(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Friday, July 16, 2004

When They Crash in the Northwest, They Really Crash

SportsProf confesses that he's one of these East Coasters whose daily routine prevents him from giving West Coast teams their absolute due.  Of course, that "absolute due" cuts both ways, because while he's wont to follow Pac-10 hoops (and, naturally, the good teams), he's less prone to following the really bad teams.  In any sport.
Let's face it, unless you have a relative, a kid from your school or your neighbor's nephew playing on a bad team that's three time zones away, you probably don't pay poorly performing teams much attention.  Which should be the case with the Seattle Mariners, who, after years of great seasons, have finally hit their wall.  Hard.  And those great seasons were especially so because how many franchises could lose Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey, Jr. and A-Rod and then still win over 100 games in a season?  For several years?
Perhaps none, but somehow they cultivated a stable of young pitchers (such as Freddy Garcia) and rehabilitated a lefty whose career almost ended in the early 90's (Jamie Moyer), and they had some stellar position players (Buhner, Boone, Olerud, Edgar Martinez, who, while not really a position, has swung a mean bat for a long time).  And SportsProf, no doubt, has missed some names (such as Mike Cameron, who played very well while Junior languished with injuries in Cincinnati).  Somehow, the Seattle ownership and front office did a great job with what they had.
But now, the magical formula on which the Mariners relied for so many years has run out of whatever special elixir fueled it for years.  The Mariners are in dead last, they traded their best pitcher, they designated their SS (Rich Aurilia) for assignment and have just designated their 1B, and a Washingtonian to boot, John Olerud, for assignment (Olerud turned down a trade to SF and still might be dealt during the 10-day designation period).  Not that the SS and 1B are great, either, but their designation for assignment within a week or so of one another is a stark sign that they've all but given up in the Great Northwest.  Moreover, the fans aren't turning out, and that's hurting local businesses.  For more on that, click here and read Sports Economist's post on the local eateries and how they are suffering.
Many managers would confess that they don't make a great deal of difference during a season, and the pundits and cognoscenti (which can be a mutually exclusive group at times) can argue that a good manager might win you an extra 10 games in a season.  If that's the case, then Lou Piniella was an excellent manager, because with Sweet Lou aboard perhaps the Mariners would still be in the race (especially given the strong showing of Piniella's current team, the D-Rays).  Then again, the Sparky Andersons of the world would counter that the secret to becoming a winning manager would be to get a team with great talent and then pretty much stay out of their way. 
Still, the problem at Safeco isn't the manager, because he just doesn't have enough players.  The Mariners miss Sweet Lou, but probably not as much as A-Rod and the Big Unit and, yes, even the oft-injured Junior.  They're conducting a fire sale in Seattle, and they're talking to all bidders.
Seattle, you had a great run, but it was bound to end.  It didn't have to (see:  Atlanta Braves), but fate dictated it to be so.  The baseball deities just couldn't let you keep on keeping on like that, having jettisoned three future Hall of Famers within about 5 years of one another.  While the so-called "small market" teams might have been cheering you on (as perhaps was Bud Selig) because you had the gumption to keep your payroll in line and still win 100 games, you just can't keep on letting huge stars go and getting away with it.  Time, and the lack of talent, finally catches up to every franchise.  So, instead of being compared to the Atlanta Braves, you deserve to be compared to the Boston Red Sox.
And when was the last time they won it all?
Right before they traded the greatest player of all time.