The Top Ten Biggest Seattle Sports Disappointments

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

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

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

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

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

#10 – Danny Hultzen (Mariners)

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

#9 – Justin Smoak (Mariners)

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

#8 – Aaron Curry (Seahawks)

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

#7 – Dustin Ackley (Mariners)

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

#6 – Chone Figgins (Mariners)

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

#5 – Percy Harvin (Seahawks)

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

#4 – Erik Bedard (Mariners)

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

#3 – Rick Mirer (Seahawks)

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

#2 – Jeff Cirillo (Mariners)

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

#1 – Vin Baker (Supersonics)

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

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

The 2016 Mariners Had A Legit Hitting Lineup

In 2010, as difficult as it seemed at the time, I knew this day would eventually arrive.  The Mariners had been a great hitting team Back In The Day, in the glory years of the early 2000’s.  And, with steroids largely policed out of the game, we couldn’t reasonably expect a return to those types of insane power numbers.  Nevertheless, whatever “Good” means in this brave new world of lower power numbers and better overall pitching, whatever the new normal would end up being, ONE DAY, the Mariners would once again have a good lineup.

And, it appears, that time has come.

This is going to be very rudimentary, so I wouldn’t come here expecting a vast expanse on sabermetrics.  My little pea brain has a general fixation on what good hitting should be, and that number is .250.  If you’re hitting .250 or above, you’re doing all right.  If you can pack your lineup with those types of guys, you’re generally going to score lots of runs and, hopefully, win lots of games.  It’s not a hard and fast rule, but more of a glance.  There are obviously other ways to contribute – a lower average, with a higher OBP, for instance, will bring a lot to the table; ditto a guy with a high slugging percentage – but I like it when I can look at the Mariners’ stat-sheet and see a bunch of guys hitting .250 or above.  It warms my fuzzies right up.

Currently, the Mariners have 6 regulars hitting .250 or above (Cano, Cruz, Marte, Martin, Smith, and Seager).  Aoki and Iannetta are lagging behind a little bit, but they do make up for it with OBP.  The only guy struggling too much for comfort is Lind, with a .216 batting average to go with all of 5 walks on the season, and a paltry .319 slugging percentage.

On the plus side, that’s really only ONE black hole.  You could make an argument that Guti is another, but he doesn’t play nearly enough to qualify for that type of slur.  If he’s still struggling in July, then maybe you think about his role on this team.

But, as far as I’m concerned, having just the one regular struggling is FANTASTIC!

I started this post back on May 25th, and then for some reason I just abandoned it to my drafts folder.  I don’t know why; I guess I just didn’t feel like getting into a whole thing.  I was apparently pretty high on the Mariners’ hitters on May 25th, and that carried through – for the most part – the rest of the season.

I already got into Cano, Cruz, and Seager in a separate post, so feel free to read about my thoughts on them over there.  Spoiler alert:  I like those guys.  But, there were other guys I liked too, so let’s talk about them for a while.  In no particular order:

Leonys Martin

As a centerfielder (as a hitter and defensively), Leonys Martin was the definition of “Meets Expectations”.  Damn near a .250 hitter, 15 homers, 24 stolen bases, and absolutely elite, top-shelf fielding.  We’re not talking about Ken Griffey Jr. numbers or anything, but that’s as ideal of a centerfielder as you can expect.  Now, as a Mariners fan, when I think of Leonys Martin, I’d have to actually put him in the “Exceeds Expectations” category, because God damn have we been tortured with a bunch of mediocre outfield crap since Mike Cameron left!  We got nearly 2 seasons of Guti in his prime before he fell apart, but other than that, it’s been a wasteland of Meh out there.  When you factor in Martin’s declining offensive numbers in Texas in 2015, I was CONVINCED that he’d be a dud this year.  But, as I said, he really did shock the world with his level of play, particularly on the offensive side of the ball.  He’d never shown that kind of power before!  When all of us were expecting the equivalent of Brendan Ryan As Centerfielder at the plate, Martin was a revelation.  Consider me delighted we have him under club control for two more seasons.

Nori Aoki

I get the feeling, with Nori, that more people are down on him than high on him after what amounts to a 1-year experiment.  I’ll admit, while I’m not crazy about him defensively, and he obnoxiously ran himself into more outs than I care to remember (caught stealing 9 times out of 16 attempts, are you kidding me?), I think I’ll look back on him fondly overall.  It doesn’t hurt that he really tore shit up over the last two months of the season, after he’d been sent down to Tacoma to work on his swing (among, I’m assuming, other things).  On June 23rd, he was hitting .245, along with his crappy defense and baserunning, making him a total liability in all phases of the game.  He was called up about a month later, played for a month, had to go back to Tacoma for about a week due to other injuries and the roster crunch therein, and then finished the season playing mostly everyday.  He got that average back up to career norms in that time (.283) while adding 100 points to his OPS from his June low.  His main competition when it comes to returning in 2017 is:

Seth Smith

Both are left-handed corner outfielders who bring more with their bats than in the field.  Smith has a little more pop in his bat, but Aoki has slightly better on-base abilities.  Given Smith’s foot speed is absolute zero, Aoki has him there on the basepaths, and overall as an offensive weapon.  Smith’s already under contract though (for a sensible $7 million) while Aoki is an unrestricted free agent.  I don’t know if Aoki will draw a Qualifying Offer, or if that’s even an option with him, but at a hefty price tag of $17+ million, I doubt the Mariners would be willing to bite.  You’d think you could get Aoki to come back on a reasonable contract, but I would assume there’d have to be assurances made (i.e. the trading away of Seth Smith).  You really don’t need both of these guys on your roster, and it doesn’t sound like the Mariners are going to try to keep both.  One thing the team will have to consider is Smith’s rapid decline over the last two months of the season.  He barely hit .215 in August and September combined, and even with his mini power surge in September (5 homers, 2 doubles), his overall OPS really bottomed out as he rolled over into shift after shift.  Seth Smith is always lauded for his professional at bats, and his ability to get on base, which shouldn’t be discounted.  But, he sure does seem to wear down the more he plays, and the second halves to his seasons sure look pretty mediocre.  At some point, it would be ideal for the Mariners to shore up the corner outfield with a more permanent, everyday option.  But, for now, I guess we can live with another platoon year.

Guti, Gamel, Heredia

Let’s just lump all these guys together and wrap up the outfield portion of this post.  I won’t be shocked when the Mariners re-sign Guti to another 1-year deal, considering he’s a veteran right-handed bat with pop.  He appeared in all of 98 games in 2016, and his overall offensive numbers took a bit of a hit, but he didn’t totally flatline.  We got Gamel from the Yankees and didn’t really see enough of him in September.  He’ll be competing with Heredia most likely to be this team’s final outfielder.  For the most part, I liked what Heredia brought to the table, but I’d like to see some more power out of him.  Slap-hitting singles hitters don’t tend to stick at the Major League level very long.

Dae-ho Lee & Adam Lind

Ahh, the ol’ first base platoon.  Dae-ho Lee was another really pleasant surprise, who sort of struggled as the season went along.  He’s a free agent, but I wouldn’t mind having him back for another go-around if the price is right.  As for Lind, don’t let the door hit you on the way out.  His averages across the board took a huge nosedive, with his worst OPS since 2010.  Which just adds more fuel to the fire that guys get signed by Seattle and promptly lose the ability to hit.  Safeco isn’t even that bad to hit in anymore, compared to what it used to be before the fences were moved in!  Besides, it was never all that bad for lefties!  He just stunk.  For whatever reason – maybe the reputation of Safeco got in his head – he got off to a horrid start and was never able to fully recover.  I’m sure he’ll sign elsewhere and bounce right back to his usual self, in which case he can promptly and savagely go fuck himself with a bat right in his cornhole.

Ketel Marte

This was a guy I was pretty stoked about early in the season.  He was a little raw defensively, but his speed on the basepaths was top notch, and his bat was coming around.  Then, he hurt his hand and went on the DL, and was never the same.  Tack on another DL stint for mono, and you have one of the great lost seasons in Mariners history.  He played out the stretch run, but his bat never really recovered, and his defense never really developed.  He was making the same dumb, rookie mistakes in the field as he was at the beginning of the season.  I don’t expect the world out of a guy defensively, but you’ve GOT to make the routine plays!  When one of his blunders helped cost us a game in the final week of the season, I essentially wrote him off.  I might back off that stance eventually, but if the Mariners go out and deal for an upgrade at short stop, I won’t be crushed.  As I’ve said before, we’ve got to win while the winning’s good.  Cano, Cruz, and Felix won’t be in their primes forever.  I don’t know if we have the time to hold Marte’s hand as he works his way through these growing pains.

Zunino, Iannetta, Clevenger, Sucre

My overarching take-away from Mike Zunino’s 2016 is that he’s turned the corner.  Then, I looked at his numbers and now I’m starting to wonder if that’s true.  The power is still there, which is his saving grace, but it looked like he started to fall into the same old traps over the final two months of the season.  His strike out percentage was right there at his career norms (33.9%), his batting average was barely over the Mendoza Line, but I’ll give him credit:  his eye at the plate is VASTLY improved over what it was in 2015.  His walk rate jumped up to 10.9% from 5.1% over his first three seasons, which is incredible.  I’d also say that while he’s still striking out as much as ever, he’s not necessarily falling for those breaking balls low and away as much as he was before.  Baby steps, maybe.  But, there’s still a big ol’ hole in his swing, which is going to necessitate a quality catcher to either platoon with him, or spot him more days off than we’ve been giving him.  Obviously, this year, we had no choice but to play him mostly everyday, because he was so clearly better than any other catcher in this organization (in spite of Sucre’s random surge in production in September).  Iannetta is under contract for 2017, which is less than ideal, as he brings nothing to the table offensively, and even less to the table defensively.  Hopefully, we can trade him for a bag of batting donuts, because I’d almost rather have Sucre out there, if he can continue working on his batting skills.  Clevenger seems to be a non-starter, unless the team really wants to work with him on the whole Racist Tweets shitstorm.  I wouldn’t be totally against it; seems like having a left-handed catching partner with Zunino would be a good thing for this team (plus, he’s under club control for 2 more years, so it’d be nice to see what he’s got in him as a baseball player).

And The Rest

Which is really just Shawn O’Malley.  He’s a step up from Willie Bloomquist, so that’s something.

The Mariners Drafted Kyle Lewis & Joe Rizzo

I’m not a huge draftnik in general, and specifically with baseball I don’t know if I could care any less than I already do.  I don’t follow college baseball, I sure as SHIT don’t follow high school baseball, I’m not a scout, and trying to project what teenagers will become in 3-8 years sounds like a futile and pointless exercise.

I pay attention one day a year, and that’s Day 1 of the draft, and by “pay attention” I mean:  I happen to be on Twitter and notice the beat writers talking about it.  Then, I click on links they offer, read what people have to say, and that’s the basis for my knowledge on the subject.  Pretty neat, huh?

In years past, the Mariners have drafted the following in the first round:

  • 2015 –
  • 2014 – Alex Jackson (OF)
  • 2013 – D.J. Peterson (3B – converted to 1B)
  • 2012 – Mike Zunino (C)
  • 2011 – Danny Hultzen (SP)
  • 2010 – Taijuan Walker (SP)
  • 2009 – Dustin Ackley (OF – converted to 2B – converted to OF)
  • 2009 – Nick Franklin (SS)
  • 2009 – Steve Baron (C)

As you can see, a real Who’s Who of garbage (and Taijuan Walker).  To be honest, I forgot all about Steve Baron, but he’s a no-bat defensive catcher who makes Jesus Sucre look like Babe Ruth at the plate.  Nick Franklin is in the Tampa Bay organization and is still trying to break on through into becoming a regular big leaguer.  Dustin Ackley is The Most Disappointing Man In The World.  Taijuan you all know and love.  Hultzen is one of a long line of safe Jackie Z draft picks, who was supposedly the most “Major League-ready” pitcher, but whose bevy of arm injuries has killed his career.  The jury is still out on Peterson and Jackson; but Peterson was drafted for his bat and his power, and has yet to really impress with either on a regular basis; and Jackson is mired in single-A ball, appearing to be on nobody’s fast track to the Majors.

This year, with the 11th overall pick, the Mariners selected Kyle Lewis, an outfielder out of Mercer University.  He’s 6’4, he bats and throws right-handed, his position for now is in centerfield, but some project him to be a corner outfield guy.  He played basketball and baseball in high school, and only dedicated himself exclusively to baseball relatively late in his amateur career.  He went to Mercer as a project, busted out as a Sophomore, and was “College Player of the Year” as a Junior this year.  In 61 games this season, he hit 20 homers while putting up a slash line of .395/.535/.731, while also walking a whopping 66 times.  So, he’s got the power, he’s got the plate discipline, his swing is apparently a little long and wonky, but they can work on that with him after he signs, he’s rangy, with good but not great speed, and has a nice arm.  His high leg kick is apparently a concern, which could mean he’s in for a lot of strikeouts when paired with that swing.  So, it’ll be imperative that he smooths all that out if he wants to make it to the Bigs someday.  One would think, as he continues to round out as a pro and puts on some more muscle, he won’t necessarily need that leg kick to generate the power he’s accustomed to.  If that clicks for him, he could be a monster.  I’m seeing comparisons ranging from Jason Heyward to Mike Cameron.

From what I’ve read, I like the pick, but then again I’d probably be saying that no matter who the Mariners went with at the 11th overall spot.  Lewis had been considered by many to be a Top 10 pick, with some people ranking him as high as the third overall selection.  The Mariners themselves thought they didn’t have a chance at him when they scouted him initially, so for them it was a nice, pleasant surprise.  I mostly like that he’s a high upside player.  Granted, he could make it to Tacoma and promptly flame out like so many Quad-A outfielders we’ve gotten to that point in recent years.  But, if he figures it all out, he could be a superstar in this league.  Here’s to hoping he’s got the focus, and the organization has the people around him to make that a reality.

The farm system, right now, is pretty dire.  I don’t think there’s a single person in AAA, for instance, who projects to be an everyday Major Leaguer (maybe a bullpen guy or something, but the rest of those guys seem to have hit their ceilings).  There’s some good-looking talent in AA right now, but you figure you’re still at least a couple years away (at best) from seeing them produce in a Mariners uniform.  Beyond that, who knows?  So, when I see the Mariners have drafted a centerfielder, I don’t really pay attention to specific “needs” at the big league level.  Since these guys don’t generally make an impact for many years after they’re drafted, it’s not like football where you see holes and you draft guys to fill those holes; in 5 years, or whatever, when Kyle Lewis is ready to get his shot at the Major Leagues, will there be a hole in centerfield?  Probably, but you can’t think that way as a fan.  From a farm system perspective, there are holes EVERYWHERE, at all levels!  The draft is the crappiest of crapshoots, particularly in baseball.  Bringing in talent, regardless of position, is what’s important right now.

Especially since, when you think about it, the Mariners are currently in contention, and might be robbing from that farm system to try to bring in big leaguers to help us win right now.  Obviously, we just drafted Kyle Lewis, so he isn’t going anywhere.  But, guys above him, in AA and AAA, might be shipped off.  So, replacing those guys with incoming draft picks – and having some of those draft picks actually pan out – is going to be pretty important.

Which brings me to the Mariners’ second round pick, Joe Rizzo.  He’s a high schooler with a nice swing, who appears to be pretty polished at the plate, and raw literally everywhere else.  He’s not as athletic as you like – particularly for a third baseman – which is why everyone is already projecting him to move anywhere from left field to first base.  Considering that’s more or less what they were talking about when the Mariners drafted D.J. Peterson, I’m not super-thrilled with these descriptions.  I mean, who was the last guy they talked about in these terms, who actually panned out in a big way in the Majors?  Seriously, I’m asking, because as I said before, I don’t follow the draft all that closely!

For what it’s worth, they said similar things about Dustin Ackley as well (although, his bat was more highly regarded, thus the #2 overall draft slot).  Guys who hit well in college and high school, who don’t have an established defensive position, aren’t really options in my mind.  Yeah, they may be good to go from a hitting perspective, but that just means they’re going to put all their energy into either learning a new defensive position, or trying to refine the position they came up with.  Either way, all that focus on the defensive side of the ball – which is VERY important – will inevitably take away from them becoming a professional hitter, at which point you’ve got a player who isn’t good defensively, who also hasn’t made any strides at the plate, and all that promise they had coming in will have been squandered.

Look for Joe Rizzo to be absolutely nothing for the Mariners one day.  I hope he proves me wrong, but I seriously doubt it.

At least with Kyle Lewis, you’ve got athleticism, and some built-in defensive ability, to go with his excellence at the plate, so all he has to do is refine and mature, as opposed to essentially starting all over as a professional.

Baseball can be really discouraging.  Baseball prospects are generally at the top of that pyramid.  Now you can see why I rarely try to put any energy into focusing on the minor leagues.

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.

My Favorite Current Seattle Sports Stars

Nothing scientific about this post, my friends.  Today isn’t Thanksgiving or Memorial Day, but it’s still an important national holiday where we’re encouraged to reflect on what we’re thankful for and to celebrate all that we have.  There’s a lot of shitty things about the Seattle sports scene, but there are also flashes of brillance that should be acknowledged from time to time.  This isn’t a post celebrating my All Time favorites (it would generally be a lot longer and tedious, so expect that one to come up in the near future when I’ve got a free Saturday morning to write non-stop for four hours), but my favorites who I get to watch today.  This also isn’t a list of the BEST Seattle sports stars (though, they’re all pretty damn good, otherwise I probably wouldn’t like them so much), but a subjective ranking of my favorites.  Treat it like those annoying year-end lists where people rank the best in a specific catagory:  rife with controversy and outrage.  Without further ado, my favorites, in order from my favoritest on down.

  1. Felix Hernandez – This is by far the easiest choice I had to make.  On a list that’s going to be massively influenced by Seahawks, Felix is a shining beacon of awesomeness without rival.  If there was a massive flood and I had the opportunity to save just one professional athlete on my giant ark, I’d toss Felix a line and watch the rest drown in agony.  Then, I imagine I’d grab a couple gloves and a ball and play catch with just the greatest guy in the world *swoon*.
  2. Richard Sherman – This was a tougher pick for sure.  The next two guys on this list could stake a claim right along with Sherman as the Best Seattle Seahawk, but I’m giving my nod to #25.  I love a guy who is brash enough to talk gargantuan amounts of shit, then back it up by being the best player at his position.  In my book, short of pulling an Aaron Hernandez, I don’t think there’s anything Richard Sherman could do that would make me lose favor with him.  A lot of fans just want players to shut up and let their play on the field do their talking.  Fuck that.  I want nothing but bad-asses with personalities that drive fans of other teams (and players on those teams) crazy.  Besides, Pats fans, you know if he was on your team, you’d be hanging all over his jock, so calm down.
  3. Marshawn Lynch – He cemented his place in my heart in the 2010 playoffs with The Run.  Fuck it, he had a play so fucking amazing that it’s known as THE RUN.  Do you know how sick that is?  The Seahawks have been pretty mediocre throughout their franchise history – the epitome of a .500 or near-.500 ballclub – but throughout they’ve been blessed with quality running backs.  Curt Warner, John L. Williams, Shaun Alexander, as well as less-heralded players like Chris Warren and Ricky Watters.  I’ve thought very highly of all of these guys at one point or another.  But, I don’t think my level of affection has ever reached a point that it has with Beastmode.  There are plenty of imitators across all sports who have tried to co opt the Beastmode moniker, but every last one of them are phonies who need to start telling the truth with their nicknames.  “Less Than Beastmode” is a fitting start.
  4. Russell Wilson – You’re In Good Hands With Russell Wilson.  Even as a rookie last year, whenever I watched the Seahawks and they were down, I never got rattled when I saw Russell Wilson leading our team.  Granted, he didn’t complete every comeback, and even when he did, we didn’t always win those games thanks to a few defensive lapses, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt as comfortable coming from behind as I have with Wilson.  He WILL lead us to a championship one day, I have no doubt about that.  He’ll also be in the Hall of Fame one day as well.  Mark it now.
  5. Austin Seferian-Jenkins – This is going to be the only college player on my list as it currently stands, but I think I’ve made the right choice.  No DUI conviction is going to stand in the way of my love for this kid.  He’s a man among boys on the football field, including both his team and whatever team he’s playing against.  There are a lot of Huskies that I like, but none come close to ASJ’s level.  This year could be a monster and I’m hoping that he starts breaking records left and right.  I’ve seen too many amazing catches in traffic by this guy, so I know that in spite of whatever off-field issues he’s had, he’s always going to bring it on gameday.
  6. Kyle Seager – He’s the only Z-acquired prospect to pan out thus far, and he’s the only non-injured Mariners hitter I’m willing to put on my list of favorites.  I mean, I have to defend my choices!  Kyle Seager is the only hitter on this team that I can honestly defend.  He’s not flashy, but he’s solid.  And, with moments like last night’s game winning homer in extra innings down in Texas (and that grand slam in the 14th inning last month to tie the game we would eventually go on to lose), Seager has also shown a flare for the dramatic and ultra-clutch.  With the new crop of prospects just getting their feet wet, it’s nice to know there’s at least one long-term guy on this team I can count on to show up day-in and day-out.
  7. Golden Tate – Again, we’re not talking about the very BEST players (though, I would argue that Golden Tate is pretty fucking good), but we’re talking about MY favorites.  Golden Tate is one of my favorites, hands down.  Hard-nosed doesn’t even begin to describe his style of play.  He’s a magnet for the football and will do anything it takes to get that extra yard and get in that endzone.  Of course, helping to enrage a nation of Packers fans on Monday night doesn’t hurt.  I’ve had pretty high expectations for this guy since we drafted him, which may not be totally fair.  Either way, it took him a while, but he has finally started to reach his potential and I think he will only get better as he goes on.  Now, the question is:  will he still be on the team after the 2013 season?  If I had it my way, and the Seahawks were forced to make a hard choice between which receivers to keep going forward, I’d see them extend Tate and waive Sidney Rice.  That isn’t to say I’m down on Rice, but he makes too much money and he’s older.  Tate may not look like the prototypical #1 receiver, but I think he has the potential to put up those kinds of numbers.
  8. Brandon Browner – There’s not a lot that gets me more jacked up than to see Browner beating some wide receiver’s shit in.  Browner can enrage at times.  He’s prone to getting penalized and sometimes it looks like he’s more focused on punishing an opposing player rather than making sound football decisions, but with Browner the good far outweighs the bad.  Like Tate, I wonder if he will be on the team beyond 2013.  Like Tate, I think the team needs to make a sound football decision.  If they can bring Browner back at a somewhat reasonable rate, I think he’s worth the money.  But, if he’s going to command a max deal, then I think you have to do the smart thing and let someone else over-pay.  I don’t say that lightly.  If money were no object, I’d love to see Browner and Sherman playing opposite one another for the next five years.  But, we’re dealing with a salary cap, and I’m a Seahawks fan first.
  9. Franklin Gutierrez – I’ve talked a lot about the heartbreaking saga of Guti in a Mariners uniform, but that’s because I genuinely like the guy a lot and wish him nothing but the best.  His grace and speed in the outfield is unmatched when he’s healthy.  His bat is a game-changer at the top of the lineup … when he’s healthy.  Mariners fans love nothing more than a quality center fielder.  From Griffey to Cammy to Guti, if you’re flying around out there, putting your body on the line to make another SportsCenter highlight catch, we’re going to make signs in your honor and cheer like crazy.  2013 is, unfortunately, the end of the road for Guti in a Mariners uniform, which is depressing to no end.  I just hope he’s able to get a proper chance next year to get his career going again.  It would be a shame for the game of baseball to not have this guy roaming an outfield somewhere.
  10. Red Bryant – I’ve talked about this before, but I LOVE it when Red gets super fired up and starts barking at opposing players.  I’ve always had a soft spot for the big dudes along the defensive line, and Red Bryant is someone who completely changes the complexion of this defense.  When he’s healthy, he’s a disruptive force that helps us make other teams one-dimensional.  Unfortunately, he’s either been on the IR or has been playing through nagging injuries far more than he’s been completely healthy.  Still, you can tell that this is a guy who is giving his all and a guy who cares about being the best.  You often worry about players when they sign a big contract extension.  With Red Bryant, there’s no reason to worry.  If he’s got even an ounce of energy, he’s going to expend it doing what he does best:  kicking ass.

The Best Players On The Worst Teams, Part II: Other Seattle Mariners

Ken Griffey Jr. played in 22 seasons.  He’s one of the most accomplished Major League outfielders of all time.  He’s most associated with the rise of baseball in Seattle, from a mere afterthought to making this a Baseball City (even though you and I know this will always be a Football City).  And yet, in all those seasons, he was only a member of three playoff teams.

There’s 1995, obviously, where the Mariners got to within a couple games of the World Series.  Then, there was 1997, where the Mariners won a total of one playoff game.  Then, after the 1999 season, he forced a trade to the Cincinnati Reds … where they NEVER made the playoffs with Griffey on the roster.  Nine years!

Obviously, part of the blame goes squarely on Griffey himself.  Had he stayed with the Mariners, maybe those teams in 2000 and 2001 still make the playoffs.  Hell, MAYBE those teams in 2000 and 2001 go to the World Series.  We’ll never know, because he forced his way out.  Anyway you slice it, though, if we had a healthy & happy Ken Griffey Jr. on those teams, it would’ve been a considerable step up from Mike Cameron.  And that’s saying something, because I really liked Cammy!

Junior didn’t make the playoffs again until 2008, when he was traded to the White Sox and they lost in the first round.  The Reds didn’t make the playoffs again until 2010, where they also lost in the first round.  Junior is a First-Ballot Hall of Famer, but he’s one of the unluckiest guys in the world.  For all the injuries he sustained, preventing him from being the best player in baseball history, and for all the shitty teams he was on.  I mean, 8 of the 9 Reds teams he was on had losing records!  7 of the 13 Mariners teams he was on had losing records as well.  That’s a lot of failure for someone who deserved much better.

***

It’s tough finding a lot of “great” Mariners for this list.  Let’s face it, most of the great Mariners enjoyed quite a bit of success.  You can’t throw guys like Edgar or Wilson or Bone on this list, because they were here for all the playoff runs.  And you can’t throw someone like Randy on this list, because he went on to have tremendous success after leaving this team.

However, there HAD to have been some quality players from the 80s to throw on this list!  Like, Alvin Davis for one.  Mr. Mariner!  He played 8 seasons in Seattle, and only once had a winning record.  He played 9 seasons total, finishing his career as a California Angel, and not once ever made the playoffs.

Harold Reynolds was another.  10 seasons in Seattle, only one winning record (that 1991 season is such a tease!); 12 seasons in the Majors, not one playoff appearance.

Jim Presley was another decently good Mariner, with 6 seasons in Seattle (no winning records) and 8 seasons in the Majors (no playoff appearances).  These are kind of the obvious names that come to mind when I think about the Mariners in the 80s.  I’m sure there are some other quality M’s out there, but not too damn many (because if there were, we’d be talking about teams that actually won some ballgames).

***

There’s one other player I KINDA want to put on this list, but his later career in Philadelphia disqualifies him.

When I was thinking of a list of players, Raul Ibanez popped into my head.  He started his career in Seattle, in the Good Ol’ Days, but he rarely got a chance to play.  Then, he signed with Kansas City where he became a bona fide Major League hitter.  Then, he came BACK to Seattle on a five year deal where we only had one winning season.  To that point, through the 2008 season, Ibanez had been involved in 13 Major League seasons, but only got a single taste of playoff baseball.  In 2000.  Mostly as a pinch hitter with the Mariners.

Then, after the 2008 season, he signed almost immediately with the Phillies and proceeded to make the playoffs in three straight years.  In 2009, they lost in the World Series to the Yankees.  In 2010, they lost in the NLCS to the Giants.  In 2011, they lost in the NLDS to the Cardinals.  That’s some hard luck, but the point is, those were some good teams!  He capped it off with a stint in New York in 2012, where the Yankees made it to the ALCS before being swept away by the Tigers.  So, we’re talking about four consecutive playoff appearances.  You can’t say Ibanez didn’t have a chance at glory.  No one is feeling sorry for the guy, even if he is back in a Mariners uniform in 2013.

If we were simply talking about Raul Ibanez:  Seattle Mariner, then yeah, he would qualify for the list.  2013 makes 11 seasons with the Mariners, with only one playoff appearance to show for it.  But, his career away from this black hole takes him out of the realm of the truly depressed.  Indeed, it provided him with a career he can look back on fondly.

The Last Great Mariners Rebuild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

1995 Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1996 Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1997 Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

1998 Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

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

1999 Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

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

2000 Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2001 Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2002 Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

2003 Seattle Mariners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

Game 111.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King Felix Among The Single-Game Seattle Greats

This thing isn’t going to stop at one post; me looking back at Felix’s achievements.  Hell, I reckon it won’t stop at two, but we’ll take each day as it comes.

Felix is awesome.  He’s probably already the greatest pitcher in Mariners history and he’s working his way towards greatest MARINER in Mariners history.  When I mean “greatest” I don’t just mean the fan favorite (otherwise, shit, Joey Cora would probably land in the Top 5), I mean the guy who is physically the fucking greatest specimen to ever put on a Mariners uniform.  And, once you put him in the discussion for greatest Mariner, you’re not very far off from talking about the greatest athlete in Seattle sports history.

But, those are posts for other times.  This post is about individual game achievement.  More specifically, this is about the greatest individual performances I have ever seen in my 25 years (or so) of sports viewership.

Eventually, I’m probably going to turn this post into a Timeline, but for now I’m just going to tick them off as I can remember them.  I think, first and foremost, what will never be beaten is Marques Tuiasosopo’s 300/200 game against Stanford in 1999.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about:  Tui became the only player EVER to throw for 300+ yards and run for 200+ yards in the same game.  It’s an absolutely insane amount of yardage for one man to gain and I don’t think it’ll ever be topped.  Regardless of where you’re from or what sport you’re talking about, that individual performance is one of the greatest of all time, period.

In sticking with the Huskies, there’s Corey Dillon’s 305 all-purpose yards (222 rushing & 83 receiving) in the first quarter of a game against San Jose State.  What makes that even more incredible is, the Huskies were up by such a lead (36-0) after 15 minutes of play that Dillon never played again the rest of the game.  Who the hell knows, he could have gotten 1,000 yards that game!

One more Husky performance before I move on:  I don’t want to take away too much from Keith Price’s 7 touchdowns in last season’s Alamo Bowl, but knowing that he did what he did and we still lost kind of puts a damper on that accomplishment.  Nevertheless, I mean, 7 fucking TDs is pretty fucking amazing.

In Husky Basketball, I don’t think anything tops Isaiah Thomas’ 28 points and his cold-blooded buzzer-beater against Arizona in the 2011 Pac-10 Tournament.

For the Sonics, I don’t know why, but the first thing that comes to mind is Rashard Lewis’ 50 point game.  I don’t remember who we were playing, I just know that it was the first game of the 2003/2004 season and that it was being played in Japan for some reason.  It probably jumps out because it was so fucking unexpected coming from him.

With the Seahawks, you have Shaun Alexander’s 5-TD first half against the Vikings, which I’m almost positive was a Sunday (or Monday) night game.

For the Mariners, another semi-oddity comes to mind:  Mike Cameron’s 4-homer game against (I believe) the White Sox.

Then, of course, you have Randy.  I wasn’t an M’s fan when he threw his no-hitter for us, but I was around in 1997 when he apparently had not one but TWO games where he had 19 strikeouts.  I always thought he was going to at least tie the record in a Mariners uniform, but it wasn’t meant to be.

And finally, Felix.  Yes, there was yesterday’s Perfect Game.  But, there was also April 11, 2007’s game in Boston against Daisuke Matsuzaka (his first game in the Majors).  Complete game, 1 hit, 6 K’s, 2 walks.

This is an imperfect list, I understand, but it’s early and my head is still in a fog.  I’m going to come back sometime with a breakdown of Felix’s greatest starts in his professional career.  Hopefully it’ll be better than this.