Dog days of fandom

‘T is not too late to seek a newer world. 
Push off, and sitting well in order smite 
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds 
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths 
Of all the western stars, until I die.

In a time where what divides confronts us ever more often, we can still find uniting principles. We all want a good job with good pay, a good friend, a good place to call our own, a good meal in our belly. That’s something we can all agree on. We all want a good life, full of good memories, of a good length. Long enough to do all the good things we want. And as such, something that unites us even moreso is the idea that we want the time we’ve spent doing, well, anything, to have been well spent. Nothing butts up against the human conscience more often than the reality that one day you will run out of time.

As a species, we spend more time figuring out how to cut time than anything else. We figure out “life hacks”, “cooking hacks”, hell, we even hack computers. We hack a device designed to “hack”. We build robots to look like humans to make humans less-necessary, we spend hours thinking of a social media post to make our time seem more valuable. Summarized, our most “successful” friends outwardly seem, more than anything, to spend time well.

As I’ve gotten further and further from my time writing for a Mariners blog this idea has become clearer to me: I could never have covered them entirely objectively. I can’t imagine anyone covering a team could. So much of your time, value, and money is tangled into the web of that team that objectivity must, at some level and subconsciously, be lost.  It conflates into this odd sort of fandom where you begin to unknowingly tie in your own worth with that of a thing over which you have no say. That’s the great difficulty of fandom, the perhaps unattainable, but worthwhile, pursuit of a journalist. How much value do you allow yourself to derive from something that you have zero ultimate control of? For me, the answer has become “less and less”.

This is just to say that, it seems like more every day, this age of extreme convenience and divisiveness has weaponized fandom. We’ve translated the exaggerated Instagram-perfect life into a fandom. It exists only at the most extreme end. If you’re really a fan, you have to feel extremely, positively, and often. There is nothing mundane about cheering for a team anymore. Fandom only posts vacation pictures.

This is where I cannot go anymore. For all the modern conveniences and services technology has afforded us, it, too, has stripped us of many human interactions. In doing so, it has allowed for a blurred line between interacting with other people online under the pretext of “we are both humans” to “we are friends”. This, to me, is where the danger is. There is no denying that as fandom moves more and more into social media platforms, and becomes less and less about being physically at the stadium, we could all use a little more humanity. But what if we’re over-correcting? What if in batting away trolls we have now started to think of total strangers, simply by playing for our favorite team, as friends? One doesn’t need to look too far back to see where that could get you into troubled waters.

Instead of thinking of these people as simply people, we put them on pedestals, and we are only bound to be disappointed. I cannot tell you how many times this year I have felt obliged to begin a player critique with, “I’m sure they’re a good person…” The very fact this phrase exists in the modern lexicon is both a critique on the general atmosphere of this political time and it also speaks to where fandom has gone to. I am entirely sure many, if not most, of the players in the MLB are good people. That’s important to them, their friends and family, their community. That doesn’t mean they are my friend, and thinking so, defending them as such, assuming as much, puts us all in a weird territory. If anything, I think it goes back to the concept of time wasted.

I’ve spent a lot of time re-reading Tennyson’s Ulysses. In a lot of circles it’s taught as an ode to taking great risks and that this risk taking brings some sort of great awakening of the soul. That taking risk is to be truly alive. I read it differently, though. Here is someone who has filled their days so full that their name is the stuff of legend. By all measures, they have seen and done all of “Life”. Yet, Ulysses cannot rest. Life itself is a labor, a toil to be met every morning, and despite what has already happened, that fact cannot be erased. There is still time for great work, to live “life piled on life”. And I think this sentiment is important, that there is still something out there to grab. It’s worth grabbing now.

More and more we’ve been confronted by the concept that the Seattle Mariners are, well, nothing more than what they are. They are a business that provides entertainment. They commit some of their funds back to the community, care for their employees in whatever way they see fit, and present themselves as they may. The bottom-line still exists, no more clear than in this year of almost unprecedented good-fortune, throwing the cost onto the fans, allowing the stadium to fill up with visiting hordes, and pricing out some who might have seen this season as the chance to buy-in. The players care about us in the way that we all care for strangers or the people who consume the product of the company we work for. There’s nothing wrong with that. You can only know so many people. You can only care so much.

In Thoreau’s Walden the sort of final thought is summed up quite nicely by the author, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately…and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” Perhaps this sentiment has driven us to this ground we are now occupying. Wouldn’t it be strange to spend this much time caring for people who aren’t your friends? What would you have ultimately gained from that sort of one-sided relationship? I can only speak for myself, but the answer is “nothing much”.

Personally, I’ve never felt more distant from the team and its fans. That is okay. This doesn’t have to be for me. I keep wondering what a good use of my time is, and I can’t say the answer is investing more in this thing I don’t control; Of turning my time into points I gain. I think there’s something more important out there. I think I’m becoming a fan of taking a couple steps back.

The Denard Decision

D-Span has been a huge for the 2018 Mariners, which makes it sad to report he probably shouldn’t be retained

It’s September now, y’all, and the Mariners season is playing out one way or the other. Will they make the playoffs? Well heck, I dunno. Looking at all the smart math people’s numbers says it’s more than likely we’re all gonna spend October at the ol’ Adopt-A-Team Shelter again though. I’m a bad fan, but the A’s are looking mighty fine.

Anyway, with the end of the season looming it’s getting closer to TRANSACTION PLANNIN’, and here at Dome and Bedlam we believe in promptness! If you’re on time you’re late! If you’re early you’re on time! If you’re way early that means you’re super late for the last time! THAT’S FIVE LAPS SLACKERS HOP TO IT!

*****

The late May trade with Tampa Bay to acquire Alex Colome & Denard Span was one of Jerry Dipoto’s best moves of the past twelve months. That was true regardless of how both players performed as Mariners, but it has been nice that for once here in Seattle, good process produced good results. Colome has teamed up with The Divine Edwin Diaz to form one of baseball’s most lethal 8th/9th inning combinations, and Denard Span has hit better than anyone expected. Coming off 2016 and 2017, in which he checked in with a wRC+ of 94 and 100, respectively, Span’s offense is at a career high 123 wRC+ in 2018, and 129 since arriving in Seattle.

Late career offensive boosts, particularly ones that come from an increase in power (Dad strength is real y’all), are not unheard of. Hell, Nelson Cruz is the model of this very idea. However, they are not common, and counting on Span offsetting his clear and noticeable loss in defensive range by continuing to thwack dingers is a gamble, and not at the odds you want to take.

The merit to retaining Span on his $12 million mutual option is, in my view, further diminished given a few contextual factors. First is the 2018 rebound of Ben Gamel. Now I’ve notably been wrong about the Mariners young outfielders in the past, but after a Zunino-esque (Zuninian? Please help, linguists) second half in 2017, Gamel has rebounded nicely. He’s improved his walk rate, continued to be “fine” with the glove, and hit for just enough pop to keep pitchers honest. Overall, he’s played about like a two win outfielder. At 26, there’s the possibility of a little further development (cough SWINGPLANEDINGERZ cough), but if not, he still projects as a serviceable left fielder, a comparable level of production to Span projects at next year, at a fraction of the cost.

The second factor is the looming roster decisions facing this organization. Regardless of what you think the right direction is for this franchise, it would be a shock if they do anything after 2018 but attempt to take another run at the playoffs for 2019. Given that assumption, the team is in desperate need of a real centerfielder, at least one top of the rotation pitcher, and probably a catcher.

With our past experience both of the Jerry Dipoto Era, and the Mariners’ organizational practices at large, I think it’s fair to assume they won’t be throwing any huge free agent contracts to players this offseason. As such, every single dollar saved off potential luxuries, such as two major league left fielders, is needed to fill these very real and pressing holes in the big league roster. It’d be cool if there was some minor league depth in AA or AAA to help cheaply fill in those gaps. Guess what, pal, this is the Jerry Dipoto Mariners. Unless you want to see a tumbleweed in center field next year, the talent has to come from outside the organization.

Overall, the Denard Span acquisition has worked out beautifully both for the team and the player. Span is having his best season in years, and the Mariners and Jerry Dipoto have gotten a great return in a contending season, for giving up a few minor leaguers. There is a danger, though, of falling in love with the short-lived greatness of a player after trading for them. The Mariners have pressing needs elsewhere, and with D-Span unlikely to ever be this good again, it’s probably in the best interest of the team to let him get closer to his home in Florida, and spend that money on someone like, say, early career Denard Span.

Go M’s.

 

Episode 23 – The Jordan

In memoriam of the 2018 Seattle Mariners

Hi and/or hello you to, dear reader and listener! Dome and Bedlam has returned from a (for us) brief hiatus to pronounce the death of the 2018 Seattle Mariners. Now, wait, hear us out, we swear this isn’t more mindless complaining. In fact one of us wasn’t even drinking during this recording (see if you can spot which one!).

Scott, David, and Nathan talk about how the Mariners got here, the challenge of the future, and the frustrating mediocrity at the very core of this franchise’s DNA. For long time fans, for people who have spent years of our lives following, covering, and documenting this team’s moves, 2018 has felt like a lost year. The Mariners are, essentially exactly where they were two years ago, plus Mitch Haniger and Jean Segura. Things feel directionless, again. It’s hard to not feel some very real feelings about that.

Fortunately, we have each other. Thanks as always for listening.

Go Mariners.

(Music credits: Kanye West, Ryan Adams)

Episode 22 – El Scorcho (LIVE)

THE DOME IS BACK IN TOWN

In the beginning, there was The Pod, and Fun was with The Pod, and The Pod was Fun. But then The Pod was told to log off, and it did, and so with it, The Fun left, and there was darkness, and ceaseless torment. But lo, upon the dusk of the *checks notes* 86th day, The Pod logged back on, and there was light, and dancing, and joy once again.

O Death, where is thy sting? Yes I’ll have another drink, thank you.

***

Welcome back friends, to a special, in person, live podcast of Dome and Bedlam. We are hugely apologetic for our long absence. It was summer, and we had vacations to take. It’s tough to express how much it means to hear from so many of you (often angrily, and justifiably so) that you miss the show. Dome and Bedlam was always, before anything else, just three friends who loved baseball, and each other. That our nonsense has found such a loyal and passionate audience is something we never really expected,  and we definitely don’t deserve, but we’re truly thankful for.

A HUGE thank you to Pinxto and their speakeasy Branchwater for putting up with our noise, and the world’s least inconspicuous microphone while we recorded. Please remit to them your business for delicious food and drinks. Do not tell them we sent you, we want you to have a nice time.

We always say we’ll try to do this more often, and we always mean it, and we seemingly never do. But, we’ll try to do this more often. Thanks so much for listening.

***

(Music credits: Mom Jeans, Baroness, Bayside)

 

 

 

A Felix Hernandez FAQ

LET’S TALK ABOUT WHAT WAS, IS, AND SOON SHALL BE

So, like, you all have seen Felix’s numbers this year right? He’s got a 5.73 ERA, and a 5.03 FIP in over 120 IP. You all don’t like, still think he’s good. Right?

I am glad you asked. Felix Hernandez was among the very best pitchers alive from 2009-April of 2015. Unfortunately, it is now August of 2018 and, over the last three and a half seasons, the small leak in Felix’s dominance has been rapidly widened by the flood, and water is now gushing everywhere, ruining electronics and control panels, and reducing him to what he largely is today: An ok fifth starter with poor command, decent stuff, and an inconsistent outlook.

The answer to the question is no, I do not think Felix Hernandez is still good. He hasn’t even been “squint your eyes and pretend” good since a few starts in 2016. That’s a long time ago, and to deny that reality is pretty foolish and naive.

Ok, well then I’m confused. It seems like you’re always coming to Felix’s defense anytime the team talks about removing him from the rotation. Do you think he should stay in the rotation?

Well first of all, for me and my house, this is about loyalty before anything. Felix is the King. Secondly, look, I don’t know. Like I said above, Felix isn’t very good anymore. Felix was never going to be very good in 2018. Everyone knew this, including the team. That’s at least part of what has made Jerry Dipoto’s attempts to spin this season’s outcome as somehow contingent upon Felix becoming something he hasn’t been in years so infuriating.

If the team is half as smart as they very publicly try to make themselves appear, they know far more than we know. If we knew that Felix was probably going to struggle this year, it makes depending/planning on him being something other than that, with only Erasmo Ramirez and his 11.94 FIP to fall back on, seem like folly.

Well now it feels like we’re getting somewhere raw and pretty emotional. Do you think the Mariners want Felix to fail or something?

/bites inside of cheek extremely hard

Well, no. The Mariners front office wants to win baseball games. Felix Hernandez pitching like an above average starter in 2018 would have greatly helped them in that regard, particularly as they made little to no effort to build up major league depth at pitching. That’s something they could have really used, given that they’ve traded Luiz Gohara, Freddy Peralta, and Nick Niedert the past two years for Adam Lind, Nate Karns, and a leadoff hitter with a 1.6% walk rate.

The Mariners needed and wanted Felix to be good again, but the need was created through their own poor trades and inaction. Rather than look inward (or upward, to ownership’s miserly penny pinching) the team seems to have focused its frustration on Felix himself. To myself, and I believe to other like-minded fans, the pattern from the front office has been a combination of ill-founded/disingenuous expectation, coupled with a paternal, overly public shaking of the head whenever Felix has struggled. This pattern not only needlessly, publicly, agonizingly draws attention to Felix’s decline, but seeks to distract fans from the fact that this failure is at least as much one born by the team itself as the player they seem hellbent on shaming.

Well then, smart guy, what do you want them to do instead?

I want them to go back and exhaust their mental and financial resources to shore up this rotation. I want them to correctly predict, and proactively plan for, an incredible buyer’s market this past offseason. I want them to understand that this fanbase and franchise existed well before any of them got here. I want them to get that respect is earned, not given, and that slapping a “Mr. Manager” badge on your chest and walking around a dugout in uniform doesn’t earn you a damn thing with players or fans.

I want them to quit smiling and accepting all praise, and bristling and deflecting downward all blame. Given that they are more than willing to publicly consider the future of their franchise icon, I want them to do the same for their lead off man with a .303 OBP, or their starting first baseman who has been worth -0.6 fWAR.

More than anything, seeing as how this front office and management caters to public appearance and “openness” more than perhaps any other in the game, I want that same openness to indicate an understanding that the failure of the players; even proud, stubborn, declining icons, is their failure too. I want them to understand that there is a very good chance in seven or eight years, when we pack whatever Safeco Field is called at that time for Felix Hernandez’s jersey retirement and statue unveiling, that we will struggle to recall their names.

Wow, uh, that’s quite the rant. Do you have anything else you need to get off your chest?

Letting Felix burn in the Texas Hellfire  last night was unforgivable; an unnecessary and seemingly petty insult towards a longtime Mariner great. Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto are meddling with love forged over years of sacrifice and shared loyalty. They are forces they do not seem to fully understand.

Felix Hernandez forever. Long live the King.

 

Felix Hernandez Lasts

I have always struggled to write about Felix. I am a mediocre writer, and a mediocre man. Often the words I am happiest with are the ones I write without thinking or feeling. But Felix and my connection to this baseball team, and in many ways this region, are tied together too deeply. It is a knot my brain cannot untangle. With Felix, the music stops. There are, to quote the King of Prussia, too many notes.

That said, here on the cusp of what may actually be his last start as a Mariner before he suffers the indignity of whatever fate time, thousands of innings, and Jerry Dipoto have in store for him, is my honest attempt to express what Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariner, means to me.

*****

To grow up is to learn disillusionment, and in that way professional sports are an excellent teacher. The various games, leagues, mythos, romance, ideologies, and on in place were invented, refined, and sold to us for one purpose, and it was to profit the men who owned them. They sell themselves expertly, particularly to the young and naive, and once we learn to love something as children, it is incredibly difficult to rationalize away from it.

There comes a point, though, when we realize the empty falseness, the Wizard of Oz-like con game that can seem to be at the heart of so much of all this stuff we spend all this time loving and caring about. It’s usually a player leaving in free agency, or traded to another team once his useful (i.e. cheap) years with the team have run out. We don’t stop loving sports, because we have always done it, and to stop feels like we would stop being ourselves, but we learn the inequity of the transaction of feeling as a sports fan. Professional sports are, and will always be, a foolish and potentially emotionally damaging thing to care about.

*****

All hail King Felix. Hernandez worked five innings last night against Spokane, allowing just one run on two hits and striking out five. He also walked four, but it’s important to remember that he’s only 17 and facing much older competition, including some college players. I’m trying not to get too excited about him, but it’s difficult not to with the way he’s pitched so far.

The summer of 2003 was marked by the beginnings of the first split between the Mariners organization, and the newly burgeoning segment of its fans on the internet. On the field the team was in its final season of glory, a 93-win powerhouse, its fourth straight 90+ win season. Off the field, Lou Piniella’s recent war with the front office was fresh, Pat Gillick’s use of the the farm as nothing more than a resource to trade from to supplement the current run had bled it dry, and, to a few fans, the happy days were numbered.

There was disagreement, and there was infighting. There was name calling, and personal attacks, and resentment. In the tiny overlap in the venn diagram between the warring parties, there was Felix. He was 17 years old, and obliterating the Northwest League. USS Mariner, the mother tree of online Mariner fandom, called him King. Two years later he would be in Seattle, throwing eight shutout innings against the Twins.

As Felix ascended the Mariners spiraled into oblivion, like an untethered astronaut. They flailed, they screamed, they tried to change. Nothing worked. There was no friction. There was nothing. Only Felix.

*****

I was twenty-one when Felix was crowned King. I am thirty-six today. In between I have gotten married, had children, gotten fat, gotten skinny, gotten fat again, bought a house, nearly died, made and lost friends, and grown gray hairs. I’ve been to the Royal Court, seen Felix throw an immaculate inning, win a Cy Young, throw a Perfect Game, re-sign with the Mariners, and re-sign with them again and cry about it. I have never seen him pitch in the playoffs, and am now pretty close to convinced I never will.

Lasts are important. They serve as touchstones that spiral us backwards through our shared experiences, remembering that the feelings in our gut weren’t plopped there, but forged and nurtured, through time and affection. Lasts call back all that has come before, and with Felix, my god so much has come before today. The last Opening Day start already happened, the last shutout and complete game probably have too.

Now, today, with the Mariners desperately clinging to their playoff hopes, and Felix’s arm simply incapable of doing what it has done here for pushing two decades, we may be at the last start. The Blue Jays are the opponent, and it feels fitting. Maybe my favorite Felix memory is against Toronto, as is the game upon which it can be argued his career began its decline. That Safeco Field will be filled with non-Mariner fans feels similarly appropriate. Felix has always seemingly delighted in ripping out the soul of a hostile crowd.

****

“King” Felix has always been such a perfect nickname. At his height Felix not only reigned over games and seasons, but the talent gap between him and the rest of his typically terrible Mariner teammates was sufficient to set him apart. Like a noble of old. he stood atop the only raised part of the field and looks down like a monarch upon his kingdom. We rose and stood when he exited the bullpen and headed towards the mound. We chanted his name. I’ve grown into an adult with him, and he with us. Here, in the very lasts of his career, we recognize and acknowledge his legacy here is not contingent upon yesterday, today, or tomorrow. It is secure. It will last. So, tonight, we stand and rise, and we say, as we always have, and always will:

Long live the King.

The Mariners CEO Settled a Sexual Harassment Claim

Let’s talk about some terrible stuff we really don’t want to have to talk about

There are many things about this I think merit some words, and here they are in no particular order or rank:

1) It’s important to note that, while baseball and society itself are slowly, painfully, exhaustively lurching towards a place where women do not have to lift twice as much as men and be told it’s half as much to be seen as equal, women do not go work in baseball for the money or benefits. NO ONE goes into baseball for these things,  particularly the women who by the nature of their very gender are guaranteed to make less than their male counterparts.

There are many, many jobs a woman could do outside of work in a baseball office, and make as much or more, and have a standard of living as good, or higher. They all come to it for the same reason as men: They really like baseball, and they want to be around it. Because they really like baseball, they endure an awful lot of bullshit from guys at work, online, at the ballpark, and do it all for, again, far less than their skills are generally worth in the marketplace.

2) Think, for one goddamn minute, about this lady forced to work on Bob Aylward’s computer. That first, Aylward used his computer at work to relentlessly watch porn, and then felt no compunction or hesitancy to ask/request/order a female employee to fix his frozen computer, at least in part because, again, of the porn that Aylward watched at work. That the EMPLOYEE was the person overcome with shock and embarrassment at the way this played out reveals the comic imbalance of workplace dynamics, not only with the Mariners at that time, but in huge swaths of the American workplace.

It also says that Bob Aylward is a bumbling asshole.

3) It’s about power, and it’s always been about power, and it will always be about power. Power’s very nature requires a subjugated, a lesser, a dominated. It demands castes and roles, greaters and lessers, mores and betters. It confuses obedience for peace, quiet for calm, and compliance with contentedness. It forces a structure in which a man can demand a lady who has brought him alcohol not only kiss him, but feel special, honored even, by the “request.”

Bob Aylward, Chuck Armstrong, and Kevin Mather (the latter of whom is currently, right now, the Mariners Chief Executive Officer), like so many before them, were able to settle their way out of any serious repercussions for their idiocy, through company-wide policy updates and sensitivity training. The team took the punishment for their actions, and diluted it into the company water supply, so that everyone can share it together. Call it “always striving to improve,” which is exactly what they did.

They are able to do this because they are men, and they are rich. Much of the horrors that surround our current times, when traced back to their root cause, stop at the Bugatti-crashing, mortgage stock company-shorting, horndog-obsessed dudes that comprise the vast portion of our society’s check writing and decision making class. Make no mistake, these are the men that run your beloved baseball team. They are largely inseparable from the smug asshole that owns whatever team(s) you hate the most. This is the truth, and anyone who says otherwise is a dangerous combination of stupid and/or on the company dollar.

4) “Winning cures all,” they say. The Mariners, through a combination of good play and good fortune are 61-41. The fans have noticed. In twelve home games this month attendance has fallen below thirty-thousand only once, and never below twenty-five. The buzz around the team and franchise is unlike anything seen in at least a decade, and in all honesty probably much longer.

This story, both because Geoff Baker’s name is vaguely repellent to the fanbase, and due to its timing, is going to be swept largely under the rug. If the Mariners were, say, 49-53, or if this story broke about the leadership of, say, the Rangers, many of the voices telling you this is all water under the bridge wouldn’t be able to speak because they’d have their mouths so full of fresh meat.

The team’s public responses to this story have been, largely, dismissive and unconcerned. They know the team’s record, and they know its accompanying reality. No one cares when you win baseball games.

Winning obscures all, and does nothing more.

5) When and how three Mariner executives sexually harassed women is very important, and also largely irrelevant. I hate this story, and reading the Times’ account of the events that took place is extremely difficult to take in. This difficulty is the important part. The pain of exacting detail should, perhaps must be experienced to render something even approaching proper response. For many, many, many people, they won’t necessarily need that, because the story these women have to tell is all too familiar to their own.

The particulars do not matter in the sense that, when we step back we can see what this is: Three empowered, wealthy men preyed on vulnerable women, and while these women reached monetary compensation and the Mariners did respond, through seminars and workshops, these three men largely escaped any personal punishment. Aylward continues to serve on the board of ROOT, Armstrong was allowed to maintain his position for years until retirement, and Mather has been promoted, occupying what is probably the most powerful position in the organization. At the time of this article’s publication, there appears no serious movement towards changing Mather’s role with the team.

6) I don’t know what the proper justice is for this. I don’t know, yet, how turning on a news conference and seeing Kevin Mather speak in front of a compass rose is going to effect my Mariner fandom. The mere thought of worrying about how this news changes how I feel about a baseball team seems appallingly small and trite in context. It has always been those things though, and the decision to push them aside and indulge in the silly theater and drama of the game always a conscious one.

I have loved the Mariners, and baseball, all my life. I don’t know the breaking point. Maybe it’s this, maybe it’s a long ways past this. I just can’t stop thinking about the first day these women came to Safeco Field, the thrill of starting a new position in a highly competitive field, and how that was ruined by the libido of men who have never thought about these women, probably before or since. That struggle is mine. Each fan will have their own. All of them are trivial in comparison to what these three women had to endure.

7) The Mariners as an organization have been largely defined by failure. To their credit, the vast majority of that failure has been kept on the field, which at the end of the day is the most trivial part of this whole operation. This story is a failure not of the scoreboard, but of their people, and their process. That’s the important part, and that makes this story an important failure.

These women deserved better. It’s on us to demand better, and to be skeptical of what people in power say, even those on our beloved baseball team. Do better, Mariners.