Which Mariners Player Would You Want From Prior Eras To Be On Today’s Team?

Jay Buhner was on the Brock & Salk show yesterday, and they asked him, “Who on this year’s team would you want for those Mariners teams you were on?” It’s a fun question to debate, but it’s just pure fan service. I mean, it’s not like it could ever happen, so in a sense it’s completely masturbatory.

Far be it for me to turn down such an opportunity!

Jay Buhner said he’d want to play with either J.P. Crawford or Cal Raleigh. That’s hard to argue with. I mean, I absolutely will, because how could you not take a pitcher? Those mid-90’s teams had the very best version of Alex Rodriguez at short stop, which means you’re bumping J.P. to second or third. Which is fine.

I will say that if I were to take one hitter from today’s Mariners and put them on the 90’s squads, no one would be cooler than Cal Raleigh. I like Dan The Man Wilson as much as anyone, but the dude was a black fucking hole in the playoffs. But, you put Cal on that lineup with A-Rod, Edgar, Buhner, Griffey, Blowers, Tino Martinez/Paul Sorrento? With Cal’s penchant for the dramatic late in games and late in seasons? That’s just beyond an insane lineup.

But, it’s silly. Either you take Andres Munoz and swap out Bobby Ayala’s worthless ass, or you take Luis Castillo and pair him with Randy Johnson, to further crush it with the rotation. Don’t sleep on adding another elite starter to the 1995 team. If we have Castillo in there, maybe we don’t have to go 5 games in the ALDS against the Yankees. Maybe we are better able to line up our rotation against the Indians in the ALCS. Can you imagine Castillo in there instead of Tim Belcher or Andy Benes?

That being said, the Mariners were shut out twice in the 1995 ALCS; indeed, in all four losses we scored 2 runs or fewer. So, maybe Cal would’ve been just the ticket.

As for those early 2000’s teams, I don’t think there’s any question: you put Luis Castillo in that rotation with Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, and Paul Abbott, and you throw Aaron Sele off a fucking cliff. Talk about a guy who was built for the regular season! That guy was a fucking trainwreck in the playoffs! Just fucking murdered us against the Yankees in back to back years; 16 innings across 3 starts, giving up 12 runs. And that’s JUST against the Yankees! For as worthless as Arthur Rhodes was in those series, I’ll take another ace, thank you very much.

But, let’s get back to the title of this post: who would I want from back then to be on today’s team?

Well, as much as I love a great pitching staff, and as tempting as it would be to add Randy Johnson to this group, that’s probably unnecessary, especially when you factor in how challenged this team is offensively.

It’s a clear 3-man race between A-Rod, Griffey, and Edgar. I would say Ichiro and Buhner are definitely honorable mentions, but the 2024 Mariners need more pop than Ichiro is capable or willing to provide, and more of a batting average than Buhner could possibly bring to the table.

The knock against Griffey and A-Rod is that they play two of the positions we’re strongest at. That being said, just move J.P. to second or Julio to right and call it a day. Of course, the knock against Edgar is that he plays no position, but I mean come on. Garver fucks off and it’s a complete 180 at DH.

Part of me feels like I’m over-thinking this. Ken Griffey Jr. is one of the best baseball players of all time. OF COURSE you take The Kid! I guess I’m a little wary because of his post-season numbers. They’re not great! Then again, none of the three are really all that spectacular. Edgar gets all the credit in the world for what he did against the Yankees in 1995, but his career numbers in three ALCS’s are pretty putrid (.156/.239/.234).

You know what? Fuck it. I want A-Rod here. Jorge Polanco is SO FUCKING BAD. Shit-can him, move J.P. to second. I feel like the upgrade of prime, Mariners-era A-Rod over Polanco is better than the upgrade we’d get with Griffey over take your pick in the outfield. Raley is obviously your third guy, probably platooning with Dylan Moore. So, Griffey over Haniger? Don’t get me wrong, that’s a pretty big leap too.

You know, it really says a lot about how shitty the 2024 Mariners lineup is that there are so many colossal black holes you’d love to swap out for Hall of Famers.

Just give me Ichiro, Griffey, Julio, Seager, A-Rod, J.P., Olerud, Raleigh, Edgar, with a bench full of Buhner, McLemore, Wilson, and Nelson Cruz, and throw them together with today’s pitching staff plus King Felix, Randy Johnson, Jeff Nelson, and Mike Jackson, and let’s go win a World Series!

Going For It At The Trade Deadline Is Scary As A Mariners Fan

I grew up in the shadow of the Heathcliff Slocumb deal, let’s not forget. That was a pretty dark day in general for the Mariners’ organization. July 31, 1997. The team was great … for the most part. The offense – especially the power numbers – was off-the-charts elite. Griffey in his prime, Edgar in his prime, Buhner in his prime, A-Rod in his mother fuckin’ prime! That lineup, 1-9, there will never be one like it again in Seattle.

We also had a starting rotation big three led by Randy Johnson in his prime, Jamie Moyer in his prime, and Jeff Fassero in his relative prime. You know what’s ironic about the 1997 Mariners? If I told you we had all of those players at the peak of their abilities, and told you the reason we lost in the first round of the playoffs WASN’T necessarily the bullpen, you’d think I was a God damn liar. But, in Game 1, Randy got torched for 5 runs in 5 innings, and Mike Mussina limited that hall of fame offense to 2 runs over 7 innings. Game 2, more of the same, as Moyer couldn’t get out of the 5th, giving up 3 runs, and the offense was largely shut down. We won game 3 behind a dynamic Fassero start (8 innings, 1 run). But, then the offense was once again eaten alive by Mussina in game 4 (7 innings, 1 run).

Now, granted, that bullpen did us no favors in the first two losses. Bobby Ayala gave up 6 runs in Game 2; Mike Timlin gave up 4 runs in Game 1. But, the bullpen, all year, was the problem. So, on July 31st, we made a pair of moves to try to shore up our weakest element of the team.

Jose Cruz Jr. was our next hotshot prospect to be called up, only to be sent to Toronto for the aforementioned Timlin, and lefty Paul Spoljaric. Spoljaric was a total and complete bust, however Timlin proved fairly effective as an 8th inning high leverage guy. Cruz ended up not amounting to much in his Major League career, but I’ll always wonder if leaving the friendly confines of the Kingdome somehow stunted his growth.

The real nightmare deal of that deadline was the Slocumb trade, who we got from the Red Sox in exchange for starting pitcher Derek Lowe and starting catcher Jason Varitek. Both of them are in the Red Sox Hall Of Fame, if that tells you anything. Meanwhile, Slocumb is still haunting me, both in my sleep and in my waking life.

It’s exactly THAT kind of deal that gives me tremendous pause every trade deadline.

You could argue the 2024 Mariners are a lot like the inverse of the 1997 Mariners. An elite collection of starting pitching, the likes of which we may never see again. A bullpen that’s good, not great, led by some really terrific back-of-the-bullpen guys. And a lineup that is just the fucking worst. We’re currently poised to win the A.L. West just the way we are, but we could obviously use a little offensive help to get us over the finish line.

The real kick in the pants about that 1997 season is the fact that the new bullpen pieces didn’t really do much of anything to solidify those later innings. I don’t believe for one second that the players we acquired made any difference in us winning our division that year; we got there on the back of our offense and starting rotation.

The same is likely to be true in 2024; if we get to the playoffs, it absolutely won’t be because of any player we get at the deadline. It’ll be on the back of our pitching staff. Oh sure, maybe a trade acquisition might have a big hit or two, but in the grand scheme of things, he won’t be the difference-maker. And he certainly won’t put us over the top and into the World Series!

There have been a variety of deadline deals throughout the years. Randy Johnson to the Astros (was only mitigated by the fact that it precipitated an all time run of greatness for the Mariners from 2000-2003), Freddy Garcia to the White Sox (bringing back a collection of crap), and one of the great Chef’s Kisses of the Bill Bavasi Era: 2006, separate deals with the Cleveland Indians, sending out Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo within a month of each other for some hot garbage. Choo and Cabrera went on to have long, fruitful, All Star careers; the guys we brought back did nothing and 2006 ended in misery (as so many years did between 2002 and 2021).

Seeing those players go on to have tremendous careers for other teams is EXACTLY the reason why I’m so paranoid about the Mariners making any sort of Win Now move.

The Mariners have totally re-stocked their farm system with a collection of exciting, young prospects. 5 players in the top 50 of all of baseball, according to some people! Thinking about one or more of those guys going somewhere and being in another team’s Hall Of Fame gives me panic sweats.

Logically, I understand how stupid it is to want to cling to all of these guys. They’re not ALL going to turn out to be amazing big leaguers. I also understand that at some point, you have to push your chips in; you can’t keep waiting around forever for these prospects to develop into bona fide stars at this level. Because, as you keep waiting, the guys who are here now will eventually move on, because we WON’T be able to afford to keep everyone. And, let’s face it, this is an organization that’s starved for some success.

The bottom line is, if a deal ends up resulting in this team winning it all – even if the player(s) we get in return don’t affect the outcome all that much – no one will care about who we lost. We’ll just remember the good times of finally getting this monkey off our back.

My Favorite Seattle-Based Athletes, Part 3: My Top 5

Here’s Part 1 and Part 2. Get ready for tomorrow when I give you my Mount Rushmore, followed by my top three and a half, my top two and 7/8, and my top 0.991.

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:

  1. King Felix
  2. Beastmode
  3. Bam Bam Kam
  4. The Reign Man
  5. 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.

The Biggest Blunders In Seattle Sports History

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?!

The Mariners Traded James Paxton, The Next Great Rebuild Is On

James Paxton to the Yankees
Justus Sheffield, Erik Swanson, and Dom Thompson-Williams to the Mariners

So, yeah, this is what we all wanted, right?  Stop pussy-footing around, trying to merely contend for a wild card spot, and start tearing things down to rebuild the foundation even stronger in the seasons to come.  Will the Mariners suck in 2019?  Absolutely.  Were they going to be worth a damn anyway, if we’d re-signed Nelson Cruz, maybe brought in a guy or two from free agency, and tried to run it back with the same core of guys?  Probably not.  The Mariners were going to suck – or at best be mediocre – for years to come; I’d rather they REALLY suck and hope to hit on some young prospects, while waiting out the Astros and A’s and whoever else who are already good now, and figure to be good for a long time.

I’ll start with this:  James Paxton had to be one of the first to go.  That guy is a walking injury waiting to happen, he’s at the peak of his value as a front-line, ace-type starter, so we had to get him out of here while his arm was still attached to his body.  Counting on him to survive a full Major League Baseball season is unrealistic, because he’s literally never been able to do it to date.  Does that mean he’ll NEVER do it?  No; I’m sure as soon as 2019 he’ll be a Cy Young contender.  But, over the long haul, he’s going to be on the DL more than his fair share of times, and it would’ve been frustrating to try and root for the guy who can never stay healthy for longer than a month or two.

There’s also the very real possibility that the Yankees figure something out about his mechanics or whatever and fix him, so he goes on to have a Randy Johnson-esque career in his 30’s.  Never rule out the ineptitude of the Mariners’ organization and its coaching staff.

As for the return?  It’s underwhelming.  It was always going to be underwhelming.

For starters, I’ll agree with what Mike Salk has said on 710 ESPN:  I also hate trading for Yankee prospects because they ARE the most over-hyped prospects in the game.  Now, part of that is due to the fact that they manage to find so many diamonds in the rough; their great teams are ALWAYS built on homegrown talent.  So, yes, they do have an eye for it, but more importantly, they keep what’s going to work best for them, and they ship off the duds.

So, yeah, Justus Sheffield might be their best prospect NOW, but Jesus Montero was once their best prospect.  It might be a down period for Yankee prospects (because so many of them have made it to the Major League level in recent seasons).  Sheffield has also been traded twice in his young career; are we sure we want to get too excited about a guy that two teams have already given up on?

Sure, he COULD be the next James Paxton, but he could also be a back-end of the rotation nothing.  He throws UP to 97 miles per hour, but how much do you want to bet he actually sits closer to 93-94?  And that doesn’t even go into how trading for ANY pitching prospect is risky business, with all the injuries that befall pitchers nowadays.

The bottom line is, scouts around the game feel he likely tops out as a #2 starter, whatever that means.  I guess it means he’s not going to be one of the top 10-15 starters in the league.  For the purposes of the Mariners’ organization, he’ll likely be our #1, but he’s a #1 starter like Freddy Garcia was once a #1.  It all depends on the rotation; someone’s gotta go on opening day.

That’s already underwhelming, and I haven’t even gotten to the throw-ins.  Erik Swanson is another pitcher who’s already been traded twice in his career.  He’s yet to actually make any Major League appearances, though (whereas Sheffield at least made it into 3 games in relief towards the end of last year).  Swanson did pretty good in AAA last year – and both of these guys figure to at least get a look in Spring Training in 2019 – but I’d bet the family farm that he starts out in Tacoma.  Swanson is projected to be a back-end of the rotation starter at best, with some guys projecting him to eventually end up in the bullpen.  In which case, whoop-dee-freaking-doo.

Then there’s Dom Thompson-Williams, an outfielder who made it all the way to the high-A level last year.  He’s young-ish, but probably should’ve made it higher than he has.  He figures to start in AA in 2019 and I guess we’ll see.  They say he plays center, but he projects more as a corner outfielder, and ultimately probably a 4th outfielder at the Major League level.  Either way, don’t expect to see him on the Mariners before 2020 or 2021.

Which, incidentally, is what Jerry Dipoto said is the target for the Mariners to start turning it back around again.  We’ll see.  That sounds pretty optimistic.

As I said up top, I’m all for trading Paxton, but I dunno.  Maybe we could’ve held off until AFTER Thanksgiving to see what we could get.  Is this really the best deal out there?  Are we sure there wasn’t another team willing to chip in just a little bit more?  Obviously, we were limited.  The teams who’d be in on Paxton are the teams who feel they’re World Series contenders RIGHT NOW.  There wouldn’t have been any rebuilding teams, or middling wild card teams in on him, because those teams would be looking for better bets on long-term health.  The Yankees are just hoping Paxton can keep it together for 1-2 years; if he has that in him, maybe they go to the World Series next year.  Or, if he lands on the DL a bunch in 2019, they can always trade him next off-season to recoup whatever they can get.

My thing is, the Mariners believe in their ability to develop players more than I believe in them.  The Mariners probably feel like they can get the most out of Sheffield, that with their coaches, they can turn him into an ace.  I’ll tell you right now, that’s not gonna happen.  Developing fringe talent into stars is probably the WORST thing the Mariners do.  Killing it on social media, engaging with the fans, having cool ballpark give-aways, celebrating their retired stars?  That’s more in their wheelhouse.  It’s fine, we all have our special talents.  Being good at baseball just isn’t one of the Mariners’.

Of course, I’m talking out of my ass, because I haven’t seen any of these guys play at all.  They could shock the world and prove Jerry Dipoto to be a genius.  Based on precedent, I have my doubts.  I’m a Mariners fan, and as such I’m destined to always root for a loser.

Walker Does His Best To One-Up Paxton

Teams can fall a little too in love with their prospects (unless you’re a new GM and those prospects were brought in by the previous regime).  They tend to over-value them in trade negotiations, and give them countless chances they wouldn’t otherwise give free agents on team-friendly, short-term deals.  Fans, well, what’s bigger and more all-encompassing than “love”, because that’s what they’ve got for their team’s prospects.  Shut up!  The Angels should be so lucky to trade us Mike Trout for Stefen Romero!  And so on and so forth.

It’s with good reason, though, as prospects are little nuggets of hope.  With established veterans, you pretty much know what they are, and you pay accordingly.  We’re all aware of the ceilings of guys like Cano, Cruz, and Aoki.  But, with prospects – guys just starting to get their feet wet, all the way up to guys with some experience, but haven’t entrenched themselves in the Bigs – the sky is the limit.  Most of the time, prospects fizzle out.  Sometimes, guys bust through into established roles in the Major Leagues.  And, every once in a great while, guys will hit it big, and it’s in this case where you – as a fan – are so desperate to get in on the ground floor.

Prospects who hit it big are cost-effective superstars, essential to a team’s chances in having a long, sustained run of success.  Even though there’s no salary cap in the MLB, you can’t literally bring in 25 free agents to fill out your roster and expect to win every year.  You need cheap guys under team control to round out your squad, and fill in around them with free agent veterans and the like.

For so many years under Bavasi and Zduriencik, the model failed.  Prospects never developed, and veterans came in and took dumps all over our hearts.  For every winning season, there were at least three losing seasons, and ultimately the model needed a total revamp.

This year, the Mariners seem to have the right mix of veterans, and now they’re starting to see some real potential and production out of their prospects.  There are still plenty of growing pains, but if we can work through those over the course of the next couple months, we might be in for a fun stretch of baseball this fall.

The prime area I’m talking about here is in the starting rotation.  Walker, Karns, and now Paxton, are essentially still prospects, in that I don’t believe any of them have reached their ceilings.  We’re going to need them to pop if we expect to remain in contention, and hopes have never been higher.

Remember the Big 4 of Walker, Paxton, Hultzen, and Maurer?  Remember how they were all together, kicking ass in the minor leagues, and we all pointed to the future of the Mariners’ starting rotation as being in the conversation with those Braves teams of the 1990s?  Well, such is baseball, Hultzen is all but out of the game, Maurer has been converted to a full-time reliever (in another organization, no less), Paxton has spent the majority of his career injured (and the majority of this season in Tacoma), and Walker is still trying to figure out how to transition from a guy who throws electric stuff into an actual pitcher.

Remember the original wave of hotshot pitching prospects the Mariners over-valued, around the turn of the century?  Headed by a still-young Freddy Garcia, we had Gil Meche, Ryan Anderson, Joel Pineiro, and to a lesser extent, Ryan Franklin.  Remember what happened with that group?  Garcia was an okay ace-type pitcher (but far from an elite, Randy Johnson type).  Meche flashed early potential before suffering arm problems, then was sort of mediocre before leaving in free agency.  Ryan Anderson never made the leap to the Bigs, thanks to injuries and general ineffectiveness (the hype of him being touted as “The Little Unit” or whatever trite comparison to Randy Johnson probably didn’t help much either).  Pineiro also flashed a lot of early potential before regressing to mediocre (and then bouncing around the league as a starter/reliever for the later years in his career).  And Franklin had a nice little assortment of pitches, but none of them were top shelf, and he spent the majority of his Mariners career being mediocre before converting to a reliever full time and having a lot of great success in the National League.  The claim to fame for this group is that 4/5 of them (Garcia, Meche, Pineiro, and Franklin) combined with Jamie Moyer in 2003 to be the only starting 5-man rotation in my lifetime, in all of Major League Baseball, to make every single start for a team in a season.  While it amounted to 93 wins (on the back of a still-awesome offense), it didn’t lead to a playoff spot, nor any sustained success going forward (as the Mariners, in 2004, would win 30 fewer games).

So, with that in mind, I don’t want to sit here and make this out to be more than it is.  Hell, earlier this week, I was just bitching about each and every one of these starting pitchers for their recent failures.  But, on the heels of Paxton’s eye-opening performance on Monday, Walker came out last night and pitched 8 shutout innings, with 0 walks and only 3 hits (all singles).  Considering Walker’s been as culpable as any of our starters for this team’s recent struggles, it was nice to see him bounce back against a pretty solid Indians team.

Moreover, don’t think I didn’t notice the timing in all of this.  Granted, the broadcast mentioned a “Get Your Shit Together, Or Else” meeting between the pitching coach and all the starters recently, but I like to think there’s a little friendly rivalry going on between Walker and Paxton, the last two standing from that notorious Big 4.  Walker is a fiery, competitive guy, who wants so desperately to be great.  But, he doesn’t have any peers on this team.  Felix, Iwakuma, and Miley are all veterans.  Karns is new to the team, even if he’s in a similar boat experience-wise.  But, Karns hasn’t had to endure the hardships of a go-nowhere organization like Walker.  Paxton, however, does have that in common.  Paxton is Walker’s true peer and true rival (even though, I highly doubt they’re actually enemies).  There was a lot of heat on Paxton after his most recent start, and I’m sure it didn’t sit well with Walker – who had a tremendous amount of heat on him coming into this season, from local as well as national media types.

I’m not saying I necessarily predicted this or anything.  But, after watching last night’s game, I don’t know how I could’ve missed it.  Walker looked like a man possessed.  We’ve seen him nibble and get too cute with his offspeed stuff, trying to find an appropriate mix-and-match system that works for him, with frequently middling results.  We’ve also seen him snap back into Default-Taijuan mode, where he pumps teams with a crazy percentage of fastballs, controlling the strike zone, and using his overpowering arm to win a game.  But, last night’s game was something else.  He looked like he wanted to throw baseballs THROUGH the opposing team’s bats.  He was focused, in control, and utterly dominant.

Now, if only he could do this every time out, we’d be in business.

Will Paxton’s presence be the spark that keeps Walker on his toes and his head in the game?  Will they together push one another into new realms of greatness we haven’t seen from either guy to date in their careers?  Will Karns take a look at what’s going on and say, “Hey fellas!  Wait up!”?  Will Miley’s shaved-off beard take 99% of the blame for his prior struggles this season, or 100% of the blame?  As you can see, I have no idea how to end this thing, so I’m just going to stop … here.

Are The Mariners (Gulp) Only Built For The Regular Season?

As we cruise into the final days of May, in first place in the division and one of the best teams in all of baseball, it’s only natural to be excited.  PLAYOFF FEVER, COMIN’ ATCHA!

It’s been so, so, SO LONG since we’ve had a baseball team this good, this well built.  It’s not like 2007 or 2009 where the winning was flukey and unsustainable.  It’s not even like 2014, where pretty much everything went right and we STILL came up a game short of vying for the Wild Card.  This is a team, from 1-25, that’s good enough to sustain through the whole season.  Yes, there will be lows, but I’d argue fewer and further between.  With a lineup this good and this veteran; with a rotation that looks pretty steady, and a bullpen that might be better than we thought (though, one might argue, some of these guys were due to regress in the positive direction after having down years in 2015), this team should be able to nip a lot of losing streaks in the bud, before they turn into total calamities.

So, let’s just take that for granted.  And, let’s assume that the team stays reasonably healthy, and doesn’t totally fall apart with injuries.  This, right here, in 2016, will be the Mariners team to take us back to the post-season.

What happens then?

One of my all-time sports regrets – and there are more than a few – is that 2001 Mariners team.  It’s a different feeling than the gut punch that was losing the Sonics, or the two Super Bowl defeats.  It’s even different from the other good Mariners teams who fell short.  In 1995, we were more or less just happy to be there (and just ecstatic to reach the ALCS); in 1997, it didn’t feel like an end of an era so much as the beginning of a long and fruitful stretch of post-season runs with the best core of players in all of baseball (it was, in fact, the end of an era, as Randy, Griffey, and A-Rod would all leave in ensuing losing seasons).

2001 stands alone, because it’s all at once a source of tremendous pride and abject horror.  I look back on that year with fond memories, because we won 116 motherfucking games!  We tied the all-time record!  We even hosted the All Star Game and got to show the world how great Safeco Field was and is!  It might be another 90-something years before we see a 6-month stretch of dominance like that again.  Sure, there will be 100-game winners, but 116?  In the American League?  That feels like a pretty safe number.  I had SO MUCH FUN watching that team day-in and day-out; I never wanted that season to end!

And then it did.  And HOO BOY was I miserable.

When you’re a kid (unless you’re some spoiled brat of a rich kid), you learn pretty early on that life isn’t fair.  You’re not going to get your way, and it’s totally arbitrary, and you don’t understand why, and it sucks, and you’re pissed.  But, in sports, you want to believe that the best team WILL win it.  You root for a team like the Mariners, you pay your dues (for the most part; as much dues paying as you can do when you become a fan in September of 1995), you wait your turn, and then here it is!  2001!  116 wins!  FINALLY!  It’s OUR time!  We are, clearly, far and away, the best team in all of baseball, and this is the year we get our championship trophy to celebrate it!

I didn’t get to root for a lot of successful teams growing up.  The Seahawks were the local turd in the punchbowl for the entire 1990s, I was never into college sports as a child, so I had the Sonics.  The Sonics may or may not have been the best team in 1994 – when they lost in the first round to the Nuggets as a 1-seed – but I find it truly hard to believe that they were the best team, when they couldn’t even beat an 8-seed who was just happy to be there.  That team, even if it managed to find a way to get to the next round, probably would’ve ended up losing to the Rockets or Jazz or Spurs.  It was flawed, and feasted upon all the bad teams, while cleaning up at home.  Then, by 1996, the Sonics were clearly NOT the best team, because they ran into the buzzsaw that was the 72-win Bulls.

Really, in my lifetime, the first team I rooted for that was LEGITIMATELY the best team in that particular sport that particular year was indeed the 2001 Mariners.  And, as such, that’s really the first time I got a taste of not only life not being fair, but sports not being fair.

With a little perspective, you start to throw caveats into the mix.  Sadly, the 2001 Mariners weren’t the best baseball team that year, they were just the best REGULAR SEASON team that year.

For, you see, a team like the Yankees, they won 21 fewer games in the regular season, but they were built for the post-season.  Our lineup was good, theirs was a little bit better.  Our pitching feasted upon all the run support they were given, their pitching was battle tested.  Their starting rotation was dynamic – with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina, and Orlando Hernandez.  Our starting rotation was entirely unremarkable – with Freddy Garcia, Jamie Moyer, Aaron Sele, and Paul Abbott.  Their bullpen featured the greatest closer of all time in Mariano Rivera; our bullpen relied on a closer in Kaz Sasaki with a nothing fastball, who needed pinpoint command of both his pitches – especially his splitter – to get the job done.

In the end, what happened?  Well, the Mariners lost in 5 games, and didn’t score more than 3 runs in any of their defeats.  Likewise, an over-worked bullpen in the regular season ended up faltering in key moments late in the 50/50 games of that series, giving the Yankees a decided advantage.  We were a team built for the regular season.  Guys like Sele and Garcia absolutely thrived until the spotlight shone too brightly and they were forced to truly bear down.  And the hitting, solid up and down the lineup, simply couldn’t find a way to push runners home when they had the opportunities.

So, with all of this as preamble, I say again, if the 2016 Mariners make the post-season, as we’re all starting to expect they will, what happens when we get there?

In an ideal world, I’d just be sitting here enjoying the ride.  Let Future Steven worry about what happens in October; this is May!  October is MONTHS away!

But, I can’t help it.  I see a team like the Red Sox, and they look really poised to do well in the playoffs.  They’ve got an ace, just like we’ve got an ace, but they’ve got a couple starters behind their ace that look pretty great.  The Cubs and White Sox, shit, they’re ALL pitching!  The Royals have been there before, and you figure they’ve got another run in them to get back into contention.

The Mariners, you can tell right now, are going to need a lot of help if they end up making the post-season.

I like Felix, but I’m not sure about ANYONE after him.  That includes Taijuan Walker, who can be dominating, but is still young, and is still finding himself.  Kuma is not the rock-solid #2 starter we all remember from 2013.  Wade Miley is the epitome of a guy built for the regular season.  And Karns?  Who knows if he’ll still be pitching, or if he’ll run into an innings limit?  Sure, we’ve got Paxton down in Tacoma, just waiting for his opportunity to prove he’s got what it takes, but I think we can all agree, if this team is going to make a bunch of noise in the playoffs, it is GOING to need another dominant starter after Felix.

With Felix and Ace #2, I think I could be okay with Taijuan Walker holding the fort as our third starter.  Now, whether or not the team will go with him, or the more veteran Iwakuma, is up for debate.  We’ll have to see where those guys are by season’s end.  If Walker proves he has what it takes to really lock things up in the important games in September, I could see him supplanting Kuma.  But, if not, then you’re looking at Walker as your 4th starter, which means you probably don’t need him until the ALCS (although, I’d be PRETTY interested to see Walker out of the ‘pen in the ALDS, just to get some work in, throwing in the upper-90s, with his awesome change-up as an equalizer).

If we’re unable to make that deal for another ace, then you gotta really hang onto your butts and hope the hitting lineup has enough juice.  With no other incoming starting pitcher, we’re probably forced to go with Miley in a more prominent role, and that frightens me to no end.

I also don’t think it would hurt to bring in a superstar reliever.  For the regular season, I like our bullpen as is (when you factor in the eventual return of Zych and Furbush).  In the post-season, though, my confidence is wavering.  Cishek strikes me as the type of guy who’s MUCH too volatile in a post-season setting.  Benoit’s got a good, but not great arm.  Nick Vincent has been good against right handed hitters, but I don’t want to see him in a situation where he has to face someone like Big Papi or something.  Right now, I think I’m only REALLY sold on Mike Montgomery, who has looked OUTSTANDING in his bullpen role.  He’s got an additional 3-4 miles per hour on his fastball, he’s good to throw multiple innings, so he can really bridge the gap if a starter needs to be pulled after five innings.  He’s also super strong against lefties, in the event we need to mix & match late in a game.

I’m not saying you completely throw out the bullpen and try to start over with a bunch of deadline trades.  But, I’d like to see us take advantage of some sellers out there.  Maybe bring in another guy with closing experience, in the event Cishek falters down the stretch and we need to go with more of a bullpen by committee approach.  Like, for instance, maybe we’re able to work out a deal for one of the better Yankees relievers?  Maybe we offer them a package that features James Paxton or Nathan Karns as the centerpiece?

Maybe we go all-in on 2016, because let’s face it, there’s no such thing as dynasties in baseball, and you’ve GOT to strike while the iron’s hot, damn the consequences?

If we make the playoffs and look more or less the same in October as we do in May, I’m afraid there are going to be issues.  2016 looks to be the funnest season we’ve had ’round these parts in well over a decade, but just having fun can’t be the only goal.  In years past (and I’ve said this many times), I would have gladly taken a baseball team that’s just entertaining enough, just interesting enough to contend until football season starts, and then go ahead and fall apart if you have to.  But, this year?  When we’ve got Cano, Cruz, and Seager all in their primes, when we’re FINALLY able to make good with King Felix and give him a winner for the first time in his Hall of Fame career, we can’t just crack the ALDS and act like we’re just happy to be there.  We can’t go into this thing ready to say, “Well, there’s always next year.”  If the opportunity arises, and it costs us everything in our God damn farm system, I don’t care, you have to make the moves that transform this team from a Regular Season Dandy into a Post-Season Juggernaut.

Let 2001 be a lesson to you, Mariners.  That team was pretty happy just to be there.  That team was CONVINCED there would be plenty more chances to get back to the show and win it all.

That team was the last one in franchise history to make the post-season, in what has become the second-longest playoff drought in all of the major American professional sports, behind the Buffalo Bills.  And you don’t want to be compared to the Buffalo Bills, trust me.

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.

Mariners Tidbit 26: Happy Felix Day Indeed!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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