You might remember, from back at the beginning of the NFL season, when we previewed each team by having a writer we liked write about their favorite team.
Well, we're just more than a month away from the start of baseball — spring training is here! — so it's time to do the same thing in the baseball world. Every weekday until the start of the season, a different writer will preview his/her team. We asked a gaggle of writers, from the Web, from print, from books, to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, Where Their Team Stands. This is not meant to be factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We just asked them to riff on why they love their team so much, or what their team means to them, or whatever.
Today: The Seattle Mariners. Your author is Matt Ufford.
Rooting for the Mariners is futile, draining, and infuriating. It's not easy to document in a blog post; a baseball team this willfully and historically bad needs to be documented and exposed in a book like Fiasco. Thomas Ricks wouldn't even have to change the title.
Left without a way to put this into some kind of cheerful prose that makes you feel good to be a baseball fan, I resort to the hack's best friend: bullet format. What follows is a short history of futility, as performed by the Seattle Mariners.
• Current MLB commissioner Bud Selig stole Seattle's first baseball team, the Pilots, and moved them to Milwaukee just one year after their debut. Seattle had to sue to get another team with a lousier nickname, while the first person in recorded history to favor the city of Milwaukee over Seattle was rewarded with running America's Pastime. Makes sense.
• My favorite Mariners in the 1980s (in order): Phil Bradley, Mark Langston, Danny Tartabull (until he went to Kansas City), and Alvin Davis. Yikes. Thank God for Steve Largent and Dave Krieg.
• Former Mariners in the Baseball Hall of Fame: Gaylord Perry. Really. That's it. He pitched with the M's for two years.
• The Mariners began playing in 1977. Their first winning season was 1991, when they recorded a whopping 83 wins to finish fifth in the AL West.
• Number of times the Mariners have reached the playoffs in thirty years: four.
• Fact: In the fall of 1992, when I began high school, I had seven Ken Griffey, Jr. posters on my bedroom walls. I had never cheered for a player who was actually good before. (I'd like to take this opportunity to give a shout-out to Griffey's '89 Upper Deck #1 rookie card. Woot-woot! So long, wood-paneled '87 Topps; I hardly knew ye.)
• In 1994 (the strike-shortened season), the Mariners played 20 consecutive road games in 21 days because 15-pound tiles were falling from the Kingdome's roof. This led to the eventual implosion of the Kingdome, which I consider one of the top five moments in Seattle pro sports history. (#1: SuperSonics championship. #2: Seahawks Super Bowl. #3: Mariners '95 playoff run. #4: Mariners' 116-win season. # 8,372: the WNBA title).
Man, I can watch that all day.
• In 1996 and 1997, the Mariners had Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner in the primes of their careers. During those years they missed the playoffs and lost in the ALDS, respectively. Their closer was Bobby Ayala. I still lose sleep over this.
• In 2001, invigorated by Ichiro's ROY/MVP season, the Mariners won a major-league-record 116 regular season games. That's a .716 winning percentage. Their winning percentage in the ALCS against the Yankees that year: .200.
• The M's manager is Mike Hargrove. If you're not familiar with Hargrove, he's the guy who "managed" the best lineup in baseball (the late-'90s Indians) to five straight first-place finishes, but couldn't get them a World Series victory. He parlayed that into four losing seasons as the Orioles' manager before they fired him. In his two losing seasons as the M's manager, he has made it clear that he has no game plan, assembles lineups haphazardly, has no idea which hitters excel in which situations and in general has a terrible feel for talent around him.
• Today the Mariners have possibly the worst front office in baseball. Not only have they sat slack-jawed at the trade deadline while the pennant race left them behind each of the last several years, but during this off-season they:
Traded their terrific set-up man for a mediocre starter, straight-up.
Traded a cheap young corner outfielder with power and an excellent young reliever (also cheap) for Jose Vidro's bloated contract and decayed legs.
Assured Hargrove his job is safe this year.
Agreed to pay Jeff Weaver in excess of $8 million this season. Their vision for the franchise is now defined as "abjectly stupid." Read this, and you will know the painful daily grind of a Mariners fan.
Dear God, what an abysmal team.
So why do I do it? Why do I still wear my Seattle Mariners ballcap (Uni Watch alert: trident with star > compass rose with S > trident without star > the "Safeway" S) with... What's the opposite of shame? Pride? No, not that far from shame. Less shame? Yes, why do I wear it with less shame?
One year: 1995. About to start my senior year of high school. It was mid-August, and the Mariners were 13 games behind the division-leading Angels. Talk of the team moving to another city had escalated. And then they started winning. Winning dramatically. Games like this were the norm — except, that is, when Randy Johnson pitched. The Big Unit went 18-2 in that shortened year (2.48 ERA, 294 Ks). When he pitched the other team lost. Period. The Angels panicked, fell apart. When the M's caught them on the final day of the season to force a playoff, Randy devoured (irony alert!) former M's ace Mark Langston alive. For the first time ever, Seattle had reached the playoffs.
With their ace off the mound for several days, the M's dropped the first two games of the ALDS to the Yankees. Then, Edgar Martinez fucking destroyed them. He batted .571 in the series, reached base 18 times in five games, hit a three-run HR and a grand slam in the Game 4 victory, and finished it all off with a series-clinching two-run double with the M's trailing 5-4 in the bottom of the 11th inning. It was way the hell past my bedtime on a school night, and I didn't give a fuck. For the single greatest sports experience - stretched out over two months, and ending in the most exciting way possible - the Mariners have my undying love.
Naturally, the M's lost the ALCS—to the Indians, who were managed by... [dramatic pause to allow for sickening irony]... Mike Hargrove. God, I hate that man.
(Special thanks to the USS Mariner, the absolute best Mariners blog there is—and, I'd venture, possibly the best single-team baseball blog out there. Even if they didn't answer my emails. Dicks.)