Before the three Seahawks Super Bowl appearances from 2006-2015, and the rise of the Seattle Sounders FC, the city of Seattle was once an energetic baseball town. The phrase “Refuse to Lose” swept through Washington state in 1995 as an unlikely Seattle Mariners team made a historic playoff push that fell short to the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS. The magic of that season carried over for many years to come, and while that particular era of the Mariners never achieved success greater than that 1995 season, a message was delivered to a faithful Mariners fan base: This team can contend.
I talk highly about our past so that I can disappoint you with the present. For the past 17 seasons, Mariners fans have slowly watched the magic of the 1990’s disappear with each failed attempt to make the playoffs. It took a record breaking 116-win season, a Manager of the Year in Lou Piniella, and an MVP and Rookie of the Year performance from Ichiro Suzuki for the last Mariner’s team to make the playoffs, falling short to the New York Yankees in the 2001 ALCS. The organization has not won more than 93 games in a year since and have only had seven .500 or better seasons during their playoff drought.
Being a die hard Mariners fan is like living in a perpetual state of Ralph Wiggum from The Simpsons. Queue the Memes…
To offer perspective of how long those 17 years have been, here is a short list of things that have happened in that time frame:
- Apple’s stock price rose from $1 (Oct 2001) to $180 (Nov 2018)
- Professors and Trainers have discovered 556 new species of Pokemon, bringing the total number of Pokemon from 251 (2001) to 807 (2018).
- Lebron James went from 0 career points to fifth most in NBA history.
- John Cena has won 16 World Championships in the WWE.
- COMC was founded and has processed 58 million cards and counting.
The failures of the franchise have compounded over the better part of the last two decades. At this point, it’s nearly impossible to point the finger at any one point in time as the definitive reason why the team has yet to earn so much as a wildcard spot. First, the team couldn’t win with big free agent signings like Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre. Then the team couldn’t get it done by trading prized prospects for pitchers who under performed. And most depressingly, the team couldn’t so much as come close to one single playoff appearance through the rise and fall of a King’s career.
So here we are in the cold winter months before the 2019 season, and a tear down of a team that won 89 games but finished 3rd in the A.L. West following a “That’s so Mariners” collapse is underway. Mike Zunino is gone, leaving a void behind the plate. ‘Big Maple’ James Paxton is now in the Big Apple, and Justus Sheffield is the latest name in a long laundry list of pitching prospects that we are told to believe will bring playoff baseball back to Seattle. Off the top of my head, here’s some other names on that list of pitchers who we were promised would bring us back to the post season:
Travis Blackley, Matt Thornton, Phillipe Aumont, Brandon Morrow, Brandon Mauer, Doug Fister, Danny Hultzen, Taijuan Walker, and Michael Pineda.
For fans of teams that are perpetual contenders, the winter months are an exciting time of speculation and imagination.
“Which free agents will my team sign?”
“Who’s available that we can trade for that will make an immediate impact?”
For Mariners fans however, the actions of “Trader” Jerry Dipoto cannot be predicted, outside of the guaranteed two or more swaps a year with the Tampa Bay Rays. Will he crack open the piggy bank? Will he take on another project player who maybe just needs a change of scenery to live up to their potential? Though the fear, doubt and uncertainty of a cruel history of losing will always linger in the background, the Mariners fan base will always be optimistic that management is leading the franchise in the right direction. After all, Jerry was the guy who signed Mike Trout to a six year deal through 2020 with the Angels right?
“But James, he also gave Josh Hamilton $120 million in 2012 and Albert Pujols a 10-year /$240mil deal at age 32.”
Oh yeah. As I said, lingering doubt.
I’ve got to say, living in the perpetual fear that any player on your favorite team can be traded has been one of the most trying and mentally exhausting experience as a fan that I’ve faced while aboard the S.S. Mariner. Closer Edwin Diaz chased K-Rod’s magic number of 62 saves, coming up short at 57 (in an 89-win season mind you), but still had one of the most dominate seasons ever as a closer. He’s likely gone, especially in a climate where lights out closers yield a huge premium. Mitch Haniger, an emerging superstar and offensive spark plug over the last two years, as well as my personal favorite player since the golden era of “Big Time Timmy Jim” Tim Lincecum, could also be on his way out for a strong yield of prospects. While the salary dump of Robinson Cano, Dee Gordon, Kyle Seager, and Felix Hernandez would be welcomed, the thought of not resigning Nelson Cruz and watching him tee off against the M’s while wearing an Astros uniform is downright frightening. And then there’s Ryon Healy, Ben Gamel, Dan Vogelbach, and Jean Segura, who could all be on the move before having their fair chance to win as Mariners.
“To win as Mariners.” Heh. I don’t even know what that means anymore. The Yankees and Red Sox have taught us that you can buy your way to the post-season. The Marlins have taught us that you can draft your way to the World Series. Most recently, the Astros have taught us that you can tear it all down and rebuild your way to Post Season excellence. But it doesn’t appear the Mariners are committing 100% to any single one of those tried and true methods. The only thing that is for certain in the team’s future is that Ichiro, the last connection remaining to a Mariners team that made the playoffs, will suit up in an M’s uniform in 2019 at play at the age of 45 when the Mariners and Athletics open the season in Japan next March.
The Mariners are a lot like that toy that you really wanted all year and finally got on Christmas Morning, only to realize it was damaged. No one can seem to find the receipt, so it can’t be returned, but your Dad is certain that he can fix it. I don’t know if it will be a Christmas Miracle this year that will make or break baseball in Seattle, but we’re this deep in, so what’s a few more years?