The Mount Rushmores For Each Seattle Pro Team

* That I choose to cover, because I don’t give a fudge about the ones I don’t.

Mount Rushmores:
Tuesday:  Seattle Sports Announcers
Wednesday:  Seattle Head Coaches/Managers

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of TV shows still airing new episodes right now?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Rick & Morty, Better Call Saul, Bob’s Burgers, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, but ask me another day and I might give you four completely different shows.

Today is going to be the first of a two-parter, of sorts.  I’m going to split up my Mount Rushmores between the Mariners, Sonics, and Seahawks, with the goal of locking down an official Mount Rushmore for All Seattle Sports tomorrow.

First up:  the Seattle Mariners.

  1. Ken Griffey Jr.
  2. Edgar Martinez
  3. Felix Hernandez
  4. Ichiro

I thought this one was pretty easy, but I could see why people might want to make the argument for someone like Randy Johnson or Alex Rodriguez or even Alvin Davis, but ehh.  Griffey is Griffey; he’s the greatest player in Mariners history.  Edgar is Edgar; he’s the greatest hitter in Mariners history.  Felix is the King; his prime in a Mariners uniform was better than Randy’s prime in a Mariners uniform.  Had the Mariners never traded Randy, and he won a bunch more Cy Young Awards and whatnot, then yeah, Randy all day.  But, I’m going with the King because he’s my favorite player of all time and because he deserves to be on this list.  And, I’m going with Ichiro as my #4 due to his longevity and his sustained brilliance as this team’s leadoff hitter.  Again, it comes down to tenure over someone like A-Rod who had a short stint of supreme excellence before taking the money and running to the Rangers.  In the end, I don’t think A-Rod would end up on any team’s Mount Rushmore, and that’s exactly what he deserves.

Next up:  the Seattle Supersonics.

  1. Gary Payton
  2. Jack Sikma
  3. Fred Brown
  4. Shawn Kemp

You could go any number of ways with the Sonics.  Ray Allen, Lenny Wilkens, Gus Williams, Xavier McDaniel, Nate McMillan, Spencer Haywood, Slick Watts, Detlef Schrempf, Big Smooth, Dale Ellis, and on and on and on.  There were so many great players, so many great teams, and so many great eras of Sonics basketball.  I’ve got the Glove at the top because I think he was the best all-around player in team history.  He’s obviously known for his lockdown defense, but he really developed into a dominant offensive player over his career, becoming the team’s unquestioned leader.  Sikma was the best big man in team history, averaging a double-double in 7 of his 9 years in Seattle (as well as making 7 All Star Games).  Brown was a 13-year career Sonic bridging the early 70s, through the championship year, on into the mid-80s and the next generation of great Sonics teams.  And, finally, I’ve got 5-time All Star (with the Sonics) Shawn Kemp, the most explosive and athletic player in team history, who really developed into a force in the league, at a time when there were tons of great power forwards in the game.

And, without further ado:  the Seattle Seahawks (past).

  1. Steve Largent
  2. Walter Jones
  3. Cortez Kennedy
  4. Kenny Easley

Okay, so here’s the deal:  those are four Hall of Famers.  If you’re going to have a Mount Rushmore of Seattle Seahawks, you’ve gotta go with the actual NFL Hall of Famers, right?  Steve Largent, at the time of his retirement, had just about every single wide receiver record in NFL history; he was THE greatest, until Jerry Rice became THE greatest.  Now, many receivers have blown past Largent’s stats through the years, but the game is a lot different now than it was in the 70s and 80s.  Walter Jones, I think, is the greatest left tackle in NFL history; he absolutely belongs on this list!  The Tez is, without question, one of the greatest all-around DTs in the history of the league.  His ability to clog up the middle, command double-teams, and still create an abundance of pressure up the middle is simply mind-boggling.  And, as for Easley, he was a Pro Bowler 5 of his 7 seasons, and a first team All Pro in 3 of his 7 seasons.  Had he not had the health issues that forced him into retirement, he would’ve been an NFL Hall of Famer MANY years ago.  Essentially, he was Kam Chancellor before there was Kam Chancellor, at a time when the safety position was oft-overlooked.  His type of game-changing talent is generational and precious and should not be taken for granted.

There have obviously been other great Seahawks throughout the years – Matt Hasselbeck, Curt Warner, Shaun Alexander, Jacob Green, Dave Brown, Dave Krieg, Jim Zorn, and so on and so forth – but no one is on the level of the four above-referenced Hall of Famers.

Now, that having all been said, I think this current batch of Seahawks – since Pete Carroll and John Schneider joined the team – have some NFL Hall of Famers on it as well.  So, really, I had no choice but to split this part up.

We had the Seahawks (past) and now the Seahawks (present).

  1. Earl Thomas
  2. Marshawn Lynch
  3. Richard Sherman
  4. Russell Wilson

Obvious asterisk here in that Beastmode is not a current Seahawk, but he’s from this Pete Carroll Era, and that’s really what I’m talking about here.  I think Earl Thomas (assuming he comes back from his injury) is the best and most obvious future Hall of Famer.  Like Easley, in Earl’s first seven seasons, he’s made 5 Pro Bowls and 3 First Team All Pros.  He’s the heart & soul of this defense and really what makes this defense tick.  As you could see when the Seahawks lost him last year, this defense falls apart without Earl!  With him, it’s among the best in the league, and the primary reason why we’ve led the league in fewest points allowed so many times under Pete Carroll.  Next up, I think you have to go Beastmode.  I think, as it stands right now, he’s a borderline NFL Hall of Famer.  But, with a good season or two in Oakland, I think he blows past borderline into Obvious NFL Hall of Famer.  Lynch took this team from soft and old and carried it to back-to-back Super Bowls.  He allowed this team to bring its rookie franchise quarterback along slowly, and when it mattered most – in those playoff games – Beastmode brought his game to another level.  Ultimately, I think it’s his performances in the playoffs that will carry him into the Hall of Fame (in spite of his famous discontent with the NFL media), and it’s why I have him ranked so high on my list.  Third, I’ve got Sherm.  He’s the greatest cornerback in team history.  Period.  4 Pro Bowls and 3 First Team All Pros in his 6 seasons, and he has yet to miss a game as soon as he entered the starting lineup.  I don’t know how much longer he’ll be a member of this team, but as long as he is, he’s on my present-day Mount Rushmore.  And, fourth, I’ve got Russell Wilson.  I could’ve gone any number of directions here – Wagner, Kam, Bennett, Avril, K.J., Doug – and indeed, any number of those guys might end up making the Hall of Fame alongside my top 4, but I’m rolling with the QB.  In spite of the fact that for quarterbacks nowadays, it’s probably harder than ever to make the Hall of Fame, what with all the passing records that are falling, and how difficult it is to last in this league for 10, 15 years or more.  And make no mistake, Russell has A LONG WAY to go.  5 seasons, 3 Pro Bowls, no All Pros.  It’s especially questionable when you consider the step back he took last year with lots of injuries and behind an ineffective O-Line.  For this choice, I’m going mostly on faith, and I do have faith that Russell will reach all of his goals and go down as one of the greats of this era.  Disregarding all of that, right now, for what he is, Russell is the guy that stirs the drink.  This team doesn’t do what it’s done without Russell Wilson behind center.  No Super Bowls (plural), no division titles (plural), not nearly as many 10-win seasons (he’s 5 for 5 in his short career, no pun intended) with a replacement-level player.  Quarterback is the most important player on every NFL team, and the Seahawks are no exception.  As such, he’s making my Mount Rushmore over the rest.

Tomorrow, I’m going to pick from among the above-listed 16 players and come up with a definitive Mount Rushmore for Seattle Pro Athletes.  Weeeee!

Mount Rushmore: Seattle Head Coaches/Managers

Yesterday:  Seattle Sports Announcers

It’s All Star Week in Major League Baseball, which means it’s pretty much a dead week in sports.  I’m not 12 years old, so the All Star Game doesn’t mean anything to me; I’m not 62 years old, so golf doesn’t mean anything to me.  But, a blogger’s job is never done!  Or, I dunno, maybe it’s been done ad nauseam.  Either way, I’ve got nothing timely to write about, and I’ve got nothing else better to do, so I’m doing this.

We’re celebrating some of the local Mount Rushmores in a series of posts this week, because that’s something people do, right?  Sports radio and the like; what’s your Mount Rushmore of Stand-Up Comedians?  Off the top of my head, I’d have to say Dave Attell, Chris Rock, Tig Notaro, and Dave Chappelle, but ask me another day and I might give you four completely different names.

Today, I’m going to delve into the head coaches and managers of the various local sports teams.

In spite of the fact that Seattle is far from Titletown, U.S.A., this was actually a pretty difficult exercise.  Ironically, because there were TOO MANY good coaches to choose from!  I’ll tell you right now, this one is bound to be my most controversial Mount Rushmore of the week, but IDGAF.  Come at me, broseph!

For starters, right or wrong, I’ve put OVERWHELMING emphasis on those head coaches who led their respective teams to championships.  I mean, it’s obscene, which is why I’m going to start this post with my Honorable Mentions, and I’m going to lead off those Honorable Mentions with probably the most glaring omission (but hear me out):  Lou Piniella.

Look, I love Sweet Lou as much as the next guy, and if I were simply ranking managers of the Seattle Mariners, he’s obviously at the top of the list.  And, while much of this isn’t his fault, I would argue he’s not entirely blameless for the fact that the Mariners only made it to the playoffs 4 times in his 10-year career.  And in those 4 years, they failed to get past the American League Championship Series (often never really making it much of a challenge).  Those teams were absolutely LOADED with talent!  Are you kidding me?  Not even a single World Series appearance in the bunch?  I know, the organizational management of those teams was severely lacking; they bungled a bunch of trades, mishandled two of our greatest players (Griffey and Randy) to the point that both wanted out of the organization, and refused to pony up the cash to keep the best player on the planet – Alex Rodriguez – when he became a free agent.  That having been said, I’ve never really had much respect for baseball managers; what do they do besides write a lineup and make bullpen decisions?  Manage player egos?  Ooo!  Big whup!  Head coaches in other sports do that too, and they do a lot of other stuff that has more of an impact.  Naw, I’m not buying baseball and I’m not buying Lou Piniella.  If Mount Rushmore had 5 people on it, I probably STILL wouldn’t have him on it!

Because that leads me to my next omission:  Mike Holmgren.

At least he took the Seahawks to a Super Bowl!  I would argue both he and Piniella have to be credited with changing the culture of losing for their respective Seattle-based teams, but they JUST didn’t quite get it done when it mattered most.  There were some extenuating circumstances with Super Bowl XL and the officiating that I won’t get into here, but alas, Holmgren just misses the cut.

Some other Honorable Mentions include, in no particular order:  Chuck Knox (very underrated as the leader of the Seahawks in the 80s); Nate McMillan (doing a lot with a little in a mis-managed Sonics organization, particularly in the Howard Schultz years); Gil Dobie, Enoch Bagshaw, Hec Edmundson, Tippy Dye, Marv Harshman, and some of those other old-timer Husky football and basketball coaches (who are obviously WAY before my time); Jim Lambright (who somehow held the Huskies together after sanctions and an acrimonious split with Don James); and Lorenzo Romar (whose ignominious end to his tenure should do nothing to tarnish what was a tremendous achievement for Husky basketball).

So, without further ado, I present my Mount Rushmore of Seattle-based head coaches.

At the top of the list was the easiest pick of them all:  Don James.

The Dawgfather.  Head coach of the University of Washington football team, from 1975-1992.  He’s the closest thing we had to a Bobby Bowden, Bear Bryant, Steve Spurrier, or Joe Paterno (without all the child rape).  He led the Huskies to a National Championship in 1991 and was poised to continue to do so for years to come if not for the Lack of Institutional Control scandal that ultimately led to him resigning in protest for the unfair sanctions on the team.  Also, not for nothing, but the Huskies were robbed of a second National Championship in 1984 (to a bum BYU team who played a cupcake of a schedule), but that’s another post for another time.

Don James was the G.O.A.T.  We can only hope and pray Chris Petersen someday ascends to that level.

Next on my list, I’ve gone with Pete Carroll.

Like I said, championships are a premium to me when it comes to my Mount Rushmore of Head Coaches, and Big Balls Pete has one, with another Super Bowl appearance to boot.  He’s 17 wins away from being the winningest Seahawks coach of all time, which should go down in 2 years, tops.  After a couple of 7-9 rebuilding seasons, he’s won no less than 11 games every year (including playoffs).  Overall, he has 4 division titles in 7 years, 6 playoff appearances in 7 years, at least 1 playoff victory every time they’ve made the post-season, and with John Schneider (who certainly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of local GMs) built one of the best rosters in the history of the NFL, in the 2013 Seahawks.  He could retire right now and I don’t think there will be another local head coach that will bump him off my Mount Rushmore in my lifetime.

Third on my list:  Lenny Wilkens.

Oh yeah, here it comes.  I told you, titles baby!  Lenny took over as a player-coach for the Sonics in 1969 before being fired in 1972.  When he returned to the Sonics as just a head coach in 1977, he took a good team and led it to greatness.  Those Sonics teams went to back-to-back NBA Finals against the Washington Bullets in 1978 and 1979, winning it all the second time around.  The Sonics ultimately went another direction starting in the 1985/1986 season, but he still sits at #2 all time in franchise history winning percentage (keeping in mind, of course, that the Sonics died in 2008, and whatever record the head coaches of that team in OKC may have amassed has no bearing on the Seattle Supersonics).

Finally, the fourth name on my Mount Rushmore:  George Karl.

You may take umbrage with Lenny Wilkens’ inclusion on my list, and that’s fine, I understand.  You may take umbrage with the fact that I have George Karl over the likes of Piniella and Holmgren, and again, that’s your right.  But, you know what?  George Karl won a shitload of games in Seattle!  He has the best winning percentage of a head coach by a million miles over the other professional teams’ coaches at .719.  He took the Sonics to the playoffs every year of his tenure, won 4 division titles in 7 seasons, had the Sonics in the 1-seed twice (best regular season record in the entire league once); led the franchise to two Western Conference Finals, and led the franchise to the NBA Finals once (against the best team of all time, the 95/96 Chicago Bulls).  AND, not for nothing, but took the Bulls to 6 games when they probably had no business getting past Game 4.

I could go on and on.  Maybe only the Pete Carroll Seahawks have had more talent than the George Karl Sonics, but for all his greatness, there was a lot of failing.  George Karl led the first #1 seed to lose in the first round in NBA history.  His Sonics teams squandered two Michael Jordan-less years when they were ripe for back-to-back championships (the Houston Rockets, instead, took advantage of that glitch in the matrix).  And, ultimately, George Karl was destined to be run out of here by poor personnel management by Wally Walker (featuring the obscene signing of Jim McIlvaine and the trading of Shawn Kemp for Vin Baker).

Nevertheless, those Sonics teams were beautiful and exciting and ultimately tragic.  They ignited a love affair with sports within me that burns like a thousand suns to this very day.  At a time when the Seahawks were mediocre, and before the Mariners were relevant, we had the Supersonics and nothing else mattered.  There may have been better teams out there in the 90s, but no team was as thrilling to watch on a nightly basis.  When they were on, they were unbeatable!  When they were off, they were combustable; that’s just the way it goes sometimes.  But, George Karl had his hands all over that team, and was the main reason why we were able to take the next step to elite status.  Ultimately, the biggest tragedy of all is that George Karl doesn’t have an NBA title to his credit; he might be the best head coach in NBA history not to have one.

Okay, there you have it.  Agree?  Disagree?  Feel free to let me hear about it.

Slow News Week: The Mariners Are Going To Retire Edgar Martinez’s Number

In case you felt the need to ask my opinion:  I’m for it!  Love me some Edgar, believe he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, believe he deserves to be in there before David Ortiz.  Better writers, smarter at baseball, have given you all the arguments why he belongs.  Bad writers, dumb at baseball, have yet to put him in there.  And somehow life goes on.

Last year, the Mariners retired Ken Griffey Jr.’s number 24, and I can’t remember a better 3-day weekend I’ve had at the ol’ ballpark.  This year, if you check out the promotions the Mariners released, you can see it’s a pretty similar deal.  First homestand in August – like last year, only this year it’s the ONLY homestand in August – with give-aways all three days.  An Edgar Bobblehead on Friday, August 11th; the actual ceremony and a “Replica Number” on Saturday, August 12th; and a Replica Jersey on Sunday, August 13th.  Each to the first 45,000 fans, which is pretty much everyone, which means they’re expecting easy sell-outs for these games.

I’m debating as to whether I want to go to any/all of these games like I did last year.  You’d think this would be right up my alley:  I love free shit memorabilia, I like going to baseball games, and I certainly like Edgar more than Griffey (if for no other reason than he didn’t force his way out of Seattle, but that’s neither here nor there).  But, I dunno.  I’m still in sort of a football hangover, and I’m still not ready to grapple with another long baseball season.

Single game tickets go on sale on Saturday, March 11th though, so maybe I’ll start getting jazzed up for things by then.

As is always the case, people are already speculating about the next number to be retired.  Truth be told, we’re probably running low.  I don’t know if I see Jamie Moyer making a run at the Hall of Fame (you have to at least get close in the voting for the Mariners to give you a shot).  Randy Johnson is already in there, but are his 10 years with the Mariners enough to warrant a number retirement?  Especially when you factor in how he was Good-Not-Great for about half those seasons, and did all his best pitching after he left Seattle?  Let’s look at this logically here:  he didn’t wear a Mariners hat in the Hall of Fame AND if he was so good and so revered, why would they give out his number to another player a few years after he left?

If anything, I think the next number the Mariners retire is number 51, but ONLY for Ichiro.  As far as I’m concerned, after Edgar, he’s your next Mariners Hall of Famer.  If Randy Johnson should get his number retired, let Arizona handle that.  Let’s face it, the Mariners were dumb enough to not extend him and make him a lifelong member of this organization, so they have no business painting history in some alternate light.  He’s already in the team’s hall of fame, that’s enough.  51 belongs to Ichiro, the First Ballot guy, and the guy who played the overwhelming majority of his Major League career in a Seattle uniform.

Anyway, that’s all I got.  Just trying to wipe away the dust and cobwebs off the site.  I’ll be back to hopefully some more regularly scheduled posting next week, unless we get some breaking news in the meantime.

Walker Does His Best To One-Up Paxton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mariners Broke Their Mini Losing Streak

Of 4 games.  Was damn near 6 games, if we never manufactured the greatest comeback in franchise history last Thursday.

For those of you who don’t mind a little standings-watching in early June, the Mariners have dug themselves quite a hole, as they trail the Rangers by 4 games (for the record, if you DO mind a little standings-watching, go fuck yourselves; seriously, what’s the big fucking deal if I check the standings every now and then?).  Obviously, it’s not the end of the world, and there’s a lot of baseball left to play, but it’s crazy how hot the Rangers have been lately (and ohbytheway, they’re going to be in town for another weekend series starting Friday; WILL THE MARINERS BE SWEPT AGAIN?  Stay tuned).

As the old saying goes, a really long journey starts with a first step!  And that first step for the Mariners was getting off the schneid.  They did it in a somewhat improbable way, in that Wade Miley was at the helm of a solid pitching performance!  Seven innings of 4-hit, shutout ball was just what the doctor ordered, as the Mariners – behind Nelson Cruz’s two homers – chased Cleveland’s starter in the fourth inning.  From there, it was cruise control to the finish and a 7-1 victory.

Aside from the Miley start he so desperately needed to work his way back to respectability, I didn’t find a whole lot about last night’s game very interesting.

Monday’s game, however, is another story.

Granted, Monday’s game was a 3-1 loss for the good guys, as the offense just never could get going.  But, the story here was all about the pitching.

James Paxton took the mound for his second start in the Majors this season.  He didn’t disappoint.  He went 6 innings, holding Cleveland to 5 hits and 1 walk, while giving up 3 runs (1 earned) and striking out a whopping TEN batters.  If Chris Iannetta would’ve come down with the throw at the plate – tagging out the runner who ended up scoring – which by all accounts was right on the money and a catch he should’ve made, odds are that game is a lot different.  At the very least, you can make an argument that Paxton gets a no decision instead of a loss; at best, who knows if he gives up that solo homer the next inning?  Maybe he would’ve gotten a shutout victory!

Nevertheless, Paxton’s performance was absolutely legendary.  It has, quite honestly, forced me to re-think my whole stance on his very existence!  This is a James Paxton the likes of which I’ve never seen before, and I’ve been watching him pitch off and on since 2013!  He’s always been big, and he’s always been a lefty, and when he’s been healthy, he’s been a promising potential piece of some brilliant future Mariners team.  But, of course, he’s never been able to stay healthy – and maybe that’ll continue.  All I know is, while he’s been good, he’s never been anything special.

Paxton has always had an okay fastball.  I couldn’t tell you where he would average in the past, it’s been so long since I’ve seen the Paxton Of Old; but it feels like he was usually somewhere around 93 mph.  That’s an okay fastball.  Not great, not elite, but better than the finesse schlubs like Miley and Joe Saunders and the like.  Paxton’s issue has always been with his control, working those edges of the strike zone, staying away from the middle of the plate.

But, this year?  Shit, he’s topping out at 100 mph!  Where the FUCK did THIS come from?  And, I’m not just talking about him hitting triple digits in the first inning, before getting tired and settling into the 95 mph range.  I mean he’s in there, over 100 pitches, still hitting 100 on the radar gun!  With a nasty slider or curve or whatever to keep hitters off-balance.

I mean, are you JOKING me?  As I said before, now I have to re-think everything!  Going into this year, and even through the first couple months of the season, when Paxton was toiling away in Tacoma, working on his velocity and his command, I had him pegged as prime trade bait.  Should the Mariners be in contention at the trade deadline – which it looks like they will be – James Paxton (packaged with another guy or two, perhaps, from the lower minors) could be flipped for another team’s 2-month rental.  Whatever this year’s version of David Price is, the ace starting pitcher on the last year of his rookie deal, who will be a difference-maker for a quality team in the post-season that needs an extra little push.

But NOW?  After seeing THIS?  I mean, obviously, it’s only two starts (of him throwing 100 mph heat), but if this is the new normal for James Paxton, are we better off keeping him, inserting him into the starting rotation for good, and riding him to post-season glory?

Before, Paxton always projected – at least, in my eyes – as topping out as a quality #2 starter.  But, with this type of stuff, the sky is the limit.  Tall lefty, throwing 100 mph, with a biting slider:  that’s ace material.  That’s Randy Johnson material.  That’s the second coming of The Big Unit, with Mr. Snappy’s command being all the difference between him being a solid mid-rotation pitcher and him being the other ace this team needs (when Felix comes back healthy, of course).

If he keeps this up, this is truly a gift from the gods.  If he works out, first of all, I don’t see how you send him back to Tacoma.  Either you ride with a 6-man rotation, or you make a tough call on Walker or Karns (with the way Walker’s been pitching over the last month, that call might not be so tough if it continues).  But, if this works out, and we get ace production from this unlikeliest of sources, then if we do need to make a deal at the deadline, it won’t necessarily have to be for a starting pitcher!  We can use that to shore up the bullpen, or bolster some of our hitting depth, or fix some other hole that comes up at the time.

Oh yeah, and don’t think I’m sitting here sleeping on Edwin Diaz.

In the very same game where Paxton was as dominant as he was, Edwin Diaz made his Major League debut.  Previously a minor league, AA starting pitcher with issues (mainly that he doesn’t have a quality third pitch to get lefties out on a consistent basis), the Mariners – earlier this very season – converted him to a reliever (because relievers are better able to get away with only having two quality pitches, especially when one of them is the fastball Diaz is sporting).  After making essentially five starts, Diaz had all of 11 appearances where he went 2 innings or less (“relief” appearances, for all intents and purposes).  In those appearances, he pitched a total of 13.2 innings, giving up 2 runs (1 earned), 7 hits, 2 walks, and striking out 19.

That was, apparently, all that mattered for the Mariners.  To be fair, the M’s have been struggling with that final bullpen spot.  Joel Peralta turned back into a pumpkin, and we’ve seen guys like Mayckol Guaipe, Cody Martin, and Steve Johnson all occupy that spot, with varying results.  While Johnson is still on the roster, he’s not a guy you want to count upon in high-leverage situations.  Tony Zych had a setback recently and doesn’t appear to be close to returning.  So, essentially, the Mariners have been relying on a 5-man bullpen, and those guys were getting seriously over-worked.  If we’re content with Steve Johnson being the last man in the bullpen (to be used during blowouts and as a last resort in extra innings situations), the team desperately needed another quality arm it could mix into the rotation in the 7th and 8th innings.  Enter Edwin Diaz.

Like Paxton, Diaz also hits triple digits on the radar gun (topping out at 101 mph).  Unlike Paxton, Diaz has a lot of run on his fastball, making it remarkably more difficult to hit.  And, for a 22 year old kid making the leap from AA to the Majors, in his first-ever appearance, he had absolutely no trouble whatsoever locating the strike zone (10 of his 11 pitches were strikes).  He ended up striking out 1 batter in his first perfect inning, before returning to the dugout to a standing ovation from the home crowd.  All in all, not a bad start to a career.

As I said before, this could also be a gift from the gods.  I’ve said all along the Mariners needed another top-notch starter; and I think we’ve all been in agreement that the bullpen could use a little life injected into it.  With Diaz, maybe we’ve found that guy (yet again, saving us from later having to trade for that guy).  As Zych and Furbush get healthy, there will be a roster crunch, but that’s a GOOD problem to have.  No one ever complained about having too much quality depth.

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

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

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

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

What happens then?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Long Shadow of the Randy Johnson Trade

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

Ken Griffey Jr., Hall of Famer

I’ve made no secret about it:  I’m one of those insufferable assholes who originally jumped on the Seattle Mariners’ bandwagon during the closing few weeks of the 1995 season.  I would have been 14 years old at the time, which quite honestly is pretty late in the game, as far as getting into a new sport is concerned.  You normally develop those lifelong attachments to your sports teams in your childhood, in the 8-10 years old range.

Ken Griffey's grotesquely swollen jaw ...

Ken Griffey’s grotesquely swollen jaw …

At some point in the mid-to-late 80s (I want to say the 1987 range), I started getting into the Seahawks.  By 1988, I was on a 3 packs a week habit (football cards, Topps).  By 1989 and 1990, it was probably closer to 6 packs (Pro Set).  I joined my dad’s work’s NFL Pick ‘Em pool against all the adults and even won some weeks (at $5 per entry per week, that was a solid chunk of change for a kid under 10 years of age).  I was a football lifer, no doubt about it.

In 1993, I started getting heavily into the NBA and the Sonics.  So, maybe they were my gateway drug into other sports.  Regardless, baseball has always been my third sports love, and that’s probably the way it’s always going to be (even though I mostly ignore the NBA now and will continue to do so until Seattle gets a team again).

I was always aware of the Mariners existing, as a kid.  They were consistently losing, so I didn’t really see the point in paying attention.  I didn’t have a parent or other type of older person I looked up to who were baseball fans.  I come from a family of football fans, period.  Any other sports would have to be pursued on my own.

But, in 1995, the Mariners were surging in the standings, and drawing attention all across the nation.  FINALLY, Seattle had winning baseball, and the sports bandwagoners ate it up.

I was also generally aware of Ken Griffey Jr., but I don’t know if I could say he was a hero of mine or anything.  My first sports idol was Steve Largent.  My second and third were, in some order, Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton.  By the time I started getting into the Mariners, Griffey was more national icon than simply a local superstar.  And, when I was that age, contrarian that I was in my know-it-all teens, I didn’t want to be some mope who went along with the crowd (even though that’s exactly who I was, jumping on the bandwagon when I did).  I was more of a Randy Johnson man, or a Jay Buhner man.

But, that’s not to say I disliked Griffey.  Indeed, I revered him as much as anyone in sports.  He was truly one of the best baseball players alive, and to have him on the Mariners was some sort of good fortune I just took for granted at the time.  With all the stars on the Sonics, and an all-time legend in Largent on the Seahawks, I just figured every team in every sport had at least one superstar and they always would.

Looking back on it now, I sort of wish I’d been a fan from the very beginning of his career.  It’s hard to appreciate the whole arc of his story, when I started somewhere in the middle.  By the time I was paying attention to Griffey, he was the best player on the planet.  So, all I’ve known of him has been the mythology, and the slow fall from grace.

I had about 4.25 good years as a fan of Ken Griffey Jr. before he forced his way out.  Obviously, there was the 1995 miracle finish that came JUST short of a World Series appearance.  At that point, we figured the sky was the limit for the Seattle Mariners, and there would be many MANY consecutive years of playoff appearances.  In 1996, we were cut down by Randy Johnson’s injury, and a pisspoor bullpen.  In 1997, we made it back to the playoffs, but we sold our soul to do it (the Lowe/Varitek trade & the Cruz trade).  And even then, we lost in the first round.  1998 & 1999 were essentially lost seasons, and the beginning of the end of those Mariners teams (it really started with the Tino Martinez trade, but continued with the Randy Johnson trade, and climaxed with the Griffey trade).

So much of being a Mariners fan is being jerked around by ownership and then hoping for the best.  It’s been that way since the very beginning.  In my formative years as a Mariners fan, it was endless penny-pinching by ownership.  We made all those trades in the mid-to-late 90s, one by one stripping this team of all its quality players and superstars, and yet there really wasn’t a noticeable penalty.  By 2000 and 2001, the Mariners were magically one of the best teams in baseball, and you can look at the guys we got in return from some of those trades (Freddy Garcia, Carlos Guillen, Mike Cameron) as real building blocks in our rise to prominence.  Those teams didn’t have the flash that the mid-90s teams had, but they were solid, and they got the job done in the regular season.

Yet, you can point to losing Randy Johnson (who would go on to win multiple Cy Young Awards), Tino Martinez & Jeff Nelson (who would go on to win multiple World Series titles with the Yankees), Ken Griffey Jr. (who went on to have moderate, injury-plagued success with the Reds), and later Alex Rodriguez (who took the biggest contract offer he could get, which obviously would never come from this Mariners organization), as the reason why this team never achieved any playoff success whatsoever.

If we focused on building around our stars, instead of shipping them off for adequate role players, maybe we wouldn’t have had some of the regular season successes we had in the early 2000’s, but a team with Randy, Tino, Nelson, Griffey, and A-Rod is sure as shit built for post-season glory.  It’s easy to look back on it now and say, “It’s so simple!”  But, at the time, with the Mariners rocking and rolling for the most part, it was understandable to think the good times would only continue.

When news hit of Griffey demanding a trade, I honestly don’t remember how I felt.  Disappointment, mostly.  I don’t think I really understood what was happening or why it was happening.  We were fed the line of Griffey wanting to be closer to home, closer to family, but I don’t think I entirely bought it then, and I still don’t think I entirely buy it now.  This Mariners organization has always been kind of a mess.  The product on the field always should have had better results.  But, the people in charge of personnel kept screwing things up at every possible turn, and the owners didn’t have the fortitude or the mental capacity to reward their very best players with contracts commensurate to their value on the open market.  On the one hand, you can laud the organization for getting SOMETHING in return for some of these players they shipped off; but on the other hand, God dammit!

My disappointment with the Griffey situation soured a bit when it became public knowledge that he ONLY wanted to be traded to the Reds, which severely limited our ability to negotiate the best possible deal.  Then again, knowing this organization’s track record in major trades, it’s highly probable that whoever they would have traded Griffey to would have seen a return on par with the bust of the century.  I think I let that rage subside when the Mariners managed to improve (helped in large part by Mike Cameron being a fan favorite), while the Reds never really did much.  In the end, I would come to feel sorry for Griffey, as it seemed he could never stay on the field for any prolonged stretch.  He had one quality year on par with his Mariners numbers, in his very first season with the Reds.  After 2000, you’ll see large gaps in his playing time due to injury.  By the time he managed to stay healthy for a full year again, it was 2007, his last All Star season.  In 2008, he was traded to the White Sox for their playoff run (losing in the ALDS), only his third appearance in the post-season (the other two, obviously, being with the Mariners).

In 2009, Jackie Z brought Griffey back on as our primary DH.  It was a way to see if he could prolong his career, while at the same time a nice gesture for the fans.  No one really expected much out of him or the team, but the Mariners managed a winning record against all odds, and Griffey himself had a decent campaign (19 homers in 117 games).  It would be the perfect end to a Hall of Fame career … until everyone got cute and tried to capture lightning in a bottle twice.  2010 was a definite black mark for everyone involved.  On the last day of May, Griffey had one hitless pinch hit at-bat in the 9th inning of a 5-4 loss to the Twins in Safeco Field.  This came after sitting on the bench for a full week, which was probably a sign of things to come.  Instead of milking out the last sour drops of his career, Griffey chose to retire on the spot, driving home to Florida and letting the team know via a phone call on the road.

Being a fan of Griffey was never dull, I’ll say that.  As a Mariner, he was the face of Major League Baseball for a decade; that was pretty cool.  He put up some crazy, insane, cartoon numbers as a hitter; he made some crazy, insane, cartoon plays in the outfield.  He was, without question, the greatest baseball player I’ve ever seen, and probably will ever see.  He has my utmost respect as an athlete, and I’ll always look back fondly on his Mariners career.

One of the great things you can point to with Griffey is that he did it the right way.  Meaning, he didn’t cheat.  He didn’t prolong his career and boost his numbers by ingesting illegal or immoral pharmaceuticals.  Of course, we don’t know that for sure, but I’m not going to sit here and try to make the argument that he might have.  What we know is that his name has never come up in any implications on the topic.  He’s never had the aura of suspicion like Bonds, Clemons, and Sosa.  He’s also never outright admitted it, like McGwire, A-Rod, Palmeiro and the like.  We do know that he saw most of the latter half of his career on the DL, as opposed to someone like Bonds, who not only saw most of the latter half of his career in perfect health, but putting up bonkers numbers he never even approached in the first half of his career.  If Bonds had chosen to stay clean, he most likey wouldn’t have broken the home run record, and he most likely wouldn’t have stayed as healthy as he did.  But, he would have been a Hall of Famer, and a first-ballot Hall of Famer at that.  Instead, he cheated, and he’s likely never getting in.

With Griffey, you can simply give him the ol’ eye test.  Knowing what we know – that he was never implicated, that he never admitted to doing anything illicit, that he found himself on the DL more often than not in the second decade of his career – you can watch him age through the years and put a pretty firm assumption down that he wasn’t doing anything wrong.  Griffey aged like a baseball player of his calibre SHOULD age.  He didn’t suddenly put on 40 pounds of muscle and start hitting 50-70 homers a year in his late 30s.  He put on however many pounds of fat, and was left to his natural born gifts to push him through to his 23 years in the Major Leagues.  That’s what it means by doing it the “right way”.  That’s why he’s a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and why he received the highest percentage of votes for a first year nominee in the history of the Hall of Fame (all but 3 voters selecting Griffey).  In an era where the cheaters outnumbered the clean, Griffey stayed clean and STILL crushed everything in his path.

I don’t have a particular Griffey-centric moment that stands out above all others, except obviously I do, and it’s of him scoring the go-ahead run from first base against the New York Yankees in the fifth game of the ALDS in 1995.  It’s that, and obviously, it’s that iconic picture of him underneath Bob Wolcott and all the other Mariners mobbing him at home plate.  I don’t totally think it’s fair, though, because they call that moment “The Double” because that’s really Edgar’s moment more than it is Griffey’s or anyone else’s.  If I had to pick a moment that was just Griffey’s, I don’t think I could.  Because my memory has gone to shit, and because – again – I wasn’t a fan until that stretch run in 1995.  I didn’t see him play with his dad and hit back-to-back homers with Ken Griffey Sr.  I didn’t see him blossom into the superstar he would become.  Hell, I didn’t even see him break his hand while making that catch against the wall that kept him out of the majority of the 1995 season!

You know what weirdly stands out?  It’s not even a particular moment, per se.  But, in 1996, the Mariners were playing out a string of meaningless games, with no chance of making the playoffs.  There was a series in Cleveland, and one of the games was rained out (another had to be pushed back to a Day/Night Doubleheader).  In one of the rainout games, Griffey hit a homer, but since it was rained out and never finished (and since it didn’t go past the 5th inning), the game never counted.  The game was never made up, because it wouldn’t have made a difference for either team’s placement in the standings (the Mariners were out of it, and the Indians were so far ahead in their division that it didn’t matter).  So, essentially, the Mariners only played 161 games in 1996.  And, as a result of that game being rained out, taking away one of his home runs, Ken Griffey Jr. finished the season one homer shy of his first 50-homer season.  I remember thinking how much that SUCKED, as reaching that 50-homer plateau was truly meaningful to me back then.  Obviously, Griffey would go on to have back-to-back 56-homer seasons the next two years, but how cool would it have been to see him with three straight 50-homer seasons?

Ehh, maybe less cool, knowing what we know about that era and all the insane homer totals that were inflated by a bunch of cheating tools.  Nevertheless, Ken Griffey Jr. is our shining beacon of hope in an otherwise dark period for Major League Baseball.

The Seahawks Are One Of The Best Franchises In Football

When you think of the best teams – and the best-run organizations – in the NFL, you think of New England, Pittsburgh, Green Bay; but Seattle doesn’t immediately come to mind.  If you’re in my age range (mid-30s), you probably still have the moniker of “America’s Team” seared into your consciousness when you think of the Dallas Cowboys.  You’d also probably liken the 49ers, Giants, and various others among the greats.  But the Seahawks?  Nah.  Tucked all the way up here?  Out of the limelight, what with East Coast Bias and whatnot, the Seahawks are middle-of-the-road at best.

Living with this team in the 1990s, “middle-of-the-road” was something to aspire to!  An 8-8 season was considered a success!  But, I think it’s time to come around a little bit.  I did some research (i.e. wasted a bunch of time working on a spreadsheet), and it turns out the Seahawks have been pretty damn great; not just recently, but dating back the last 13 seasons.

I know, it’s a VERY arbitrary starting point.  But, this is a Seattle-centric blog, and the 2003 season is quite significant for this franchise.

Mike Holmgren’s first season with the Seahawks was 1999; he’s generally credited (and rightfully so) with turning around this moribund franchise.  All the old-timers can cling to the mid-80s glory of the Seahawks, but let’s face it, by the time Holmgren was brought on, this team was a laughingstock, or at the very least a non-entity.  This little slice of nothingness up in the Pacific Northwest you didn’t really have an opinion about if you didn’t have to play us regularly (and even then, even teams within our own division had MUCH bigger rivalries with teams other than the Seahawks).  Even though Holmgren led the Seahawks to a division title and a playoff appearance in his first year, I’m reluctant to include that year, or the subsequent three seasons, as he was still mired with a lot of the previous regime’s players.

In 2003, though, everything started to come together.  Matt Hasselbeck was a proven, quality quarterback.  And, the rest of the team was talented enough to push us into perennial division-winner status, as we ripped off five straight NFC West titles.  The Holmgren era, by and large, gets short shrift when compared to the Pete Carroll era, for good reason.  These Seahawks teams, since 2012, have been VASTLY superior, and have had much more success than those Holmgren teams (especially in the playoffs, where it counts more).  But, if you lump these two eras together, you get a good look at what a quality franchise really looks like.

You’ll notice a theme when you look at the great franchises:  they tend to be defined by the head coaches.  The Holmgren Era, the Carroll Era, and so on.  But, really, what we’re talking about is quarterback eras.  The Hasselbeck Era, the Wilson Era.  As you can see from a lot of the crappy teams, quarterbacking is everything in the NFL.  Teams are lucky if they get ONE franchise quarterback in a generation; the Seahawks have had two, and that’s the biggest reason why the Seahawks have been among the greatest teams over the last 13 years.  It’s also why the Seahawks will continue to be great, as long as Russell Wilson sticks around.

From 2003 through 2015, the Seahawks have been the sixth-most successful franchise in the NFL, behind New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, and Denver.  In that Google Spreadsheet I linked to, the left side divides the teams by division; the right side is listed by way of regular season record.  This is some PHENOMENAL company the Seahawks are keeping!  And, when you go down the list, you can see why these teams have had the success they’ve had.  Tom Brady & Bill Belichick; Peyton Manning to Andrew Luck (Indy hitting the lottery twice with those #1 overall picks); Ben Roethlisberger; a seamless transition from Favre to Rodgers.  The only semi-outlier is Denver, who has been blessed in recent seasons by the signing of Manning, and had some other playoff years with Jake Plummer of all people; but, the one thing I would point to is organizational stability.  They had Mike Shanahan for a bunch of those years, and John Elway has been a force as an executive since he took over.

I don’t really have a point beyond touting that the Seahawks are pretty great.  I often come across as a bit of a Debbie Downer, as a result of my sports upbringing and having all success ripped away from me as a fan.  I just think it’s time to appreciate how good this team has been for the majority of my adult life.  When you take it in across the big picture, the Seahawks are fucking awesome, and it’s about time the rest of the nation recognized.

With news of Ken Griffey Jr. being inducted into the Hall of Fame (with a record-setting percentage of votes), it’s given Mariners fans yet another opportunity to reflect on our mid-90s success.  You look at those teams and smile, especially given how bereft we’ve been of baseball prowess in recent years.  You can also look at those teams – with two hall of famers (Griffey and Randy), a should-be hall of famer in Edgar, and another should-be hall of famer in Sweet Lou – and smack yourself as hard as you can on the forehead:  HOW DID WE NOT WIN A WORLD SERIES WITH THOSE GUYS???

But, that’s baseball.  Really, that’s just sports.  Success is fleeting, championships are fucking hard, and the world is a meaningless flat circle.

With the thought of those Mariners teams in your mind, now think of these Seahawks.  From the Holmgren Era, we had a hall of famer in Walter Jones, who anchored one of the best O-Lines in recorded history.  From the Carroll Era, we’re looking at how many possible/probable hall of famers?  Let’s list them off:

  • Earl Thomas
  • Richard Sherman
  • Russell Wilson
  • Marshawn Lynch?
  • Bobby Wagner?
  • Kam Chancellor?
  • Doug Baldwin???

It’s getting a little lean down there at the bottom; I don’t know if any of those last three guys have a legitimate shot at the HOF (they’d probably have to have REALLY extended careers, which I don’t think is necessarily in the cards with the way big hitters like Wagner and Kam play the game; and I just don’t think Baldwin will have the raw receptions/yards numbers compared to other receivers – it’s just hard as a receiver in general in this pass-wacky day and age to crack the hall), but just having three Hall of Famers on your squad is remarkable in its own right (for what it’s worth, I do think all three of Earl, Richard, and Russell will end up making it, assuming their careers aren’t cut short in a hail of concussions).

We’re really fortunate, is what I’m getting at, to be fans of the Seahawks right now.  That’s not to say I’m satisfied, or ready to settle for what we’ve got.  As a fan, you always want more; it’s the nature of the beast.  But, as we head into Wild Card weekend, it’s cool to look back and reflect upon all the greatness we’ve seen.  Here’s to another 13 remarkable years!

Mariners Tidbit 67: Iwakuma’s No-Hitter

The first Mariners no-hitter happened on June 2, 1990, against the Detroit Tigers.  Randy Johnson walked 6 and struck out 8 in 138 pitches for the 2-0 victory.

The second Mariners no-hitter happened on April 22, 1993, against the Boston Red Sox.  Chris Bosio walked 2 and struck out 4 in 97 pitches for the 7-0 victory.

The third Mariners no-hitter happened on June 8, 2012, against the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Kevin Millwood, Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League, and Tom Wilhelmsen combined to walk 3 and strike out 9 in 114 pitches for the 1-0 victory.

The fourth Mariners no-hitter was also the first Mariners perfect game; it happened on August 15, 2012, against the Tampa Bay Rays.  Felix Hernandez struck out 12 in 113 pitches for the 1-0 victory.

The fifth Mariners no-hitter happened yesterday afternoon, against the Baltimore Orioles.  Hisashi Iwakuma walked 3 and struck out 7 in 116 pitches for the 3-0 victory.

Is it weird that all of the Mariners no-no’s have happened at home?  Is it weird that the last two happened on Wednesday matinee games?

As usual, I was at work yesterday while all of this was going on.  Furthermore, I was stuck in meetings for most of the afternoon, so I didn’t even realize that a no-hitter was officially happening until the 8th inning.  I was able to listen to Iwakuma close out the 8th before running out of work and over to Pacific Place for an impromptu happy hour.  Sitting at the bar of Gordon Biersch, I quickly ordered a Captain & Coke while the final commercials ran before the top of the 9th.

I don’t remember everything.  Obviously, this isn’t my first no-hit rodeo, but I don’t know if I’ll ever forget Kyle Seager’s basket catch in foul territory.  That was banana-nuts!  And then I want to say the next at bat, Iwakuma grooved a fastball right in the middle of the plate that the hitter thankfully fouled off.  After that, it was relatively smooth sailing getting the last two outs.

I don’t care who you are, but no-hitters are always special.  It’s SUCH a hard thing to accomplish; you see SO MANY of them lost in the final couple of at-bats.  So, my hat is off to Iwakuma and everyone else involved for getting the job done.

I’m finding it difficult to peg just where we’re at with Iwakuma.  Is this a last gasp of brilliance before he declines even further?  Is this proof that reports of his demise were greatly exaggerated and premature?  And, if so, how much more does he have left in the tank?

What this no-hitter accomplishes is it gets me – and most of the fans – back in Iwakuma’s corner.  That’s a biggie.  From the last month of the 2014 season through most of this season, Iwakuma has been an unmitigated disappointment.  Since returning from two months on the DL, he’s had flashes of brilliance – 8 shutout innings against the Angels, 7 quality innings in Detroit, an almost-complete game shutout in Minnesota, 7 more quality innings against the Rangers – but he’s also had a good amount of duds:  4 homers given up to the Tigers in Safeco, just a so-so game in New Yankee Stadium, getting blown out at home against the Diamondbacks.

The back-and-forth nature of his outings the last month and a half are definitely cause for concern, but what this no-hitter does is make it okay for the team to bring him back for 2016, at least in my mind (pending what he does the rest of this season, of course).  The thing is, though, we have to temper our expectations.

I don’t know if it’s fair to count on Iwakuma to be healthy for a full season anymore.  He’s missed extensive time in all but one of his Major League seasons.  Also, I don’t know if we should expect him to be the #2 starting pitcher this team needs.  He strikes me as more of a 4 or 5 going forward; meaning this team STILL needs to bring in a high-end starter either via free agency or trade.  Also, if Iwakuma does warrant an extension, I wouldn’t go anywhere beyond 2 years; that’s a deal-breaker for me.

Anyway, this is all stuff we can hash out later, when the season’s over.  For now, let’s celebrate a truly amazing feat.  The Orioles are a good hitting team, and Iwakuma’s been serving up a steady diet of meatballs for a while now.  To hold them hitless is OUTSTANDING!