The Worst Mariners, Part III

The PENULTIMATE portion of this list, coming to you hot off the press.

Let it be known that collating the previous two parts of this ILLUSTRIOUS series has deprived Nathan of his health, leaving him weak and weary and ill. (He really is sick right now – feel free to send him well wishes on TWITTER.) It turns out that being a Mariners fan has a multitude of hazards. Fortunately, I’m here to make sure that all seven of our devoted readers will still able to access the #content they crave. The show must go on, after all.

(Also, just in case you missed ’em, here’s Part I and Part II.)

21. Dustin Ackley 

I, like many of you, remember exactly where I was the moment Dustin Ackley made his major league debut. I was so excited I went and bought his shirsey the moment it was available in the team store. I’ve never been more confident that a player was going to turn into someone special. Six years later, I only wear his shirsey when I’m confident my infant son is going to spit up on me. (dg)

ackley4.0.png

22. Kevin Mitchell

Look, he was actually better than I thought. A 117 wRC+ in 400 PA ain’t bad. But the slugging was almost a hundred points lower than the year before he was a Mariner, and almost two hundred points lower than the year after. Remembering that his solitary season in Seattle was not the end of his career, but rather a brief nadir before a resurgence in Cincinnati only stirs up my blood afresh. (Nathan)

23. Rob Johnson

There are a lot of takeaways and things to remember from the 2010 season. That weird popcorn magazine cover, the foul bunt heard around the world, napgate, and of course Jack Z bringing back Russell Branyan for some reason. But the one thing that I will always remember is Opening Day of 2010. The Mariners would win their first of 61 games that year. Someone has to hit the first home run of a season and for some reason Rob Johnson had the honors in ’10. In hindsight, this should have been not just a bad omen, but THE bad omen for what I, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic, would call the worst year in Seattle Mariners history. (SG)

24. Brandon League

Brandon is the only player I have actively booed while in attendance at Safeco Field, and not in jest. Yes, I was at the game and yes you’d have booed as well. I feel no regrets. (Skiba)

brandonleague2

25. Dave Hengel

It’s strange to think that there are hundreds of thousands of photographs of Dave Hengel in existence: his three baseball cards arrived at the height of the junk wax era. Boxed away in attics by hopeful failed capitalists rests his memorial. All that remains: a mullet uninterested in gravity, two halves of a mustache separated by a pregnant pause, an ironic smile tied to that oversized, forgettable gold-S logo. Hengel was a small fish in a small pond, once the king of Calgary, a powerful demi-DH; in the majors, his career numbers were on pace for a -7 win full season. But it doesn’t matter. He made it. He got a baseball card. He became a Seattle Mariner, in every sense of that concept. And in every baseball card, he’s smiling. (phd)

26. Al Martin

In 2001, while every other Mariner was enjoying a career year, Al Martin was OPSing 10 points below his career average. He also claimed after running into Carlos Guillen that it reminded him of when, as a strong safety for USC, he ran into Leroy Hoard. Problem being, USC has no record of Martin ever having attended the school, let alone putting on pads. On the bright side, Martin had one triple in four playoff plate appearances that year. $5 million well spent. (dg)

27. Russ Davis

From 1995-2001 the Mariners were generally good, and yet, like a lot of legitimately good teams, they still had bad players on the roster. Russ Davis fits that bill perfectly. In 1997 Russ was okay. He notched a 105 wRC+ and was worth a shade over 1.5 wins. That half of the equation ignores the fact that he played the hot corner about as well as six-year-old Russ Davis could’ve. In 1998, he finished with 32 errors, nearly one quarter of the team’s total on the year, and reverted back to his old offensive ways (namely: being bad). Russ Davis was a not good baseball player on a good team. (Peter)

28. Marc Rzepczynski

You’ll note a glut of relievers on this list, and that’s no mistake. Relievers are, in their traditional role, probably the worst baseball players alive; failed, flawed starters who hang on by learning some speciality, like a sidearm, or giving up two-thirds of a three run lead and walking the bases loaded before “getting the save.” (Nathan)

29. Pete O’Brien

Pete is remembered fondly by some, probably because of his association with the inaugural years of Griffey, Buhner, Edgar, and Randy. Instead, O’Brien cobbled together a -0.3 WAR over his four-year M’s career while playing the game’s most premium offensive position. His one plus? Rocking half-tint aviators. Devil may care. (Scott)

8610-8Fr

30. Jose Mesa

Mesa more or less single-handedly lost the very first game played in Safeco Field, according to my memory of the game. I refuse to go back and check because placing the blame in one, specific place to explain why the franchise is so derpy feels a lot better than running any numbers on it. Thanks a lot, bro. (Skiba)

(We’ll wrap up with Part IV tomorrow.)

The 40 Worst Mariners, Part II

Not what you want, not what you need. This, is what you have.

Everyone says they want to be liked; we all want success, the big house, the happy family, a comfortable retirement, etc. It’s all lies, albeit lies at least as much to oneself as to others. Death comes for us all, and although as a species we’ve done an exceptional job distracting ourselves from that fact with our petty squabbles and busy schedules, the truth is life is not a highway, it’s a railroad. We’re on tracks, and the line stops in the same damn place regardless.

Mankind has long yearned for immortality, and we’ve crafted a series of elaborate realities in which we can, but at its essence perhaps the only real way for us to live forever is to do something in life that lives in the memories of those left behind. As Maximus Decimus Meridius said, “What we do in life, echoes in eternity,” but the truth is this: The echoes of eternity resonate longer in a deeper canyon, and you can carve deep hollows of memory into your fellow humans with failure, just as easily as success. These 10 men, these Mariners, they chose the latter. They chose forever.

(Part I, with explanation of criteria and methodology, here)

11. Jeremy Reed

Jeremy Reed
(That’s not how you do that)

We all have a type. Some of us go for someone who is charismatic and controls a room just by walking in. For others, it’s someone on the train with a dog-eared copy of a book that you’ve been convincing yourself to read. For the Seattle Mariners post-2003, it was light-hitting, left-handed center fielders who could run a little and supposedly hit for contact. Jeremy Reed was the catalyst of this movement. Arguably the centerpiece in the Freddy Garcia trade with the White Sox, Reed was called up in September, hit .397 in 18 games, and was declared THE FUTURE. That future went on to put on a DECENT 2005, get hurt, flame out, and somehow play for the Mets. A reminder that all roads lead to Queens. (SG)

12. Miguel Batista

Miguel Batista holds the distinction of cobbling together the very worst pitching season in M’s history (by win probability added – WPA). In 2008, Batista’s WPA was a shockingly abhorrent -4.49; according to FanGraphs, any season-long WPA value less than -3.0 is beyond awful. (For some perspective, over the last decade, the only pitcher to hurt his team’s chances of winning more in a season was the 2009 version of Brad Lidge, a man who blew 11 saves for the Phillies while posting an ERA of 7.21.) In 20 starts in ‘08, Miguel allowed a triple slash line of .307/.409/.536 (i.e., he made the average hitter look like this year’s Justin Turner or Kris Bryant). Batista eventually assumed more of a swingman/bullpen role, where he was somewhat less bad, but the damage was done and the season was doomed and your Seattle Mariners lost 100+ games for the first time in 25 years. #TheMojoIsRising (Andrew)

13. Jose Vidro

vidro
(Not how you do this either but lol Cubes)

If you go to Wikipedia, someone had the audacity to write “Though he never officially retired, Vidro has not played since 2008.” As if anyone that trotted out as many times as Vidro pathetically did for the Mariners in 2008 needs to declare they are done when, go figure, you were DFA’d midway through August with a batting line of .234/.274/.338 as the freakin’ DESIGNATED HITTER. Apologies for the grammatically unsound sentence, I just got so worked up thinking about him. We won’t even go into the fact that Vidro did all of that jazz, only in a more garbage way, for the entirety of 2007. For a team that has put together an impressive string of pathetic designated hitters, Vidro declares himself king of that shit mountain. (Peter)

14. Bob Wolcott

One ALCS Game 1 in which Wolcott walked five and struck out two does not a man make. Walcott was objectively crap in AAA before he was called up in a state of emergency for the ‘95 Mariners, and subsequently killed the Mariners for the remainder of his short-lived M’s career before Arizona plucked him in the 53rd round of the ‘97 expansion draft. It’s better off if you remember his career based on one playoff start result and ignore the rest. (Scott)

15. Austin Jackson

Austin Jackson
(mmmmmmmmm yes mmmmmm weak contact mmmm delicious yes)

Austin Jackson swinging an aluminum trekking pole at a barbell below sea level. Austin Jackson gently tapping a croquet ball the last four inches through a wicket with a live toucan. Austin Jackson slapping an already broken piñata with a carp on roller skates. Austin Jackson slapping empty plastic Easter eggs with a velvet glove in a wind tunnel. Austin Jackson swinging a 30 lb log at a rolled up sock on Jupiter. Austin Jackson… (Nathan)

16. Bobby Ayala

Might as well get the emotional one out of the way. Ayala was actually filthy in ‘94, striking out 12 batters per 9 innings and cruising to a 2.28 FIP. It’s that performance that had Lou Pinella going to him in high-leverage situations for the better part of his Mariners career, where he allowed a 110 OPS+. The suck lives beyond your memories, friends. (Scott)

17. Milton Bradley

Milton Bradley
(We don’t even like Eric Wedge, yet here we feel for him.)

I don’t feel as if this one needs any elaboration. (Skiba)

18. John Moses

John Moses was the baseball equivalent of a substitute middle school shop teacher, a rebuttal against hero worship. He was an everyman in the sense that people looked up to him, saw themselves in him, and felt despair at their inadequacy. John Moses represented the death of the boyhood dream, the yawning rift between ourselves and who we wanted to be. John Moses did nothing well, except not be the worst at anything. He played center field because the alternatives were worse; flanked by the morose butcher Danny Tartabull in right, he always appeared quietly competent. He appeared fast, and the caught stealings that nearly matched his stolen bases brought praise for his effort. He hit an empty .250 in a pair of seasons when the young and the old, your Mickeys Brantley and your Gormans Thomas and your Als Cowens could hardly break the Mendoza Line. He was there, never making the manager look bad, never the last man in line before the ax. In that sense, he was the most realistic childhood hero that baseball ever produced. (phd)

19. Heathcliff Slocumb

As the old saying goes, never replace a legend – be the guy who replaces the legend’s replacement. Mike Cameron nearly single-handedly tore that idea to shreds in Seattle. A fate far worse is to be the guy instead of the guy – or guys. It’s not Heathcliff Slocumb’s fault he was traded for two of the most important members of a team that ended an 86-year curse. Cameron was at least given the opportunity to make a name for himself and rose to the occasion. Slocumb stumbled out of the gate, and that scab was picked at on a near-daily basis eight years later during one of the most dramatic playoff runs the country had ever seen. Sometimes it’s not about who you are but about who you aren’t. And who Slocumb wasn’t was a World Series Champion. (dg)

20. Kendrys Morales

(Well, actually, this is how you do this. Yes.)     

In 2013, when the Mariners were bad, Kendrys Morales actually had a pretty good offensive year for Seattle (119 wRC+ in 657 PA). One season later, after rejecting a qualifying offer, missing all of Spring Training, signing a short-term deal with the Twinkies in June, and being re-acquired by Seattle via trade in July, Morales went on to post an 82 wRC+ as a Mariner (in 239 PA, most of which came while hitting cleanup). Yuck! In aggregate, Morales’s 2014 offensive numbers were pretty putrid, but they become even more gut-wrenchingly awful when you break them down thusly:

Kendrys Morales as a Mariner in 2014
Split PA wRC+
Bases empty 129 89
Men on base 110 73
Men in scoring 56 39

A DOUBLE EWE ARRR SEA OF THIRTY-NINE WITH RISP. Why??? A reminder that the ‘14 Mariners missed the playoffs by ONE game and thanks so h*ckin’ much for being the worst, Kendrys. (Andrew)

(Part III tomorrow)

Episode 13: The Fans and the Furious

We Love Trash

0:00-42:45 WE ARE BACK YES THANK YOU. After three months hiatus Scott, Nathan, and David return to recap the 2017 Mariners; a frustrating, inconsistent, mediocre team hey wait they told me this season was going off-type. Hey! Hey we got the wrong script here! Damn writers.

43:15-1:28:25

After a whelming-ass look back the boys get DARK. It’s a look forward, bemoaning the franchise’s inability or refusal to commit to the steps necessary to build a consistently great team, and a bleak forecast for 2018, Shohei Ohtani, or no. DO NOT LISTEN SOBER. Or do. We certainly didn’t record it sober but you do you, pal.

(Music credits: The Movielife, Mark Morrison, Beirut)

(Rate and subscribe on SoundCloud and iTunes. We appreciate you listening.)

The Case for Giancarlo

On July 28th, 2033 Giancarlo Stanton was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. As his time came to speak the hulking man – the rare physical specimen for whom time seems only to adorn regality, and take nothing at all – sat quietly, a look of mild distance in his eyes.

There were ten, maybe fifteen minutes to encapsulate a seventeen year career of hitting baseballs like no one ever had before him. A few moments to speak of his time playing baseball on opposite corners of the nation; seven in Miami, ten in Seattle.

He had always been more than just another power hitter. The rules of baseball indicate any ball clearing the fence on the fly in fair territory is a home run. Plenty of players did that, and so did Giancarlo. But he used his home runs as an instrument of psychological terror.

His home runs were more than runs, they were oppression, torment; annihilation. Giancarlo Stanton home runs were Marshawn Lynch up the middle, or Shawn Kemp on the break. Oh we tallied them of course, this is baseball. “That’s home run 500!”, “Wow exit velocity of 120.3 MPH”, and so on, but these were the desperate attempts of we baseball disciples to capture gospel on the page. We wrote them in red, so people would notice, but no ink or page was sufficient, nor could it ever be.

He strode to the microphone to speak, and paused. Among the masses gathered to see him was twenty-seven year old Julie Graham, a rising star in the White Sox analytics department. Despite the ongoing season, and her employer currently leading the AL Central, Julie had been planning this trip since last summer. She was smart and ambitious, with an eye for a general manager position someday, but this was bigger even than her career.

This was about the summer of 2018, spent in a small, WWII trackhouse on Trenton St, on the east side of Bremerton, WA.

*****

Julie’s parents had split up when she was six. She lived mostly with her mom, in and around the Orwellian-sounding City of Industry in California. Her father had a tough time keeping a job, and as such his life was in the state of perpetual instability that made primary custody an easy decision for the court. But by 2016 her dad had settled in Kitsap County, and found steady employment at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. It was good, union pay, and by the summer of 2018 he was able to pay off enough debt to afford renting that small rambler on Trenton St., and convince the court and Julie’s mom to let her come stay with him for the summer.

She hated it, of course. She was twelve, the dawning of the age when hate is the default setting for most things in life. She hated the small house, the small town, the way the rain stuck around into July. She hated her dad, and his friends, and the few kids she saw around the neighborhood. One Saturday a guy at the yard had a few baseball tickets he couldn’t use, and when Julie’s dad drug her to Safeco Field she was fully prepared and capable of hating that too.

They trudged to their seat, about halfway up the left field bleachers, and sat down. Julie was annoyed; the sun made it impossible to see her phone screen. Without speaking a word to her dad she got up and walked all the way to the top of the bleachers, where some shade would allow her to see, and thus escape.

THWACK

Julie’s head jerked up, something had smashed into the bleacher behind her, about twenty feet from her head.

CRASH

Once she had visited an aunt in Texas, and through a torrential Texan storm learned about baseball-sized hail. But this, this was a storm raining actual baseball-sized baseballs.

Where could it be coming from? Julie looked around her, then down to her dad, who pointed towards the other side of the stadium. She squinted down. All she could see was a tiny collection of blue and white spots. One of the spots, admittedly the least tiny of them, was standing close to home plate. Vaguely she saw a flash of something and this time, paying attention, she heard it; a menacing hiss and the accompanying whoops of the people around her as it go closer. The ball smashed about two rows in front of her, and a group of four or so immediately fell upon it.

Julie put down her phone.

*****

Giancarlo stood at the podium. The trade to bring him to Seattle was foolish, reckless, irresponsible even. All the home runs – 400, 500, 600, and on – had not turned around the franchise. They had finally broken that awful playoff-less streak by squeaking into the Wild Card in 2023. They even won the Wild Card game, but were swept out of the divisional series by the Rangers, and quickly returned to mediocrity afterwards.

Seventeen years, an MVP, Silver Sluggers, All-Star games, one of the most transcendent talents in the history of the game. But only four playoff games, no World Series, and no titles. His accomplishments lay as communal testament to his enduring greatness, but seemingly little beyond just that.

Julie Graham stood in the sun, and sweat. She drug her dad to Safeco that whole summer, all those years ago. When the next summer came she did it again, and the one after. Her newfound love of baseball made her want to know more about it, and that led to the discovery of a love of and gift for mathematics and statistics. The full ride to Stanford, the internship with the Padres, the steady progress of her career was traced back to a summer in Seattle, where a Child of Zeus himself reshaped the confines and boundaries of reality with his swings.

Giancarlo began speaking, and Julie looked around. She was far from alone.

Festina lente

On hurrying, slowly.

There’s a lot of writing about baseball that opens up the sport as an allegory or metaphor for something large, something obtuse. Baseball as love, as heartbreak, as life itself. This can be quite powerful and evocative for both reader and writer alike. I’m quite guilty of it myself. The sport lends itself to daydreaming between the pitches. Three hours is an awfully long time to be doing anything. You’re bound to muse, if you’re so inclined. Lately, though, I’ve begun to think something else. What if baseball is simply its own space to be left alone? What if something could plainly be what it is and nothing else? Isn’t that just as special, if not more so, than allegory or metaphor?

I’ve come to this sentiment as I’ve come to a similar view within my own life. That spaces don’t always have to be shared. What if I could only make a beer? Forget style, forget pleasing customers, forget costs. Forget all of that. Does the intensification of a singular act allow for a better process? And what is a better process? Optimization and singularity are often spoken of within the same breath. While I cannot claim expertise or even a remote sense of completion in this line of thinking, I can ruminate on the recent months of my life. Perhaps I have recently found joy by taking things more plainly. Perhaps, if I could do the same with Baseball, the same thing could be said. What if I could go back to simply playing catch in the backyard. To the slap of leather, the motion, and the toss. The unspoken trust of hurling a ball of leather towards a team mate, a family member, someone you love. What if I could break baseball down to this core value?

August is a time within the 162-game schedule for reflection, but only for a moment. July has passed and the heat of the day seems to magnify greatly the strengths and shortcomings of every roster. The point of the season has arrived where managers know exactly what they have in their deck of cards and all that is left to do is simply play the hand. For two months, inevitability and talent, and perhaps luck, are your guides down the river. Just don’t stop paddling. If you do, the rapids will take you; but if you paddle too hard, you won’t make it to the end due to exhaustion. Simply read the river, moment to moment. Be singular in your task. This is the sentiment for every game from here until the end of the season. Now is the time for this sort of single-mindedness within ourselves, too.

You can feel it in the morning air, can’t you? I know I find myself bracing for Fall. For the crisp mornings and the end of lazy afternoons. Often we hear of the awakening Spring brings, but there is also one in the Fall. Awakenings happen wherever change can be found. Within touching-distance of a playoff spot, perhaps it is time for the Seattle Mariners to have an awakening of their own. Maybe the simple act of a baseball game, won or lost, can transcend a million other simple acts until, finally, a city is alive with the buzz of October baseball. It takes many small events to go from scoreboard to city-wide energy, but it’s simple enough. It takes a focus. It takes structure for the sake of achievement. It is the same idea across any form of accomplishment: winning a baseball game, falling in love, or playing a game of catch.

And so that is what I am going to do. In a week I will take my first vacation in nearly two years and fly down to see someone I love in a place I once lived. It’s a simple thing, really. To make a journey to a destination worthy of the trip is an easy choice. We’ll do the things people do when they’re in love and in the same place. We’ll walk places together, talk about where we’ve been and where we’d like to go. We’ll focus on the moment. Packed in my suitcase will be my glove, as well. An old piece of leather that has seen better days and survived nearly a decade of constant use. It should be replaced, in all reality. However, the root of things shouldn’t always be discarded. Perhaps, if anything, it should be sought out again this time of year. Maybe that’s what we’ll seek together, her and I.

Maybe we’ll simply play some catch, too.

The Perfect Pitcher

4-11-06

There are a few things I want you to keep in mind about today, so in the interest of brevity, and rather than trying to sound like someone with a lot to say, or a poet, or someone else that I’m not, I’m going to just list them here:

1) Felix was coming off his first Opening Day start of his career, an 8 IP, 12 K obliteration of the Oakland A’s. In between those two starts he would turn 21 years old. Think for a moment about how preposterously young that is. Here are the ages of some of baseball’s current bright, young, pitching stars:

Luis Severino – 23
Jimmy Nelson – 28
Aaron Nola – 24
Marcus Stroman – 26
Michael Fulmer – 24
Gerrit Cole – 26
Kevin Gausman – 26
Dylan Bundy – 24

Felix Hernandez was 21 years, and 3 days old when he took the mound at Fenway Park. It was the 45th start of his major league career.

2) This was a coronation, but for once Felix had nothing to do with it. The Yankees and Red Sox were in the middle of their decade-long blood feud over the AL East, and the Red Sox were debuting their newest weapon of war, Daisuke Matsuzaka. Matsuzaka threw something called a “gyroball”, which legend made sound like a cross between Sid Finch and black magic, and he was making his second start of the season as well, after demolishing the Kansas City Royals on the road in his first start.

ESPN was on hand, Fenway was packed, and one of baseball’s glamor franchises was prepared to celebrate their newest hero.

In the middle of the 7th inning I was scrambling to a church youth function I’ve volunteered for and I was screaming at the guy there “You HAVE to get this game on TV! I am not missing a Mariner pitcher no-hitting the Red Sox in Fenway!” He got the game on, and as I walked in I saw Jose Lopez diving as J.D. Drew’s groundball finds center field.

Damn.

One inning later, Fenway is empty, figuratively if not literally. Its soul has been swallowed by the all-encompassing totality of Felix’s genius. There are two outs in the ninth, and two strikes on Kevin Youkilis. The play-by-play marks it as a swinging strikeout, but that was no swing. It was surrender.

Felix_Youkilis__2_

4-24-2015

When you’ve seen it, you know you’ll never see it again. But, you’re a hopeful kind of idiot, so you think, maybe, just maybe.

The 2015 Twins are supposed to be atrocious. It’s through three and not only has no one reached base, Minnesota’s hitters are approaching the batter’s box like meek, contrite, sinners come to suffer god’s judgment. Felix has six strikeouts, five swinging. The Mariners are winning at home, early into their most anticipated season in half a decade. New DH Nelson Cruz has homered. There is a crescendo building, a feeling that burns through the television, that something may be happening.

We’re into the fifth, and I’m writing the recap, and I’m thinking about writing a game story about the first pitcher in baseball history to throw two perfect games. This is the power of Felix Hernandez. His youth and talent, like Ken Griffey Jr. before him, made anything seem possible. Every achievement left unlocked for a pitcher in baseball history could be viewed with Felix as, “No pitchers has ever done X……yet”.

There is still, of course, no pitcher in baseball history to throw two perfect games. With two outs in the fifth Brian Dozier got a running, buzzing, chainsaw-with-seams on his hands and dumped it into rightfield for a single.

Damn.

Felix finished it out, he would not be denied his shutout. He spent the first three innings surgically removing the Twins’ heart, and the next six slowly feeding it back to them.

9 IP, 5 H (all singles), 9 K, 0 BB, 0 R, 102 pitches. Dominance upon dominance.

8-15-12

Like many, I left work. Though I was too far from Safeco to get there in time, Gameday and the radio were simply not sufficient. After the 7th I closed my computer, walked to an empty Mexican restaurant bar, and ordered a Dos Equis.

They were tolerant of me in there, if mildly annoyed. I got them to turn off a car race, and helped them find the channel the baseball game was on. Someone the bartender knew sat down, and they started talking about nothing in particular. There was no audio, and no music. No real sound other than the constant, ceaseless tapping of my feet on the ground.

Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap

The 8th is where it was going to live or die, you just knew it. Tampa’s best hitters were due up, Felix’s pitch count was approaching 100 and, Mariners being Mariners, the team had managed only one run on the day. Everything; Perfect Game, No-hitter, shutout, complete game, win, hung in the balance of the next three hitters.

Evan Longoria – Strikeout Swinging. Tap tap tap tap

Ben Zobrist – Strikeout Swinging. Tap tap tap tap tap

Carlos Pena – Strikeout Swinging. “YES! HELL YES!” Tap tap tap tap

***

Felix Hernandez has known, seemingly his entire life, the abundance of ability he possesses. You can, and many people have, debate the various nuances between cockiness and confidence, but I don’t intend to do that here. Felix Hernandez has spent his life believing he is the best, and whether it’s fate, hard work, good luck, genetics, or something else the simple fact is that for a very long time he was absolutely correct.

I have often thought about the picture of him finding out he won the 2010 Cy Young Award:

Felix

There are tears, yes. And joy. There is also something else, and who knows if it’s actually there or if I am, always the slave to narrative, simply reading too much into it. But I see relief.

Felix Hernandez spent his childhood and early career believing he was absolutely going to win awards and set records, and the 2010 Cy Young was confirmation he was not wrong. Preposterous talent brings preposterous standards, none more so than his own. He had met them. Partially.

***

In the 9th it was the split-change, or whatever that pitch actually was, that carried him through. Felix Hernandez’s changeup at its peak is unlike anything the game has ever really seen before or since. He used it to strike out Desmond Jennings for out number one, got Jeff Keppinger to ground out to shortstop with it for out number two, and you know, with two strikes, it was a hot-breathed demon sitting in the back of Sean Rodriguez’s mind.

tap tap tap tap tap

Felix stepped back, lifted his leg, and pivoted his torso slightly past 90 degrees from home, showing Rodriguez the 3 and maybe half the 4 on the back of his jersey. Perhaps the first pitcher since peak Pedro Martinez to possess four true out pitches, a player whose insistence on overusing his fastball famously got him an open letter written by a now famous baseball blogger, Felix Hernandez had worked his entire life to get one pitch from a perfect game. What is the one pitch he wanted at that moment, more than anything else?

Fastball, inner half, with movement. Hit it if you can.

Damn.

Five years ago, today. Perfect. No one has been since.

Hail to the King.

 

If It Goes Half Right

1) The rain is starting to fall at Safeco Field, just like the forecast said. The last home game rained, too, but that was nine days ago. Somewhere in that span summer finally left. There’s no warmth in this rain. It is cold, oppressive; the kind we sat through all winter and spring. It feels like football and, indeed, the Seahawks just beat the Colts across the street, two days ago. It was the same day the Mariners finished up their season in Anaheim, with a 6-3 win. Cano and Haniger went deep, and Moore gutted out 7 innings, like he somehow did the whole second half.

The season is over, but I’m at Safeco Field, because there’s a baseball game today.

2) I’m stuck in line, a long line. A Black Friday kind of line. The kind of line that doesn’t make sense to be in. There must be something better to do with my time; some friend to go say hello to, a beer to find, batting practice to watch, signs to enjoy. I’m in a line that reaches its foolish length because there was something after all to what James Earl Jones said in Field of Dreams. I am wading in baseball’s magic waters and I, like seemingly everyone else here, know the only right thing to do today is to go say hi to Dave. I don’t mind the wait. Impatience melts away when you’re sure of your destination.

3) It doesn’t make sense, what Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz have done the past two and a half months. They are too old, and too gimpy, to have provided the ceaseless, daily impact they have in this second half. Signing these two men to play in Seattle was folly. Their ages, the amount of money they commanded, the years on those contracts. They should be albatrosses, dead weight. Baseball history is littered with contracts for players like Carlos Lee, Vernon Wells, Adrian Gonzalez, and Albert Pujols. Great players who were paid for past greatness, and never approached it again.

Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz are not those men. They are instead two of the finest players in the American League. They are All-Stars. They are the absolute, full stop, beginning and end of what drives the Mariners clubhouse. They are kind, smart, charitable, engaging, funny, and brilliantly talented. They have given us not just wins, and a game 163 at long last, they have given us a team to be proud to root for, win or lose. They are Mariner legends, without playing another day. I look forward to standing in line for their statues, too.

4) While standing in line, the moments pass by quickly in my head: Haniger’s walk off bomb against the Rangers, only one strike from defeat. I remember watching a late-inning double sink into left-center, only to have Jarrod Dyson streak into frame, running in that slow-appearing way that only truly fast people do. I can see Shae Simmons, all but forgotten, providing the desperately needed additional bullpen arm. There is Felix, these days so mortal, fighting through every single start. Once so mighty, still so proud, he would not allow himself to fade into oblivion. Not yet. Not this year.

As the rest of the American League continued its mediocrity only the Mariners, finally, were able to take advantage. Through good luck and good play they carved a 43-29 second half out of the muck and mire, and they won the Wild Card. To paraphrase a great man, sixteen long years of frustration, is over.

5) Was it worth it? Was it worth these sixteen years? Was it worth the Jeremy Reeds, and Carlos Silvas? Was it worth the Adam Jones trade, and LollaBlueza, and 2010? Was it worth Bill Bavasi, Rick White, Eric Wedge, Chone Figgins, Ryan Anderson, Danny Hultzen, Jeff Clement, Michael Garciaparra, and on?

The 2017 Mariners should have been sellers. The 2018 and 2019 team will be worse off because they did not. Was all the time spent, both in the past and now in the future, worth it for a hot few months, and a one game playoff against the Rays?

I don’t know the answer to that. Professional sports are a dumb investment of practically any resource we choose to assign to them. Money, time, emotion, etc. all flow from us in huge quantities, and there is no guarantee that anything worthwhile is ever coming back. This is not a sound decision, to be a sports fan. Perhaps, somehow, that’s part of the appeal.

6) I’m in my seat, finally, but there’s still plenty of time before first pitch. Everyone is here: Alvin Davis, Dan Wilson, Jamie Moyer, Randy Johnson, Bret Boone, and many others. Russell Wilson and a bunch of Seahawks are in a suite. Sitting in the front row are three tall reminders of childhood: Detlef Schrempf, Gary Payton, and Shawn Kemp. The Mariners, always hitting the PR notes perfectly, have Marilyn Niehaus throw out the first pitch to Junior. It’s raining at Safeco Field, and it’s cold, and it’s perfect. It’s family.

7) If the Mariners lose this game, their season is over, and their future remains cloudy. As a child I would never have thought twice about that, I would have just cheered. Time and understanding have slowly made that basic act more and more complicated. Sports are not that simple. Life, far less so. I’m pondering all this, still sitting in my seat, when the voice of Tom Hutyler begins to speak, but he’s quickly drowned out, as everyone already knows what to do.

My head snaps up, for one final glance at it all. I see 45,000 dots of yellow, each with their chest cavity ripped open and heart fully exposed, as though the simple act of naked vulnerability, of offering their very essence, can assure victory. They are so present, desperate for echoes of the past, that it might lead us to our future. The door to the bullpen opens, and he’s walking out: Old, less, ours, proud, regal, King.

The PA faintly echoes in my head; is it a directive, or a simple observation of what we already knew to do?

“All rise.”