There’s always a reason to be disgruntled about what’s going on with sports in the Seattle area. We’re far from burdened with championship squads, unless the MLS or WNBA is your bag (which is fine if they are, but they’re just not mine). I don’t have a good handle on the breakdown, but essentially most sports fans complain about one of two things: something unfortunate happened to our team that’s outside of their control, or our team did something fucking stupid that effectively sabotaged all hope for success.
If we were talking about the former, I’d bring up something like Super Bowl XL (where I’ll go down to my dying breath contending we were jobbed by the refs at every turn), various good-looking trades that just didn’t pan out for a variety of reasons (Percy Harvin, Vin Baker, the deal to bring Cliff Lee in), or the countless injuries to promising young stars/prospects who could’ve been great had their bodies only held together (Franklin Gutierrez, Malik McDowell, Danny Hultzen, our entire secondary right before Super Bowl XL).
But, I’m talking about the blunders! The dumb-looking shit that was dumb-looking at the time and only proceeded to grow ever more mind-boggling with each passing year. It’s a rough sketch, but here are the top ten worst self-inflicted wounds I can think of in Seattle sports history.
#10 – We Want The Ball & We’re Gonna Score
You gotta have stakes in this thing, so any individual event has to come in the playoffs at a minimum. This one happened in the Wild Card round of the 2003 season. It’s not JUST that the Seahawks won the coin flip heading into overtime and Matt Hasselbeck made that unfortunate guarantee (indeed, I thought it was cool then, and I would gladly welcome such bravado anytime), but combine that with the fateful call.
Let’s go back: remember, this was back when the first score of overtime wins, regardless; so all we needed to do was get into field goal range. We got a first down and had the ball at our own 45 yard line. A stuffed run and an incompletion made it 3rd & 11. And, for some reason, Mike Holmgren decided to call a 5-wide receiver set. For some reason on top of that, Hasselbeck decided to throw the ball to our 5th receiver, Alex Bannister. For some reason on top of THAT, it was an out-pass – the easiest one to undercut and run back for a pick-six – that the receiver didn’t even get beyond the 11 yards needed for the first down! And, of course, not for nothing, but the pass was simply terribly thrown. The rest is history, and so began our continued demise whenever we play a playoff game in Lambeau Field.
#9 – The Deal To Trade Cliff Lee Away
It was supposed to be the epitome of a no-brainer. Cliff Lee was heading into the final year of his deal in 2010. At the time, he already had a Cy Young Award under his belt and was probably the best left-handed starting pitcher in the game. The Mariners traded three nobodies to the Phillies to bring Lee to Seattle and the plan was simple. The M’s were coming off of a winning season in 2009, and Lee – paired with a still-in-his-prime Felix Hernandez – was going to help push us over the top and back into playoff contention.
Unfortunately, Cliff Lee got injured in Spring Training, and didn’t make his first start until the last day of April. In spite of Lee going 7 shutout innings that day, the Mariners lost 2-0 to drop their record to 11-12 on the season. On July 9th, our record fell to 34-52, and it was clear no playoffs would be forthcoming. That’s okay! We had a backup plan if things fell apart in spectacular fashion (which they did, as we would go on to lose 101 games). Since Cliff Lee was so great – indeed, his numbers after two months with the Mariners were among the best of his entire career – his value should’ve been sky high for a pitching-needy team looking to cement their status as a championship contender.
But, we had Jackie Z at the helm, and our return – Justin Smoak and three other nobodies – was far from inspiring. This was supposed to jumpstart our big rebuild, and Smoak was supposed to be the centerpiece. Instead, we rode his wave of warning track power into mediocre season after mediocre season. You could throw any number of trades Jackie Z made for the Mariners on the list of greatest blunders, but I’m putting this one here because Cliff Lee was amazing, and we BLEW IT.
#8 – Steve Hutchinson Transition Tag
The Seahawks were riding high after their appearance in Super Bowl XL. The only thing we could do to screw it up was dick around with our best players.
Tim Ruskell’s seat in Hell is being kept warm for him by the resentment and hatred of thousands upon thousands of Seahawks fans. What a buffoon! The offensive line was not only the backbone of the Seahawks’ offense, but it was easily the best part of the entire team, anchored on the left side by two Hall of Famers: Walter Jones & Steve Hutchinson. Through them, we had an MVP in running back Shaun Alexander. Through them, a sixth-round quarterback was able to play at a Pro Bowl level. We had the money, we had the desire, and indeed we had NO ANSWER for Hutch’s replacement when he eventually signed the Vikings’ Poison Pill contract!
The hit to the Seahawks was immediate and obvious. Bottom line was: the Seahawks were never the same again, and didn’t make it back to the Super Bowl until the 2013 season (with an all-new regime and set of superstars at the helm).
#7 – The Erik Bedard Trade
There’s no need to clarify; we all know which Bedard trade I’m talking about. In February of 2008, we gave up Adam Jones (5-time All Star center fielder; NOPE, COULDN’T HAVE USED HIM!), Chris Tillman (an All Star starting pitcher who would go on to have a 38-16 record from 2012-2014; NOPE, COULDN’T HAVE USED HIM!), and George Sherrill (an All Star reliever who would save 52 games from 2008-2009; NOPE, COULDN’T HAVE USED HIM!), among two other stiffs.
What we got back in return was a starter in Bedard who – like Lee before him – was brought in to be paired with a still-in-his-prime Felix Hernandez, coming off of a winning 2007 season. Instead, we got a guy who could never really stay healthy, whose style constantly saw his pitch counts inflated early in games, which meant you could only count on him for about 5 innings per start at best. On top of that, there were rumors abound about how he didn’t really give a shit about baseball or winning and was just in it for the paycheck (more power to you, I guess). He sucked so hard, the Mariners couldn’t even flip him for any semblance of value, which meant Bedard had to go down with the sinking ship that is our Mariners existence. On the plus side, this was the final straw to getting Bill Bavasi fired (on the down side, see: Jackie Z)
#6 – The Lowe/Varitek Trade
Woody Woodward stumbled into a lot of success in his tenure as GM of the Mariners. To our dismay, he had no idea what to do with this team once we started reaching those heights.
The 1997 Mariners were a fun bunch. Tons of heavy hitters all up and down the lineup. Led by Randy Johnson, the starting pitching was good enough to take us all the way, assuming the hitters hit and the relievers didn’t totally shit the bed.
As you might have guessed, there was A LOT of bed shitting in 1997; worst year for bed shitting I’ve ever seen, if I’m being honest! Woody Woodward, not knowing what he was doing or how he could rectify the problem, made two of the worst panic-deals for three of the worst relief pitchers I can imagine. The absolute worst was sending Derek Lowe (a 2-time All Star who would go on to win 176 games in his 17-year career) and Jason Varitek (a 3-time All Star catcher for the Red Sox over 15 seasons) for Heathcliff Slocumb (a turd).
Like most of these deals, this one wasn’t helpful in the short term (the M’s would go on to lose in the first round of the playoffs) and it was an outright disaster in the long-term (we either could’ve had two great players for the next decade, or at least flipped them for better players/prospects).
#5 – Jim McIlvaine Signing
Really the beginning of the end of the great run of Supersonics teams of the 90’s. Almost immediately following our hard-fought defeat in the NBA Finals to the greatest team of all time in six games, the Sonics looked like a team that could easily run it back and re-join the Bulls the very next year. You could argue center was our weakest spot on a team riddled with strengths all the way up and down the roster. So, enter Jim McIlvaine – a guy who had done NOTHING to that point – on a 7-year, $33.6 million deal (which was a lot at the time, trust me). He had a whopping TWO years under his belt at that point, as a reserve on the Washington Bullets, where his big claim to fame was averaging a hair over 2 blocks per game the year before in just under 15 minutes per.
This ungodly amount of money – for a guy who’d proven nothing in his brief pro career – obviously angered a lot of players on the Sonics, particularly Shawn Kemp, who effectively forced his way off the team in a deal that would bring in Vin Baker. Now, you can argue both Kemp and Baker – particularly after the strike season – did a lot to damage their own careers as we headed into the new Willennium, so who’s to say what would’ve happened to the Sonics had we gone in a different direction?
All I know is, McIlvaine instantly became entrenched in the starting lineup his first year with us, averaging 18 of the most worthless minutes of each and every game he was in, bringing NOTHING to the table. He actively made the team worse with his play alone, regardless of what happened to the chemistry in the locker room (which is exceedingly important in the NBA, with how long the season is, and how many games they have to play). We ended up losing in 7 games to the Houston Rockets in the conference semifinals, and that was as good as it got for the rest of the decade.
#4 – Randy Johnson Trade
I did a deep dive on this a few years ago that you can check out (as chance would have it, a lot of these other blunders find their way into this piece!), but the bottom line is this: the Mariners were cheap, and Randy Johnson’s best years were still AHEAD of him.
Moreover, I would argue that while the value looked pretty good at the time – indeed, two starting pitchers and a starting infielder isn’t a bad return – the very best Mariners teams of 2000 & 2001 were in such desperate need for a true #1 ace, that Randy Johnson would’ve been perfect for those teams. I’m sorry, I like Freddy Garcia as much as the next guy, but he’s no Randy. Randy who would go on to win four Cy Young Awards from 1999-2002 (again, the years where the Mariners were playing the very best ball in franchise history); you don’t think he could’ve helped those teams get over the hump, and maybe even win a World Series title?
#3 – Not Drafting Brett Favre
Chuck Knox ran the Seahawks efficiently and to the best of his abilities from 1983-1991. You could argue he got more than anyone could’ve expected him to out of a bunch of ragtag guys, especially with at best a mediocre quarterback in Dave Krieg. When it finally came time to move on, Knox had one man in mind in the 1991 NFL Draft: Brett Favre. Ownership, however, refused to see it, and refused to listen to their legendary head coach, opting to go with Dan McGwire with the 16th overall pick (Favre would fall to the Falcons in the second round).
See, McGwire was 6’8. You know, that insanely crazy height that no NFL teams want, because it’s too damn tall to be an effective quarterback? If you don’t remember McGwire, you’re lucky; he was trash. Knox would leave the Seahawks following the 1991 season, and immediately we’d fall to such lows that we’d have to draft yet another dud in 1993 (Rick Mirer, with the #2 overall pick, after losing an opportunity to draft Drew Bledsoe). That went on to cost us the rest of the 90’s, before Mike Holmgren came to town and properly revived this franchise. Had we had Brett Favre? Who knows?! There’s an alternate universe out there where the Seahawks were one of the great teams of the 1990’s.
By that same token, there’s an alternate universe out there where we had to deal with Favre constantly threatening to retire, then return, then retire, and so on. So, maybe we lucked out in the long run?
#2 – Not Properly Renovating Key Arena
By the early 1990’s, the Seattle Center Coliseum was in shambles. Teams around the league were updating their own arenas and it was time for Seattle to join in. Unfortunately – even though this was set up prior to the Kingdome implosion being a twinkle in any of our eyes – the city and county ultimately went the cheap, tight-ass route in renovating the arena. By the time it re-opened in 1995 – while it was a fine place to enjoy a basketball game, from a fan perspective – it was already out-of-date by NBA standards, and apparently impossible to derive any sort of profit from, again by NBA standards.
Say what you will about the league, or about tax payers funding sports venues, but you can’t deny the fact that the Sonics were the first in this city to start the trend of venue renovations, and they fucking blew it HARD. By the time subsequent ownership groups demanded the funds for a proper NBA facility, the Seahawks and Mariners had already gotten brand new stadia. Considering it had been such a short time since the opening of Key Arena, combined with public fatigue over the matter, it’s not shocking in the slightest that the Sonics were shot down.
You could obviously argue the biggest blunder was selling the Sonics to Howard Schultz, or the Schultz Group buying the load of horseshit from the OKC people. But, all of that stems from the inferior building that was presented to the world ahead of the 1995 season. Had we just gotten THAT right, everything else would’ve fallen into proper order, and we’d still have our fucking basketball team. Instead, 25+ years later, we’re finally getting around to doing what we should’ve done then, and for our troubles we get the NHL instead. An okay consolation prize, but obviously not what I’d prefer.
#1 – Slant At The Goalline
It’s hard to top losing a fucking NBA franchise on the list of biggest sports blunders, but costing your team a championship in the most demoralizing way possible? Yeah, I’d say that qualifies.
I would hope, by now, that consensus has found its head when it comes to the decision to throw in that scenario. The Seahawks had one time out remaining, it was second down. Run it and fail, and we’ve got zero time outs and they know we’re throwing two consecutive times (considering how that play ended up, you can’t tell me it wasn’t on the docket for at least one of those possible attempts).
Long story short: throwing was the correct call. Throwing a fucking SLANT at the goalline, to a fourth receiver in Ricardo Lockette (shades of the Bannister play up top), was absolutely the biggest blunder in Seattle sports history.
If you’re going to throw a slant, throw it to Baldwin or Kearse! But, no, DON’T THROW A SLANT! Throw literally anything else! Throw a fade to Chris Matthews – who, to that point, had been carving up the Patriots’ defense – or shit, just throw the ball 30 yards out of bounds! Anything but that!
Okay, that’s all. I have to go lay down now. Where’s my fainting couch?!