Earlier this week, Forbes selected Seattle as the most miserable sports city in America. Seattle is about to retire this trophy, the Emerald City having been designated “most miserable” for three consecutive years by the magazine. No other U.S. city can claim such a terrible trifecta.
Forbes based its rankings not so much on the fact that a particular Seattle sports team had a wretched 2010, although the Mariners found a way to botch 101 games. Rather, Forbes singled out Seattle specifially because of the lengthy run (44 years since the SuperSonics became Seattle’s first pro team) of mediocrity among its major (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) professional franchises.
In that time, covering a combined 107 seasons played by the Sonics, Seahawks and Mariners, Seattle has just one championship to show for it (1979 Sonics). That woeful number trails only Atlanta’s single title in 127 combined seasons by the Braves, Falcons, Hawks and Thrashers.
So why didn’t Forbes select Atlanta as the most miserable capital of the athletic world? Probably because the Braves have won so many division titles while Seattle teams claim division flags about as often as Franklin Gutierrez drops a fly ball.
Our main complaint with the Forbes list is that it broadly bestows “most miserable” status on a city without providing much texture or context. So we decided to list 10 areas of rampant boobery from which our sporting misery springs. Each area lists five samples. Oh, and BTW, Seattle is already practically a lock to be named “most miserable” again in 2012.
Bear in mind this list is not exhaustive, is meant for amusement purposes only, and that what follows isn’t the half of what makes Seattle such a miserable sports city (more misery here).
10. MISERABLE OWNERSHIP
- 5. Jeff Smulyan: Underfinanced Mariners owner (1991) tried to spirit the club off to Florida and lied about his intentions.
- 4. Bruce Anderson: Sounders (NASL) owner (1983) ran such a shoddy shop (and knew it) that he agreed to play the dunce in a “Dunk The Owner” contest at halftime of a match.
- 3. Howard Schultz: Sold the Sonics to Oklahoma City’s Clay Bennett (2008) knowing full well what the consequences would be.
- 2. Ken Behring: Tried unsuccessfully (1996) to move the Seahawks to Los Angeles (said he feared that an earthquake would wreck the Kingdome, then relocated the Hawks to the San Andreas fault before the NFL forced him back to the Northwest).
- 1. George Argyros: Spent $13 million to acquire the Mariners in 1981, ran them into the ground and sold for $67 million; once fined $10,000 for openly wooing the San Diego Padres while he still owned the Mariners.
9. MISERABLE FRONT-OFFICE INTELLIGENCE
- 5. The Seahawks planned to draft Stanford All-America OT Brian Hollway in 1980 (second round), but head coach Jack Patera mistakenly took his pudgy backup, Andre Hines, who played all of nine games with no starts.
- 4. At owner Ken Behring’s insistence, the Seahawks used their 1991 No. 1 pick on quarterback Dan McGwire, who started just five games (immediately below McGwire on the draft board: Brett Favre).
- 3. In the 1987 NBA Draft, the Sonics took future Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, then promptly swapped him to Chicago for a trio of turkeys, Olden Polynice, Sylvester Gray and Brad Sellers (Polynice provided more amusement for his multiple arrests for impersonating police officers than he did for playing hoops).
- 2. In 1997, the M’s sent future All-Stars Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek to the Red Sox for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb, who never could get his ERA under 5.00 and was cut.
- 1. In 1972, the Sonics swapped popular All-Star guard (and future Hall of Famer) Lenny Wilkens to Cleveland for Butch Beard, who lasted one year in Seattle, averaging 6.6 points.
8. MISERABLE (OR MEDIOCRE) FRANCHISES
- 5. Starting in their inaugural year of 1977, it took the Mariners 15 years to reach .500, the longest crawl to blah in the history of major professional sports.
- 4. Between 1976, their inagural year, and 2002, the Seahawks had more 7-9, 8-8 and 9-7 wheel-spinning seasons (17) than any NFL franchise.
- 3. The Seahawks are the only team in NFL history to lose to an 8-8 team in the playoffs (St. Louis, 2004).
- 2. The Seahawks are the only team in NFL history to reach the postseason with a losing (7-9) record (2010).
- 1 (b). The Sonics were the first No. 1 seed in the history of the NBA playoffs to lose to a No. 8 seed (Game 5 loss to Denver May 7, 1994).
- 1 (a): The Seahawks are 262-286 (.478) all time; the Mariners 2,522-2,861 (.469); the Sonics 1,745-1,585 (.524) before vamoosing. Combined: 4,529-4,732 (.489), nearly perfect city-wide mediocrity.
7. MISERABLE RELOCATIONS OR FOLDINGS
- 5. In the pro sports era (1967-11), Seattle has lost, without elaboration, the Pilots (MLB, 1970), Cascades (WTT, 1979), Smashers (IVA, 1979), Sounders (NASL, 1983) and Reign (ABL, 1999), among others.
- 4. Seattle would not support the Virginia Slims/Avon women’s pro tennis circuit in the late 1970s and early 1980s; nor a ATP tour in the early 1970s.
- 3. No title sponsor came forth to support the LPGA’s Safeco Classic at Meridian Valley, so the LPGA abandoned Seattle.
- 2. Seattle used to be a regular stop on the PGA Tour; it no longer is.
- 1. Seattle SuperSonics: NBA team moved to Oklahoma City after no workable solution could be found to replace or upgrade KeyArena.
6. MISERABLE EXPENSIVE PLAYERS
- 5. Cedric Woodard, Seahawks: Defensive tackle signed a five-year, $15 million contract in 2001 and produced one sack in the next 60 games.
- 4. Scott Spiezio, Mariners: Signed to a three-year, $9.3 million deal, Spiezio lasted 141 games during which he hit .198.
- 3. Carlos Silva, Mariners: Club signed him to a four-year, $48 million contract. In his 36-game tenure (2008-09), Silva went a Magooish 5-18 with a 6.46 ERA.
- 2. Vin Baker, Sonics: Received a six-year, $86.7 million dollar deal (after the Sonics knew he was a bust), one of the great fleece jobs in franchise history.
- 1. Jim McIlvaine, Sonics: Received a $33.6 million contract after averaging 2.3 points and 3.0 rebounds per game, and pretty much played up to his stats.
5. MISERABLE MOMENTS & MISPLAYS
- 5. May 14, 2004. The Mariners became the only franchise since 1977 to allow an opponent (Yankees) to score six runs without an official at-bat.
- 4. Dec. 29, 1994: Sonics lost to the Lakers 96-95 after botching a 4-on-1 fast break because Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp decided to showboat on the play.
- 3. Oct. 29, 1978: The Seahawks lost to the Broncos 20-17 because they had 12 men on the field, giving placekicker Jim Turner a second-chance field goal after he had missed his first overtime try.
- 2. May 22, 1977: Not only did the Mariners have five base runners thrown out in their game against the Oakland As, they were thrown out for the cycle: Skip Jutze (home, fourth inning); Jutze and Dan Meyer (home, sixth inning); Meyer (third base, eighth inning); Dave Collins (second base, seventh inning);
- 1. April 29, 1986: Mariners batters fanned a record 20 times against Boston’s Roger Clemens.
4. MISERABLE NUMBERS
- 5. – 7: Yards the Seahawks generated against the Los Angeles Rams on Nov. 4, 1979, still an NFL record for futility.
- 4. 513: Runs scored by the Mariners in 2010, the lowest total in Major League Baseball in 40 years.
- 3. 140: Points scored by the Seahawks in 1992, the fewest in a season by an NFL team in the era of the 16-game schedule (since 1978).
- 2. 15: Points that the Sonics allowed 5-5 Earl Boykins of Denver to score in a single overtime period on Jan. 18, 2005, an NBA record.
- 1. 2: On July 9, 1985, the Mariners had two baserunners — Phil Bradley and Gorman Thomas — thrown out at home against Toronto — on the same play in the third inning!
3. MISERABLE HISTORY
- 5. The Seattle Pilots (1969) are the only expansion franchise to last just one year in a city (went bankrupt and moved to Milwaukee).
- 4. The Mariners are one of only eight teams never to win the World Series.
- 3. The Sonics (now Thunder) still hold the distinction of blowing the largest second-half lead in the history of the NBA playoffs — 24-points to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1980.
- 2. From the mid-1970s through the early mid-1990s, Seattle hosted more than 100 national championship-type events, including three Final Fours (1984, ’89, ’95) and numerous other NCAA events. Since 1995, and except for the Federal Way Aquatics Center, Seattle no longer hosts anything of consequence (what national events do come to the Pacific Northwest (such as the U.S. Figure Skating Championships) now go to Portland and Spokane.
- 1. The Seahawks are the only NFL team to rush for more yards and commit fewer turnovers than its Super Bowl opponent (Pittsburgh, 2005) — and still lose.
2. MISERABLE OPPOSING FORCES
- 5. No NBA team ever allowed more 3-pointers to a player than the Sonics allowed to Kobe Bryant on Jan. 7, 2003 — 12.
- 4. No American League playoff team has ever gotten dispatched in an inning with just three pitches — except for the Mariners on Oct. 21, 2001, when Mariano Rivera retired John Olerud on a first-pitch groundout, Stan Javier on a first-pitch bunt groundout, and Mike Cameron on a first-pitch pop fly.
- 3. On Feb. 11, 1982, Moses Malone of the Houston Rockets had 21 offensive rebounds against the Sonics, still the NBA single-game record.
- 2. No player ever ran for a longer touchdown in the Super Bowl than Pittsburgh’s Willie Parker, on Feb. 6, 2006 — against Seattle.
- 1. Emmitt Smith became the NFL’s all-time rushing leader — vs. Seattle on Oct. 27, 2002; Rafael Palmiero collected his 3,000th hit — vs. Seattle on July 15, 2005; of the six NFL players who have rushed for 2,000 yards in a season, two did it against Seattle, Terrell Davis in 1998 and Chris Johnson in 2009.
1. MISERABLE GENERALITIES
- 5. In 1973, the Sonics became the first pro sports franchise in America to sue itself. Shareholders in First Northwest Industries, owners of the team, sued primary owner Sam Schulman for a spate of bad trades that shareholders said cost them millions.
- 4. Seattle is the only city ever awarded an NHL franchise to not ever get an actual team. Happened in 1976. NHL awarded a conditional franchise, the condition being that the Pittsburgh Penguins would be sold to a Seattle-based group. That group could never get its financial act together and the deal fell apart.
- 3. In 1984, King County, representing the people, sued the SuperSonics beause not enough King County residents were attending games at the county-owned Kingdome.
- 2. Seattle is the only city to implode a stadium (Kingdome) built to last 1,000 years.
- 1. To underscore Seattle’s miserable mediocrity, in 1998-99, the UW football team went 6-6, the Sehawks 8-8 and the Sonics 25-25 (strike-shortened season).