All right, let’s cut the bullshit. You already know who these guys are from yesterday’s post, so let’s get to ranking. Here’s my official Top 5 Favorite Seattle-Based Athletes:
- King Felix
- Bam Bam Kam
- The Reign Man
- The Big Unit
I was never upset at Randy Johnson for forcing his way out of Seattle. Admittedly, for a while, I was annoyed by his 1998 season, when it seemed pretty obvious he wasn’t trying very hard for Seattle, only to lay the National League to waste upon being traded to Houston (going 10-1 in 11 starts with a sub-2 ERA after going 9-10 in 23 starts with a plus-4 ERA for the M’s). The fact of the matter is: the Mariners were being fucking tightwads and using his back issues as an excuse to lowball him. Of course, we know what happened: he won 4 consecutive Cy Young Awards in Arizona, at the exact time the Mariners most desperately needed a proper ace at the head of our rotation (Freddy Garcia was nice and all, but he wasn’t a true #1, and that hurt us in the playoffs). When he was here, though, and he was on his game, there wasn’t anyone more exciting to watch. Getting to witness Randy Johnson every five days was a thrill to behold. That raging fastball, that diabolical slider (known as Mr. Snappy), that imposing figure he cut on the mound, glowering at opponents moments before making them look absolutely foolish. Also, the stamina to regularly throw WELL over 100 pitches in order to get through 7+ innings. He was one of the last of a dying breed, and the game is all the worse for it.
Shawn Kemp was a man among boys, even when he was just a boy entering the league straight out of community college. The Supersonics of the early-to-mid 90’s were one of the best and most fun teams in the NBA. Run and gun and dunks and outstanding defense; they were everything you’d ever want out of a dynasty … minus the championships. It goes to show you how difficult it can be to get over the hump. Anyway, Kemp was mighty raw entering the league, but also one of the most athletic players on the court on any given night. Over time, he really developed his game, becoming a dominant post presence, and even perfecting a nice mid-range jumper. But, it’s the transition dunks that he’s most remembered for. Between his high-flying theatrics and Kevin Calabro’s genius play-by-play, Sonics fans were provided hundreds of hours of entertainment. It’s just too bad the signing of a shitty white center soured Kemp’s relationship with the organization to the point where he forced his way out. As with Randy, I don’t blame Kemp one bit. Only Gary Payton could possibly deserve more money than Kemp, but certainly not someone as oafish as Jim McIlvaine.
In keeping with great players who were also disgruntled for part of their tenures here, it’s hard to top Kam Chancellor for sheer bad-assery. The guy was the dictionary definition of an enforcer on defense. Punishing fools who dared cross his path. It’s hard to say who was more important and more vital to this team’s success between him and Earl, but even though both were safeties, they played vastly different positions. Kam was a hitting machine, could blow up your spot along the defensive line and in the short passing game, but unlike Jamal Adams, Kam also had the ability to cover guys down field. He frequently was tasked with shutting down the opposing offense’s best tight ends. No one ever gave Gronk a run for his money like Kam. Same goes for receivers like Julio Jones and Calvin Johnson. No one played bigger than Kam. Even better, you rarely got the sense Kam was a shit-talker. I love a good shit-talker as much as the next guy, but it’s even cooler when a total fucking stud goes out there and lets his play do the talking. Every once in a while – after a particularly important play – he’d drop the hammer with his Bam Bam Kam routine, and it just pumped everyone up even more.
It takes a lot to be higher in my esteem than someone like Kam, but Marshawn Lynch did just that. He was the offensive equivalent, bulldozing through guys, to the point where they just didn’t want to deal with him anymore by the ends of these games. When you talk about wearing down a defense with your running game, you’re talking about Beastmode. That’s the ideal. On top of which, by all accounts he was just the coolest fucking guy off the field, giving teammates the shirt off his back if they asked for it. And he also ended up being the first and only guy to hold the Seahawks hostage to the point where he actually earned a raise with his holdout. Isn’t that something?! There’s the Beastquake, the antics during Super Bowl Media Days, anytime he popped up on a TV show or on a late night show. He’s a delight everywhere he goes!
Of course, no one is topping Felix Hernandez. He was a tremendous prospect, he was electric as a younger player, he developed into the very best pitcher in the game, all on his rookie deal. Right there, that’s enough to rank him among my favorite Seattle athletes. But, then he did what absolutely no one thought he’d do: he signed an extension with the hapless Seattle Mariners. In February 2013, he signed a 7-year deal for $175 million dollars, and in my eyes was worth every penny. Oh sure, he didn’t age quite as gracefully as we hoped and expected. But, he played his entire 15-year career in a Mariners uniform, when he absolutely didn’t have to. All he wanted to do was win, was to lead this franchise into the post-season; when he signed his extension, we were already a dozen years removed from our previous playoff game. Then, we proceeded to keep letting him down year after year after year, until eventually he couldn’t carry this team anymore. But, you know what? He gave us 12 amazing years. Every fifth day was a new Happy Felix Day, and you never knew what you were going to get. One of those days was the most recent Perfect Game for Major League Baseball. But, there were countless Felix Quality Starts (7+ innings, 1 or fewer runs allowed). Even as his fastball waned, his change-up was the best in the game and turned him into a wizard out there on the mound. Teams didn’t know what to do with him for the longest time.
Felix is forever my guy. During his entire run here, I wasn’t a Mariners fan; I was a Felix fan. That more or less remains unchanged, even though he’s gone. I’d run through a wall for that guy. It’s the least I can do for all the times he made Seattle relevant and the Mariners worth watching.