totally sucked. How they got here is irrelevant, so I’m not factoring in (as heavily) if it was a lopsided trade, a high draft pick, or an inflated contract (with the basis that all of these players were terrible for their respective Seattle sports teams, one would assume a poor trade, draft slot, or contract is a given anyway). Similarly, this can’t be based on someone else that our team passed on in the draft, because there would be inherent disappointment already built into that selection.

Malik McDowell, for instance, doesn’t qualify for this list. He’s certainly one of the most damaging draft picks of the last decade for the Seahawks, but as a second rounder, I don’t think expectations were astronomical that he’d be anything truly amazing. Likewise, trading away Scottie Pippen for Olden Polynice doesn’t qualify, because I would like to think most people noted that right away to be a terrible deal, and as such I can’t imagine there were great expectations for ol’ #0.

Without further ado, let’s get to our Honorable Mention: Jesus Montero. The Mariners traded for the former #1 overall baseball prospect early in 2012 from the Yankees. Given Michael Pineda’s career since he left Seattle, this is one of those infamous Lose/Lose deals. Nevertheless, the next ten guys I talk about must’ve been REALLY bad, because Montero was as mediocre as it gets. The main reason why he’s on the outside looking in is because by the time he came to Seattle, there was already a building consensus that he wasn’t long for the catcher position. He just didn’t have the build, the skills, nor the presence with the pitching staff for his defense to measure up. The hope was that maybe he could land at first base with some practice, but ultimately I think most saw him as a future DH. Regardless of that, there was NO QUESTION that his bat would be what provided the bulk of his value, and when you’re talking about those Mariners squads from 2008-2013, a hulking power bat from the right side of the plate was our white whale. Montero was SUPPOSED to be our cleanup hitter for the next decade; instead he hasn’t been in the Majors since 2015, and is more known for his ice cream sandwich fight than his “prowess” on the baseball diamond.

#10 – Danny Hultzen (Mariners)

This is the only real draft bust on the list (not to say there aren’t some REALLY BAD draft picks going forward, but at least those guys played a little bit!). Hultzen was a #2 overall draft pick, considered to be the safest starting pitcher prospect of the 2011 draft, and appeared to be on the fast track to make it to the Major Leagues within 2-3 years. Even if there was a question of his stuff – and his high-ceiling/ace potential – if his arm injuries didn’t totally derail him, we WOULD HAVE seen him pitch for the Mariners relatively early in his career. We’ll never know how disappointing that might’ve been, but I remember being really high on this guy when we got him, and it’s one of the great What If’s in recent Mariners history.

#9 – Justin Smoak (Mariners)

He’s sort of in that Jesus Montero realm, in that he was formerly a very highly-rated prospect, with the bloom starting to come off the rose by the time the M’s were able to acquire him. Oddly enough, when we made the deal in 2010, it’s reported that the Mariners turned down a proposed offer from the Yankees which would’ve included Montero! What did we do to get so lucky as to end up with BOTH when all was said and done?! Again, we’re talking about the Dead Ball Mariners of 2008-2013 or so; Smoak was really the first bite at the apple of trying to turn around our moribund offense. Switch-hitter with power, elite first base defense, good eye at the plate, and a proven minor league track record to hit for average, get on base at a high clip, and impress with his power to all fields. That ended up translating to the Bigs as Warning Track Power, someone who couldn’t really hit from the right side at all, a very LOW batting average, and someone who would consistently roll over on pitches instead of hitting to all fields as advertised. While his defense played, and he had an okay eye for taking walks, he also struck out a ton and didn’t start figuring out how to play at this level until he left for Toronto, where he was an All Star in 2017 (with 22+ homers in the last three seasons, the high being 38 in that aforementioned All Star season).

#8 – Aaron Curry (Seahawks)

As a #4 overall draft pick in 2009, you can certainly point to any number of linebackers taken after him and lament Tim Ruskell’s poor decision-making. BUT! I said we’re not doing that here! So, instead let’s just look at the situation at the time: the Seahawks were coming off of a pretty abysmal 2008 season where the defense just had NOTHING going for it. The offense looked like it MIGHT be salvagable with our aging veterans, but the defense needed an injection of youth and explosiveness. Curry was famously the “safest” pick off the board, as someone who could come in, play right away, and play at a high level. Even then, though, his game started getting picked apart pretty quickly. We soon learned there wasn’t much of a pass-rushing threat to his game, which made him ostensibly a coverage linebacker. The Seahawks have long prided themselves on quality linebacker play, so that checks out. Except, as it turned out, Curry couldn’t even do THAT well! He did, in fact, nothing well, and two years later we traded him to the Raiders in the middle of the 2011 season for draft picks (one of which would turn out to be J.R. Sweezy, which wasn’t too shabby of a return, all things considered).

#7 – Dustin Ackley (Mariners)

Speaking of #2 overall draft picks, welcome to the first pick of the Jack Zduriencik Era in 2009! I wrote pretty extensively on the topic of Dustin Ackley over the years, to the point where the rest of my list today SERIOUSLY conflicts with that post I just linked to. But, I would argue the parameters of the argument today are a little different. I’m trying to eliminate all outside factors and just focus on the players themselves. Yes, Ackley was VERY disappointing! He was supposed to be a guy who hit for a very high average, with enough pop/speed/defense to make him a regular All Star for his Major League career. Instead, he was middling at best and hasn’t cracked a Major League roster since 2016. I would also put part of the blame on the Mariners’ front office, as they continuously dicked around with him. He was a primo first baseman in college, with some experience in the outfield. What did we do? We made him a second baseman, which almost certainly stunted his development. Then, when that failed, we tried to make him a centerfielder, even though he really didn’t have the range or ability to cover that much ground (especially in Safeco Field at the time). And yet, the bat never showed up in Seattle, so that’s ultimately why he’s such a disappointment.

#6 – Chone Figgins (Mariners)

You really, REALLY hate to see it! This was the first big free agent bust of the Jack Zduriencik Era: four years, $36 million in December of 2009. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was for this signing! By this point, we’d long realized that Safeco Field – with its configuration, and with our Marine Layer in Seattle – would be death to home run hitters. Guys like Adrian Beltre, Richie Sexson, among others, tried and ultimately failed to replicate their prior glories in Seattle. But, Figgins was the opposite of that! He was an undersized Jack-Of-All-Trades type of Swiss Army Knife you could plug in at nearly EVERY position on the field, with zero power hype to speak of whatsoever! And, most importantly, he’d hit for the Angels in a big way (.291 average & .363 on-base percentage in Anaheim across 8 seasons before signing with the Mariners). Slot him in at third base (his preferred position) and at the top of your batting lineup, and watch him hit .300 and steal 40+ bases! He somehow reached that stolen base plateau in his first year here, but his average dropped about 40 points overnight. He couldn’t get along with the Mariners’ management (and, presumably, some of the players) and was deemed the very worst signing of Jack Zduriencik’s career. Smarter baseball people than myself probably saw all this coming, but I’ll admit it was a rude awakening for me.

#5 – Percy Harvin (Seahawks)

If this were a list of my own personal Most Loathed Seattle Sports Athletes, Harvin would probably rank higher. I have no problem invoking his name among the greatest all-time Seahawks blunders because he is SO unlikable (the peak being him punching out Golden Tate before our Super Bowl victory in the 2013 season). Why he doesn’t rank higher here is the fact that we DID win that Super Bowl (mostly in spite of him), on top of the fact that I think most of us realized – when the deal was made – that it was too high a price to pay for ANYONE, even with his ability (at the time). Still, he had proven in his career with the Vikings to be a lethal gadget player on offense, and one of the best return men in the Special Teams department. While we could see the cost in draft picks and contract compensation was stratospheric, it was hard not to dream big about what this offense could be with Harvin in the fold. Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, AND Percy Harvin?! Come on! And, then he immediately got injured upon arrival, and didn’t really end up making any impact whatsoever until we reached the Super Bowl. The highlight of his Seahawks career was the kickoff return for a touchdown against the Broncos. Some thought he deserved consideration for the Super Bowl MVP, but we were already up 22-0 at the time, so I mean. The bottom line is, Harvin dogged it in 2014 – taking himself out of games, refusing to play through anything more than a hangnail – and was traded in the middle of the season for whatever we could get. So much wasted money and potential.

#4 – Erik Bedard (Mariners)

Everyone points to the lopsided deal – that sent the Orioles a ton of quality baseball players – but the true crime is just how bad Bedard became as soon as he got here! He was a bona fide Ace-type pitcher for Baltimore – so much so that he was deemed to be the #1 over Felix Hernandez in his first year here – and the expectation was that our rotation would lead us back to the playoffs with Bedard in the fold. Instead, he was a consummate Five-And-Dive artist who both stunk AND couldn’t stay healthy. Why he’s not higher on this list is because all of those Mariners teams were VERY terrible and would have been regardless, with our without Bedard. Still a bitter pill to swallow.

#3 – Rick Mirer (Seahawks)

The bigger disappointment here is the fact that the Seahawks had the #2 pick at all, and not the #1 (which would’ve guaranteed us Drew Bledsoe). In that Dustin Ackley piece, I had Dan McGwire among the biggest draft pick disappointments in Seattle sports history, but that largely hinged on who we DIDN’T get in that draft – namely: Brett Favre – but I don’t think anyone REALLY expected greatness out of McGwire (except for the inept Seahawks ownership group at the time). Rick Mirer, on the other hand, was very highly regarded. Even if he wasn’t the ideal QB of that draft, he wasn’t supposed to be a bad fall-back option. But, he was worse than anyone could’ve possibly imagined. He nearly destroyed my standing as a Seahawks fan for the rest of the 1990’s! The saving grace for Mirer is the fact that we were able to flip him for a first round draft pick in 1997.

#2 – Jeff Cirillo (Mariners)

I just remember LOVING this deal so much! In December of 2001 – coming off of the Mariners’ 116-win campaign – we were looking at one of the most complete teams in the Major Leagues. One of our main weak spots was third base, where we employed the pedestrian David Bell. Cirillo, on the other hand, had a remarkable 10-year career to that point with the Milwaukee Brewers and Colorado Rockies, where he hit over .300, had an on-base percentage over .450, hardly ever struck out, and played a quality third base! I mean, on a team with Ichiro, Boone, Olerud, Edgar, Cameron, Wilson, Guillen, McLemore, and the rest, Cirillo was only going to put us MORE over the top! That’s when we got our first big taste of what happens when guys come over from Colorado: the thin air they play in made hitting at home a breeze. Meanwhile, in Seattle, even for someone like Cirillo – who wasn’t a natural power hitter by any means – it seems like Safeco just got in everyone’s heads if nothing else. He hit for a miserable .234 across two partial seasons, and his on-base percentage plummeted to a ridiculous .295! To add insult to injury, those two seasons coincided with two of the most frustrating years to be a Mariners fan, where both teams won 93 games, yet failed to make the playoffs because baseball is dumb and only had one Wild Card team at the time. To add even more insult to even more injury, we traded him away in early 2004 and got essentially nothing back in return.

#1 – Vin Baker (Supersonics)

You don’t see a lot of Sonics on this list, because for the most part – until the bitter end – we were a pretty well-run organization. Sure, you can point to the litany of failed centers we drafted in the 2000’s, but I would argue most fans saw through those duds the minute their names were called. Similarly, everyone wondered why someone like Jim McIlvaine was given such a high-money contract, so to be “disappointed” would mean you’d have to have high expectations for someone who had hardly done anything in his career to that point! Vin Baker, on the other hand, was a multi-year All Star in the NBA for the Milwaukee Bucks. I almost didn’t want to include Baker on this list, because for some reason I have memories of more good times than actually existed. The truth of the matter is – upon trading for him when Shawn Kemp forced his way out in a 3-team deal, justifiably, because McIlvaine – the Sonics only enjoyed ONE quality year out of Baker. The first year here, the 1997/1998 season, when he maintained his All Star streak and led the Sonics to a semifinals appearance in George Karl’s last go-around in Seattle.

He then immediately fell off the cliff. The strike-shortened season saw Baker’s alcoholism creep in, resulting in a ballooning of his weight that drastically reduced his effectiveness on the court. For some reason, in spite of his fall-off, the Sonics rewarded him with a 7-year, $86 million deal. Yet, he was never the same, with three increasingly-mediocre seasons to follow before we were able to trade him to the Celtics for a bunch of role players. There’s a lot of unfair resentment towards Baker for tanking his career the way he did, but I think mostly people just feel sorry for him. No one in Seattle wanted to see Shawn Kemp leave; indeed Wally Walker & Co. did a remarkable job of destroying a championship-calibre squad. But, I can’t tell you how happy I was that we were able to get Baker here initially! His game – if maybe not his personality – fit this team PERFECTLY! He had a better post-up game than Kemp, could shoot from long range better than Kemp, and overall you didn’t have to worry about the ups & downs. Baker was a steady 20/10 type of guy when he got here, night-in and night-out. Which makes his post-1998 years SO disappointing! His wasn’t the type of game that should’ve deteriorated so quickly. Kemp’s game was more raw athleticism; Baker’s game was fundamental basketball prowess. Yet, when it’s all said and done, two of the great basketball tragedies to come out of that lockout season were Baker and Kemp, both succumbing to being out of shape and never ultimately recovering.

There’s Absolutely Nothing Else To Do, So Let’s Look At The Mariners’ Roster (Part 1)

I would’ve normally done this weeks ago, but since we all died in early March and are now currently in a loop of the last episode of Lost, I guess I’ll get to it now.

There’s probably going to be baseball this year, right? I’m, like, 81% confident we’ll see the MLB in some form (though, for real, it would be cool if ALL the states could get on the same page with the fucking social distancing and whatnot; it’s gonna suck when certain areas see the curve flatten and re-rise again because other fucknuts around the country aren’t taking this seriously enough). So, we should probably have some sort of idea of who the Mariners are that we’ll get to watch eventually.

I’ll save the disaster that is this team’s pitching staff for the next post in this series, because I can’t even right now. The everyday players are actually – if you squint really hard while wearing your cataractiest pair of rose-colored glasses – kind of, sort of, in a way, a little bit interesting.

Here’s what we’re gonna do. I could sit here and go Position By Position with you and you’ll catch what I’m putting down and we’ll all go about our days a little bit dumber more informed probably. But, that insults your intelligence and, quite frankly, is something I’d be doing if I didn’t have all the damn free time in the world because everything has shut down. So, instead, we’ll group everyone on the Active Roster into categories: Veterans, Placeholders, One-More-Chance Guys, Quad-A Players, and Legitimate Prospects. This should give us all a pretty good idea of where things stand in the Mariners’ rebuild, and it’ll be cool to look back on later and see how wrong I was!

Veterans

  • Kyle Seager (3B)
  • Dee Gordon (2B)
  • Carlos Gonzalez (OF)

These are the least-interesting guys on the team, because none of them figure to be around for the Next Great Mariners Squad (though, to be fair, if we’re being realistic here those hypothetical guys probably haven’t even been BORN yet … is how long it will be … because they’re such a poorly-run, inept organization … you get it). So, let’s get these guys out of the way really quick.

Seager is still under contract through 2021, with an option for 2022 (though I can’t envision a scenario where he’s here for that long; hell, at the first sign of competence I have to imagine the team will look to trade him to a needy contender). He actually had a nice, bounce-back year in 2019 – even though his batting average continues to suffer at the hands of the dreaded Infield Shift – as the second-most valuable position player behind Tom Murphy in an injury-shortened season. He almost certainly won’t ever set foot in the playoffs in a Mariners uniform though, so let’s move on.

Dee Gordon is signed through this season, with an option for 2021 that vests with 600 plate appearances. Considering all that’s going on, it’s a virtual lock he won’t see that happen, which is to all of our great relief. Look, Dee’s a fun guy. He’s super fast, he can be flashy with the glove, and he’s streaky as hell (which means SOMETIMES he gets on fire and looks like one of the best leadoff hitters of all time); but usually he’s just mediocre and overpaid. So, you know, you take the good, you take the bad, you take them both, and there you have … Dee Gordon.

CarGo isn’t even (I don’t think) on the Active Roster at the moment. He was more Haniger insurance than anything, I think. Is anyone hurt more by this COVID-19 than CarGo? The way things are shaking out, Haniger might actually make a full recovery from his surgery in time to start the season! I mean, yeah, people have died and whatnot, but a 34-year old over-the-hill outfielder might’ve just missed out on his last chance at Major League glory mediocrity!

Placeholders

  • Tom Murphy (C)
  • Austin Nola (C/1B)
  • Dylan Moore (OF/INF)
  • Tim Lopes (OF/INF)

Controversy, right out of the box! Murphy’s only 29-years old, so it’s not inconceivable that he cements himself as the Everyday Starting Catcher for the next however many years. But, come on. Let’s get serious here, huh? Can we get serious?! Cal Raleigh is the consensus Catcher Of The Future in this organization! We just need Murphy to buy us a couple more years – maybe mentor the future stud a little bit – and then step away gracefully (ideally, when his Arbitration years expire, so some other team can sign him to a needlessly-expensive deal).

I’ll be honest, I hardly know who Austin Nola is. I know he came up last year and was remarkably efficient in his limited playing time, but if you threw him in a lineup with five other honkies, there’s no way I’d be able to find him (and I’m LITERALLY looking at his thumbnail photo right now!). I know he played a lot of first base, and I think maybe some outfield? Yet, all of a sudden he’s the 2020 Mariners’ backup catcher. Bold Strategy Cotton and all that. Maybe he sticks with the Mariners as some futuristic Super Sub, but I have my doubts.

Dylan Moore and Tim Lopes are CURRENTLY Quad-A guys, but they’ve sort of established themselves as bench guys around the infield and outfield, so I’m putting them in this spot because these guys are dimes-a-dozen. You know how when you play Yahtzee and you always get the Full House every single game without really trying? Because let’s say you’re going for 3’s and on your second or third roll you just luck into the Full House for an easy 25 points? That’s what Moore and Lopes are; they’re a Yahtzee Full House, the easiest thing to find in all of board games.

One-More-Chance Guys

  • Daniel Vogelbach (DH/1B)
  • Mallex Smith (CF)
  • Mitch Haniger (RF)

Also known as: The Vogey Special. Daniel Vogelbach is living a pretty charmed life. He got here at just the right time. We traded for him in 2016, he got to mash his way through the minors, and just as everything was falling apart in the Major League clubhouse, he was promoted to help fill the void of power at the plate. With Nelson Cruz no longer blocking him at designated hitter, Vogey got his fill in 2019. While he started off pretty hot, he cooled off significantly in the back-half of the season. Now 27-years old, with no discernable value defensively, this is really his last shot to make it with the Mariners. We know he can hit 30 homers; he did just that last year. Now, we need either more consistency, or another 10-15 homers on top of that to justify his worth. Seems unlikely.

Mallex Smith kind of had the opposite-type of year in 2019 as Vogey; he started off TERRIBLY after coming over in a trade from the Rays. So bad, in fact, that we had to send him down to Tacoma to work on … everything. His bat stunk, his defense stunk (somehow, even though he’s ostensibly a centerfielder), his confidence plummeted, he was over-thinking everything. It was an absolute unmitigated disaster. When he came back up, though, he was able to turn it around somewhat (though, the damage had largely been done). His 2018 season saw him as a potential leadoff hitter for the next decade; now he’s languishing at the bottom of the order and is hanging onto this organization by a thread. A 2020 like his 2019 will see him elsewhere in 2021.

Oh, I WENT THERE! You like Mitch Haniger, I like Mitch Haniger, the Mariners OBVIOUSLY like Mitch Haniger (after all, when we were shipping off everything of value that wasn’t nailed down before last season, the M’s opted to hang onto him as the centerpiece to the big rebuild), but his injury issues that cost him most of last year (continuing, infuriatingly, into this year somehow) are starting to snowball into something much more sinister than we ever could’ve imagined. Look, he had a pretty great 2018 season, but that’s just one year! He has in no way established himself as a superstar or even an everyday player at this point! Injuries were part of his background before he even got here, so it’s not like we can say this is a fluke; he might be the next Franklin Gutierrez for all we know. I’m not saying the Mariners will necessarily cut bait if he doesn’t prove himself in 2020, but some of those trade rumors are starting to look more and more plausible with him. If the younger outfield prospects have big years, Haniger might find himself pushed aside for a flashier crop of dudes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Quad-A Players

  • Shed Long (INF/OF)
  • Jake Fraley (OF)

These guys are going to get every opportunity to shine in 2020 – as should be the case, because what else do the Mariners have to lose at this point – but the bottom line is: I don’t believe either of these guys are bona fide Major League talents. Shed Long looks like he could be a decent utility player in the future. He can play all around the infield and corner outfield spots, he’s got an impressive amount of pop in his bat for a guy of his size; but I just don’t think he’s a starter.

As for Fraley, I don’t think he’s even a Major Leaguer period! He strikes me as a guy who will make most of his living in AAA, with brief appearances in the Major Leagues as a replacement bench guy for injured outfielders. Moving on.

Legitimate Prospects

  • Evan White (1B)
  • J.P. Crawford (SS)
  • Kyle Lewis (OF)

Obviously, there are more legitimate prospects in the minor leagues, but this isn’t a post about them. We all know who they are and what they mean to the future of this organization. I’m more interested in the guys who are on the Mariners RIGHT NOW.

Evan White is one of the bigger names we have to look forward to. He was a first round draft pick in 2017, and they just signed him to a 6-year deal with three more option years. He’s the First Baseman Of The Future, and the Future Is Now Motherfuckers! So, he goes into this category because he HAS to go here. The Mariners NEED him to be a cornerstone, otherwise all hope will continue being lost.

I’m really on the fence with J.P. Crawford. Gun to my head: I don’t think he’ll ever be great. But, he’s obviously not a Quad-A guy, and he’ll obviously be given more than just this year to prove himself as a starter. I think he’ll be fine. If we’re lucky, he’ll have a career like Carlos Guillen or something (though, hopefully his best years will be here and not in Detroit). If we’re unlucky, he’ll turn into Brad Miller and we’ll curse the day we ever became Mariners fans in the first place (damn you 1995!).

I am drinking all the Kyle Lewis Kool Aid you’ve got! I freaking LOVE this kid! He’s had such a hard road after being this team’s #1 draft pick in 2016, starting with tearing his ACL a few weeks later as a rookie. From there, after all the rehab, he struggled to find his game again, until finally putting it all together last season. When he got his cup of coffee with the Mariners in September, he made the absolute most of his 18 games, hitting 6 homers and 5 doubles. I hope he crushes it this year and never looks back, because he’s got real All Star potential if he can put it all together.

The Long Shadow of the Randy Johnson Trade

I moved this to my Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings heading HERE.

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 …

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.

The Last Great Mariners Rebuild

The Seattle Mariners played their first season in 1977.  From 1977 through 1994, the Mariners were varying degrees of terrible.  Sometimes Two times, “terrible” came with a winning record (1991 & 1993), but no post-season appearance.  Then, in 1995, the Mariners broke on through with an AL West title and a legend was made.  People still talk about those 1995 Mariners in a reverential tone and for good reason.  Baseball fans in the northwest starving for the sweet taste of success finally had something to hang their hats on.

From 1995 through 2003, the Mariners were varying degrees of successful.  Those nine seasons saw the Mariners make the playoffs four times, winning three division titles.  Seven of those nine seasons saw the Mariners with winning records.  Two insanely good A’s teams prevented two 93-win Mariners teams from going to the playoffs four straight years from 2000-2003.  These were the good times.  Everything abruptly fell apart in 2004 and the team was blown up.

From 2004 through present day, the Mariners have returned to their varying degrees of terrible.  In the nine full seasons from 2004-2012, the Mariners have had a winning record twice.  They’ve finished last in the AL West seven times.  It’s been one rebuild after another, with no end in sight.  Just a continuation of the cycle of losing, ad infinitum.

Of course, if the Mariners could do it once, SURELY the Mariners can do it again.  It took until their 19th year of existence before the Mariners made the playoffs; if it feels hopeless now, just imagine what it must have felt like for Mariners fans in the early 1990s.  They say something about learning from history or being doomed to repeat it, but what if in this case we take a look at something that went RIGHT for the Mariners in their history and seeing if we can repeat THAT?

As fans, we have to believe that a turnaround is right around the corner.  I know I’m on here quite a bit, bitching about how nothing is ever going to get any better (because why would we think that?  What is trending well enough for us to deserve the luxury of hope?), but if I truly felt that way, why would I continue to follow this team?  I’m not a baseball fan, per se; I’m a Mariners fan.  I don’t sit around watching random baseball games in my spare time; I watch Mariners games.  If the Mariners moved to Oklahoma City, I would stop watching baseball, the same as I have stopped watching professional basketball.  If the Mariners had never existed, I never would have started watching baseball in the first place (you get the idea).  So, since it’s been established that I’m a Mariners fan, it should also be established that yes, I do hope they’re able to turn things around sooner rather than later.  I’m not 100% cynical.  I’m just beaten down and broken, but all that can change if a few things fucking broke right for the Mariners for once!

The one thing Jackie Z has done right in his tenure as general manager is:  he’s re-stocked the farm system with an abundance of talented prospects.  Of course, none of that talent (save Kyle Seager and a couple bullpen arms) has panned out at the Major League level, but there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

There is no “right way” to rebuild.  It’s a combination of youth and veterans.  It’s a combination of draft picks, trades, and free agent signings.  It’s a combination of luck, strategy, and luck again.  In an ideal world, your Major League roster would be riddled with your own draft picks still playing on rookie deals.  Every trade you made would work out splendidly for you and would tank for your trade partner.  Every free agent signing would be a “buy-low” situation where they immediately turned their careers around.

Or, if you like concrete examples:  every draft pick would be Ken Griffey Jr., every trade would net you Jay Buhner in return, and every free agent would be Bret Boone circa 2000/2001.

So, in an attempt to try and forget the miseries of our present-day situation, I’d like to go back to a simpler time where a team comprised of a mix of youth and veterans shocked the world by winning their very first division title in the most dramatic of fashions.  How was THAT team built?  What can we learn from how that team did what it did?  And how did that team evolve into the greatest regular season team in baseball history?

***

1995 Seattle Mariners

Rebuilds don’t happen overnight.  A lot of these guys were brought into the fold well before everything magically came together in 1995.  I’m not going to get into every single player, but I’ll go over the highlights.

Dan Wilson (catcher) was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in 1990 in the first round.  That was the same year Lou Pinella signed on to manage those very same Reds.  That was also the same year the Reds won the World Series and wrote Lou’s ticket as an elite baseball manager for the next couple decades.  Sweet Lou hitched his wagon to the Seattle Mariners in 1993 with the task of turning around the worst franchise in baseball.  Dan Wilson got his first taste of the majors in a September cup of coffee in 1992.  Wilson got some more playing time in 1993, but was then traded along with Bobby Ayala to be reunited with Pinella before the 1994 season.  Wilson played considerably in ’94, earned the starting job in ’95, and never looked back.

Tino Martinez (first base) was drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1988 in the first round.  He received his cup of coffee in 1990 and didn’t play a whole lot in the Majors through 1991.  Martinez was mediocre (but played a lot more) from 1992-1994, then finally had his breakout season in 1995 (.293/.369/.551).

Joey Cora (second base) was drafted by the San Diego Padres in 1985 in the first round.  Cora didn’t start earning regular playing time until after he’d been traded to the White Sox in 1991.  His numbers weren’t particularly impressive, but he was improving as he played regularly through the 1994 season.  Then, in April of 1995, Cora signed as a free agent with the Mariners.  In spite of what we choose to remember about Little Joey Cora, I think many of us forget just how productive he was as a Mariner.  From 1995 through August of 1998, Cora had a slash line of .293/.355/.406.  He was traded at the August trade deadline in 1998, then abruptly retired to go into coaching after the end of the season.

Mike Blowers (third base) was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners in 1984 but did not sign.  He would go on to be drafted three more times before he finally signed with the Montreal Expos in 1986.  He would be traded to the Yankees in August of 1989, then traded to the Mariners in May of 1991.  Blowers originally broke into the Majors with the Yankees in 1989, but he wouldn’t become a starter in the Majors until 1993 with the Mariners.  He would go on to be traded by the Mariners after that historic 1995 season, but would later come back on one-year free agent deals in 1997 and again in 1999 before retiring after that 1999 season.

Ken Griffey Jr. (center field) was originally drafted by the Seattle Mariners with the #1 overall pick in the 1987 draft.  He would become a starter in the 1989 season and would not look back.  In February of 2000, the Mariners would trade him to the Reds.  They brought him back as a free agent in February of 2009 before he retired in June of 2010.

Jay Buhner (right field) was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in January of 1984.  In December of that very same year, Buhner was traded to the Yankees.  Buhner got his cup of coffee with the Yankees in September of 1987, played a bit more in 1988, then was traded at that year’s deadline to the Seattle Mariners for Ken Phelps.  Buhner became an everyday player in 1991 and was a core piece of the Mariners’ offense for the next decade.

Edgar Martinez (designated hitter) signed as an amateur free agent with the Seattle Mariners in December of 1982.  He didn’t break into the Majors until 1987 and didn’t become an everyday player until 1990.  He would go on to become the greatest designated hitter in baseball history.

Randy Johnson (starting pitcher) was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1985 in the second round.  The Big Unit got his cup of coffee in September of 1988, making four starts.  He was traded in May of 1989 to the Seattle Mariners for Mark Langston.  He became an immediate starter for the Mariners and progressively got better until he broke out in 1993, coming in second in the AL Cy Young race.  Johnson would go on to win that award in 1995, leading the Mariners to their best playoff finish in franchise history.  He would go on to be dealt to the Astros at the 1998 trade deadline and never return.

I’ll spare you Tim Belcher‘s long history for the most part:  he was drafted in 1984 and kicked around with four different teams before he signed with the Reds in May of 1995, where he was promptly traded to the Mariners two weeks later without ever throwing a pitch for the Reds that season.  Belcher made 28 starts for the Mariners that season, going 10-12.  He would not be retained by the Mariners beyond 1995.

Chris Bosio (starting pitcher) was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1982 in the second round.  He had a good career with the Brewers over 7 seasons, then signed with the Seattle Mariners as a free agent in December of 1992.  In 1993, Bosio pitched the second-ever Mariners no-hitter.  In 1995, Bosio started 31 games and went 10-8.  He hung around to start the 1996 season, struggled mightily, and retired at season’s end.

The Mariners traded for Andy Benes from the San Diego Padres at the July deadline in 1995.  He would go on to make 12 starts down the stretch, going 7-2.  He would sign a free agent deal with St. Louis before the 1996 season and would never be heard from again.

The bullpen was a piece of work, anchored by Bobby Ayala (came over in the Dan Wilson trade in 1993), who appeared in 63 games.  Norm Charlton was originally traded by the Reds to the Mariners prior to the 1993 season, but he would be injured, lose all of the 1994 season to injury, and eventually sign with the Phillies in 1995.  He was released by the Phillies in July of 1995 and signed on with the Mariners four days later.  Jeff Nelson was originally drafted by the Dodgers in 1984, but then was drafted by the Mariners from the Dodgers in something called a “minor league draft” in 1986.  He became a regular reliever in 1992 and was consistently productive thereafter.

That, more or less, is the 1995 Mariners.  Obviously, there were lots of bench players and fill-ins (Rich Amaral & Alex Diaz filling in admirably for an injured Junior), and a lot of players who were tried out as starters in the rotation, but the players I listed comprised the core.  Seven guys brought over in trade, three free agents, and four guys who were drafted by the Mariners (well, three guys and Edgar, who was an amateur free agent and played his entire career under the same organization).

1996 Seattle Mariners

With the base already in place, I shouldn’t have to keep re-hashing the core group that remains.  The first big misstep in what would become a long line of soul-crushing missteps by the organization came on December 7, 1995, when the Mariners traded Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson to the New York Yankees.  In return, they received a starting third baseman in Russ Davis, and a starting pitcher in Sterling Hitchcock.

Davis was the most error-prone third baseman I’ve ever seen.  He was supposed to make up for that with his bat, but in the four years he wore a Mariners uniform, he never surpassed 21 homers in a season, with a Mariners career slash line of .256/.309/.446.  Tino Martinez would go on to have an outstanding career with the Yankees, hitting 175 homers and 180 doubles over the next six seasons.  Jeff Nelson would go on to be a fabulous bullpen presence for the Yankees over the next five seasons, before returning as a free agent to the Mariners prior to the 2001 season.  Sterling Hitchcock, meanwhile, lasted one season with the Mariners (1996) where he sucked.  Then, he was traded to the Padres for Scott Sanders, who also sucked.  Sanders lasted one season with the Mariners (1997) before being traded for two guys who did nothing.  Suffice it to say, the Mariners lost the SHIT out of this trade.

All was not totally lost for this 1996 team, though.  The Mariners signed Paul Sorrento (first base) as a free agent before the season started.  Sorrento was an okay veteran who had played in 7 regular seasons with two different teams before coming to the Kingdome where he would mash the hell out of the ball for the 1996 and 1997 seasons.  We let him go after 1997 and he signed with Tampa Bay where he would finish out his career.

Alex Rodriguez (short stop) was drafted with the #1 overall pick by the Seattle Mariners in 1993.  He got his cup of coffee in 1994, and mostly rode the pine in 1995 before earning the everyday short stop job in 1996.  He would put up MVP-type numbers in this season, yet be denied his rightful honor thanks to the idiots who voted for the MVP award that season (they picked Juan Gonzalez of the Rangers who had a markedly inferior season).  A-Rod would be a Mariners favorite from 1996 through the 2000 season before taking the money and running to the Rangers in 2001.

Rich Amaral (left field) was signed as a free agent before the 1991 season before ever playing a game in the Majors.  Amaral earned a lot of playing time in 1995 after Griffey went down with injury that cost him a majority of the season.  As a reward for doing such a good job, Amaral earned the left field job in 1996.  He would go on to stick around (mostly as a bench player) through the 1998 season before signing as a free agent with the Orioles and ending his career in Baltimore.

So, the ’96 lineup had new additions Sorrento & Davis with holdovers in Amaral, A-Rod, Wilson, Cora, Griffey, Buhner, and Edgar.  Pretty fucking good … until you get to the pitching staff …

Hitchcock became the de facto pitching ace for this team after Randy Johnson went down in May with his back injury.  He would return in August as a reliever and never started a game for the Mariners the rest of the season.

Bob Wolcott was a Mariners draft pick from 1992 in the second round.  He made his first starts in the Majors in 1995 in August and earned himself a playoff roster spot that netted him the start in Game 1 of the ALCS (as the rotation had been spent just trying to get past the Yankees in five games of the ALDS).  From that ALCS victory, Wolcott earned himself a rotation spot in 1996.  He mostly underwhelmed.  He played one more season in Seattle (1997) and was lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks in the expansion draft of 1997.

Jamie Moyer was drafted back in 1984 by the Chicago Cubs.  He had played in 10 Major League seasons with five different teams (Cubs, Rangers, Cardinals, Orioles, Red Sox) before he was traded by the Red Sox to the Mariners at the 1996 deadline.  Moyer would go on to play 11 years with the Mariners and end up one of the best pitchers in team history.

Terry Mulholland, on the other hand, would NOT go down as one of the best pitchers in team history.  The 1996 Mariners were enjoying unprecedented offensive success, but injuries had throttled their pitching staff.  Mulholland, like Moyer, was a veteran of a million other teams before he was traded to the Mariners at the 1996 deadline.  He came in and did okay, but it would prove to be a fruitless endeavor as the Mariners – while above .500 – failed to make the playoffs.  Mulholland would never pitch for the Mariners beyond this season.

The primary bullpen addition (with Charlton and Ayala leading the way for the most part) was Michael Jackson.  He was another longtime vet who the Mariners brought in on a 1-year deal prior to the 1996 season.  He had pitched with the Mariners early in the 90s and was a quality arm in the bullpen who locked down the 8th inning and didn’t get nearly enough save opportunities.

1997 Seattle Mariners

The batting lineup was almost exactly the same in 1997.  Rich Amaral even enjoyed his usual 89 games of stellar fill-in duty.  The only major change in this year was the tantalizing tease that was Jose Cruz Jr.  He was drafted by the Mariners with the #3 overall pick in the 1995 draft and was brought up by the Mariners in 1997 to start in left field effective May 31st.  In his 49 games, Cruz had 12 homers and 12 doubles.  Along with Griffey and A-Rod, he was looking like another can’t-miss first round prospect who would go on to have a Hall of Fame type career.

Of course, this Mariners team couldn’t afford to live with their Pie in the Sky dreams of future glory; they had to strike NOW, while the iron was hot!  This was a good baseball team, with another massively impressive offense, and little in the way of pitching (especially bullpen pitching).

So, at the trade deadline, the Mariners made the two trades that will forever be a black mark on this organization.  On the same day, the Mariners sent Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek (two minor leaguers with incredible promise) to the Boston Red Sox for Heathcliff Slocumb.  Slocumb was immediately inserted into the closer’s role because Norm Charlton had officially hit the wall in his career.  The other trade was one Jose Cruz Jr., who was sent to the Toronto Blue Jays for Mike Timlin and Paul Spoljaric.  Both of those two were inserted into the regular bullpen rotation.  Timlin was okay, Spoljaric was a lefty and not that good.  This mishmash of a bullpen, with a surprising resurgence by Bobby Ayala, managed to get the job done enough to get the Mariners into the playoffs, but it was a hefty price to pay that ultimately never did pay off in a World Series Championship as intended.

Lost in the shuffle of the 1997 season was actually one of the better trades in Mariners history.  In October of 1996, the Mariners traded a bunch of scrubs to the Expos for Jeff Fassero.  He fit in quite nicely with our rotation stalwarts of Randy Johnson (back and better than ever from his injury-plagued 1996 season) and Jamie Moyer.  Fassero rounded out our Big Three for the 1997 & 1998 seasons before falling off the cliff in 1999 and being traded away to the Rangers.

The Mariners plugged in some draft picks (Lowe, pre-trade, and Ken Cloude) as well as some veterans (Dennis Martinez, signed as a free agent; and Omar Olivares, who was brought over when the team dealt Scott Sanders to the Tigers) into the back-end of their rotation, but no one really stuck.  For this season or long-term.

1998 Seattle Mariners

The primary addition to the starting lineup was David Segui (first base) who was signed as a free agent.  The team had let Paul Sorrento walk and needed some kind of production.  Segui was a solid, if unspectacular contributor who had a nice year and a half with the Mariners before being traded at the 1999 deadline.

The 1998 Mariners continued their revolving door at left field, with no one of import taking the bull by the horns.

The ’98 Mariners had what amounted to a stable starting rotation, shock of shocks.  After the Big Three, Ken Cloude was granted one of the final two spots.  He was drafted by the Mariners in the sixth round in 1993 and made his first Major League start in 1997.  He would start 30 games in 1998, but his ERA would be over 6 and he would go only 8-10.  Cloude was primarily a bullpen pitcher, with a few spot starts here and there in 1999, then his career would be over.

Grabbing the final rotation spot was veteran Bill Swift.  Swifty was drafted by the Mariners in the first round in 1984, but was traded away in 1991 and bounced around for a while before signing as a free agent in February of 1998.  He would go 11-9 with a 5.85 ERA in 1998 and then he would retire.

The 1998 Mariners were the first team of this era to end the season with a losing record.  I’ll be damned if I know how that’s possible with an offense this stacked, but let’s go ahead and start with Randy Johnson.  This was a contract year for him and he was pretty much blowing it.  He was 9-10 with a 4.33 ERA in his 23 starts before the trade deadline.  The Mariners as an organization had balked at the notion of re-signing him to a long-term extension, citing the 1996 season and his back injury as a reason to be cautious.  Tensions grew from there and by the trade deadline, the team knew it wasn’t going to be able to retain him beyond the season.  They felt they had to trade him to get some kind of value back in return.  So, he was dealt to the Astros (where he proceeded to dominate the shit out of the National League with a 10-1 record and a sub-2 ERA) for prospects.

One could also blame the 1998 misfortunes on the bullpen.  They managed only 31 saves as a unit, with Bobby Ayala returning to his absolute nadir (a 1-10 record with a 7.29 ERA and more blown saves – 9 – than regular saves – 8).  Ayala would be traded prior to the 1999 season and we would never have to see his punk-ass again.  Mike Timlin did an admirable job stepping up and doing what he could, but everyone else from Spoljaric to Slocumb to Bob Wells on down all stunk the joint up.  Our five primary bullpen guys went a combined 12-26; take from that what you will.  At least no more major trades were made that could blow up in our faces later.

1999 Seattle Mariners

A bit of a lineup shake-up here, with Joey Cora moving on and being replaced by David Bell (second base) who we received for Cora in a 1998 trade deadline deal with the Indians.  Bell would never wow you with his bat, but he was a solid infield glove man who would go on in subsequent seasons to lock down third base (and give us all a break from Russ Davis’ stone hands).

Of course, in 1999, Davis was still around.  As was Wilson, Segui, A-Rod, Griffey, Buhner, and Martinez.  The left field circus continued with Brian Hunter, who we received in trade from the Tigers for a couple of nobodies.  Hunter stunk at the plate, but stole 44 bases, so whatever.

The real shakedown happened, of course, with the pitching staff.  Freddy Garcia and John Halama, who we received in the Randy Johnson Trade, made their debuts with the organization in 1999.  Garcia, in fact, made his Major League debut with the Mariners.  Garcia was still a little raw as a rookie, but he was rock solid and would quickly go on to be this team’s ace.  Halama was another soft-tossing lefty in the Jamie Moyer mold.  He was okay in 1999 and would go on to be no better than okay going forward.

As I mentioned before, Jeff Fassero fell apart this season and was dealt away.  Gil Meche rounded out the rotation.  He was drafted in the first round in 1996 and immediately made an impression upon his first start that July.  Yes, it was a loss, and yes, his numbers weren’t very good.  But, he showed a live fastball, a wicked curve, and a whole lotta promise.  People were much higher on Meche than they were on Garcia, but either way, this looked like the beginning of a long run of quality starting baseball from our rotation.

The bullpen was re-tooled prior to the 1999 season, with Jose Mesa being signed on as the closer.  He would play two seasons in Seattle and would not be missed when he left.  Jose Paniagua was signed off of waivers in 1998, where he played in 18 games for the Mariners.  He got the bulk of the 8th inning work in 1999 and was a solid, live-arm guy who would never mature into a closer.

These Mariners also suffered through a sub-.500 season, with growing pains in the rotation (Meche, Halama, and Garcia all in their first full seasons) and Fassero completely losing it.  There just wasn’t enough pitching to hold together this team with all its hitting prowess.

2000 Seattle Mariners

While the first great Mariners rebuild came to fruition in the 1995 season, the last great Mariners rebuild reached its apex in 2000 and 2001.

The core players from that 1995 team that remained on the 2000 Mariners were:  Dan Wilson (catcher), Jay Buhner (right field), and Edgar Martinez (designated hitter).  Yes, A-Rod was on that ’95 team, but he was not a regular.  There’s been quite a bit of turnover leading us up to what would be the zenith for this franchise in 2000 and 2001.

John Olerud was a longtime veteran who signed prior to the 2000 season to replace David Segui (who replaced Paul Sorrento, who replaced Tino Martinez).  Olerud finished his career as a starter in a Mariners uniform, seeing his release in the middle of the 2004 crater of a season.  Olerud would finish his career as a part-time player with the Yankees and Red Sox.

Mark McLemore was another longtime veteran who signed prior to the 2000 season to be a utility player.  He found a home as a second baseman and caught fire as a super utility player in 2001, bouncing around from left field to third base to wherever else they needed him to play to give others days off.  McLemore stuck around through the 2003 season before leaving in free agency to play one final year in Oakland before retiring.

Mike Cameron (center field) was originally drafted by the Chicago White Sox in the 1991 draft.  He played in all or parts of four seasons with the White Sox before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds in November of 1998 for Paul Konerko.  He started for one season with the Reds before Ken Griffey Jr. demanded to be traded to Cincinnati and only Cincinnati after the 1999 season.  In return, the Mariners received Cameron (because they no longer needed a center fielder, thanks to Griffey being there), Brett Tomko, and two other guys.  Or, I guess you could say the Mariners received Cameron and three other guys, but that’s neither here nor there.

Mariners fans were a little salty about the whole Griffey thing, especially coming on the heels of the whole Randy Johnson thing (which, if you believe certain reports, is what caused Griffey to sour on the organization in the first place, since the Mariners were not taking care of the veterans who brought them all this success).  Mike Cameron helped fans get over Griffey by being a wizard in the field and not a total disaster at the plate.  He was actually quite productive in his four years with the Mariners.  Cameron left for greener pastures after the 2003 season, signing as a free agent with the Mets, but he will always be accepted as a Mariner for Life thanks to his efforts in Seattle.

The starting rotation featued a combination of six guys.  Aaron Sele signed as a free agent before the season and won 17 games.  Paul Abbott originally signed as a free agent with the Mariners before the 1997 season.  He was primarily a reliever with some spot-start duties.  In 2000, he was forced into action and produced admirably.  John Halama and Freddy Garcia (again, from the Randy Johnson trade) got their share of starts.  Jamie Moyer, the longest-tenured holdover from that trade in 1996, had an injury-plagued 2000 season.  And Gil Meche started off the season in the rotation before leaving with a dead arm in early July.  He would not pitch again in the Majors until the 2003 season.

Kaz Sasaki signed as a free agent from Japan prior to the season, immediately started closing, and won the Rookie of the Year award.  He was the first of back-to-back Japanese Rookies of the Year the Mariners would sign.  Sasaki played in four seasons, went to 2 All Star Games, saved 129 games (the franchise leader), and totally fell apart in 2003.  He would retire after that season and never played in the Majors again.

Jose Mesa and Jose Paniagua stuck on as middle relievers, but the biggest addition (arguably) was Arthur Rhodes, who signed as a free agent before the season.  In his initial tenure with the Mariners, across four seasons, he appeared in 276 games (never fewer than 66 appearances in a season) and had a 3.07 ERA.  He was the left-handed reliever we’d been looking for since 1995 and aside from a couple of nasty innings in the 2000 and 2001 American League Championship Series’ against the Yankees, he was arguably the best reliever this team has ever seen.

With that kind of turnover, the Mariners found the mysterious answer to the equation of how to make the playoffs.  The core had dwindled from what it was in 1995, but with pieces like Olerud, Cameron, Garcia, Rhodes, Moyer, and Sasaki, they had managed to climb that mountain once again.

2001 Seattle Mariners

In 2001, it would only get better.  116 wins, unheard of in the modern era.  There wasn’t a tremendous amount of turnover, but there were two very big names involved that would change the organization forever.

First, there was A-Rod accepting a 10-year, $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers.  He would go on to use steroids and become the most hated former Mariner the world has ever known.  In his place, the team started Carlos Guillen at short stop, who was another gem in what was a surprisingly decent trade for Randy Johnson.  How amazing is it that every piece we got back for Randy in 1998 ended up starting for the Mariners by 2001?  I would argue it’s pretty unheard of.

The other big move was signing Ichiro from Japan and making him our everyday right fielder.  By this point in his career, Jay Buhner was simply a part-time player and he graciously gave way to the incoming Ichiro, who set the world on fire in his rookie season, winning the ROY as well as the MVP award.

A little more under the radar was the Bret Boone signing.  We got him for pennies on the dollar and made him our second baseman.  In return, we got a near-MVP season out of him, and a stud second baseman through 2003 before starting his inevitable decline in 2004 and being traded away in the middle of the 2005 season.

Dan Wilson and Edgar Martinez were the only two holdovers from that 1995 team now, with David Bell continuing to man third base, and Mark McLemore platooning with Bell at third and with Al Martin in left field.  Al Martin was supposed to be our big deadline deal in July of 2000 to help bolster our outfield hitting.  He did no such thing and was a total bust.

Freddy Garcia finally made that next step as the ace of the staff in 2001.  Aaron Sele was still oddly productive (in the win/loss department, if not in the actual pitching department) as was Paul Abbott.  Jamie Moyer won 20 games to lead the team.  Our rotation was rounded out with Halama and Joel Pineiro, who was a 12th round draft pick by the Mariners in 1997.  Pineiro would earn full time starting duty in 2002, but would never pan out as we’d hoped.

The bullpen was almost exactly the same as in 2000, except we replaced the dud that was Jose Mesa with the newly signed Jeff Nelson, who was still awesome.  Norm Charlton even made a comeback and was somehow good again; I’m telling you, these 2001 Mariners could do no wrong!  Until the playoffs, that is.

2002 Seattle Mariners

The 2002 Mariners traded David Bell prior to the season because they had previously traded for the hot-hitting Jeff Cirillo from the Colorado Rockies for Jose Paniagua and others.  The hot-hitting Jeff Cirillo never showed up, though.  Instead, his nothing-hitting twin brother showed up and sucked my will to live.  Cirillo played two mediocre seasons before being dumped on the Padres prior to the 2004 season for batting donuts.

Other than the Cirillo hubbub, the starting lineup was pretty much intact, with McLemore earning the starting left field job.

The rotation took some hits, with Halama and Abbott stinking up the joint, when they managed to stay healthy.  Moyer, Garcia, and Pineiro locked down the top three spots, with James Baldwin – a veteran free agent signing – totally crapping the bed.  The rest of the starts were spread out over a bunch of different pitchers, no one of note worth mentioning.

Sasaki, Rhodes, and Nelson locked down the best three-man late innings bullpen unit in baseball, with Shigetoshi Hasegawa signing in free agency to make a good bullpen even better (picking up the slack from losing Paniagua).

As I said before, this team would win 93 games, but it actually managed to finish THIRD in the AL West, with Oakland winning 103 games and Anaheim winning 99 and taking the Wild Card.  That’s just a crusher any way you slice it; 93 games in most years would be enough to get you there!  Not in 2002.

2003 Seattle Mariners

After the 2002 season, Lou Pinella left for another opportunity, this time in Tampa, where he made his offseason home.  The Mariners signed on Bob Melvin and tried to keep the train a-rollin’ with most of the same crew attached.

Same infield:  Wilson, Olerud, Boone, Guillen, Cirillo.  Cammy and Ichiro were still here, along with Edgar Martinez.  New addition:  Randy Winn (left field) who was traded to us by Tampa.  Winn played two and a half years with the Mariners, and they were quality seasons for him, but ultimately he’s a forgotten man for a couple reasons.  He came on too late, without a playoff appearance to his name.  Also, let’s face it, we were spoiled as Mariners fans.  We’d been blessed with this cavalcade of elite power hitters and Winn was anything but.  He was a nice piece, but ultimately not enough to push us over the edge into the post-season.

2003 came with it the oddity of having the same five pitchers start all the games that season.  Again, we had Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, and Joel Pineiro.  Gil Meche returned from the wilderness of Injuryland to grab one of the final spots, with Ryan Franklin bringing up the rear.  Franklin was drafted by the Mariners in 1992, but didn’t sign until May of 1993.  He had his cup of coffee in 1999, then didn’t return to the Majors until 2001 out of the bullpen.  He had a few starts in 2002 and must have shown enough in Spring Training to win a job in 2003, because there he was.  Franklin was never what I would call “good” …

For as steady as our starting rotation was, the bullpen was a bit of a mess.  Sasaki became way too hittable and lost his closer’s job.  Rhodes was losing a bit on his fastball and his ERA suffered for it.  Nelson was still rock solid, and Hasegawa was dy-no-mite as the eventual closer replacement.  Julio Mateo was a bullpen regular with the Mariners after signing as an amateur free agent back in 1996 as a 19 year old, as was Rafael Soriano (also signed in 1996 as an amateur, though as a 16 year old).

In 2003, the A’s again won the AL West, though they only bested the Mariners by 3 games, winning 96.  The Mariners were 2 measly games back of Boston for the Wild Card, so once again they were all dressed up with nowhere to go.

The 2004 Mariners, I think seeing the writing on the wall, tried to reload by signing Raul Ibanez, Scott Spiezio, and Rich Aurilia, but it wouldn’t be enough.  Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone, and John Olerud all fell apart.  Dan Wilson was getting up there.  And the young pitching core of Garcia, Meche, Pineiro, and Franklin just weren’t panning out the way we’d all hoped.  The 2004 Mariners bottomed out with 63 wins and it was time to start all over again.

The only piece that would stick long term would be Ichiro, as even Jamie Moyer was traded in the middle of 2006 so he could go to a winner before he retired.  It’s been non-stop rebuilding ever since, and nothing thus far has worked for more than a season before falling apart again.  The 2013 Mariners are well on their way to a fourth place finish with the current regime led by Jackie Z on very thin ice.

What will the next great Mariners rebuild look like?  I haven’t a clue, but I doubt it looks very much like the team we’re watching right now.  Here’s to hoping the mojo returns soon, for the sake of my sanity and yours.

2001 Seattle Mariners: The Best Team To Never Reach A World Series

You can find this post, and others like it, in the menu bar at the top, under “Seattle Playoff Futility”.

Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.  – Vince Lombardi

Remember what Vince Lombardi said:  If you lose, you’re out of the family! – Homer Simpson

What the hell’s going on out here?! – Vince Lombardi

In February, 2012, I wrote the first three posts in the series entitled:  Seattle Playoff Futility.  All three were about the Seattle Mariners, as sort of a prelude to the 2012 season.  I had intended on finishing the brief 4-season volume on the Mariners that very same month, but for whatever reason I put it off.  It has continued to lurk in my To Do list of blog posts to write ever since.  The longer I waited, the more daunting it seemed.

I have to somewhat relive that 2001 season again!  I don’t think anybody wants that!

Nevertheless, it must be done.  What better time to do it than now?  So, without further ado:  the very last time the Seattle Mariners reached the playoffs.

Safeco Field opened in July of 1999.  Going into 2001, the Mariners had endured a season and a half in one of the toughest-to-hit-in parks in all of Major League Baseball.  In their first full season, 2000, the Mariners scored the 7th most runs in all of baseball with 907.  To put that in perspective, a decade later in 2010, the Mariners were dead last, scoring 513 runs.

Well, let’s go one better:  in 2001, the Mariners led ALL of Major League Baseball with 927 runs scored.  To put THAT in perspective, since 1900, the team that scored the most runs in a single season was the 1931 New York Yankees with 1,067.  Legitimately, on paper, we’re talking about one of the greatest baseball teams of all time when we’re talking about the 2001 Seattle Mariners.

I mean, the record speaks for itself:  116-46.  It’s just an astounding figure!  Here’s how the record breaks down by month:

  • April:  20-5
  • May:  20-7
  • June:  18-9
  • July:  18-9
  • August:  20-9
  • Sept/Oct:  20-7

The most losses in any given month was 9!  How insane is that when you’re talking about a team that plays every fucking day?

The Mariners played 52 series of baseball in 2001.  Here’s how it broke down:

  • Series Wins:  42 (15 of which were sweeps)
  • Series Ties:  4
  • Series Losses:  6 (with 1 sweep)

So, there’s just a brief overview.  This team was lethally good.  But why?  Well, let’s take a look at the players involved.

It’s been mentioned before, this was the fourth and final Mariners team to make the playoffs.  The first was back in 1995; it was led by the likes of Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner.  In 1997, you still had those guys, plus a player in Alex Rodriguez who was already putting up MVP-type numbers in only his second full season as a starter.  Slowly but surely, that core was chipped away.  After the 1997 season, Jay Buhner stopped being a full-time player.  Whether it was injury or a down-trending performance at the plate, he saw his number of games decline through the rest of his career, ending in a VERY-diminished bench role in 2001, appearing in only 19 games.  The front office was worried about Randy’s back, so they traded him in 1998 instead of giving him a much-deserved contract extension (he would go on to win four Cy Young Awards and a World Series in 2001, but more on that later).  After the 1999 season, seeing how the Mariners treated their superstars, Ken Griffey Jr. demanded a trade to the Cincinnati Reds (he would go on to play in 9 more injury-plagued seasons with the Reds & White Sox, hitting 213 homers and driving in 620 runs, though only 4 of those seasons saw him have over 500 plate appearances).  After the 2000 season, A-Rod signed the (then-) biggest contract in MLB history, 10 years, $252 million (he would go on to win 3 MVP awards and a World Series in 2009, though he will also go down as largely a disappointment and a steroids-cheat).

By 2001, all that was left was Edgar Martinez.  Yet, somehow the Mariners managed to put enough horses around him to create one of the best teams ever.

Mike Cameron came over in the trade for Ken Griffey Jr. (along with three other stiffs, including Head of the Stiff Brigade Brett Tomko) and was an instant sensation.  While he didn’t exactly approach Griffey’s production at the plate, and he had a super-human amount of strikeouts, he also was a freakish athlete in center field, endearing himself with the types of reckless, against-the-wall catches that made Griffey so special.

Of course, just because he wasn’t a Griffey-level stud at the plate doesn’t mean he was a slouch.  He averaged nearly 22 home runs a season in his four years with the Mariners, along with nearly 29 doubles, 27 stolen bases, and 89 runs scored.  So, you know, he wasn’t any kind of 40/40 man or anything, but for a guy in center, that’s more than solid production.

Another big “get” was Bret Boone.  He began his career in Seattle back in the early 90s, then knocked around with the Reds, Braves, and Padres before re-signing with Seattle in 2001.  A one-year deal for a little over $3 million, essentially we were taking a flyer on a guy on the wrong side of 30 to come in and play second base.  This obviously didn’t please the previous second baseman, Mark McLemore, but in the end it worked out for the best.

Which is a fucking all-time understatement.  For our $3 million investment, we got a guy in Bret Boone who hit .331, 37 homers, 37 doubles, slugged .578, scored 118 runs and hit in 141 RBI.  He finished 3rd in the MVP voting (more on that later).  Mind you, this was a guy whose previous highs over a full season were .267 (in 1995), 24 homers (in 1998), .491 slugging percentage (in 1994), 102 runs (in 1999) and 95 RBI (in 1998).  At no point would you ever point to this guy and say, “Yeah, he’s capable of what he did in 2001.”

Of course, knowing what we know about the era he played in, it’s hard not to wonder, but I’m going to save that argument for another time.  In the end, steroids or no steroids, it’s not like they helped us to a World Series or anything.

Boone, starting in 2001, had a 4-year run for the ages before he started to break down.  He really earned that contract extension going into 2002, and he actually lived up to it.  He would average, per season, from 2001-2004:  30 homers, 112 RBI, 34 doubles, 98 runs, .289 batting average, and a .501 slugging percentage.  In 2005, he was done, and shipped off mid-season, but that was a small price to pay for the best second baseman in the game over that stretch.

John Olerud was signed prior to the 2000 season to anchor first base.  He had long been a standout defensively, with a steady bat that always hit for a high average and moderate power.  From 2000 through 2002, nothing changed.  He averaged nearly 20 homers and 40 doubles per season through those three years, with a batting average close to .300 and an on-base percentage close to .400.  He was nobody’s middle-of-the-order hitter, but then again, on this team, you didn’t need him to be.  He would simply get on base any way he could and wait for others to hit him in.  For one of the slowest runners in baseball, he still scored on average 87 runs per year.  In 2003, he started his quick decline into obscurity, but in that sweet spot, there weren’t many guys I’d rather have.

Of course, I’m saving the best for last.  Ichiro Suzuki was signed by the Seattle Mariners on November 18, 2000.  The Mariners paid a little over $13 million to the Orix Blue Wave, then signed Ichiro himself to a 3-year, $14 million deal.  All told, it was a $27 million investment for three years of the best hitter in Japanese baseball history.  At the time, people wondered if the Mariners paid too much.  Knowing what we know now, I’d say that was the steal of the century.

We all know what Ichiro’s numbers are, so I won’t regurgitate them once again.  But, let’s just think about this:  In 2001 we had a guy who was 3rd in MVP voting and we had the actual MVP himself (as well as the Rookie of the Year) in Ichiro Suzuki!  For anyone who ever wondered how we would manage without the likes of Griffey, A-Rod, and Buhner, look no further.  Ichiro, Boone, Olerud, and Cameron joined a still-in-his-prime Edgar Martinez as the backbone of this record-setting offense.  They were supplemented by quality role players like Dan Wilson (still a defensive wizard and not a total black hole behind the plate), Carlos Guillen at short stop (part of the underrated Randy Johnson trade who would go on to be a much more consistent player with Detroit after the Mariners traded gave him away in 2004), David Bell at third (a player I couldn’t stand at the time, but who I have since grown to appreciate for his solid defense, especially after the adventure that was Russ Davis), and Mark McLemore being an every-man who found his career rejuvenated by playing multiple positions, before eventually supplanting Al Martin in left field down the stretch.

Sometimes, things just come together and work out beyond your wildest dreams.  And we haven’t even touched on the pitching side of things!

***

The 2001 Seattle Mariners averaged 5.72 runs per game.  Think about that.  On average, the Mariners could give up 4-5 runs every game and still win!  Suffice it to say, there were some pretty inflated win/loss records out of this starting rotation.

The Big Three consisted of Freddy Garcia, Aaron Sele, and Jamie Moyer.  The Chief came over in the Randy Johnson trade and pitched fairly well in his first two seasons in the Majors.  He was rounding into an Ace quite nicely.  In 2000, he took a big step forward, especially in the playoffs, and essentially earned that #1 pitcher role in 2001.  He didn’t disappoint.  A 3.05 ERA over 34 games (with a career-high 238.2 innings pitched), he struck out 163 batters and netted an 18-6 record.

Sele signed as a free agent before the 2000 season after a solid, if unspectacular 2-year stint in Texas.  He had a fastball around 89-90 miles per hour, straight as an arrow, with a solid curve ball and not much else in his arsenal.  He would throw strikes (only 51 walks vs. 114 strikeouts in 2001), eat up innings (215 over 34 appearances), and he would keep an ERA somewhere around 4 (actually 3.60 in 2001).  Not necessarily the guy you want as your #2 starter, but as a 3 or a 4, you’d take him.  And with this offense behind him, Sele posted a 15-5 record and didn’t really hurt us during the regular season.

Moyer was the most tenured pitcher of the bunch, having arrived at the trade deadline in 1996 from the Boston Red Sox.  Moyer played for the Mariners for about a million years and is generally one of the more beloved pitchers in M’s history.  As just about everyone was having a career year (or a career stretch of years), Moyer was no different.  He posted a 3.43 ERA over 33 starts and 209.2 innings, generating a 20-6 record, doing all kinds of Jamie Moyer things with his slow fastball and even slower change up.

So, Big 3.  53-17 record.  But wait!  There’s more!

The 2001 Mariners had Brett Tomko (Griffey Trade) and John Halama (Randy Trade) as their #4 and #5 starters to kick off the season.  Tomko lasted about three starts in the first month before he was stowed away in the bullpen (where he would remain through May before being sent down to Tacoma) in favor of Paul Abbott.  Abbott made his first start on April 28th and didn’t look back.  He finished the season with a 4.25 ERA over 28 appearances, yet he enjoyed (I believe) the most run-support in all of baseball, so his record ended up being an obscene 17-4.

Halama managed to stick in the rotation through the middle of July, but after the All Star Break, Lou opted to go with a different young pitcher in Joel Pineiro.  Pineiro made 11 starts from late July through late September before going back to the bullpen for the playoff run.  Halama and Pineiro combined for a 16-9 record, going to show that even the bottom of the barrel still managed to win more than they lost.

The bullpen was anchored by 2000 Rookie of the Year Kazuhiro Sasaki.  I think we all remember Sasaki as a decent closer, with a nasty forkball, who always (or almost always) seemed to choke in the biggest of games.  Which isn’t really fair, since his three-year run from 2000 through 2002 was one of the best in all of baseball.  In 2001, Kaz saved 45 games, but he blew 7.  In other words, he was no Mariano Rivera, but he was still pretty damn good.

The best relievers, actually, were behind him, in the 7th and 8th innings.  Jeff Nelson and Arthur Rhodes were the epitome of stellar in 2001.  Rhodes posted a 1.72 ERA in 71 appearances, with only 4 blown leads all year.  Nelson posted a 2.76 ERA in 69 appearances, with only 1 blown lead all year.  With these three guys, all the starters REALLY had to do was keep a lead through 6 innings and most of the time that would equal a Mariners victory.

Rounding out the bullpen were guys like Jose Paniagua, who was okay in 60 appearances (after all, you can’t ALWAYS use your three best guys), Norm Charlton, who managed to bounce back with a pretty good season in 44 games of spot relief, and Ryan Franklin, who manned the long relief role for most of the year with adequate results.

I don’t know if this team was built with the intention of winning 116 games, but as things shook out, this team was most certainly built to CRUSH the regular season.

***

There was some amount of good luck on this team, but I wouldn’t by any stretch say they were defined by their luck.  This was a solidly-built roster from top to bottom, with a good mix of old and young.  Everyone fit in their roles and played the hell out of them.

The 2001 Mariners were 26-12 in 1-run games.  Obviously, that’s not a sustainable figure, but it goes a long way in explaining how the Mariners won so many games.  They absolutely beat up on the Angels and Rangers, posting a combined record of 30-9.  As stated above, there was never really a lull with this team.  Their longest losing streak was 4 games.  Their longest winning streak was 15.  Maybe not so obvious was the fact that this team indeed went wire-to-wire.  They had a 0.5 game lead after the first game (over the Angels, who had yet to play a game), then they were tied for first over the subsequent two days (with a 1-1 and a 2-1 record), then they absolutely ran away with this thing.

At the end of April, the Mariners had a 9-game lead in the AL West.  At the end of May, that lead was up to 14 games.  At the end of June, it was a 20-game lead (with a season-high lead of 21-games a few days later).  At the end of July, the lead was still 19 games.  At the end of August, the lead was 17 games as the A’s started their annual late-season push towards glory.

When 9/11 happened, the Mariners were 104-40.  Now, I’m not going to place ALL of the blame for the Mariners not making it to the World Series on 9/11, but let’s just say it was a poorly-timed event for everyone involved (and no, that’s probably certainly NOT the most horrible thing I’ve ever said or written in my life).  Up to that point, the Mariners were winning at a .722 clip.  The Mariners ended their season on a 12-6 run (after an 8-day layoff of sports).  Was the layoff to blame?  Did it give other teams a chance to rest while somehow also stifling our momentum?  I mean, one would think that if rest is good for the Yankees, then odds are it was also good for the Mariners; but, was it more helpful to them in the long run?  We’ll never know, but it’s an argument.

Another argument is the record itself.  116 wins, the most ever in a single season.  That was the prize the Mariners had their eyes on.  Did the pressure to get to 116 catch up to them?  It finally happened, after game 161.  The Seattle Mariners were tied with the 1906 Chicago Cubs, with one game to go to potentially hold the record outright.  In the end, that 162nd game of the season was ultimately a microcosm of the playoffs to come:  a sub-par starting effort, a somewhat pathetic effort from the bats, and a usually stout bullpen arm blowing it in the late innings.  This game had it all, and should’ve given us great pause about this team.

Nevertheless, the team had the record, and with it a new kind of pressure.  If you’re a team that has the most wins in MLB history and you DON’T go to the World Series and win it all, then can you truly be considered a great team?  Or are you just a footnote?

You have to believe that notion was weighing on the minds of everyone on this team.  And that pressure HAS to be what ultimately led to this team’s undoing.

***

The 116-win Mariners were to host the 91-71 Cleveland Indians, while the 95-65 New York Yankees were forced to tangle with the 102-60 Oakland A’s.  Those same A’s who finished the season a mind-boggling 29-4 to lock down the Wild Card.  A rematch of the 2000 ALDS where the A’s took the Yankees to 5-games before finally blowing it.  The Mariners, meanwhile, were embroiled in a rematch of the 1995 ALCS.  Only, this was a very different Indians team.

The 2001 Mariners played the Indians 7 times in the regular season.  Four games in Cleveland in early August, three games in Seattle in late August.  The Mariners were 5-2 in those seven games.  But, if you’re any kind of Mariners fan at all, there is one game between the Indians and the Mariners you will never forget.

Game 111.

Sunday, August 5th, 2001.  The third game of a four-game series, the Mariners had won the first two games with relative ease.  And it looked no different for much of the third.

The game started off innocently enough:  through one inning, no score.  Then, in the top of the 2nd, the Mariners busted out to a 4-0 lead thanks to a few doubles and a well-timed 2-RBI single by Ichiro.  Through two, starter Aaron Sele was cruising:  two hits and a walk, but no runs scored.

Then, things got downright NASTY in the third:  three straight singles to lead off the inning knocked the starter out of the game.  Seven of the next eight batters reached base either by hit, walk, hit-by-pitch, or error (and that lone out turned into an RBI sac fly).  Sele gave up another lone single in the bottom half and after three innings, the score was Mariners 12, Indians 0.

In the bottom of the fourth, Jim Thome hit a two-run home run, but in the top of the fifth, the M’s got two more on a flurry of hits to take a 14-2 lead.  Sele held that lead through the bottom half and at that point the Mariners had a 100% win expectancy.  The score stayed the same until the bottom of the seventh, when shit started hitting the fan.

A solo home run by a young Russell Branyan.  Two quick outs, then a single followed by two walks knocked Sele out of the game.  John Halama came in and immediately gave up a 2-run single before getting out of the jam.  14-5, Mariners.

Bottom of the eighth, leadoff homer by Thome.  14-6, Mariners.  A hit-by-pitch and another homer.  14-8, Mariners.  A groundout and two singles knocked Halama from the game.  Enter:  Norm Charlton.  An RBI double made it 14-9, Mariners.  Charlton ended the damage, then came back for the ninth.

A single, two outs, and a double kicked off the start of the ninth before Charlton was replaced by Jeff Nelson.  Mind you:  14-9, Mariners, one out away from victory, runners on 2nd and 3rd.  Nelson promptly gave up a walk and a 2-RBI single.  14-11, Mariners.  Enter Kaz Sasaki for now what has become a save situation.  A Kenny Lofton single loaded the bases, bringing up Little-O, who cleared the bases with a triple.  Game tied.  An out later and we’re in extras.

At this point, the Mariners haven’t scored a run since the 5th inning.  Ichiro, Edgar, and Olerud had all been replaced, because who would’ve thought that a 12-run lead could be blown so spectacularly?  Of course, the Indians replaced four of their starters, including Juan Gonzalez and Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar.

Anyway, the 10th inning came and went without a run scored.  Jose Paniagua came in, got a pop-out, then gave up three consecutive singles to lose us the game in the bottom of the 11th.  15-14, Indians.  One of THE worst games I’ve ever seen in my life.  Just an absolute back-breaker.

So, when we saw that the Indians were going to be our ALDS matchup, you can understand why everyone kept talking about Game 111.  Even though the Mariners did what they did in 2001, winning 116 games, dominating in every facet of the game, there were chinks in the armor that could easily be exposed.  Like, say, in a 5- or 7-game series.

***

Game 1 happened on October 9th.  Ace vs. Ace, Bartolo Colon vs. Freddy Garcia.  Colon was in his 5th season and actually just had a so-so year.  Very up and down.  He was only 14-12 with a 4.09 ERA, but he was clearly the best pitcher they had.  On any given day, he could absolutely shut down an opposing offense.  And, it just so happened October 9th was one of those days.

8 innings, 6 hits, 2 walks, 10 strikeouts, 0 runs.  A Cleveland 5-0 victory to steal game one in Seattle.  Ominous start, to be sure.

However, the Mariners came right back two days later to dominate in a 5-1 affair, with Jamie Moyer out-duelling Chuck Finley.  Moyer went six, giving up 1, and the bullpen went 1-2-3 with Nelson, Rhodes, Sasaki.  The exact blueprint for most 2001 Mariners victories.  The offense only generated 6 hits, but made them all count, with Cammy and Edgar each knocking in 2 RBI apiece.

Game 3 took place on the 13th in Cleveland, with a rookie C.C. Sabathia taking the hill against Seattle’s number three Aaron Sele.  Sabathia won 17 games as a rookie and began his reign of kicking Seattle’s everloving ass every time he took the mound.

Only, this game wasn’t about Sabathia.  He was just okay, going 6 innings, giving up 2 runs, walking 5 and striking out 5.  No, this was about it being the Beginning of the End for Aaron Sele.  He had been pretty steady throughout the year, but what had been a sub-3 ERA going into June was approaching 4 by the end of the year.  In this game, he was a God-damned trainwreck.  He lasted only 2 innings before Lou yanked him out of there in favor of Paul Abbott.  Of course, Abbott was unbelievably worse!  He ended up giving up 8 runs over the next 3 innings!  The cherry on top was Jose Paniagua in the 8th inning.  In one inning of work, he managed to give up FIVE runs!  A 17-2 drubbing like nothing I’ve ever seen.

All of a sudden, the 116-game winners were one game away from elimination, with another game to go in Cleveland:  a rematch of Game 1, where Bartolo Colon torched us.

Things were pretty grim, but fortunately Colon wasn’t the same world-beater.  The Mariners knocked around 11 hits and brought the series back to Seattle.  Edgar was the big hero here with a double and a homer.

Game 5 was a carbon copy of game two, right on down to the brilliance of Moyer and the usage of the Big 3 in the bullpen:  Nelson, Rhodes, Sasaki.  The Mariners would go on to once again face the Yankees in the ALCS; a rematch of 2000 where the Yankees won in six games.

Like in 2000, the A’s once again took the Yankees to a deciding 5th game.  Unlike 2000, where the Yankees and A’s split the first two games in Oakland, in 2001 the A’s swept the first two games IN NEW YORK.  Are you kidding me???

I shit you not.  But, that’s when the Yankees’ pitching decided to flat out dominate.  Mike Mussina spun a 1-0 shutout in game three (going 7, with Rivera getting the 2-inning save).  El Duque, Orlando Hernandez proved what a big-game pitcher he could be by dominating in game four.  And Clemens led off the fifth game where the bullpen really sealed the deal.

***

Game 1 of the ALCS kicked off in Safeco on October 17th.  Andy Pettitte vs. Aaron Sele.  Hold on a second while I pull the gun out of my mouth …

This game was a 4-2 snoozer where the Yankees flat out dominated us.  Pettitte went 8, giving up 1 run off of 3 hits.  Meanwhile, Sele wasn’t terrible.  He only gave up 3 runs in 6 innings, but we just had no chance.  Our offense went AWOL.

Game 2 was also in Seattle, and WOULD YOU LOOK AT THAT!  Mike Mussina, dealing once again.  Freddy Garcia gave up 3 runs in the second inning; Mussina gave up 2 runs in the fourth inning (thank you Stan Javier 2-run jack), and that was it for the scoring.  The series went back to New York with the Mariners down 2-0.  10 hits in the first two games for Seattle.  Four runs scored.  Hold on a second while I finish tying this noose …

Game 3 showcased Jamie Moyer vs. El Duque.  GREAT!  Only the guy who murdered us in the ALCS in 2000, what joy!

Except, hold on a second!  The Mariners promptly gave up 2 runs in the bottom of the first, and held that 2-0 score through four, but THEN … POW!  A whole SHITLOAD of runs!  2 in the fifth, 7 in the sixth, 2 in the seventh, 1 in the eighth, 2 in the ninth.  A 14-3 DISMANTLING of the Bronx Bombers!  Where was THIS the first two games?  Ho HO, the offense is BACK, BABY!

Yeah, yeah no.  Mees-sir Superman no here.

Remember Game 4 in 2000, when it was Paul Abbott vs. Roger Clemens in Safeco Field, where Clemens threw probably the greatest post-season game in the history of ever?  Well, guess who the starting pitchers were in Game 4 of 2001.  Would Seattle be able to turn the tables?

Hold on a second while I finish lighting this bundle of dynamite strapped to my chest …

To be fair, Abbott and Clemens each went 5 innings, each giving up 0 runs.  So, there’s that.  In fact, in the top of the 8th, Bret Boone crushed a solo homer to give the Mariners a 1-0 lead.

SIX OUTS!  Six measly fucking outs.  And here comes Arthur Rhodes!  Yes, he was one of many goats (but probably the most high-profile goat) in 2000, but he was also coming off a career-best season!  He was, for all intents and purposes, our very best pitcher in 2001.  And look at THIS!  David Justice!  Remember?  Remember how he killed us in 2000?  Well, what would you say if I told you … that Arthur Rhodes struck his fucking ass out!?!  Because that’s what happened!  Five measly fucking outs!

But, then Bernie Williams decided to come in and become the hero.  Slam.  Homer.  Tie game.  Rhodes got out of it two batters later, but the damage was done.

The M’s went down in order in the top of the 9th, and Lou decided to bring in Sasaki, our closer, even though this wasn’t a save situation.  You know what they say about bringing in closers in non-save situations, don’t you?  You don’t?  Well, essentially, what they say is:  don’t.  Don’t bring in closers in non-save situations.  Unless you want that closer to fuck your shit up but good.

He gave up a 2-run missile to a young Alfonso Soriano (playing second base, remember that?  When he was a second baseman?) with only one out in the 9th and that was the ball game and PLEASE fucking hold on while I finish swallowing this bottle of skull & crossbones poison …

So, I don’t know about y’all, but that was the final straw for me.  Ever since, I have hated-slash-never again trusted either Arthur Rhodes or Kaz Sasaki.  Which probably isn’t fair, because outside of that anomaly of a Game 3 where they scored 14 runs, the offense REALLY screwed the damn pooch here!  Two years in a row!

Game 5 featured Pettitte and Sele again and a bunch of terrible defense and I think you know where this is going.  YEP, you know where this is going:  Sele got torched, the bullpen sucked dick, the offense sucked many bags of dicks, and the Yankees won 12-3.

The all-time winningest team in the regular season … sigh … lost in the ALCS in five games.  One game WORSE than the 2000 Mariners, when all is said and done (who at least took the ALCS to six games).  If you wanted to expend the energy, I GUESS you could call bullshit on the whole 2-3-2 playoff format.  The team with the supposed home-field advantage had to play three straight games in Yankee Stadium a month after 9/11 … but I’m not going to sit here and blame that on the Mariners losing.  Fuck, man, this was a team effort and they would’ve gotten their shit kicked in no matter WHERE they played these games!

The team with the number one offense hit .211.  The team with the best bullpen in the game saw that very same bullpen give up 12 earned runs in 14 innings.  Aaron Sele, who had been, as I said, so steady, went 0-2 and looked miserable doing so.

The only solace I can take away from this crushingest of blows in a long, endless line of crushing blows, is the fact that the New York Yankees lost in the World Series in seven games to the Arizona Diamondbacks, with Mariano Rivera blowing the final game and Randy Johnson winning in relief.  He shared World Series MVP honors with Curt Schilling, and he couldn’t have been more deserving.  The same guy whose back was too fragile to re-sign to a long contract extension (if you even consider four years a “long” time, which was his initial contract with them) was World Series MVP on a team in its fourth year of existence.

The Seattle Mariners, meanwhile, have been around for 36-going-on-37 years.  The Seattle Mariners are one of two teams who have never been to a World Series (the other being the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals).  The Seattle Mariners have not been back to the playoffs since 2001 (thanks to those fucking Moneyball A’s in 2002 and 2003; God I hate Brad Pitt SO MUCH; I’m GLAD YOU FUCKING LOST AT THE END OF THAT SHITTY MOVIE [email protected]!!!2).

2000 Seattle Mariners: The Team That Time Forgot

Is it just me, or is this 2000 team one of the more forgettable Mariners teams?  Considering this is only one of FOUR Mariners teams to make the playoffs, I would say that’s a ridiculous statement.  But, you have to admit, it’s easily overshadowed by the other three.  The 1995 team is, of course, the be-all end-all of baseball teams.  The 1997 team still had all that star power (and all of that unresolved promise).  And the 2001 team CLEARLY overshadows the 2000 squad because of its 116 regular season wins (and its 4 post-season wins).

The 2000 team actually had better success than the 2001 team; it lost to the Yankees in 6 games while the 2001 Mariners lost in 5.  But, for whatever reason, the 2000 Mariners feels like a poorly-written, unfunny sequel to a movie that didn’t need to be made in the first place (and the 2000 team came FIRST!).

For those of you who have trouble remembering the 2000 Mariners, I’ll give you a couple of names that will hopefully jog your memory:  Al Martin and Arthur Rhodes (it would be a LONG couple of post-seasons for Mr. Rhodes).

You can’t talk about the 2000 Mariners without first talking about the Oakland A’s.  They were a team on the rise, thanks to Billy Beane and his bullshit.  In 1998, they were a bottom-feeder in the AL West.  In 1999, they leap-frogged the Angels and Mariners to nab a winning record and 2nd place in the AL West.  Maybe we should’ve suspected something there; sure, those ’99 A’s missed out on the Wild Card by 7 games, but clearly they were doing something special down there.  Those 2000 A’s finally figured it all out; not-so-coincidentally, this was Barry Zito’s first Major League season.  And the reign of The Big Three was born.

The 2000 Mariners, much like the 2001 Mariners, were built for the regular season.  We had A-Rod & Edgar in their primes, we had a very-productive John Olerud locking down first base, we had Jay Buhner in the downswing of his career, and we had a nice glut of complementary players to round out our roster.  On the pitching side of things, I don’t think I can say anything about Aaron Sele, Jamie Moyer, Paul Abbott, or John Halama that you don’t already know.  Those were nice players at the time, but there wasn’t an ace amongst ’em.  Freddy Garcia – in his 2nd Major League season after the Randy Johnson trade – could’ve been that guy for us (and, indeed he was in the post-season), but he was still quite young and he ended up missing two months to injury in May & June which had to have set him back some.  We also could’ve had Gil Meche – also in his 2nd Major League season, and starting for us out of Spring Training – be that guy for us, but he ended up losing his season to an arm injury at the end of June.

So, there we were.  Four months of Freddy Garcia and full seasons out of four soft-tossing righties & lefties.  That could easily be made up by a quality bullpen, right?

Well, as chance would have it, there was this 32 year old rookie out of Japan named Kazuhiro Sasaki who – if I’m not mistaken – was Japan’s saves leader at the time of his signing.  Boy did HE show up in the nick of time!  Because the rest of this ‘pen was an absolute BALLSACK!  Of course, it didn’t require much to steal the closer job from Jose Mesa (chickenfucker), but since this was the Mariners, it’s not like we could just cut Joe Table free (not the Mariners:  the cheapest winning franchise in Major League Baseball).  So, of course Mesa got his 66 appearances.  As did Jose Paniagua (who actually wasn’t totally worthless this season), and Arthur Rhodes (who pretty much did what he was supposed to do until the ALCS).

This bullpen was by no means stellar, but they did help us to 91 wins.  91 wins, by the by, was the same number of wins as the Oakland A’s, but apparently they had this crazy tiebreaker known as “Head-to-Head Matchup”.  Since the A’s were 9-4 against the Mariners in the regular season, the A’s never had to play their make-up game, and thus were awarded the AL West title (while the Mariners were awarded the Wild Card).

It could’ve been different!  The Mariners were leading in the AL West by a season-high 7 games after the game on August 11th.  We were 69-47, then proceeded to lose our next 8 games, clinging to a 2-game advantage over the A’s.  In fact, during that stretch, we went 3-15 before we sort of levelled off.  However, never at any point did we lose our lead in the AL West, which is God damned mind-boggling.

We had a 3-game lead over the A’s going into a 4-game series starting on September 21st.  We were 10 games away from clinching!  So, of course the A’s won the first three games to pull to a tie, before the Mariners somehow took that fourth game 3-2.  The A’s had 7 games remaining (against the Angels & Rangers) and went 6-1.  The Mariners had 6 games remaining (against the same teams, in reverse order) and went 4-2.

And THAT, my friends, is how you go from a 3-game lead with 10 games to play, to losing your division by 0.5 games.

The Big, Bad Yankees, meanwhile, had the regular season’s 5th best record (losing 15 of their final 18 regular season games, if you can believe that).  But, they won the AL East and you could easily make the case that, while the Mariners were built for the Regular Season, the Yankees were built for the post-season and were just trying anything in their power to make it in.  The Chicago White Sox ended up having the BEST record in the American League.  One would think, if you were going by record, that the best team would play the worst team in the first round of the playoffs, but MLB has always had this rule about teams in the same division not playing one another.  Ergo, the White Sox were forced to play the Mariners and the A’s had to play the Yankees.

You gotta wonder how things would’ve been different.  For instance, Orlando Hernandez was fucking Mariner kryptonite (as Freddy Garcia was Yankee kryptonite) in that ALCS.  What would’ve happened if we won the AL West, faced the Yankees in the first round, and DIDN’T have to face El Duque twice in the same series?  Hell, what would’ve happened had we won the AL West and actually had Home Field Advantage EVER?  Maybe some of those David Justice extra-base hits would’ve been long flyball outs.

Of course, it could’ve ended with a similar amount of heartbreak.  I don’t think the White Sox were very good in 2000; the A’s would’ve made mincemeat with ’em in a 5-game series.  Remember that 9-4 record the A’s were lording over us; I could’ve easily seen them sweeping us away in that ALCS.

Anyway, as I alluded to, the Mariners beat the White Sox pretty handily in the ALDS, 3 games to 0.

The first game was damned exciting, though.  Freddy Garcia could seemingly do no right, but he left in that 4th inning with the Mariners only down 4-3.  The bullpen put things on lockdown while the Mariner bats finally came alive in the 7th inning.  Bone started us off with a walk, followed by a David Bell double (Bone to third).  Al Martin promptly came up to pinch hit and was worthless.  Mark McLemore, however, walked to load the bases with only one out.  Stan Javier – a solid contributer off the bench – ended up striking out looking.  But, that just meant White Sox Killer Mike Cameron could come in to save the day!

Actually, he just got a single to tie it (David Bell was thrown out at home, but who could fault him for aggressiveness in such a situation), but that carried us into extra innings where in the 10th, back-to-back homers by Edgar and Olerud gave us a 3-run advantage that would seal the deal.

Game 2 was also in Comiskey as the Seattle Mariners Seattle Mariners’d their way to another 3-run victory.  This time, Paul Abbott got the best of Mike Sirotka, and the Mariners’ bullpen was again flawless over 3.1 innings.  As the game was tied 2-2, Buhner hit a solo homer in the 4th, A-Rod scored Rickey Henderson on a groundout (thanks to Rickey’s walk, his sacrifice to 2nd, and his steal of 3rd … just what we brought him onto this team to do) in the 5th, and Cammy hit an RBI single in the 9th.

With Games 3 & potentially 4 in Safeco, and the Mariners having a 2-0 series lead, things never felt better for Mariners fans.  The A’s and Yankees were locked into a grudge match that would surely go all 5 games … what more could you ask for?  Ordinarily, this would be the point where the Mariners would lose their final three games to really twist the knife into the hearts of Mariners fans everywhere.  But, as chance would have it, NOT THIS TIME!

Game 3 was an absolute BEAUT!  That is, if you like low-scoring pitchers’ duels.  Aaron Sele vs. James Baldwin.  Sele went 7.1 innings of 1-run ball, Baldwin went 6 innings of 1-run ball.  Neither were all that impressive, but they managed – for the most part – to keep the offenses off the bases.  It was 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th when Olerud led us off with an infield single that was poorly thrown by the pitcher, which allowed Olerud to scamper over to 2nd base.  Mr. Henderson promptly pinch-ran as Stan Javier bunted him over to third base with 1 out.  David Bell was walked (I want to say intentionally, to set up the double play), which led to Carlos Guillen’s iconic bunt single to score a hard-charging Henderson from third.  Game over!  M’s win!  M’s win!

Granted, it’s not The Double or anything, but don’t forget:  this was only the second time in team history where the Mariners won a playoff series.  Watching that M’s team jump around the field in triumph still gives me chills to this day.

That was October 6th.  The A’s & Yankees did indeed go the full five games, so their series ended on October 8th.  It was truly a back-and-forth affair:  the A’s took Game 1, handling Roger Clemens; the Yankees took the next two, with El Duque continuing his fucking mastery of all things holding bats; the A’s came back to absolutely CRUSH Roger Clemens in Game 4; but it was not to be as the Yankees thumped the A’s in the final game to take the series.

Where did that leave things?  The ALCS started on October 10th.  On the one hand:  fuck, the Yankees have been playing this whole time while the Mariners have been sitting around tugging at their own wieners for four days.  On the other hand:  the Mariners were “rested” while the Yankees were “tired”.  I tend to not buy that crap, because look at it logistically:  both teams have played nearly 170 games that matter (not taking into account a month’s worth of Spring Training games).  “Rested” and “Tired” are the most relative terms you’re ever going to see in the realm of sports.

One thing, in theory, the Mariners had going for them is that they had their starters lined up exactly how they wanted them.  Garcia, Halama (because Moyer was lost for the rest of the post-season to injury), Sele, and if necessary, Abbott.  Meanwhile, the Yankees had to run Denny Neagle out there in Game 1.

Let me just say this about Game 1:  Neagle wasn’t terrible!  He did give up 2 runs and take the loss, but he still got his team into the 6th inning with a chance to win.  Freddy was just that much better, going 6.2 innings of shutout ball.  Our bullpen remained on lockdown, and that was the end of that:  a 2-0 victory in Game 1.

At this point in our Mariners post-season, our bullpen had thrown 14.0 innings across 4 games.  They gave up 0 runs in those four games, all victories.  I would like to keep that in mind as we go forward:  it LOOKED like not only was this team unstoppable, but that this bullpen was getting hot at the right time.

I would also like to point out that while we were working our magic, Ken Griffey Jr. was sitting at his home in Orlando watching us on television.  His Reds ended the season 10 games behind division-winning St. Louis.  Also, Randy Johnson was on his ass in his home, as his Arizona Diamondbacks ended their season 12 games behind the San Francisco Giants.  We were doing ALL of this with smoke & mirrors & A-Rod & Edgar!  This 2000 Mariners team was truly a blessing in disguise.

But, oh how much better they could’ve been.

Remember those two names I told you should jog your memory?  Al Martin was a lot of things – a reserve outfielder, a left-handed bat, a worthless pile of crap – but he was NOTHING if he wasn’t our little Scapegoat.

It wasn’t his fault.  First of all, it’s not like we gave up some studs to bring him in here (in other words, this wasn’t Woody Woodward in the 1997 season trying to bolster a nothing bullpen).  We traded John Mabry (who I hated anyway) and Tom Davey (who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup if you offered me a million dollars) at the Trade Deadline to the Padres to get him.  For the Padres, in 93 games, he hit .306 with decent power (13 doubles, 11 homers).  Could a guy like that help us out from the left side of the plate in Safeco?  Sure, why not?  Did he?  His numbers with the Mariners:

42 games, .231 average, 2 doubles, 4 homers, 31 strikeouts, .678 OPS.

Those are GREAT numbers, if you’re talking about the 2010 and 2011 Mariners (well, not great, but at least they blend in nicely), but not for the 2000 Mariners who REALLY needed a big bat to pull them through the dog days and into the playoffs.

So, yeah, Al Martin was a scapegoat because he was terrible in a Mariners uniform, but he was also a scapegoat for the organization’s front office shortcomings.

It’s difficult to say who’s more at fault:  the owners for not opening up their wallets at the trade deadline to let Gillick trade for someone of quality; or Gillick himself for being so God damned unwilling to trade any of our top-tier prospect talent.  I’ll tell you this much:  we could’ve gotten a fucking king’s ransom had we traded guys like Gil Meche (before he went down with injury), Joel Pineiro, or Ryan Anderson.

Now, would the 2000 Steven A. Taylor have flipped his shit at the thought of trading our future like that?  Abso-fucking-lutely!  That’s simply because I saw how our trades back in 1997 were working out so well for other teams!  If we didn’t screw the damn pooch back then, maybe we would’ve been more willing in 2000 to trade top prospects for top talent!  The Steven A. Taylor with hindsight on his side can clearly see we were a few pieces away from winning it all in both 2000 and 2001.  Maybe one of those guys nets us a bonafide Number 1 starter to go along with Garcia.  Maybe another one of those guys gets us the kind of bat we needed down the stretch to put us over the top.  MAYBE we also get some bullpen relief in the form of a left-hander who won’t implode at the first sight of pinstripes!

Of course, while we’re playing the What If game, what if this team hadn’t been so stingy and had decided to keep Randy Johnson as he was entering the Cy Young bonanza phase of his career with the Diamondbacks?  What if by this small gesture, Ken Griffey Jr. wouldn’t have thought so poorly of the organization that he forced his trade to the Reds (because, I’m telling you, don’t believe that crap about him wanting to be closer to his family; he saw this team selling off its best assets – Randy, Tino, Jeff Nelson, etc. – and getting next-to-nothing back in return)?  Wouldn’t Randy and Griffey (and Tino and Nelson) have been AMAZING on this 2000 team?

Everyone likes to look back on the 2000 & 2001 teams as the embodiment of “Fuck You” to greedy assholes like Griffey, Randy & A-Rod.  But, if this Mariners team had been willing to take care of its stars, maybe these 2000 & 2001 teams would’ve been championship-winning.

But, whatever.  You can’t change the past.  And, as of October 11, 2000, the Mariners had a 1-0 ALCS lead over the Yankees.  And, in Game 2, these same Mariners had a 1-0 lead over those Yankees going into the bottom of the 8th inning.  This was 1995 all over again!  The Yankees couldn’t break the spell we had over them!  A 2-0 series lead going back to Safeco was 6 outs away!

Enter Arthur Rhodes.  David Justice leads off with a double.  Bernie Williams follows with a game-tying RBI single.  It might as well have been two pitches; before we could blink, the game was tied.  And it was all downhill from there.  Tino Martinez singles, Jorge Posada singles in Williams for the 2-1 lead.  Paul O’Neill hits a deep fly to score Tino.  1 out.  3-1 Yankees.

Enter Jose Mesa.  Luis Sojo singles, Posada is thrown out trying to steal home.  2 outs, still 3-1 Yankees.  Jose Vizcaino then doubled to score Sojo.  Then, a passed ball moves Vizcaino over to 3rd before he’s scored by a Chuck Knoblauch single.  Derek Jeter jacks a home run to make it 7-1 Yankees before David Justice – who led off the inning – mercifully flew out to center.

Just like that, the demons had been slain.  The Yankees – behind 8 strong innings from El Duque (who would’ve been their third or fourth starter had their rotation been set properly) – took back control of the series.  Yes, it was still tied 1-1, but you couldn’t help but think that this 8th inning implosion was the straw breaking the camel’s back on our season.

Game 3 was just a crusher.  An 8-2 defeat behind Aaron Sele’s Turning Back Into A Pumpkin Act.  He went 4 innings, gave up 4 runs (off of 9 hits, two of which were home runs), and our bullpen gave up the other 4 runs as it too found the clock had struck midnight.

Game 4 is where we needed to right the ship.  Unfortunately, we ran into the buzzsaw that was Roger Clemens at the height of his alleged steroids prime.  He tossed what has stood as one of the very finest post-season performances of any pitcher in Major League Baseball history.  9 innings, 1 hit (thank you Al Martin … ow, my pride), 2 walks, and 15 strikeouts.

I don’t even know what to say.  As I sit here right now, I’m impossibly angry and depressed all at the same time, and this was over 11 years ago!  Fucking Roger Piece Of Shit Clemens.  I’ll never forget how I felt on that night because I still feel that way to this day.  This was the same feeling I had back in 1996 when the Sonics lost Game 3 in the Finals to the Bulls to go down 0-3 in the series.  You’re SO CLOSE to what you want more than anything else in the world, but there’s this thing called Mount Everest standing there in your way.

The Mariners were down 3-1 in the series, losers of three straight including two at home.  The final home game took place the very next day and all I can say is thank Christ for Freddy Garcia (or, more accurately, thank Christ for Denny Neagle).  We won that game 5-2 in a very Mariners-type of fashion.  Our bullpen returned to fight the good fight, giving up 0 runs over the final 4 innings.  And we got some timely hitting out of our best hitters (A-Rod, Edgar & Olerud).  Nevertheless, you couldn’t help but feel that doom was right around the corner.

Game 6, two days later, in Yankee Stadium.  Once again, we had to face El Duque.  THIS time, however, our bats came to play.  Unfortunately, this time, so did theirs.

We jumped out to a 2-0 lead thanks to back-to-back RBI doubles in the first inning by A-Rod & Edgar.  The lead was extended to 4-0 thanks to a 2-run bomb off the bat of Carlos Guillen in the 4th.  Hey HEY!  This isn’t so bad!  Maybe we WILL see a 7th game!  Halama is coasting, our offense is on fire, El Duque is showing his age (what was it, like 50?).

Of course, promptly in the bottom of the 4th, Halama gave them three runs right back before he was relieved by Brett Tomko (he thinks he’s people).  This score stood for a while.  It was nail-biting time, to be sure, but there was still a chance.  9 outs away from a Game 7.

Bottom of the 7th inning.  Jose Paniagua relieves a surprisingly-effective Tomko.  He immediately gives up a single, then a sacrifice bunt, then another single.  1 out, runners on the corners, Mariners hanging onto a 4-3 lead.  Lou Pinella comes out of the dugout & points towards the bullpen with his left arm.

Enter Arthur Rhodes.  Boy, doesn’t THIS sound familiar?

Annnnnnnd:  David Justice, 3-run homer.  Fuck.  A single, double, intentional walk, and 2-RBI single later, he’s replaced by Jose Mesa (is this a re-run?  Where’s the TV Guide?!).  Joe Table let another run slide across home plate and there you have it.  A tailor-made 6-run inning late in the game for the fucking Yankees.

The Mariners managed to make it a little interesting in the top of the 8th with a solo homer by A-Rod, followed by a 2-RBI double by McLemore, but Mariano Rivera was in there, and it was shut-down time.  In the top of the 9th, the Mariners had a single by A-Rod to put the tying run at the plate in Edgar Martinez, but this wasn’t 1995 and this wasn’t Jack McDowell on the mound.  A 6-3 put-out ended the game in regulation.

A 6-3 put-out ended our season.

We’d come so far, we played so well, but a couple of monster innings punctuated by David Justice facing Arthur Rhodes sealed our fate.  That’s all it takes.  Sometimes, it’s just that one small factor that dictates your entire season.

The Mariners would come back bigger and beefier than ever the following season, but as both you and I know, the results were ultimately the same.  Ending in humiliating defeat, as so many other Seattle playoff seasons have ended.

Don’t Give Up On Guti Just Yet

With all of these Quad-A outfielders being thrown around (Greg Halman, Mike Carp, Carlos Peguero, Mike Wilson, Michael Saunders, the newly acquired Casper Wells, Wily Mo Pena, and Trayvon Robinson), there’s been talk that Franklin Gutierrez needs to step it up or risk losing significant playing time (even talk of him being traded and becoming the next great defensive 4th outfielder).

I will grant you, Guti has been a huge disappointment.  From whenever this stomach ailment first kicked in around midseason of last year, through the present, Guti has been very un-Guti at the plate (“Guti” being synonymous with all things awesome).  But, if you’re thinking that this is the perfect time to unload a troublesome bat, I would pray you reconsider.

History is riddled with guys whose teams gave up on them too soon.  Hell, right off the top of my head I can think of any number of Mariners – David Ortiz, Shin Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Raul Ibanez (the first time we let him go in free agency), Carlos Guillen, Mike Morse – ALL of those guys have gone on to bigger and better things for other teams.  I fear, if we end up trading Guti this offseason, he’s going to bulk up, get stronger, and be a better-than-average-at-the-plate centerfielder (to go along with his top-of-the-line defense).  I DON’T want to see that happen.

I’m no doctor, but I gotta think that these stomach things (IBS or Crohn’s Disease or whatever) don’t just fix themselves overnight.  Not only do you have to overhaul your entire dietary way of life, but you have to give these changes time to stick.  You don’t go from feeling like utter shit, to feeling like a .300-hitting Major Leaguer just like THAT.  And, I imagine, making all these changes during the middle of a baseball season isn’t exactly conducive towards a speedy recovery.

Like, imagine if you’re a baseball pitcher, and you find out just before the season starts that you’ve got diabetes … are you REALLY going to snap back to being a Cy Young candidate just because you have your illness diagnosed?  Of course not.  Shit like that takes time to come to grips with!  Then, after you’ve mentally girded yourself, you’ve still got the long process of normalizing how you feel.  So you can go out there every day and play the game of baseball!

Guti is a huge talent.  He’s shown that he’s able to handle American League pitching.  He’s CERTAINLY shown he’s a better hitter than what he’s been so far THIS year!  He’s not old, he’s not fat, so you can’t say he’s simply losing his ability like every Major Leaguer eventually will.  He’s just been weakened by this debilitating disease and it’s going to take him some time to get back to full strength.

If he’s not already turning it around in the month of September, then I would fully expect him to bounce back better than ever by next spring.  He knows what he has to do to get better and get stronger, he will have survived this punishing 2011 campaign, and I bet he’ll be more motivated than ever to turn it all around and give this team the centerfielder it deserves!

Besides, there are defensive 4th outfielders, and then there’s Guti.  His defense is special.  His defense is something you don’t give up on just because of some woes at the plate.  He’ll turn it around.  You’ll see.

I just hope he’ll turn it around while he’s still a member of this team.

The 2001 Seattle Mariners Were A Joy To Behold

116-46.

First of all, let’s get the 105 year old elephant in the room out of the way:  the Chicago Cubs originally owned the all-time wins record of 116, doing it in 10 fewer ballgames (their record:  116-36).  Of course, in my attempt to diminish their achievement, I’ll say that they were in an 8-team National League, with 5 of those 8 teams having sub-.500 records (including the Boston Beaneaters who were a lowly 49-102).

Since we all know how this 2001 season ends, I’ll also point out to the Cubs defenders out there that they too failed in their ultimate goal; the 1906 Cubs lost in 6 games to the Chicago White Sox in the World Series (back before they had things like “playoffs”; this was just a straight up winner of the AL playing the winner of the NL).

Anyway, while I’m on the subject, I guess I’ll go ahead and get the tragic, steroids-fuelled ending out of the way.

The Seattle Mariners, with their 116 wins, were the Number 1 seed in all of the AL.  The Oakland Athletics were the Wild Card winner that year, posting a 102-60 record (as usual for the A’s around this time, they came screaming down the stretch in September; fortunately, the Mariners had too big a lead to collapse like they would in the two seasons to follow).  Due to some dumb rule baseball invented, the top seed isn’t allowed to play the Wild Card team if they’re both in the same division.  For the record, the only reason this rule exists is because Major League Baseball doesn’t want to waste a first-round series on the Red Sox & Yankees when they could force them into the ALCS by not allowing them to play in the first round; you know it’s true.  The potential for two more games is too desirable for their bottom line.

As such, the Mariners played the Central Division winner in the Cleveland Indians, while the Athletics had to go out and play the Yankees.  At the time, I was happy.  I figured, what with the A’s being such a well-maintained team, it might be best not to face them in the first round.  Honestly, I thought we’d lose.  As it turned out, we almost did.

Cleveland stole Game 1 in Safeco behind a Bartolo Colon gem, winning 5-0.  Jamie Moyer came back in Game 2 to at least bring a 1-1 series back to Cleveland.  Of course, with Aaron Sele taking the hill as our 3rd best starter (supposedly), we got absolutely killed in Game 3 by a score of 17-2.  But, then the Chief came right back in a rematch of the first game, taking down Colon 6-2 to force a Game 5.  Here, Moyer did what he does best:  win.  Series.

Meanwhile, I can’t believe I’m re-living this all over again … Oakland had a 2-0 series lead over the Yankees, having won BOTH in New York.  They went on to lose a 1-0 Game 3, then absolutely fell apart in Game 4, and finally gagging it all away in Game 5.  At this point, I was legitimately worried.  This had the look of fate.  9/11, New York makes a miraculous comeback, the sporting gods hate Seattle … it was almost too perfect.

Look, the bottom line is this:  we just didn’t have the pitching that year.  Freddy Garcia was pretty good at the time – as close to a Number 1 starter as we had – but he wasn’t NEARLY on par with some of the other guys these playoff teams were running out there.  The three-headed monster down in Oakland; an In-His-Prime Bartolo Colon over in Cleveland; and a supremely awe-inspiring foursome of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Mike Mussina, and El Duque.  I mean, let’s get serious, you would have to feel confident in ANY of those guys taking the hill in a do-or-die situation (sure, some more than others, but all more than what the Mariners had).

Following The Chief, we had Jamie Moyer:  a solid pro who was durable and a winner, but not necessarily a shutdown starter.  Then, there was Aaron Sele, a free agent pickup from Texas whose record & ERA were always better than his actual abilities.  He had a nasty 12-6 curveball, but that was pretty much his only secondary pitch to a fastball that wasn’t all that fast.  After that, you’ve got Paul Abbott (a reliever-turned-starter with a sterling 17-4 record thanks mostly to the fact that he had the most run-support in the league that year).

The 2001 Mariners were all about scoring runs, plain & simple.  But, even then, I dunno, it seems like we never had that guy who could get the big hit when it mattered most.  Not like the Yankees had.  Sure, we hit homers in bunches, but they were from guys not traditionally known to be big home run guys.  Bret Boone, Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, Mike Cameron … all of them have flaws in some way (strike outs, lack of speed, a tendancy to always swing for the fences Ka-Boone, etc.).

Anyway, let’s just get this over with because I’m making myself sick with these playoffs.  The one thing I figured we had going in our favor (or, at least, not necessarily AGAINST us) was that the Yankees too had to go five games in their series.  So, both teams would have their rotations all screwed up (meaning, as it turned out, we’d only have to see Roger Clemens once).

Of course, I ended up being sorely mistaken in thinking this could be a positive for us, because what it all meant was that Aaron Sele was kicking off the series for us.  Already 0-1 in the playoffs (with that 15-run drubbing against the Indians), Sele didn’t have enough in the tank and we lost Game 1 at home.  In a closer Game 2, the Mariners still managed to lose, giving up all 3 runs in the second inning.  Over in Yankee Stadium, we put the beatdown on El Duque in Game 3, leading to a Game 4 set up with Clemens going against Paul Abbott.

If you want to point to a single game when Paul Abbott endeared himself to all Mariners fans for all of eternity, this was it.  He matched the great, roided out Roger Clemens zero for zero through seven innings before giving way to the bullpen.  We actually had a 1-0 lead in this one until Arthur Rhodes (the absolute best Mariners failure we’ve ever had to endure) gave up the tying home run to Bernie Williams.  Kaz Sasaki ended up blowing it in the ninth, thus sending us spiraling with a 3-1 series deficit.

And, because Aaron Sele sucks dick, we got manhandled in Game 5.  Season over.

Granted, we didn’t have the kind of top-flight pitching these other teams had; but it was our hitting – our hitting that gave us 927 regular season runs – that fell apart in these playoffs and especially against these Yankees.  In our losses to the Bronx Bombers, we averaged 2 runs per game.  That’s just not going to get it done.

But, you know what?  In spite of all that negativity to finish the season, these Mariners were still fun as all hell.

The Mariners played 52 series of baseball in 2001.  Here’s how it broke down:

  • Series Wins:  42
  • Series Sweeps:  15
  • Series Ties:  4
  • Series Losses:  6 (with 1 sweep)

Can you even comprehend only losing 6 series all season?  That’s absolutely incredible!  Our longest winning streak was 15, our longest losing streak was only 4.  FOUR.  And that didn’t happen until late in the season, when you could forgive a little lack of focus, what with our massive lead over everyone else in baseball.

Here’s how the months broke down:

  • April:  20-5
  • May:  20-7
  • June:  18-9
  • July:  18-9
  • August:  20-9
  • Sept/Oct:  20-7

Again, simply unbelievable!  Four of the six months had 20 wins!  As far as regular season dominance is concerned, this Seattle Mariners team is the exact blueprint you’d use.  Take a look at the lineup:

  1. Ichiro (RF)
  2. Carlos Guillen (SS)
  3. Bret Boone (2B)
  4. Edgar Martinez (DH)
  5. Mike Cameron (CF)
  6. John Olerud (1B)
  7. Mark McLemore (LF)
  8. Dan Wilson (C)
  9. David Bell (3B)

I mean, there really wasn’t a black hole anywhere to be found (especially when they stopped playing Al Martin).  McLemore could play just about every position, to give guys the proper rest they needed.  Our bench was a solid collective of veterans (chief among them Stan Javier & Jay Buhner).  This was the team you wanted, if you wanted sustained success!

It’s just too bad it had to end the way it did.  We can all take solace in the fact that the Yankees would go on to lose the World Series, with the greatest closer of all time biffing it all away to the Diamondbacks … but that’s still a shallow victory.  Because destiny was supposed to be on the side of the Mariners!

We were a team on the rise, from that shocking 1995 run, through losing Randy Johnson in trade, through losing Griffey in trade, through losing A-Rod in free agency (and only getting Freddy Garcia & Mike Cameron in return for the whole lot of our former All Stars).  We’d paid our dues, losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Yankees in the 2000 ALCS, we came back even stronger during the regular season, never having a lapse (except for that Cleveland game in August, blowing a 12-run lead to tie the Major League record), being the epitome of consistent excellence.  We even dodged a bullet by missing the A’s and taking those Indians down in 5 games in the playoffs.

But, none of that was enough.  Destiny is a funny thing.  You always think it’s on your side until it’s ripped away from you.  These 2001 Mariners deserved better than to lose in 5 games to the Yankees.  These 2001 Mariners should’ve gone down as the single greatest team of all time.

Instead, we have to settle for (one of) the greatest regular season team(s) of all time.  Around the rest of the country, that status is meaningless.  But, in Seattle, it’s all we’ve got.  Therefore, it’s important for us to cherish it.  Cherish it until something better comes along.

Seattle’s Worst Trades, Draft Picks & Free Agent Signings (Part 2)

Editor’s NoteThis is the original blog post.  If you want to see the comprehensive list, click HERE.  I update the master list semi-regularly, whenever I can find the time.

Here we are with Part 2 of the series.  Look for the link in the menu bar above to be updated accordingly with my exhaustive timeline of a generation’s worth of bungling.  There will likely be a Part 3 of the series, but in that one I’ll focus on supposed bad moves made by the Good Guys that I’ll end up defending as “not that bad”.  It’s in this “Omissions” article where you’ll find the likes of the Randy Johnson Trade and the Ken Griffey Jr. Trade.

Of course, this is by no means a complete list.  And again, I welcome any and all suggestions from the peanut gallery.

June 26, 1991 – (Sonics) – Rich King 1st Round Draft Pick:  14th overall.  I don’t want to say this is the “first” in a long line of busted centers for the Seattle Supersonics, but he’s certainly the first on my list.  7 feet 2 inches of complete and utter worthlessness.  The guy gave us absolutely nothing for four straight years before signing elsewhere at the end of his rookie deal.  To be fair, I don’t know much about the guy – maybe he suffered through chronic injuries or something.  Regardless, for a team on the rise, the Sonics really missed on this pick.  The only way you could defend the team on this one is that there really weren’t any studs left once Dale Davis was snapped up 1 pick prior.  Nevertheless, there’s nothing I can’t stand more than a tall, unathletic white guy who does little else than take up space.

September 1, 1993 – (Sonics) – Dana Barros, Eddie Johnson & 1st Round Pick to Charlotte Hornets for Kendall Gill & 1st Round Pick:  for me, Kendall Gill is Public Enemy #2 among Sonics in the 1990s (just below Jim McIlvaine).  We were looking for a solid shooting guard to play alongside GP and the boys; what we got was a dour, cancerous sideshow.  Is it any surprise that he was on the first ever 1-seed to lose to an 8-seed?  Is it any surprise that his play and his attitude destroyed what should’ve been another championship run in the ’94-’95 season?  Not in my book.  Kendall Gill was an assclown before Milton Bradley stole his crown.  To make matters worse, Barros was a stud sharpshooter and Eddie Johnson was a quality all-around player.  Fortunately, to make matters much better, on June 27, 1995, the Sonics traded him BACK to Charlotte for Hersey Hawkins and David Wingate.  Result:  Sonics team chemistry skyrockets and they go to the NBA Finals.  Coincidence?  You better believe NOT.

July 18, 1994 – (Sonics) – Ricky Pierce, Carlos Rogers & Two 1995 2nd Round Picks to Golden State Warriors for Sarunas Marciulionis & Byron Houston:  I remember nothing about Byron Houston, probably because he DID nothing for us.  Ricky Pierce, on the other hand, was a veteran guard who could come off the bench and still give you quality minutes (and, in fact, he did for a few years after this trade).  The real culprit here, though, is Sarunas Marciulionis.  The guy was supposed to come in and be Instant Offense.  Instead, for his lone season with us (that disaster of a ’94-’95 campaign) he averaged 9.3 points per game while playing abysmal defense.  If you can’t tell, there was a lot to hate about that ’94-’95 team.  Fortunately, glory would shine down upon us when we flipped both Marciulionis and Houston on September 18, 1995 to Sacramento for Frank Brickowski.  You know what they say:  if you’re going to be an unathletic white center, you better bring the pain on your opponents (okay, so maybe they don’t say that, but they should).

July 22, 1996 – (Sonics) – Jim McIlvaine signs 7-year $33.6 million deal:  the beginning of the end.  This one wasn’t just a team-destroyer, this was a franchise-destroyer.  First of all, McIlvaine was a nothing backup for the Bullets for 2 seasons.  We sign him to this monster deal RIGHT after our run to the Finals when we should have God damned signed Shawn Kemp to a nice fat extension.  Instead, Kemp is unhappy, plays another season where we lose in the 2nd round (with McIlvaine giving us no help whatsoever), forces a trade where we get 1 good season out of Vin Baker (before the strike-shortened season gets him all fat), and then the wheels come off (ultimately leading to a bunch of up-and-down Sonics teams, and finalized by those Oklahoma City chickenfuckers stealing our team).  Maybe it wasn’t all Jim McIlvaine’s fault; but it was CERTAINLY the fault of Wally Walker and company.  We had no business bringing in this guy, nor giving him the kind of money that would make All Pros like Shawn Kemp jealous.  He broke up our golden team, and for that this sin of signing him is unforgivable.  There was plenty of good basketball left with GP and Kemp; it’s a crime we didn’t get to see it.

September 25, 1997 – (Sonics) – Shawn Kemp to Cleveland Cavaliers for Vin Baker (from Milwaukee Bucks in a 3-way deal):  I got into this one a little bit in the Jim McIlvaine section, but this definitely deserves to be on the list.  One could argue that, in the end, it was one overweight disappointment for another, but I refuse to see it that way.  First of all, Shawn Kemp wasn’t an alcoholic.  Gary Payton would’ve made DAMN sure to keep him in tip-top shape during that NBA Lockout.  And anyway, who could’ve seen the lockout coming (or, at least, who could have seen it costing us so many games that season)?  What you COULD see coming was breaking up a dynasty.  Yes, Kemp pretty much forced this trade upon us (and yes, Vin Baker WAS a quality player at the time on par with Kemp’s level of production), but since this correlates DIRECTLY with the Jim McIlvaine signing, the Sonics were doing nothing more than compounding one mistake on top of another.  Had we kept Kemp happy in the first place, none of these other things would’ve happened (and, as you’ll see, the trail of tears from that McIlvaine signing will continue).

August 9, 1999 – (Sonics) – Vernon Maxwell signs 3-year $5 million deal:  no, it wasn’t an exorbitant amount of money.  But, we were getting a guy whose prime was CLEARLY well behind him (and, even then, what kind of a “prime” can you really call it?) and we were getting a guy who couldn’t stick with a team.  He’d changed cities TEN times before he landed in Seattle!  You HAVE to think something’s not quite right with a guy when he’s got that kind of background (again, see:  Bradley, Milton).  Sure enough, he was turmoil incarnate when he joined the Sonics.  I mean, what kind of a dick throws a fucking free weight at a teammate?  He injured two of our guys while battling it out with GP, and wasn’t long for the team after that (he was traded on September 20, 2000 in that collosal Patrick Ewing deal).  Any shock to anyone that he was thereby waived 15 days later (and again in December of that same year)?

August 18, 1999 – (Sonics) – Vin Baker re-signs for 7-year $86 million deal:  and here we are, with the zenith of Jim McIlvaine’s horrorshow.  WHAT were we THINKING???  Vin Baker just finished a horrendous strike-shortened season – where of course he came back drunk and overweight – and we rewarded him with a max contract.  Incredible.  Un-fucking-believable.  We got three full seasons of lessened production out of this schlub, then we dealt him on July 22, 2002 to Boston with Shammond Williams for Kenny Anderson, Joseph Forte, Vitaly Potapenko.  I can’t imagine anyone really “won” that deal, but it’s just frustrating.  From ’96/’97 onward, we squandered Gary Payton’s prime with a subpar supporting cast.  On behalf of everyone in Seattle, I hereby apologize to GP for not getting you the ring you deserved when you were with us.

April 21, 2001 – (Seahawks) – Koren Robinson, 1st Round Draft Pick:  9th overall.  There were plenty of other wide receiver fish in the sea in the 2001 NFL draft, but we decided to go big with Koren Robinson.  He was supposed to be a Randy Moss-type of guy who would speed down the field and go up for the long bombs.  Instead, we got a lush who wasted all of his God-given ability.  Koren Robinson single-handedly turned me (and most of Seattle) off of drafting wide receivers high in the first round.

June 5, 2001 – (Mariners) – Michael Garciaparra, 1st Round Draft Pick:  this was a guy we seemingly drafted on name alone.  I mean, Nomar was such a great player for Boston, how could his brother not be equally as amazing?  And at the same short stop position no less!  Well, he was a dud.  This was our supplemental pick for losing A-Rod, so there’s some more salt for your wounds (I better hear plenty of extra boos for Pay-Rod now that you’re thusly reminded!).  Making matters worse:  David Wright was drafted by the Mets two picks later.  Wouldn’t it have been nice to have that third base position locked down all this time?

July 31, 2001 – (Sonics) – Calvin Booth signs 6-year $34 million deal:  now HERE’S where the rediculousness of the Sonics’ search for a starting center reached new heights.  I guess averaging 7.5 points per game (over merely 15 games) for the Dallas Mavericks means you’re worth a skyscraper of a deal (at long as the Sonics are the willing buyer).  And, as laughable as it sounds, we would’ve RELISHED 7.5 points per game!  Only for the Sonics could a suck-ass player manage to get markedly worse.  In the end, we traded his final three years away on July 26, 2004 BACK to the Mavs for Danny Fortson’s final three years.  You’d think after McIlvaine, we would’ve learned our lesson.  Of course, you’d think after McIlvaine AND Booth, we REALLY would’ve learned our lesson.  In a sense, I guess we did, since we opted henceforth (for the most part) to get our shitty centers direct from the NBA Draft.

July 18, 2002 – (Sonics) – Jerome James re-signs 3-year $15 million deal:  the thing I’ll never forget about this deal was in the 2002 NBA playoffs we played (and lost to) the San Antonio Spurs in the first round.  As a 7-seed, we took them to the brink of five games, and in those games Jerome James exploded for production up to that point unseen.  He was a monster.  Scoring, rebounding, defending.  He was our MVP and almost single-handedly led us to the next round.  Ignoring all of his regular season struggles up to that point, we gave him this contract and our starting center job.  He went on to revert right back to his old ways, then somehow snookered the Knicks into giving him a huge payday.

December 19, 2003 – (Mariners) – Scott Spiezio Signs 3-year $9.15 million deal:  we stole him away from the Angels (after their World Series win) and got nowhere near what we paid for.  He batted .215 for us over 112 games (a remarkable decline).  We played him for a bit in 2005 where he got 3 hits in 47 at bats, then we released him on August 19, 2005.  Nearly 4 years and 4 months later the Mariners would go on to steal Chone Figgins from the Angels.  Here’s a hint fellas:  Angels are only good when they’re Angels and they get to play 19 games against the Mariners!

January 8, 2004 – (Mariners) – Carlos Guillen to Detroit Tigers for Juan Gonzalez & Ramon Santiago:  not the Juan Gonzalez you’re thinking of.  This Juan Gonzalez was a minor leaguer who never cracked the majors.  Ramon Santiago was a glorified minor leaguer who SHOULD’VE never cracked the majors.  Meanwhile, Carlos Guillen went on to kick ass and take names.  We really missed his streaky-ass.

January 8, 2004 – (Mariners) – Rich Aurilia Signs 1-year $3.5 million deal:  on the SAME DAY.  We replaced a guy who went on to be a cornerstone for a quality Tigers run with a guy who’d be released 6 months later.  National Leaguers can NOT hit in Safeco!  Say it with me now!

June 24, 2004 – (Sonics) – Robert Swift, 1st Round Draft Pick:  12th overall.  We could’ve had Al Jefferson; think HE could’ve helped out our front court?  Instead, we got the 7-foot project out of high school who spent more time rehabbing knees and getting tattoos than he did playing pro basketball.  What a magnificently frightening bust!

December 15, 2004 – (Mariners) – Richie Sexson Signs 4-year $50 million deal:  this was the beginning of a very happy week for Mariners fans.  We’d just wrapped a total collapse of a season where all of our veteran players died simultaneously.  This was after an epic string of Mariners seasons where 90 wins was the norm.  A lot of money was coming off the books.  I mean, a LOT of money.  In his first major foray with the team, Bill Bavasi was looking to both make a big splash and return the team to dominance.  First:  Richie Sexson.  He missed most of 2004 with injury, but before that he was a home run machine with the Brewers.  He had two seasons of 45 homers in a 3-year span; SURELY he’d bring that much needed bop over to Seattle!  And, to his credit, he did … for two seasons.  But, if you were paying attention, you’d know that was really 1.5 seasons; because in year 2 of his 4-year deal he got the bulk of his numbers in the 2nd half of the season when the team was already out of it.  2007 saw that first-half malaise push through to the full season; 2008 saw him clearly done.  He was making an ass-load of money by going out there making an ass of himself.  The team finally had the decency (to its fans) to release him on July 10, 2008, but by then the damage had been done.  That 2008 team was a clusterfuck of epic proportions, only matched (somehow) by 2010’s clusterfuck to end all clusterfucks.

December 17, 2004 – (Mariners) – Adrian Beltre Signs 5-year $64 million deal:  two days after landing the whale that was Richie Sexson, the Mariners went out and doubled down on Adrian Beltre.  Most of us, over time, came to respect Beltre for what he was:  a hard-nosed, inconsistent hitter with a little bit of power and a ton of defensive ability at the hot corner.  We could respect the guy for playing through pain (and massive shoulder injuries) and giving his absolute all to a consistently losing effort.  But, he wasn’t worth the money and it was obvious early on.  Coming off a career year (steroids anyone?) in Los Angeles where he hit .334 with 48 home runs (after his previous career high was only .290 and 23 home runs – not in the same season), he’s the epitome of a Contract Year Player.  Year 1 with the Mariners:  .255 with 19 homers.  Believe it or not, Beltre was the more loathed between him and Sexson.  That went on to change, but we’ll never forget the disappointment on all our faces when we realized that Beltre would never come NEAR to approaching .334 with 48 homers again.

January 4, 2005 – (Mariners) – Pokey Reese Signs 1-year $1.2 million deal:  it’s not the amount of money, it’s not the length of contract.  It was the fact that he never played a GAME.  Not for the Mariners in that year, not for another Major League Baseball team ever again!  In his place, we were introduced to Yuniesky Betancourt.  And the rest, as they say, is hostility.

June 7, 2005 – (Mariners) – Jeff Clement, 1st Round Draft Pick:  3rd overall.  Out of the top 7 picks, there was one bust, one mediocre player (who could still be decent if this year’s promise means anything), and five super studs.  Guess which one the Mariners drafted!  Let me run down the list:  1. Justin Upton, 2. Alex Gordon, 3. Clement, 4. Ryan Zimmerman, 5. Ryan Braun, 6. Ricky Romero, 7. Troy Tulowitzki.  Four of those guys have are considered All Stars and Romero is a quality starter for Toronto.  We screwed up ROYAL in this draft.  Where is Jeff Clement now?  Probably in the Pirates’ farm system (where he belongs; the worst Major League team’s minor leagues).  Who did we get in return?  Try Ian Snell and Jack Wilson.  I’ll give you a minute to bang your head against the wall.

July 30, 2005 – (Mariners) – Randy Winn to San Francisco Giants for Jesse Foppert & Yorvit Torrealba:  or, in other words:  “Randy Winn to San Francisco Giants for Nothing.”

December 22, 2005 – (Mariners) – Jarrod Washburn Signs 4-year $37.5 million deal:  hey, another Angels player they didn’t want!  I bet this turned out swell for the Good Guys!  Except it didn’t; we got three sub-par seasons before he miraculously turned it around long enough in 2009 so we could trade him to the Tigers on July 31st for Mauricio Robles & Luke French.  That was a Jackie-Z miracle if I ever witnessed one.  French is a back-end starter (currently toiling for the Rainiers) and Robles has the potential to be great.  Or, at least, greater than Washburn ever was for us.

January 4, 2006 – (Mariners) – Carl Everett Signs 1-year $3.4 million deal:  you can point to this signing as the beginning of the Mariners suffering through rent-a-veterans on their last legs.  He would be released on July 26th of that year, but not before hitting 11 homers and batting .227.  Funny thing is, what WOULDN’T we give to have 11 homers and a .227 batting average out of our designated hitter in 2011?

April 29, 2006 – (Seahawks) – Kelly Jennings, 1st Round Draft Pick:  undersized cornerback wanted for:  giving up long touchdowns and never intercepting the ball.  Must be able to occasionally ankle-tackle and make Marcus Trufant look like a Pro Bowler by comparison.  Start immediately.

June 6, 2006 – (Mariners) – Brandon Morrow, 1st Round Draft Pick:  5th overall.  This pick will forever be known as the time where the Mariners passed on multi-Cy Young winner (and local hero) Tim Lincecum.  Odds are, we would’ve ruined him the same way we did Morrow – by fucking with his confidence, and jerking him around between starting and relieving – but you never know.  Maybe not.  Maybe, if we would’ve gone with the proven winner over the guy with one year’s college experience, he would’ve commanded a starting rotation slot from the get-go.  We’ll never know; and San Francisco is all the luckier for it.

December 14, 2006 – (Mariners) – Miguel Batista Signs 3-year $24 million deal:  in what universe is Miguel Batista worth $24 million?  Well, THAT’S certainly a silly question!

December 18, 2006 – (Mariners) – Emiliano Fruto & Chris Snelling to Washington Nationals for Jose Vidro:  Vidro was awesome back in his prime.  You know, when he could play the field and hit well over .300.  By the time we got him, he was less than a shell of his former self.  Yet, he still managed a respectable batting average in the 2007 season – though, for a DH, his power numbers were attrocious.  Unfortunately, in 2008, the wheels came off (like they did for Sexson and pretty much the entire team).  We stuck with him for 85 excruciating games that season, then released him on August 13th.

January 30, 2007 – (Mariners) – Jeff Weaver Signs 1-year $8.3 million deal:  and the hits just keep on coming for the Bill Bavasi era.  Pretty much because of a single World Series game for the Cardinals, Jeff Weaver “earned” $8.3 million for the Mariners.  “If he was so important to their success in 2006, why didn’t St. Louis want him back,” you might be asking yourself.  I don’t have an answer for you.  What I CAN tell you is that he gave us 27 of the most worthless games imaginable in 2007.  And HE wasn’t even the most loathesome starting pitcher for that team (thank you very much Horacio Ramirez).

December 20, 2007 – (Mariners) – Carlos Silva Signs 4-year $48 million deal:  or, The Straw That Broke Bavasi’s Back.  He was awful for his two seasons in Seattle.  I have nothing redeeming to say about the man.  We traded him on December 18, 2009 to the Chicago Cubs for Milton Bradley in a swap we hoped would be one of those “Change Of Scenery” deals.  Well, the scenery was different, but there would be no change.  Yeah, Silva had half a good season in 2010, but then he reverted right back and was cut before the 2011 season.  Bradley, of course, was miserable for the Mariners.  The worst part of it all?  Not only did we take on Milton Bradley, his contract, and all his emotional baggage (all of which the Cubs were DESPERATE to get rid of), but we ALSO had to pay them an additional $9 million.  How’s that for a nice Fuck You?  Wonder why the Mariners were so bad in 2010?  Wonder why we couldn’t get any free agents in 2011?  Look no further than the money we have on the books for both of these jack-wagons.

January 31, 2008 – (Mariners) – Brad Wilkerson Signs 1-year $3 million deal:  not only did he play right field – forcing Ichiro into the uncomfortable position of playing center – but he didn’t even make it out of the first month, released April 30th.  What a douche.