After the 13-2 aberration gave way to the Mariners’ 2019 norm — Sunday’s 7-4 victory prevented a four-game sweep by Minnesota, but was just the fifth win in the past 19 games — I felt a need to consult with the smartest people I know, the readers of Sportspress Northwest, who I hope also are susceptible to flattery as brazen as it is cheap.
A week ago in a column, I asked Mariners fans, now that they’ve seen a bit of what it looks like with a quarter of the season in the books, to write me how it felt to follow a team that was declared months ago by management to have no postseason ambition.
Or in the vernacular of the darker corners of sports, tanking. General manager Jerry Dipoto hates the term, preferring a gentler description — a step back. Perhaps we can settle on a fresh compromise phrase — voluntary enfeeblement.
With ownership’s blessing, Dipoto traded expensive veterans (and young All-Star closer Edwin Diaz) for prospects who, in theory, would blossom into championship contenders around 2021, give or take. But not in 2019.
The strategy has become almost commonplace in MLB, resulting in a handful of elite teams, a shrinking middle class and burgeoning group of have-nots.
You, know, just like American economic life.
As far as baseball, the difference with Seattle’s opt-out is the Mariners haven’t won much of anything to step back from, yet managed to work up the courage to ask the constituency for tolerance: Big-league prices for season-long spring training.
Many of you responded with thoughtful answers, which contained varying degrees of understanding, humor, sarcasm, pathos and contempt. Below I’ve attempted to distill some of the best responses so you won’t have to wade through the comments in the original column. I’m the human algorithm.
The survey is no more scientific than President Trump’s climate policy, but the voluntary outpouring seemed worthwhile because players, coaches and bosses all get paid regardless of seasonal outcome, while fans are the ones bearing the emotional burden of the requested enfeeblement. Thanks to all who wrote.
One response captured in a sentence the overarching civic bewilderment about the Mariners, which has become more acute with the successes of nearly all of the major pro and college teams in the past decade.
johnstark2: It’s hard to understand why managers, general managers and owners can come and go, but the pall of futility so often remains in a city full of super-successful people.
In the 43-year big picture, the need in 2019 to go backward in order to go forward when there is so little history of having gone forward in the first place, is a staggering statement of futility.
Many correspondents were eager to show me their cumulative bruises.
Adam Salazar: There was a time when I checked the Seattle Times and mariners.com multiple times daily for morsels of insight; when I always felt we were one or two more players away; when maybe a Rich Aurilia was that guy, and hey, why couldn’t he bounce back to the highs of the steroid era? Why couldn’t Jarrod Washburn or Chone Figgins or Scott Spezio, or Jeff Cirillo be the bargain-bin savior we paid them to be? Those days are gone. And I’m not going to live and die on the exploits of this team. I value my sanity and self-respect too much.
Dugoutnut: This team is the Tampa Bay Rays of the Northwest. Just because you tell me we’re going to lose doesn’t mean you are doing a better job. The only thing missing is the whining about an outdated facility. And I’m sure that’s on the schedule. All that said, it’s baseball. I follow the team, wear the jersey and hat. But instead of attending sixty games a year, down to two or three.
RaisingmykidsRIGHT: I’ve given up on baseball. I now watch cricket. Indian Professional League just ended, World Cup starts end of this month.
One reader lamented that not trading OF Mitch Haniger at 28 for prospects shows that the Mariners don’t even know how to tank correctly.
Feldie: I don’t know, Art. I love baseball. And I love my home teams. I root for my team, but I can’t support this org until they show me some sense. I will be at games this season, but I am buying my tix off the street (and I know how to reduce my spend at the ballpark). I expect nothing this year. And I expect very little in 2021 or 2022 or . . . whatever year they are going to try to sell us in the future.
Yet numerous respondents understood Dipoto’s rationale that continuing to churn through MLB-average players is not the way to create sustainable contention for an organization nearly bereft of potentially difference-making prospects.
Will Shortt: Dipoto’s trade to dump Cano and pick up Kelenic and Dunn was bold and masterful. Getting Domingo for Gamel was mind-boggling. Crawford is looking good out there. For the first time in a long time there feels like we have long term hope. I say let it ride and get as good a draft pick as possible. And then use the Felix money for a top FA pitcher this off-season. Here’s to 2020 and just enjoying baseball for the game it is til then!
Will Ganschow: It feels like the club is going in some direction anyway, as opposed to the last fifteen or so years of absentee ownership and “civic minded” meddling from the top management. Dipoto has only had a short time working with new owner Stanton. Let’s give this a chance and enjoy the ride as the club develops.
JoeBlow: This is the first time in a long time that management is supported by ownership. Such support means that unlike corporate America, you don’t need to sacrifice the good of the company for the short-term enjoyment of the stockholders (fans). I can live with the bullpen as it exists but the present team drives me crazy with all the errors because you expect major leaguers to know how to catch.
Effzee: As a fellow M’s fan since ’77, the tanking doesn’t bother me because since absolutely nothing else has worked, may as well give it a shot.
Stephen Body: I was annoyed at this thing of “being good in 2021-22”, because every GM before them “had a plan” and NONE of ’em panned out — except for the ONLY guy who did ask us to “trust the plan,” Pat Gillick. But I caved because I love baseball too much to ignore my hometown team . . . I expect nothing but a team on the field and, because I love the sport more than any one team, I’m fine with that.
Alan Harrison: If the team goes 62-100, that’s fine. Is it pleasurable to watch? Sure — it’s baseball, it’s fun (albeit too expensive), and the alternative is what Portland, Montreal, and Indianapolis get; wishing for any team to choose to come there.
One of my favorite reads was from site loyalist Tian Biao, who responded three times. The first was an empty-the-forward-torpedo-tubes blast. After I suggested he may have been a tad harsh, he felt compelled to apologize. Then he offered the analogy that conveys the love/hate passion that makes caring about a sports team so rich.
1) Here is my ultimatum: if this rebuild doesn’t work, I’m out. forget it. gone. no more re-imaginings of the roster. no more pauses on the winning continuum. no more charts of serendipity. no more horse crap. these clowns have until 2020. that’s it. i’ll be happier and so will everyone around me. losers.
2) That was a rant. I apologize. and i didn’t really mean it. I will almost certainly keep coming back even after 2020. merely a temporary skid mark from the awful road trip plus a bit of a hangover. so that’s your answer: I’m processing it by getting mad, calming down, and then tuning in again.
3) The best analogy I can think of is this: following the M’s is like having a teenage problem child. you love the kid, and you want him or her to succeed and prosper in some remarkable way, but she’s partying, and getting bad grades, and hanging out with the wrong crowd, and realistically, you have to downshift your expectations. but you’ll always love the kid . . .
As always, some can’t resist a shot at the manager, Scott Servais.
2nd place is 1st loser: It’s a head-scratcher that they allowed or were talked into allowing Dipoto to hire Servais. A team that hasn’t seen the playoffs since Jesus walked the earth allowed Dipoto to hire a manager that has absolutely zero experience in coaching or managing a T-ball team much less a playoff-starved franchise.
The contention ignores the fact that Lou Piniella had no previous managerial experience at any level when George Steinbrenner hired him to manage the Yankees. But another reader advocated more than just a firing. He has a replacement in mind: Cubs manager Joe Maddon.
Andy Traisman: Joe is currently in his free agent year, the Cubs are unlikely to pay him what would keep him. Why would a Florida guy come to Seattle? Well, it happened once before didn’t it? Who thought Lou Piniella would ever come to Seattle? Pay Joe the money, give him title, which means send Jerry packing with Scott. Just the way it has to be . . .
Poor draft picks and trades came up for the skeptics who can neither forget nor forgive the past. One reader made a point about the long absence of excitement around a can’t-miss guy.