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.

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.

Is Dustin Ackley The Most Disappointing Draft Pick In Seattle Sports History?

Right off the bat, don’t talk to me about the Sounders, the Storm, or any other lesser sport I don’t care as much about.  This is a Seahawks/Sonics/Mariners discussion, so LAY OFF!

Also, we’re talking straight draft picks.  Believe me, I’m well aware of all the bad trades and free agent signings, as well as the draft picks we’ve traded away, but this is a look at the most disappointing players we’ve seen drafted in this city for those three professional franchises.  With that out of the way, let’s begin.

Dustin Ackley was taken with the #2 overall pick in the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.  In 2008, the Seattle Mariners finished 61-101 for the right to pick #2 overall.  You may recall that, going into the final three games of the 2008 season, the Mariners were 58-101 and in line for the #1 overall pick.  The Washington Nationals, with three games to go, were 59-99.  So, what happened?  The Mariners swept the A’s and the Nationals got swept by the Phillies.  As such, the Nationals were graced with the #1 overall pick and the right to draft the hottest pitching prospect since Roger Clemens:  Stephen Strasburg.

You can say what you want about the injury-plagued start to Strasburg’s career, but you can’t deny he has elite stuff and you can’t deny he’s had three very good seasons from 2012-2014.  We don’t know where his career will take him – and obviously, with Mike Trout being selected by the Angels with the 25th overall pick, it’s not like he’s the best player in that draft – but one thing we do know is that he’s a HELLUVA lot better than Dustin Ackley will ever be.

We got screwed.  Dustin Ackley was supposed to be the clear best hitter and most Major League-ready player in that draft.  We were going to get an athletic guy who could play the outfield or various infield spots, and a mainstay in our lineup.  Your prototypical 2-hole hitter.  He was supposed to have a good eye, get on base at a fantastic clip, and even hit for a bit of power (mostly doubles, but the occasional homer), with just enough speed on the basepaths to keep everyone honest.

What we GOT was a guy with a poor eye at the plate, poor pitch selection, a noodle-arm, who rolls over on balls to the second or first baseman 80% of the time.  At a time (coming off of our attrocious 2008 season, continuing through our 2010 season where we were one of the worst offenses of all time), Ackley was supposed to breeze through the minors and give our lineup a boost.  Instead, he’s been spoken in the same breath as Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero WAY too often for comfort.

He sucks us in because he’s a #2-overall pick, and because he sometimes has these wonderful second halves to seasons that trick us into thinking he’s finally gotten everything figured out.  Then, he turns right back around the following spring and hits:

  • .200/.222/.341/.563, with 3 doubles, 3 homers, 7 RBI, and about 50,000 runners left on base in 30 games

This is his fifth year in the Major Leagues.  Here are his career numbers:  .243/.305/.365.  You have to wonder, if he doesn’t turn it around and I mean SOON, if this is his last chance with the Mariners.  I can’t imagine we go into 2016 with him as a starter, but I have to wonder if we go into 2016 with him even on the roster at all!

Does this make him the most disappointing draft pick in franchise history?  Well, let’s take a little look back.  Too soon to talk about Alex Jackson (2014) or D.J. Peterson (2013).  Mike Zunino was the 3rd overall pick in 2012; he’s been less than ideal at the plate.  But, he’s still probably too young (and at least hits for SOME power) to make a judgment.  Danny Hultzen was the 2nd overall pick in 2011 and has been severely injured for much of his career of late, so he has to be in the running, right?  Except, the thing is, he’s a pitcher, and the Mariners have been fairly flush with pitching in recent years since he was selected.  Hard to call him as much of a disappointment when we haven’t really needed to rely on him for anything.

Maybe we should take a look at what it means to be disappointing in a sports setting.  For starters, I feel like you have to be a first round pick.  These are the guys who – in theory – should be the closest to helping your team right away.  In baseball, you expect these guys to be on the fast track, to hit the Major Leagues in 2-4 years, depending on their development.  In football and basketball, depending on how deep your roster is, you expect these guys to contribute immediately, and in some instances even start for you immediately.  So, when they fail to live up to those reasonable expectations, they’re disappointments.  Obviously, the higher you draft them, the bigger the disappointments.

Going back, here are the rest of the Mariners’ top-10 draft picks through the years:

  • 2006 – Brandon Morrow (5)
  • 2005 – Jeff Clement (3)
  • 1995 – Jose Cruz Jr (3)
  • 1993 – Alex Rodriguez (1)
  • 1990 – Marc Newfield (6)
  • 1989 – Roger Salkeld (3)
  • 1987 – Ken Griffey Jr (1)
  • 1986 – Patrick Lennon (8)
  • 1985 – Mike Campbell (7)
  • 1984 – Bill Swift (2)
  • 1983 – Darrel Akerfelds (7)
  • 1981 – Mike Moore (1)
  • 1980 – Darnell Coles (6)
  • 1979 – Al Chambers (1)
  • 1978 – Tito Nanni (6)

Sure, Brandon Morrow was disappointing, but for a variety of reasons.  First and foremost, we should’ve taken UW’s Tim Lincecum instead.  Second, we kept dicking around with Morrow by starting off his career in the bullpen.  Third, we probably gave up on him and traded him away too soon (for Brandon League, who was an all-around disaster).  Ackley still has Morrow beat in the disappointment department.

Clement was disappointing, but I think we were all more disappointed in our front office moreso than the player.  That 2005 draft was FUCKING STACKED; 6 of the first 7 players selected have been All Stars (with Clement being the only dud), and 8 of the first 12 have played in an All Star Game.  Bill Bavasi at his finest!

Jose Cruz Jr was solid when he was a Mariner, then we traded him away for two shitty relievers, then he got really bad, and then he was gone.  Again, more disappointed in our front office for giving up on a quality prospect too soon.

A-Rod was disappointing because he was a greedy scumbag & soon-to-be cheater.  But, his level of play on the field was unmatched, so there’s no way I’m calling him a bigger disappointment than Ackley (also, yes, I would have taken the money and played for the Rangers, so eat me, he’s still a greedy fuck).

Anyone before A-Rod is out of my wheelhouse (aside from Griffey, of course, who was the single greatest draft pick in franchise history).  You can post your reasons in the comments as to why you think some of those old timers might be more disappointing than Dustin Ackley, but for now, I’m saying this with full confidence:  Dustin Ackley is the most disappointing draft pick in Mariners history.

***

Let’s jump right into the Seattle Seahawks.  Who is their most disappointing first round draft pick?  Again, I’ll run through all the top 10 picks (even though I think we all have a pretty good idea who this is going to end up being):

  • 2010 – Russell Okung (6)
  • 2009 – Aaron Curry (4)
  • 2001 – Koren Robinson (9)
  • 1997 – Shawn Springs (3)
  • 1997 – Walter Jones (6)
  • 1995 – Joey Galloway (8)
  • 1994 – Sam Adams (8)
  • 1993 – Rick Mirer (2)
  • 1992 – Ray Roberts (10)
  • 1990 – Cortez Kennedy (3)
  • 1983 – Curt Warner (3)
  • 1982 – Jeff Bryant (6)
  • 1981 – Kenny Easley (4)
  • 1980 – Jacob Green (10)
  • 1978 – Keith Simpson (9)
  • 1976 – Steve Niehaus (2)

Not gonna lie to you, I’m not up on my Steve Niehaus or Keith Simpson knowledge, but let’s just assume they’re not the most disappointing draft picks in Seahawks history.  Green, Easley, and Bryant were mainstays of a dominant defense in the 1980s, so count them out.  Curt Warner was only disappointing because we didn’t use that pick to try to trade up for John Elway (or trade back to take one of the other amazing quarterbacks in that class).  Curt Warner the player was dynamic when he was healthy.

Cortez and Walter Jones are probably tied for the very best draft picks in Seahawks history, as both are Hall of Famers.  Ray Roberts was a solid offensive lineman in his career (if not specifically his Seahawks career).  Sam Adams was a fringe Hall of Famer for the Ravens, but had a nice and long career elsewhere (including Seattle for a few productive seasons).  Joey Galloway and Shawn Springs were studs who had their best years away from the northwest (but, again, were no slouches in a Seahawks uniform).  Okung has been a steady starter at left tackle (and a fine Walter Jones replacement when healthy) since he was a rookie.

For me, the disappointments come down to Aaron Curry, Koren Robinson, and Rick Mirer.  But, before I talk about this trio of Top 10 turds, let’s take a look at some honorable mentions from a little lower in the first round.

Lawrence Jackson was taken 28th overall.  He was supposed to come in and breathe life into our tepid pass rush.  Instead, he joined our team in 2008 as the franchise bottomed out, let Mike Holmgren walk, and eventually ushered in the Era of Good Feelings that has been Pete Carroll and John Schneider.  Oh yeah, and Jackson stunk the whole while and it wasn’t long before Carroll traded him away for scraps.

In 2006, the Seahawks selected Kelly Jennings with the 31st overall pick.  Coming off of our first-ever Super Bowl appearance, we were in desperate need of shoring up our secondary.  Kelly Jennings was no help in this regard.  While it’s hard to expect super-greatness out of your 31st overall draft pick, he was still a member of this team – and a starter at that – for far too long, leading us to suffer a barrage of long bombs over his outstretched midget arms.

In 2002, the Seahawks selected Jerramy Stevens 28th overall.  That’s all I need to say about this wretch.

In the 1987 NFL Supplemental Draft, the Seahawks took Brian Bosworth with what amounts to a first round draft pick.  He was subsequently given the largest contract in franchise history, and rewarded us with lackluster and often embarrassing play.  He was a better action movie star than a football player, and that’s REALLY not saying much.

But, let’s get back to our Top 3 disappointments from before.  I’m scratching off Koren Robinson, for starters.  Yes, he had the talent to be elite – and pissed it all away with addiction – but one has to wonder if he was even the right fit for this type of offense to begin with.  And, while he wasn’t spectacular, he was far from dreadful.  I’m giving him a pass.

This boils down to Aaron Curry and Rick Mirer.  You may recall with Aaron Curry, we were coming off of our dreadful 2008 season.  With the 4th overall pick, people were screaming for the Seahawks to take a quarterback.  With Matthew Stafford already off the board, and Mark Sanchez sitting there, the Seahawks opted to do the prudent thing:  take the “safest pick in the draft”.  Aaron Curry was an outside linebacker and – depending on who you talked to – was some mix of Lawrence Taylor and Derrick Thomas.  We were going to pair him with Lofa Tatupu and Leroy Hill to have the best linebacking corps in the entire NFL.

Instead, he was slow to pick up the game mentally, slow to pick up the intricacies of his position, and just all-around slow on the field.  He did practically nothing for us, wound up being traded for a low-round draft pick, and was replaced on the field by a mid-round draft pick.  But, considering the Seahawks were bottoming out all over the roster, it’s hard to peg all of our troubles on Curry.  Even if he’d panned out as we’d hoped, he still would have been just a good player on a crappy team.

Rick Mirer, on the other hand, was supposed to save us.  In 1992, the Seahawks shared the worst record in the NFL with the New England Patriots at 2-14.  Thanks to our victory over those very same Patriots, they held the tie-breaker for the #1 overall pick.  As a result, they got to select the best quarterback of that class – Wazzu’s Drew Bledsoe – while we had to settle for Rick Mirer out of Notre Dame.

Mirer came out of the gate on fire, breaking many rookie quarterback records that would eventually be broken by Peyton Manning (the only time Rick Mirer should ever be mentioned in the same sentence as Peyton Manning, by the way).  He quickly either regressed or simply failed to develop, but either way, he SUUUUUUCKED thereafter.  Adding fuel to the fire of his disappointment, I recently was referred to this article (hat tip to Dave Krieg’s Strike Beard) that revealed there was an outside shot of the Seahawks getting Steve Young from the 49ers for the rights to allow the 49ers to draft Mirer to be Joe Montana’s heir apparent.  Isn’t THAT just the ultimate kick to the groin?  Doesn’t that make Rick Mirer the ultimate slam dunk most disappointing draft pick in Seahawks history?

I want to say yes, but RACING PAST THE PACK ON THE OUTSIDE, OUR DARK-HORSE CONTENDER:  1991’s 16th overall draft pick, Dan McGwire!

What’s the meaning of THIS?  Well, I’ll tell you:  the Seahawks brass was very high on the 6’8 towering suckferno, while Chuck Knox – easily our greatest head coach in franchise history to that point – wanted to select a little guy out of Southern Mississippi, the 6’2 Brett Favre.

Dan McGwire started all of five games with the Seahawks in four seasons.  Chuck Knox left the franchise after 1991, right before everything bottomed out in 1992.  As stated above, the Seahawks would use the #2 overall pick on yet another quarterback two years later, and the franchise overall would founder in mediocrity for a decade until Mike Holmgren turned things around.  All of this MAY have been avoided, if Chuck Knox had his way and we’d drafted a certain hall of famer who owns or owned just about every passing record in NFL history.

Most disappointing draft pick?  For all those reasons, I’m going with Dan McGwire by a nose over Rick Mirer (bottom line:  at least Mirer had ONE good season).

***

In an effort to prevent this post from going beyond the 5,000 word mark, I’m going to give the abbreviated version of the Sonics’ most disappointing draft pick:  it doesn’t compare to what the Seahawks and Mariners have stacked against them.  Purely for disappointment’s sake, it’s disappointing to see Scottie Pippen’s name as our #5 overall draft pick in 1987 (he would be traded to the Bulls and replaced by Olden Polynice, but again, this isn’t a post about trades), but at least Pippen’s departure eventually led to Shawn Kemp’s rise.

The fact of the matter is, the Sonics – for the most part, until the last decade or so – were a well-run and successful organization (crazy, I know).  Our first round draft picks were generally low in the round, if we had them at all.  The high ones tended to pan out (Payton, #2 overall; McKey, #9 overall; McDaniel, #4 overall).  And, since once again I’m not all that familiar with all the old-timers, I’m not even going to go there and you can hash it out in the comments.

In an effort to save time, let’s just say the most disappointing draft pick in Seattle Sonics history is Robert Swift (#12 overall in 2004, when we were in DESPERATE need of a big man; he would be the first of three consecutive first round draft pick duds – Petro & Sene to follow – that would ultimately cost this franchise dearly).  Now, let’s call it a day and everyone agree that Robert Swift is nowhere NEAR as disappointing as Dan McGwire or Dustin Ackley.

***

So, where do we land on all of this?  Is Dustin Ackley the most disappointing draft pick in Seattle sports history?

Welp, I’ve already discussed the cases for both he and Dan McGwire.  With Ackley, we’re still talking about an Incomplete.  We don’t know how his career is going to pan out, even if we have a pretty solid idea that he’s going to continue to be terrible.  With McGwire, we know how it panned out, and we know what we could’ve had with Favre.  McGwire FEELS like the more disappointing of the two, but before we give him the crown, we have to speculate on the ol’ butterfly effect.

Dan McGwire kept us from drafting Brett Favre (or, rather, the organization choosing to go with him over Knox’s preferred choice).  That’s the case, right in a nutshell.  So, we have to wonder:  how good could the Seahawks have been with Brett Favre at the helm?

Would Chuck Knox have stayed on past 1991?  Would the team have drafted appropriately around him?  It’s pretty safe to say that Brett Favre would’ve been great wherever he went, but how much of his career was molded by Mike Holmgren?  I wouldn’t call the Packers a bastion of a franchise when they traded for him, so it’s not like the team was great and then Favre appeared as the last piece of the puzzle.  He grew with that franchise to be one of the best in football.  Could that have rubbed off on the Seahawks?  Or, would our franchise bumbling have prevented Favre from being his very best?

I would argue that the Seahawks would’ve been rock solid throughout the 90s.  Much better than the string of .500 (or near-.500) records we were saddled with.  There was always talent on those 90s Seahawks teams, but we were ALWAYS missing out on the quarterback position.  Warren Moon had a couple good years, but that was at the tail end of his career, and he kept getting injured when we needed him most.  Every other quarterback we had in the 90s was terrible.

With Favre in Seattle, does Mike Holmgren become MIKE HOLMGREN in Green Bay?  Does he find another quarterback to mold and turn that franchise around?  I think it’s safe to say, Favre in Seattle means we never hire Holmgren later.  And, you have to wonder if we have the group in place that we have now.

Does Favre turn this franchise around before Ken Behring sells the team to Paul Allen?  Does he have a change of heart and decide to keep the Seahawks and keep them in Seattle?  Do we have what is now CenturyLink Field?  If Paul Allen isn’t the owner, we certainly don’t have our stadium in its current form; I’m sure it would look much different now.  And, I have to wonder if we have the Sounders either, for what it’s worth.

Ultimately, does Brett Favre lead the Seahawks to be world champions?  THAT, I’m not totally sure about.  It’s nice to think so, but you have to wonder how it happens.  How long does Chuck Knox stick around if we give him the quarterback he wants?  He was already getting up there in age by 1991; how many years does he stick around after that?  And, who becomes his replacement?  I would argue Tom Flores was the worst head coach we’ve ever had in Seahawks history; I don’t think he wins even with the mid-90s Cowboys.  Does he still replace Knox?  Do we grab someone else?

The point is:  there are SO MANY “what if’s” that go into the Brett Favre as a Seahawk scenario.  And, what I would argue is most important in all of this is:  if Brett Favre never leads us to a world championship (whether or not it’s his fault, or the fault of ownership, or just the players we saddled him with), then he is 100% not worth the trouble.  The way things actually happened – with the Seahawks winning it all in the 2013 season – made a lot of the previous suffering worth it.  That’s all that matters.

Now, if Brett Favre coming here means the Seahawks would’ve been a dynasty much earlier, then I think he is worth it and I think Dan McGwire wins the title of most disappointing draft pick.  Even if it means the team we have now (in this hypothetical universe) looks nothing like the team we have in our real, actual universe.

Ultimately, my gut tells me that even if the Seahawks had taken Brett Favre, and he’d turned into the franchise quarterback we waited SO LONG to get, I kinda doubt we ever would’ve won it all with him.  Too many variables.  We likely wouldn’t have had the type of hall of fame coaching staff that Holmgren assembled in Green Bay, and we likely wouldn’t have gotten the type of championship talent to put around Favre like they were able to do under Ron Wolf.  Let’s face it, for a lot of reasons, the Seahawks were just plain broken as a franchise in the 1990s.  It took all the tumult, the disaster of an owner, the mis-management of the general manager, the bumbling of the coaching staff, and the underperforming of the players to lead to Paul Allen, Mike Holmgren 2.0, Matt Hasselbeck and our success in the 2000s, the bottoming out in 2008 & 2009, and the foresight to bring in Pete Carroll and pairing him with John Schneider to finally turn this organization into a world-class sports franchise.

You COULD say that Dan McGwire was a big part in giving us all of this!  And, I must say, as a fan in my 30s, I’m certainly appreciating all of our good fortune MUCH more than I would have been as a fan in my teens in the 1990s.

Yes, Dustin Ackley is a disappointment.  Yes, there were truly great players taken after him (including the aforementioned Mike Trout).  And yes, he’s been a big part of all the sucking the Mariners have been a part of in his time in the Major Leagues.  He’s been given MANY more chances to start and play a huge part on this team, and he’s done JUST enough to keep earning those chances even though he’s never broken through to make good on all of his promise.  Dan McGwire, for as enraging as his selection was, was never much more than a longshot prospect.  His college career wasn’t some amazing slam dunk; we were picking him based on his size, his strong arm, and the fact that he “looked” like a starting quarterback.  These types of quarterbacks are selected in the first round every single year, and these types of quarterbacks end up falling well short of their potential every single year.

#2 overall Major League Baseball draft picks are supposed to be different.  At #2, you know you have the opportunity to draft that year’s very best pitcher or hitter.  In our case, we took the “best hitter”.  That guy isn’t supposed to continuously be as mediocre as Ackley has been.  Either he’s great, or he gets injured and we all sit around wondering “what if”.  Ackley has been nothing if not healthy, and he’s been sometimes intriguing, but most of all he’s been a complete failure.

The Mariners missed and missed big when they selected Dustin Ackley.  He not only prevented us from taking a better hitter, but he’s actively hurting us now with his sucking.  If he panned out – as the so-called best hitter in his class should have – we’d be looking at a monster lineup with him paired with Cano, Cruz, and Seager.  Instead, he’s one of our ever-growing cadre of black holes.  We can’t sit him, because we don’t have anyone better (depending on your opinion of Justin Ruggiano), we can’t trade him because we’ll get nothing in return, and we can’t cut him because – as I said before – we don’t have anyone better.  The bottom line in all of this is, while the Mariners are improving as a franchise, there are too many holes on this team for it to be a championship contender.  Dustin Ackley is a huge reason why there are as many holes as there are.  And, for that reason, I’m calling him our most disappointing draft pick in Seattle sports history.

Seattle Sports Hell 2013 NFL Power Rankings – Week 9

Normally, I’m of the opinion that winning is the only thing that matters to me as a fan.  I don’t necessarily care what type of person you are off the field, what your beliefs are, what you do in your free time, whatever.  I’m not a fan of Local Sports Athlete, The Person.  I’m just a fan of Local Sports Athlete, The Member of Local Sports Team.  And when you leave the Local Sports Team, I tend to immediately lose interest in you.  Even the all-time greats!  I rarely took the time to see what Ken Griffey Jr. or Gary Payton did after they left Seattle.  Unless they were involved in a playoff run, in which case I would root from afar, but not too hard, because it’s impossible to root hard for a team that’s not your own.

Tangents aside, in getting back to my original point:  NORMALLY, I could care less about who these athletes are.  If you’re kind of a creep, I’m probably going to put up with your antics, because as the axiom goes:  You would absolutely LOVE everything Richard Sherman says and does if he was on YOUR team.

I’m sure Richard Sherman has his fair share of fans who aren’t necessarily Seahawks fans.  It is possible to overlap in this Venn diagram.  For instance, I always liked whenever Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens or Randy Moss made waves with whatever controversial things they said or did.  Even the Sharpie Incident, which happened during a game against my beloved Seahawks; I LOVE that shit!  I think it’s hilarious.  Now, in the heat of the moment, I was most likely enraged, but taken objectively, I think there IS a place in the game for these types of characters, and I wish we had more of them.

Nevertheless, Richard Sherman has an inordinate amount of haters because of who he is and what he says.  Golden Tate, too, has an inordinate amount of haters, because of the Fail Mary, and more recently the taunting spectacle in the Monday Night Rams game.  And, I guess because he went to Notre Dame and it’s always popular to hate on the Fighting Irish.

I contend that I would be fans of these guys even if they’d never once worn a Seahawks uniform, because they’re entertaining.  They’re not boxed into some white-bread formula for what a professional football player is supposed to be.  I don’t need a league full of cookie-cutter athletes.  I think Mark Schlereth is the most boring analyst on television and I’d rather there be MORE players who ruffle his feathers.  I don’t subscribe to the Mike Golic way of thinking, and I’m better for it.

That having been said, there’s another type of professional athlete who I can’t stand.  And I want to believe I’d hate this type of player even if he donned the Seahawks’ unis.  This player is no better exemplified than by one Richie Incognito.

This guy is a fucking asshole of the highest order.  What’s worse, the bulk of his value isn’t derived from his skill at the offensive guard position, but rather in how dirty he is as a player.

There have been dirty players I’ve enjoyed and rooted for in my lifetime.  Dennis Rodman was always pretty dirty; but he also rebounded the ball like a madman and was ultimately an asset on the floor until his personality got in the way and the team soured on his antics.  There have been any number of cheaters in baseball who I’ve rooted for at one time or another.  I even have a generally postive opinion of Barry Bonds; but don’t get me started on that dickhead Roger Clemens.  Even Brandon Browner is more imposing enforcer than NFL cornerback; but he still has a skillset and for the most part plays within the rules.

Richie Incognito, on the other hand, is damn near a psychopath.  How he has never played for the Oakland Raiders is anybody’s guess.  Being billed the Dirtiest Player In The NFL isn’t something to be proud of!  What’s more, if he wasn’t so dirty, he wouldn’t even be in the league!  The guy is a mediocre lineman at best, and that’s while using every dirty trick in the book.  He’s often one of the most-penalized players in the NFL.  And now, we’ve got this hazing incident.

If the Seahawks went out and signed him to the minimum for next year as some added depth, there is no way I’d root for the man.  I’d actively criticize this front office every chance I got.  Hell, if the Seahawks would’ve signed him in his supposed-prime, I still would have criticized the move!  He’s a terrible football player, a wretch of a human being, and I hope he has played his last down in the NFL.  And, if he gets another chance to play again, I hope he tears both ACLs in his first practice.  Incognito is scum; that is all.

On to the rankings.

***

  1. Denver Broncos (7-1) – WOW, look at this schedule the next four games:  @SD, KC, @NE, @KC.  There’s your gauntlet, my friends.  This is also the stretch that likely decides the AFC West and the AFC top 2 seeds.
  2. Seattle Seahawks (8-1) – The best team in football doesn’t let a team like Tampa put up a 21-point lead; I don’t care if we came back in the second half.

The Rest:

  1. Kansas City Chiefs (9-0) – They’re just steady, what can you say?
  2. Indianapolis Colts (6-2) – Boy, that Andrew Luck is simply a baller.  It’s going to hurt him not having Reggie Wayne around, though.  They’re going to need to find a #2 receiver in a bad way.
  3. San Francisco 49ers (6-2) – You chickenfuckers thought you were going to get one on us!  Not sorry to let you down, assholes!
  4. New England Patriots (7-2) – Whoop-dee-doo, they beat up on the Pittsburgh Steelers, BFD.
  5. New Orleans Saints (6-2) – They’ll still end up with a good record, but I just can’t see the Saints as a Top 2 team in the NFC.  I still think Green Bay steals that #2 seed in the end.
  6. Green Bay Packers (5-3) – Like so many teams, the Packers are one injured quarterback away from being totally worthless.
  7. Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) – And, Andy Dalton follows up his best game ever with three interceptions and a safety to end the game in overtime.  This is why we can’t have nice things!
  8. Detroit Lions (5-3) – So, have you seen Detroit’s second-half schedule?  Look at these cupcakes:  @Chi, @Pit, TB, GB, @Phi, Bal, Giants, @Min.  This team could EASILY be 12-4 at season’s end!
  9. Carolina Panthers (5-3) – Panthers are riding a 4-game winning streak and absolutely had to win that game against the Falcons.  Their upcoming schedule is pretty rough, with the next three:  @SF, NE, @Mia.  If they figure out a way to go 2-1 in that stretch, I would legitimately be afraid of this team.  Also, not for nothing, but they still play the Saints twice.
  10. Chicago Bears (5-3) – Matt Forte is a national treasure.  This year of fantasy dominance totally redeems him for his last two years of utter sucktitude.
  11. New York Jets (5-4) – J-E-T-S! Jets! Jets! Jets!  They beat the Saints for us and we ALMOST blew it.  Either way, way to go!  You’re earning more points in my book every week!
  12. Dallas Cowboys (5-4) – Wow, Tony Romo in the clutch … what is the world coming to?
  13. Arizona Cardinals (4-4) – This team could finish 10-6 or 6-10 and it wouldn’t totally shock me.  Home games against Texans, Indy, Rams, and 49ers.  Road games against Jax, Phi, Ten, and Sea.  I could see 6 wins in that slate, and also 6 losses; guess it just depends on whether or not Palmer has enough in the tank.
  14. San Diego Chargers (4-4) – Like the Dolphins, we’re not talking about a good team.  One of these two teams (Chargers or Dolphins) will take that 6th spot in the AFC playoffs, but they will lose in that first playoff game, without question.
  15. Miami Dolphins (4-4) – They beat an inconsistent Bengals team.  Who cares?  They’re still not very good.
  16. Houston Texans (2-6) – Boy, I tell you, that Case Keenum fella is going to be fun to watch for the next 5-6 years.  Houston kinda lucked out this year.  If they can finish with a crappy-enough record, maybe they get a high draft pick and immediately reload for next year.
  17. Atlanta Falcons (2-6) – Matt Ryan is KILLING me right now.  You can’t be throwing all these interceptions!  Well, except for next week, when Seattle comes to town.  but, after that, NO MORE!
  18. Cleveland Browns (4-5) – Oh those resilient Browns!  I never had a doubt that they’d beat the Ravens.
  19. Buffalo Bills (3-6) – Tuel looked kinda okay against the undefeated Chiefs.  In the end, he cost them the game, and he’s clearly the third-best quarterback on that team, but still.  He should hold his head reasonably high.
  20. Baltimore Ravens (3-5) – There is something seriously wrong with Ray Rice.  Well, there are five things seriously wrong with Ray Rice, and that would be his offensive linemen.
  21. Tennessee Titans (4-4) – Didn’t have Locker’s best game, but still went in and put a pounding on a decent Rams team (on the road, no less).
  22. Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) – Nick Foles, you have single-handedly won me my fantasy game on an otherwise down week!  I love you!  You may have also saved my season and pushed me through into the playoffs!  I want to have your babies!
  23. Oakland Raiders (3-5) – Pretty stinky performance, Raiders.  My fantasy team thanks you for that.
  24. Washington Redskins (3-5) – That goalline stand against the Chargers was bigtime to force the field goal that forced overtime.  I’m pretty skeptical that the Redskins are going to turn it around two seasons in a row after starting off ultra-shitty, but this might be the spark they need.
  25. New York Giants (2-6) – Everyone in the crappy NFC East won on Sunday.  And yet the Giants are still in this thing at 2-6.  Ye gods.
  26. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6) – Maybe the only offensive line worse than the Seahawks’.
  27. St. Louis Rams (3-6) – They looked decent, but you’re still talking about a team headed by Kellen Clemens.  No thanks.
  28. Minnesota Vikings (1-7) – I had to play Nick Foles in my fantasy league this week (2-QB league) and I ALMOST swapped him out when I saw Christian Ponder on the waiver wire.  In the end, I stuck with Foles, believing that while Ponder was probably the safer play, Foles had the higher upside.  Had I gone with the swap, you’d be looking at a dead man right now, because I would have jumped out of a 10-story building before the end of the afternoon games on Sunday.
  29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-8) – Still a bad team.  They just caught the Seahawks at the right time.  Maybe if they had the same dedication to the run, they’d start winning some games.  Ya think?
  30. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-8) – Your 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Mariners Should Put Brandon Maurer Out Of His Misery

Forgive me if I don’t give a shit about the latest “controversy” where Eric Wedge made a flippant remark about the sabermetric community followed by the sabermetric community getting their panties in a HUGE knot like this is the Dixieland south circa 1840 and Y’ALL HAVE JUST SULLIED MY HONOR, SUH!  Here’s a word of advice:  if you want the rest of the baseball world to respect you, “Sabermetric Community”, then try to not act like a bunch of 12 year olds when someone you don’t like makes fun of you.  Take a comment in stride, huh?

Brandon Maurer:  he hasn’t been good.  He lost again, making him now 2-7 on the year.  He has yet to get through a full seven innings in any of his ten starts, he’s given up on average one home run a game (which, over the course of a full season, would put him somewhere around 30, which is bad), and if I had to be honest, I only see one really great start on his Major League resume:  6.1 innings, 7 hits, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts, 0 runs against the Angels on April 25th.

Sure, there are other “Quality Starts” on his resume, but many of them have ended up in defeat.  Yeah, he only gave up 3 runs in 6 innings against the Indians on May 17th, but the first two put us in a 2-0 hole, and with this offense, you can’t afford to put them in holes early.  Same thing the start prior at home vs. Oakland:  he gave up 3 runs in 5 innings, but all three of those runs put us in a 3-0 hole.

Where’s the dominance?  Where’s the outing where he goes 8 shutout innings?  If you’re going to be a good pitcher in this league, you’ve got to give us a SIGN!  Show us that you’re for real!  I’m not looking for Roger Clemens in every start, but you’ve got to be Roger Clemens in SOME starts!

Some people say it’s confidence, some people say it’s a lack of a change up (causing him to be abused by left-handed hitters).  I say, whatever the cause, all the more reason for him to be starting games in Tacoma right now.  Let him work on that change up.  Let him build up his confidence.  Let him get his shit together in an environment where he’s not under constant pressure to Succeed Or Else.  From fans and from management.

At this point, you’re pretty much throwing his starts away ever fifth day anyway.  Might as well blow those starts on some veteran you could theoretically trade for a prospect in a couple months.  Jeremy Bonderman might not be much to look at, but if he can throw some quality numbers out there, who knows?  Maybe he’s worth something to a team in need.  It’s better than nothing.  It beats letting him walk in three days when he opts out of his minor league deal.

And, by July 31st, either Maurer is ready to re-join the big ballclub, or someone else will fill those shoes.  It makes sense, doesn’t it?

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).

2008: A Seattle Sports Apocalypse

Editor’s Note:  To read this blog post, click HERE.  It is one of Seattle Sports Hell’s “Featured Articles”.

2000 Seattle Mariners: The Team That Time Forgot

Is it just me, or is this 2000 team one of the more forgettable Mariners teams?  Considering this is only one of FOUR Mariners teams to make the playoffs, I would say that’s a ridiculous statement.  But, you have to admit, it’s easily overshadowed by the other three.  The 1995 team is, of course, the be-all end-all of baseball teams.  The 1997 team still had all that star power (and all of that unresolved promise).  And the 2001 team CLEARLY overshadows the 2000 squad because of its 116 regular season wins (and its 4 post-season wins).

The 2000 team actually had better success than the 2001 team; it lost to the Yankees in 6 games while the 2001 Mariners lost in 5.  But, for whatever reason, the 2000 Mariners feels like a poorly-written, unfunny sequel to a movie that didn’t need to be made in the first place (and the 2000 team came FIRST!).

For those of you who have trouble remembering the 2000 Mariners, I’ll give you a couple of names that will hopefully jog your memory:  Al Martin and Arthur Rhodes (it would be a LONG couple of post-seasons for Mr. Rhodes).

You can’t talk about the 2000 Mariners without first talking about the Oakland A’s.  They were a team on the rise, thanks to Billy Beane and his bullshit.  In 1998, they were a bottom-feeder in the AL West.  In 1999, they leap-frogged the Angels and Mariners to nab a winning record and 2nd place in the AL West.  Maybe we should’ve suspected something there; sure, those ’99 A’s missed out on the Wild Card by 7 games, but clearly they were doing something special down there.  Those 2000 A’s finally figured it all out; not-so-coincidentally, this was Barry Zito’s first Major League season.  And the reign of The Big Three was born.

The 2000 Mariners, much like the 2001 Mariners, were built for the regular season.  We had A-Rod & Edgar in their primes, we had a very-productive John Olerud locking down first base, we had Jay Buhner in the downswing of his career, and we had a nice glut of complementary players to round out our roster.  On the pitching side of things, I don’t think I can say anything about Aaron Sele, Jamie Moyer, Paul Abbott, or John Halama that you don’t already know.  Those were nice players at the time, but there wasn’t an ace amongst ’em.  Freddy Garcia – in his 2nd Major League season after the Randy Johnson trade – could’ve been that guy for us (and, indeed he was in the post-season), but he was still quite young and he ended up missing two months to injury in May & June which had to have set him back some.  We also could’ve had Gil Meche – also in his 2nd Major League season, and starting for us out of Spring Training – be that guy for us, but he ended up losing his season to an arm injury at the end of June.

So, there we were.  Four months of Freddy Garcia and full seasons out of four soft-tossing righties & lefties.  That could easily be made up by a quality bullpen, right?

Well, as chance would have it, there was this 32 year old rookie out of Japan named Kazuhiro Sasaki who – if I’m not mistaken – was Japan’s saves leader at the time of his signing.  Boy did HE show up in the nick of time!  Because the rest of this ‘pen was an absolute BALLSACK!  Of course, it didn’t require much to steal the closer job from Jose Mesa (chickenfucker), but since this was the Mariners, it’s not like we could just cut Joe Table free (not the Mariners:  the cheapest winning franchise in Major League Baseball).  So, of course Mesa got his 66 appearances.  As did Jose Paniagua (who actually wasn’t totally worthless this season), and Arthur Rhodes (who pretty much did what he was supposed to do until the ALCS).

This bullpen was by no means stellar, but they did help us to 91 wins.  91 wins, by the by, was the same number of wins as the Oakland A’s, but apparently they had this crazy tiebreaker known as “Head-to-Head Matchup”.  Since the A’s were 9-4 against the Mariners in the regular season, the A’s never had to play their make-up game, and thus were awarded the AL West title (while the Mariners were awarded the Wild Card).

It could’ve been different!  The Mariners were leading in the AL West by a season-high 7 games after the game on August 11th.  We were 69-47, then proceeded to lose our next 8 games, clinging to a 2-game advantage over the A’s.  In fact, during that stretch, we went 3-15 before we sort of levelled off.  However, never at any point did we lose our lead in the AL West, which is God damned mind-boggling.

We had a 3-game lead over the A’s going into a 4-game series starting on September 21st.  We were 10 games away from clinching!  So, of course the A’s won the first three games to pull to a tie, before the Mariners somehow took that fourth game 3-2.  The A’s had 7 games remaining (against the Angels & Rangers) and went 6-1.  The Mariners had 6 games remaining (against the same teams, in reverse order) and went 4-2.

And THAT, my friends, is how you go from a 3-game lead with 10 games to play, to losing your division by 0.5 games.

The Big, Bad Yankees, meanwhile, had the regular season’s 5th best record (losing 15 of their final 18 regular season games, if you can believe that).  But, they won the AL East and you could easily make the case that, while the Mariners were built for the Regular Season, the Yankees were built for the post-season and were just trying anything in their power to make it in.  The Chicago White Sox ended up having the BEST record in the American League.  One would think, if you were going by record, that the best team would play the worst team in the first round of the playoffs, but MLB has always had this rule about teams in the same division not playing one another.  Ergo, the White Sox were forced to play the Mariners and the A’s had to play the Yankees.

You gotta wonder how things would’ve been different.  For instance, Orlando Hernandez was fucking Mariner kryptonite (as Freddy Garcia was Yankee kryptonite) in that ALCS.  What would’ve happened if we won the AL West, faced the Yankees in the first round, and DIDN’T have to face El Duque twice in the same series?  Hell, what would’ve happened had we won the AL West and actually had Home Field Advantage EVER?  Maybe some of those David Justice extra-base hits would’ve been long flyball outs.

Of course, it could’ve ended with a similar amount of heartbreak.  I don’t think the White Sox were very good in 2000; the A’s would’ve made mincemeat with ’em in a 5-game series.  Remember that 9-4 record the A’s were lording over us; I could’ve easily seen them sweeping us away in that ALCS.

Anyway, as I alluded to, the Mariners beat the White Sox pretty handily in the ALDS, 3 games to 0.

The first game was damned exciting, though.  Freddy Garcia could seemingly do no right, but he left in that 4th inning with the Mariners only down 4-3.  The bullpen put things on lockdown while the Mariner bats finally came alive in the 7th inning.  Bone started us off with a walk, followed by a David Bell double (Bone to third).  Al Martin promptly came up to pinch hit and was worthless.  Mark McLemore, however, walked to load the bases with only one out.  Stan Javier – a solid contributer off the bench – ended up striking out looking.  But, that just meant White Sox Killer Mike Cameron could come in to save the day!

Actually, he just got a single to tie it (David Bell was thrown out at home, but who could fault him for aggressiveness in such a situation), but that carried us into extra innings where in the 10th, back-to-back homers by Edgar and Olerud gave us a 3-run advantage that would seal the deal.

Game 2 was also in Comiskey as the Seattle Mariners Seattle Mariners’d their way to another 3-run victory.  This time, Paul Abbott got the best of Mike Sirotka, and the Mariners’ bullpen was again flawless over 3.1 innings.  As the game was tied 2-2, Buhner hit a solo homer in the 4th, A-Rod scored Rickey Henderson on a groundout (thanks to Rickey’s walk, his sacrifice to 2nd, and his steal of 3rd … just what we brought him onto this team to do) in the 5th, and Cammy hit an RBI single in the 9th.

With Games 3 & potentially 4 in Safeco, and the Mariners having a 2-0 series lead, things never felt better for Mariners fans.  The A’s and Yankees were locked into a grudge match that would surely go all 5 games … what more could you ask for?  Ordinarily, this would be the point where the Mariners would lose their final three games to really twist the knife into the hearts of Mariners fans everywhere.  But, as chance would have it, NOT THIS TIME!

Game 3 was an absolute BEAUT!  That is, if you like low-scoring pitchers’ duels.  Aaron Sele vs. James Baldwin.  Sele went 7.1 innings of 1-run ball, Baldwin went 6 innings of 1-run ball.  Neither were all that impressive, but they managed – for the most part – to keep the offenses off the bases.  It was 1-1 in the bottom of the 9th when Olerud led us off with an infield single that was poorly thrown by the pitcher, which allowed Olerud to scamper over to 2nd base.  Mr. Henderson promptly pinch-ran as Stan Javier bunted him over to third base with 1 out.  David Bell was walked (I want to say intentionally, to set up the double play), which led to Carlos Guillen’s iconic bunt single to score a hard-charging Henderson from third.  Game over!  M’s win!  M’s win!

Granted, it’s not The Double or anything, but don’t forget:  this was only the second time in team history where the Mariners won a playoff series.  Watching that M’s team jump around the field in triumph still gives me chills to this day.

That was October 6th.  The A’s & Yankees did indeed go the full five games, so their series ended on October 8th.  It was truly a back-and-forth affair:  the A’s took Game 1, handling Roger Clemens; the Yankees took the next two, with El Duque continuing his fucking mastery of all things holding bats; the A’s came back to absolutely CRUSH Roger Clemens in Game 4; but it was not to be as the Yankees thumped the A’s in the final game to take the series.

Where did that leave things?  The ALCS started on October 10th.  On the one hand:  fuck, the Yankees have been playing this whole time while the Mariners have been sitting around tugging at their own wieners for four days.  On the other hand:  the Mariners were “rested” while the Yankees were “tired”.  I tend to not buy that crap, because look at it logistically:  both teams have played nearly 170 games that matter (not taking into account a month’s worth of Spring Training games).  “Rested” and “Tired” are the most relative terms you’re ever going to see in the realm of sports.

One thing, in theory, the Mariners had going for them is that they had their starters lined up exactly how they wanted them.  Garcia, Halama (because Moyer was lost for the rest of the post-season to injury), Sele, and if necessary, Abbott.  Meanwhile, the Yankees had to run Denny Neagle out there in Game 1.

Let me just say this about Game 1:  Neagle wasn’t terrible!  He did give up 2 runs and take the loss, but he still got his team into the 6th inning with a chance to win.  Freddy was just that much better, going 6.2 innings of shutout ball.  Our bullpen remained on lockdown, and that was the end of that:  a 2-0 victory in Game 1.

At this point in our Mariners post-season, our bullpen had thrown 14.0 innings across 4 games.  They gave up 0 runs in those four games, all victories.  I would like to keep that in mind as we go forward:  it LOOKED like not only was this team unstoppable, but that this bullpen was getting hot at the right time.

I would also like to point out that while we were working our magic, Ken Griffey Jr. was sitting at his home in Orlando watching us on television.  His Reds ended the season 10 games behind division-winning St. Louis.  Also, Randy Johnson was on his ass in his home, as his Arizona Diamondbacks ended their season 12 games behind the San Francisco Giants.  We were doing ALL of this with smoke & mirrors & A-Rod & Edgar!  This 2000 Mariners team was truly a blessing in disguise.

But, oh how much better they could’ve been.

Remember those two names I told you should jog your memory?  Al Martin was a lot of things – a reserve outfielder, a left-handed bat, a worthless pile of crap – but he was NOTHING if he wasn’t our little Scapegoat.

It wasn’t his fault.  First of all, it’s not like we gave up some studs to bring him in here (in other words, this wasn’t Woody Woodward in the 1997 season trying to bolster a nothing bullpen).  We traded John Mabry (who I hated anyway) and Tom Davey (who I couldn’t pick out of a lineup if you offered me a million dollars) at the Trade Deadline to the Padres to get him.  For the Padres, in 93 games, he hit .306 with decent power (13 doubles, 11 homers).  Could a guy like that help us out from the left side of the plate in Safeco?  Sure, why not?  Did he?  His numbers with the Mariners:

42 games, .231 average, 2 doubles, 4 homers, 31 strikeouts, .678 OPS.

Those are GREAT numbers, if you’re talking about the 2010 and 2011 Mariners (well, not great, but at least they blend in nicely), but not for the 2000 Mariners who REALLY needed a big bat to pull them through the dog days and into the playoffs.

So, yeah, Al Martin was a scapegoat because he was terrible in a Mariners uniform, but he was also a scapegoat for the organization’s front office shortcomings.

It’s difficult to say who’s more at fault:  the owners for not opening up their wallets at the trade deadline to let Gillick trade for someone of quality; or Gillick himself for being so God damned unwilling to trade any of our top-tier prospect talent.  I’ll tell you this much:  we could’ve gotten a fucking king’s ransom had we traded guys like Gil Meche (before he went down with injury), Joel Pineiro, or Ryan Anderson.

Now, would the 2000 Steven A. Taylor have flipped his shit at the thought of trading our future like that?  Abso-fucking-lutely!  That’s simply because I saw how our trades back in 1997 were working out so well for other teams!  If we didn’t screw the damn pooch back then, maybe we would’ve been more willing in 2000 to trade top prospects for top talent!  The Steven A. Taylor with hindsight on his side can clearly see we were a few pieces away from winning it all in both 2000 and 2001.  Maybe one of those guys nets us a bonafide Number 1 starter to go along with Garcia.  Maybe another one of those guys gets us the kind of bat we needed down the stretch to put us over the top.  MAYBE we also get some bullpen relief in the form of a left-hander who won’t implode at the first sight of pinstripes!

Of course, while we’re playing the What If game, what if this team hadn’t been so stingy and had decided to keep Randy Johnson as he was entering the Cy Young bonanza phase of his career with the Diamondbacks?  What if by this small gesture, Ken Griffey Jr. wouldn’t have thought so poorly of the organization that he forced his trade to the Reds (because, I’m telling you, don’t believe that crap about him wanting to be closer to his family; he saw this team selling off its best assets – Randy, Tino, Jeff Nelson, etc. – and getting next-to-nothing back in return)?  Wouldn’t Randy and Griffey (and Tino and Nelson) have been AMAZING on this 2000 team?

Everyone likes to look back on the 2000 & 2001 teams as the embodiment of “Fuck You” to greedy assholes like Griffey, Randy & A-Rod.  But, if this Mariners team had been willing to take care of its stars, maybe these 2000 & 2001 teams would’ve been championship-winning.

But, whatever.  You can’t change the past.  And, as of October 11, 2000, the Mariners had a 1-0 ALCS lead over the Yankees.  And, in Game 2, these same Mariners had a 1-0 lead over those Yankees going into the bottom of the 8th inning.  This was 1995 all over again!  The Yankees couldn’t break the spell we had over them!  A 2-0 series lead going back to Safeco was 6 outs away!

Enter Arthur Rhodes.  David Justice leads off with a double.  Bernie Williams follows with a game-tying RBI single.  It might as well have been two pitches; before we could blink, the game was tied.  And it was all downhill from there.  Tino Martinez singles, Jorge Posada singles in Williams for the 2-1 lead.  Paul O’Neill hits a deep fly to score Tino.  1 out.  3-1 Yankees.

Enter Jose Mesa.  Luis Sojo singles, Posada is thrown out trying to steal home.  2 outs, still 3-1 Yankees.  Jose Vizcaino then doubled to score Sojo.  Then, a passed ball moves Vizcaino over to 3rd before he’s scored by a Chuck Knoblauch single.  Derek Jeter jacks a home run to make it 7-1 Yankees before David Justice – who led off the inning – mercifully flew out to center.

Just like that, the demons had been slain.  The Yankees – behind 8 strong innings from El Duque (who would’ve been their third or fourth starter had their rotation been set properly) – took back control of the series.  Yes, it was still tied 1-1, but you couldn’t help but think that this 8th inning implosion was the straw breaking the camel’s back on our season.

Game 3 was just a crusher.  An 8-2 defeat behind Aaron Sele’s Turning Back Into A Pumpkin Act.  He went 4 innings, gave up 4 runs (off of 9 hits, two of which were home runs), and our bullpen gave up the other 4 runs as it too found the clock had struck midnight.

Game 4 is where we needed to right the ship.  Unfortunately, we ran into the buzzsaw that was Roger Clemens at the height of his alleged steroids prime.  He tossed what has stood as one of the very finest post-season performances of any pitcher in Major League Baseball history.  9 innings, 1 hit (thank you Al Martin … ow, my pride), 2 walks, and 15 strikeouts.

I don’t even know what to say.  As I sit here right now, I’m impossibly angry and depressed all at the same time, and this was over 11 years ago!  Fucking Roger Piece Of Shit Clemens.  I’ll never forget how I felt on that night because I still feel that way to this day.  This was the same feeling I had back in 1996 when the Sonics lost Game 3 in the Finals to the Bulls to go down 0-3 in the series.  You’re SO CLOSE to what you want more than anything else in the world, but there’s this thing called Mount Everest standing there in your way.

The Mariners were down 3-1 in the series, losers of three straight including two at home.  The final home game took place the very next day and all I can say is thank Christ for Freddy Garcia (or, more accurately, thank Christ for Denny Neagle).  We won that game 5-2 in a very Mariners-type of fashion.  Our bullpen returned to fight the good fight, giving up 0 runs over the final 4 innings.  And we got some timely hitting out of our best hitters (A-Rod, Edgar & Olerud).  Nevertheless, you couldn’t help but feel that doom was right around the corner.

Game 6, two days later, in Yankee Stadium.  Once again, we had to face El Duque.  THIS time, however, our bats came to play.  Unfortunately, this time, so did theirs.

We jumped out to a 2-0 lead thanks to back-to-back RBI doubles in the first inning by A-Rod & Edgar.  The lead was extended to 4-0 thanks to a 2-run bomb off the bat of Carlos Guillen in the 4th.  Hey HEY!  This isn’t so bad!  Maybe we WILL see a 7th game!  Halama is coasting, our offense is on fire, El Duque is showing his age (what was it, like 50?).

Of course, promptly in the bottom of the 4th, Halama gave them three runs right back before he was relieved by Brett Tomko (he thinks he’s people).  This score stood for a while.  It was nail-biting time, to be sure, but there was still a chance.  9 outs away from a Game 7.

Bottom of the 7th inning.  Jose Paniagua relieves a surprisingly-effective Tomko.  He immediately gives up a single, then a sacrifice bunt, then another single.  1 out, runners on the corners, Mariners hanging onto a 4-3 lead.  Lou Pinella comes out of the dugout & points towards the bullpen with his left arm.

Enter Arthur Rhodes.  Boy, doesn’t THIS sound familiar?

Annnnnnnd:  David Justice, 3-run homer.  Fuck.  A single, double, intentional walk, and 2-RBI single later, he’s replaced by Jose Mesa (is this a re-run?  Where’s the TV Guide?!).  Joe Table let another run slide across home plate and there you have it.  A tailor-made 6-run inning late in the game for the fucking Yankees.

The Mariners managed to make it a little interesting in the top of the 8th with a solo homer by A-Rod, followed by a 2-RBI double by McLemore, but Mariano Rivera was in there, and it was shut-down time.  In the top of the 9th, the Mariners had a single by A-Rod to put the tying run at the plate in Edgar Martinez, but this wasn’t 1995 and this wasn’t Jack McDowell on the mound.  A 6-3 put-out ended the game in regulation.

A 6-3 put-out ended our season.

We’d come so far, we played so well, but a couple of monster innings punctuated by David Justice facing Arthur Rhodes sealed our fate.  That’s all it takes.  Sometimes, it’s just that one small factor that dictates your entire season.

The Mariners would come back bigger and beefier than ever the following season, but as both you and I know, the results were ultimately the same.  Ending in humiliating defeat, as so many other Seattle playoff seasons have ended.

1997 Seattle Mariners: A Wasteland Of Unfulfilled Promise

The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes – Benjamin Disraeli

I don’t know who Benjamin Disraeli is, but I happened upon that quote just now and thought it perfectly encapsulates every halfway decent, contending Mariners team there’s ever been (and I thought it was a just pretentious-enough way to start a post like this).

The Seattle Mariners had some wildly talented teams between 1995 and 2003, but they were never SUCCESSFUL because they never took advantage of the opportunities they created.  The 1997 team is a great example.

You might be able to argue (and I might be willing to believe) that the 1995 Mariners – while sickeningly talented – were too raw and inexperienced to succeed in their first brush with greatness.  But, with this 1997 team, there was just no excuse!

The 1997 Mariners were like the 1995 Mariners on steroids (pun somewhat intended).  This team led the league with 925 runs scored, they broke the Major League record with 264 home runs, AND they seemingly shored up their starting pitching woes by bringing in a couple of veteran starters who were more-than-capable while our veterans in 1995 ultimately weren’t.

Before I get into the pitching, would you LOOK at this offense?

Ken Griffey Jr. – 56 homers, 34 doubles, 147 RBI, 125 runs scored, 1.028 OPS
Edgar Martinez – 28 homers, 35 doubles, 108 RBI, 104 runs scored, 1.009 OPS
Jay Buhner – 40 homers, 18 doubles, 109 RBI, 104 runs scored, .889 OPS
Alex Rodriguez – 23 homers, 40 doubles, 84 RBI, 100 runs scored, .846 OPS

I mean, it’s just up and down the damn lineup!  Anyone remember Paul Sorrento?  Even HE had 31 homers and 19 doubles!  Not counting left field (which was a wasteland of stop-gaps), 7 of our 8 regular hitters had an OPS over .800 (the lone guy under .800 was Dan Wilson, who in 1997 had himself 15 homes and 31 doubles)!  To put that in perspective, the 2011 Mariners only had one guy (Justin Smoak) who played in over 100 games have an OPS over .700!  Ruminate on THAT and tell me it doesn’t make you sick!  Five guys in 1997 scored over 100 runs each!  Three guys in 2011 scored over 50 runs each!

I could go on and on.  The point is, that 1997 lineup was fucking loaded like you wouldn’t believe.  No major injuries, no major slumps.  Just power, power, power til the cows came home.

On the pitching side, we had a legitimate Big Three going.  Randy Johnson bounced back from his lost 1996 season with a 20-4 record in 30 starts; good for 2nd in the Cy Young to Roger Clemons in spite of these numbers:  2.28 ERA, 213 innings pitched, 291 strikeouts, (12.3 K/9IP).  The team was 22-8 in his starts.  In those 6 no-decisions, 5 of them were Quality Starts that either got blown by the bullpen, or were shot by late-blossoming offense.  Either way, that’s pretty amazing (to look at Roger Clemons’ roided-out numbers from that year is an easy way to burst a blood vessel in my brain, so I’m not even going to go there).

Backing up The Big Unit, we had Jamie Moyer in his first full season as a Mariner (we traded for him at the deadline in 1996 for Darren Bragg – who? – exactly).  Moyer only went out and posted a 17-5 record with a 3.86 ERA.  No big deal.  And, as a legitimate third starter, we had Jeff Fassero, who we acquired from Montreal before the season for a big ol’ bag of nothing (admittedly, one of our more successful trades, until he fell apart in the 1999 season and we had to unload him).  Fassero ended up 16-9 with a 3.61 ERA.

Between our Big Three, they were 53-18.  The rest of the Mariners’ pitchers that year gave us a 37-54.  And boy did they earn every one of those 54 losses!

The 1997 season will always be remembered for one thing:  The Trade Deadline.  Specifically:  Jose Cruz Jr. for Mike Timlin & Paul Spoljaric, and Derek Lowe & Jason Varitek for Heathcliff Slocumb.  Not only were these trades two of the least popular (losing Cruz Jr. at the time, and losing Lowe & Varitek retroactively when we realized how great they’d become) and least successful, but you could argue that they didn’t make one lick of difference down the stretch.  All three were pretty pisspoor; and say what you will about Slocumb’s 10 saves in those final two months, I’ll remind you that he managed four losses in his short stint with us.

But, that goes to show you the absolute wreckage we were throwing out there late in games.  Norm Charlton was 3-8 with a 7+ ERA and was pretty much done for his career (and HE appeared in 71 games that season!).  Bobby Ayala was surprisingly effective with a sub-4 ERA, but he was a timebomb waiting to happen (and not in a good way).  We were throwing guys out there like Edwin Hurtado, Scott Sanders, Bob Wells, and Greg McCarthy … each limp dick worse than the last.  I’m telling you, I would’ve sold my SOUL for a repeat of our 1995 bullpen performance.  Saying nothing of what we would eventually accumulate at the turn of the century.

But, like I said, it didn’t really matter, because by the end of the season we were the best team in the AL West.  With THAT offense?  Oh yeah, you could’ve thrown six Steven A. Taylors out there and that team would’ve won 90 games.  I would lament the fact that we didn’t have shit at the back-end of our rotation, trying out guys like Bob Wolcott (until he was finally shut down come August for being totally worthless), Omar Olivares (in another deal that totally and completely backfired for this team), and Scott Sanders (who we got from San Diego for Sterling Hitchcock – who we got with Russ Davis for Tino Martinez & Jeff Nelson … think that 1997 team could’ve used Jeff Nelson?).  But, the truth of the matter is, the back end of our rotation isn’t why the 1997 Mariners ended up failing.  It never got to that point.

Even though the Mariners had the 2nd best record among the division winners, we got stuck playing the Number 1 seed Baltimore Orioles.  The Yankees, as it turned out, were 2 games worse than the Orioles, but they were the Wild Card and SHOULD have been the 4th seed.  The Cleveland Indians were the other division winner, but they had the worst record of them all, and by all rights should’ve been playing the Orioles, but that’s neither here nor there.  Leave it to Major League baseball to have a stupid rule that predetermines the playoff seeding (1997 would be the final year they did this, because DUH).

The Mariners won the division by beating the California Anaheim Angels on September 23rd, at a game – as chance would have it – that I attended.  I still have the scorecard and everything.  When Heathcliff Slocumb notched that final out, the Kingdome erupted like I’ve never heard it before.  The Mariners, after a year in the wilderness, were going BACK to the playoffs.  The Orioles, on the other hand, didn’t win their division until the 161st game of the season.  I don’t know if it made a lick of difference, but at least THIS time the Mariners would be able to set up their rotation so Randy Johnson would go twice in a five-game series (as opposed to 1995 where he started Game 3 and had to come in during Game 5 in an emergency relief situation).

The first game would be critical.  It was at home (the first two being at home before a theoretical three on the road), and our best guy was taking the mound.  So, of course the Mariners went up against the buzzsaw that was Mike Mussina.  He went seven strong innings, striking out 9 and giving up only 2 harmless runs.  The Big Unit, meanwhile, was very un-Unit like.  He got smacked around to the tune of 5 innings, 5 runs, 4 walks, and only 3 strikeouts.  The Orioles scored 8 runs in the 5th and 6th innings, with Mike Timlin & Paul Spoljaric taking the brunt of the punishment in the latter of the two innings.

The Mariners offense didn’t show up whatsoever.  7 total hits – 3 of them solo home runs – spread out over 5 innings.  Griffey was 0 for 4, Edgar was 1 for 4 … it was just a bad all-around effort as the Mariners lost 9-3.

With that turd behind us, Game 2 was now a Must Win.  Jamie Moyer had been solid all season, Scott Erickson was nothing to write home about.  So what happened?  Of COURSE the Mariners lost, again 9-3!  Moyer couldn’t even get through five innings, giving up 3 runs, and Bobby Ayala showed everyone why he was the most hated man in Seattle sports by getting drilled for the other 6 runs (in 1.1 innings).

And, once again, the Mariners’ offense was shut down.  9 hits, 7 left on base, 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position … just a BRUTAL stretch of games for the team with THE best offense in all of baseball.  AT HOME!

Which makes it a God damned miracle that the Mariners won game 3 at all.  At the time, I figured we were destined for a sweep.  I thought, of the three, Jeff Fassero was the LEAST likely to pull a game out.  But, he turned in quite the gutty performance:  136 pitches over 8 innings (because, seriously, would YOU trust that bullpen over a guy throwing that many pitches?), 1 earned run, 4 walks, but only 3 hits.  He kept them off-balance all game.  In fact, Lou left Fassero in there to start the 9th, but he walked a guy, which led to Heathcliff Slocumb coming in to make things interesting.

Fortunately for the M’s, they scored 2 in the top half of the 9th (thanks to back-to-back solo homers by Buhner and the red-hot Paul Sorrento) to pad their lead to 4-0.  So, when the Orioles bashed Slocumb around for two runs (one of them belonging to Fassero), it wasn’t a big deal.

FINALLY, the bats came out.  Granted, the Mariners only scored the 4 runs in their 4-2 victory, but they knocked Jimmy Key around for 8 hits in 4.2 innings.  We could’ve had a lot more (again, we were poor with runners in scoring position, only 1 for 7), but I wasn’t about to complain.  A win is a win, and THAT win meant that we’d see Randy Johnson again.

Mariners fans had opportunity to hope.  Yeah, we were down 2-1 in the series, with two more to be played in Baltimore.  But, we had The Big Unit on the hill again; you had to figure he’d bounce back from that poor effort in Game 1.  AND, you had to figure this offense was primed for a huge game.  We’d only scored 10 runs in the first three games; who’s to say we couldn’t score 10 in that fourth game alone?

Who’s to say?  I believe Mike Mussina was to say.  Once again, he shut us the fuck down, going 7 innings and giving up only 1 run.  Randy went the complete game in defeat, but it was to no avail as the Mariners lost 3-1.

This game was a clunker any way you slice it.  The Orioles jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, the Mariners got one back on a solo Edgar Martinez home run, the Orioles added another run in the 6th, and that was that.  The Mariners didn’t even get a hit after that 2nd inning!  That’s how bad this potent offense was in this deciding game!  The Orioles combined to give up 2 hits and 4 walks!

You get a big ol’ gold star if you knew that Rob Ducey was the other Mariner with a hit in that ballgame.

The Mariners as a team batted .218 with 11 runs scored and only 11 extra base hits.  This is a team that batted .280 in the regular season with 597 extra base hits (an average of over three and a half per game).

You kinda knew that the pitching would be suspect.  I don’t think anyone saw Randy Johnson’s Game 1 coming, but you figured with that bullpen, runs would NEED to be scored.  And when they didn’t come, this team had no answers.

I hate thinking about the What If’s, but I’ll be damned if they’re not there.  What If we played the Yankees instead of the Orioles?  Some teams are just a BAD matchup for you, and the Orioles were that for us.  The Yankees’ pitching wasn’t NEARLY as good as Baltimore’s that year.  Plus, with that 1995 meltdown still dogging them, you had to wonder if maybe the Mariners were a bad matchup for THEM.  Granted, had we beaten the Yankees, we would’ve ran headfirst into another great Indians team, but at least we could’ve scored some fucking runs on them!

The ultimate What If simply lies in the fact that the Mariners had such tremendous talent on that team.  How do you have that many superstars (A-Rod, Griffey, Randy, Edgar) and lose in the first round in four games?  How is that POSSIBLE?  Three guaranteed Hall of Famers and another borderline!  These mid-90s teams were like the 1920s Yankees for Seattle fans!  Every major player on that team will always be remembered fondly.  Every major player either has been or will be publicly celebrated as a hero.  And we sunk faster than a block of cement being hurled into a lake.

That 1997 team was it.  The ’98 Mariners – while still highly talented on offense – ended up third in the AL West.  That was the same year they traded a disgruntled Randy Johnson because we wouldn’t give him the contract extension he so richly deserved.  The ’99 Mariners were again insanely good on offense, but Jeff Fassero fell apart, John Halama was worthless, and some of the other young starters never matured into anything you could use on a Major League diamond.  After that, they traded Griffey, Buhner was just about done, and they had officially built the team around a guy in A-Rod who would leave for Texas in another year.

1997 was the end of an era for this Mariners team.  Granted, they would make it back to the playoffs in 2000, but they were hardly the same team.  1997 will always be remembered as a damn waste, and nothing more.  A damn waste of raw, unrivalled ability, the likes of which we will never see on this team ever again.

The 2001 Seattle Mariners Were A Joy To Behold

116-46.

First of all, let’s get the 105 year old elephant in the room out of the way:  the Chicago Cubs originally owned the all-time wins record of 116, doing it in 10 fewer ballgames (their record:  116-36).  Of course, in my attempt to diminish their achievement, I’ll say that they were in an 8-team National League, with 5 of those 8 teams having sub-.500 records (including the Boston Beaneaters who were a lowly 49-102).

Since we all know how this 2001 season ends, I’ll also point out to the Cubs defenders out there that they too failed in their ultimate goal; the 1906 Cubs lost in 6 games to the Chicago White Sox in the World Series (back before they had things like “playoffs”; this was just a straight up winner of the AL playing the winner of the NL).

Anyway, while I’m on the subject, I guess I’ll go ahead and get the tragic, steroids-fuelled ending out of the way.

The Seattle Mariners, with their 116 wins, were the Number 1 seed in all of the AL.  The Oakland Athletics were the Wild Card winner that year, posting a 102-60 record (as usual for the A’s around this time, they came screaming down the stretch in September; fortunately, the Mariners had too big a lead to collapse like they would in the two seasons to follow).  Due to some dumb rule baseball invented, the top seed isn’t allowed to play the Wild Card team if they’re both in the same division.  For the record, the only reason this rule exists is because Major League Baseball doesn’t want to waste a first-round series on the Red Sox & Yankees when they could force them into the ALCS by not allowing them to play in the first round; you know it’s true.  The potential for two more games is too desirable for their bottom line.

As such, the Mariners played the Central Division winner in the Cleveland Indians, while the Athletics had to go out and play the Yankees.  At the time, I was happy.  I figured, what with the A’s being such a well-maintained team, it might be best not to face them in the first round.  Honestly, I thought we’d lose.  As it turned out, we almost did.

Cleveland stole Game 1 in Safeco behind a Bartolo Colon gem, winning 5-0.  Jamie Moyer came back in Game 2 to at least bring a 1-1 series back to Cleveland.  Of course, with Aaron Sele taking the hill as our 3rd best starter (supposedly), we got absolutely killed in Game 3 by a score of 17-2.  But, then the Chief came right back in a rematch of the first game, taking down Colon 6-2 to force a Game 5.  Here, Moyer did what he does best:  win.  Series.

Meanwhile, I can’t believe I’m re-living this all over again … Oakland had a 2-0 series lead over the Yankees, having won BOTH in New York.  They went on to lose a 1-0 Game 3, then absolutely fell apart in Game 4, and finally gagging it all away in Game 5.  At this point, I was legitimately worried.  This had the look of fate.  9/11, New York makes a miraculous comeback, the sporting gods hate Seattle … it was almost too perfect.

Look, the bottom line is this:  we just didn’t have the pitching that year.  Freddy Garcia was pretty good at the time – as close to a Number 1 starter as we had – but he wasn’t NEARLY on par with some of the other guys these playoff teams were running out there.  The three-headed monster down in Oakland; an In-His-Prime Bartolo Colon over in Cleveland; and a supremely awe-inspiring foursome of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettite, Mike Mussina, and El Duque.  I mean, let’s get serious, you would have to feel confident in ANY of those guys taking the hill in a do-or-die situation (sure, some more than others, but all more than what the Mariners had).

Following The Chief, we had Jamie Moyer:  a solid pro who was durable and a winner, but not necessarily a shutdown starter.  Then, there was Aaron Sele, a free agent pickup from Texas whose record & ERA were always better than his actual abilities.  He had a nasty 12-6 curveball, but that was pretty much his only secondary pitch to a fastball that wasn’t all that fast.  After that, you’ve got Paul Abbott (a reliever-turned-starter with a sterling 17-4 record thanks mostly to the fact that he had the most run-support in the league that year).

The 2001 Mariners were all about scoring runs, plain & simple.  But, even then, I dunno, it seems like we never had that guy who could get the big hit when it mattered most.  Not like the Yankees had.  Sure, we hit homers in bunches, but they were from guys not traditionally known to be big home run guys.  Bret Boone, Edgar Martinez, John Olerud, Mike Cameron … all of them have flaws in some way (strike outs, lack of speed, a tendancy to always swing for the fences Ka-Boone, etc.).

Anyway, let’s just get this over with because I’m making myself sick with these playoffs.  The one thing I figured we had going in our favor (or, at least, not necessarily AGAINST us) was that the Yankees too had to go five games in their series.  So, both teams would have their rotations all screwed up (meaning, as it turned out, we’d only have to see Roger Clemens once).

Of course, I ended up being sorely mistaken in thinking this could be a positive for us, because what it all meant was that Aaron Sele was kicking off the series for us.  Already 0-1 in the playoffs (with that 15-run drubbing against the Indians), Sele didn’t have enough in the tank and we lost Game 1 at home.  In a closer Game 2, the Mariners still managed to lose, giving up all 3 runs in the second inning.  Over in Yankee Stadium, we put the beatdown on El Duque in Game 3, leading to a Game 4 set up with Clemens going against Paul Abbott.

If you want to point to a single game when Paul Abbott endeared himself to all Mariners fans for all of eternity, this was it.  He matched the great, roided out Roger Clemens zero for zero through seven innings before giving way to the bullpen.  We actually had a 1-0 lead in this one until Arthur Rhodes (the absolute best Mariners failure we’ve ever had to endure) gave up the tying home run to Bernie Williams.  Kaz Sasaki ended up blowing it in the ninth, thus sending us spiraling with a 3-1 series deficit.

And, because Aaron Sele sucks dick, we got manhandled in Game 5.  Season over.

Granted, we didn’t have the kind of top-flight pitching these other teams had; but it was our hitting – our hitting that gave us 927 regular season runs – that fell apart in these playoffs and especially against these Yankees.  In our losses to the Bronx Bombers, we averaged 2 runs per game.  That’s just not going to get it done.

But, you know what?  In spite of all that negativity to finish the season, these Mariners were still fun as all hell.

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

  • Series Wins:  42
  • Series Sweeps:  15
  • Series Ties:  4
  • Series Losses:  6 (with 1 sweep)

Can you even comprehend only losing 6 series all season?  That’s absolutely incredible!  Our longest winning streak was 15, our longest losing streak was only 4.  FOUR.  And that didn’t happen until late in the season, when you could forgive a little lack of focus, what with our massive lead over everyone else in baseball.

Here’s how the months broke down:

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

Again, simply unbelievable!  Four of the six months had 20 wins!  As far as regular season dominance is concerned, this Seattle Mariners team is the exact blueprint you’d use.  Take a look at the lineup:

  1. Ichiro (RF)
  2. Carlos Guillen (SS)
  3. Bret Boone (2B)
  4. Edgar Martinez (DH)
  5. Mike Cameron (CF)
  6. John Olerud (1B)
  7. Mark McLemore (LF)
  8. Dan Wilson (C)
  9. David Bell (3B)

I mean, there really wasn’t a black hole anywhere to be found (especially when they stopped playing Al Martin).  McLemore could play just about every position, to give guys the proper rest they needed.  Our bench was a solid collective of veterans (chief among them Stan Javier & Jay Buhner).  This was the team you wanted, if you wanted sustained success!

It’s just too bad it had to end the way it did.  We can all take solace in the fact that the Yankees would go on to lose the World Series, with the greatest closer of all time biffing it all away to the Diamondbacks … but that’s still a shallow victory.  Because destiny was supposed to be on the side of the Mariners!

We were a team on the rise, from that shocking 1995 run, through losing Randy Johnson in trade, through losing Griffey in trade, through losing A-Rod in free agency (and only getting Freddy Garcia & Mike Cameron in return for the whole lot of our former All Stars).  We’d paid our dues, losing in heartbreaking fashion to the Yankees in the 2000 ALCS, we came back even stronger during the regular season, never having a lapse (except for that Cleveland game in August, blowing a 12-run lead to tie the Major League record), being the epitome of consistent excellence.  We even dodged a bullet by missing the A’s and taking those Indians down in 5 games in the playoffs.

But, none of that was enough.  Destiny is a funny thing.  You always think it’s on your side until it’s ripped away from you.  These 2001 Mariners deserved better than to lose in 5 games to the Yankees.  These 2001 Mariners should’ve gone down as the single greatest team of all time.

Instead, we have to settle for (one of) the greatest regular season team(s) of all time.  Around the rest of the country, that status is meaningless.  But, in Seattle, it’s all we’ve got.  Therefore, it’s important for us to cherish it.  Cherish it until something better comes along.