It’s time now

It’s no longer about what should happen. It’s just time to yell.

1) You will recall, or you will not, that in the past we have written some overwrought, and angst-filled words in this space to the effect of what the Mariners making the playoffs would mean to us, and to our surrounds. That was for the 2017 Mariners, a team that slogged through a mediocre, depressing season while watching a division rival vault to a World Series championship, and final slaying of whatever power Sports Illustrated held on the national mystique. It was a very Mariners season.

The death of a Mariners season, however, for once, appears to have left behind something besides the nostril-stinging sweetness of death and decay. The corpse has fertilized the soil, and the 2018 Mariners, a team that by all accounts should be at or slightly above .500, is reaping a generational harvest of good luck and good timing. They are 41-24.  A quick view of the landscape of the American League, and where the Mariners sit amidst it tells a pretty clear picture, although uttering it aloud risks tapping into the vast ocean of ennui, paranoia, and superstition that is rooting for one of the most failure-ridden franchises in all of sports:

The Mariners are going to make the playoffs this year.

2) The truth is that, outside of a happy cosmic accident from 2000-2003, the Mariners have just not been very good. Clearly, there have been misfortunes, bad-timing, busted prospects, and injuries. For fans the slow, steady, geological-event style feeling of the years of same have led to a feeling of something like a curse.

There was no curse, and never has been. While Mariner fans exist in a world where mystical snares and devilish traps lay ready to trip us up the moment we let ourselves relax or expect even a single good thing to happen, those foibles never extended onto Safeco Field itself. The truth is the players were not good enough, the front office not adept enough, and ownership not committed enough to seeing it through. The fact that for thirty-seven of their forty-one and change years of existence the Mariners have not suffered under some gypsy’s vengeful hex, but rather the weight of their own shared failings may provide comfort, or push you further to despair. Which is largely up to you, but face that reality with honesty and courage, because reality it very much is.

3) We don’t really know how exactly the Mariners are 41-24, and will not pretend to have any deep insight into it here. By and large it has something to do with Edwin Diaz ensuring that in every game decided by an eyelash, which is almost all of them, the Mariners are the ones who did the best job getting those babies full and luscious. It involves a group of players that with few exceptions does not do anything spectacular on any given day, but also does not do that most Mariner of things: Horrifically fail. It is a team built upon a generally higher baseline of competence than is typical, and while we are resistant to offer too much credit towards Jerry Dipoto by habit, that is probably by his design.

We do know that this season, regardless of final outcome, represents an experience Mariner fans have not had in a very long time: A mid-season spot in a prime playoff spot, a summer of scoreboard watching, and a very real pennant chase.

There is magic in First Place, and as of the day of this writing, June 12th, the simple matter is that a quick look at the standings in the AL West, when read from top down, starts with “Seattle Mariners”. Beyond that simple, joyous, dopamine-providing exercise, the American League has shaken out to make the Mariners playing a Game 163 a (relatively) simple task. There is one team fewer than five games behind the Mariners in the Wild Card standings, and one other fewer than ten games. That second team, the Cleveland Indians, is also leading its division.

Of all the different Mariner seasons: undermanned, plucky group that stands just outside playoff contention. Spectacular, expensive, old, franchise-crippling failure. Losing season endured at the expense of Playing the Kids, and on, THIS Mariner season represents something so lost to time as to be basically new: The Blitzkrieg. The rapid, dominant, overpowering assault, followed by stockpiling provisions, shoring up supply lines, and praying that it all lasts long enough to ensure victory.

Regardless of where the Mariners are in late September, what happens between now and then is, for the people inside and outside of this organization, virgin, unspoiled territory. And that is a very exciting thought.

4) We are old. That is not a new thought, nor a new fact, but it bears repeating. It bears it because one of the byproducts of age is a narrowing of one’s emotional spectrum. Highs are lower, and lows higher. We imagine that much of the challenge of middle and old age will be trying to keep that spectrum from merging into a single line, but that is not the discussion for today.

Today is about what we want, and have always wanted: We want the next generation of baseball fans in this town to come into its own. Watching the Mariners of the mid to late 1990’s make the playoffs, and the region’s accompanying daily devotion to them, is still, decades later, the cornerstone of our entire fandom of all sports. We found heroes, we fell in love, we made relationships that survive to this day.

We were not alone in that. The powerful, intoxicating effect of those teams, combined with their early 2000’s brethren provided the momentum and voices that have kept Mariners fandom a largely enjoyable experience, despite all the Mariners baseball involved. It has been a long journey, with various factions and figureheads popping up, only to pass on the burden to the next group. For a short while, we carried the banner, and then had to lay it down. It was heavy and, frankly, smelled a bit. We figure Gary left it on the floor of his apartment and let his cat piss on it. That’s a total Gary move.

But now, finally, it’s time. The Mariners are good, one way or the other. The Maple Grove and other fan groups have provided a way for new fans to connect with each other and the team. Safeco Field stands poised to be a summer home for fans, new and old, to congregate and learn to love what we very truly believe to be the best game in the world.

It’s time to imagine. Look at a calendar, and circle October 2nd. Imagine the Mariners ending the Red Sox season in Fenway Park. Imagine watching it with your friends and family. Imagine filling Safeco for a viewing party. Imagine the first pitch. Imagine the final out. Imagine everything in between. Imagine sinking a frankly inadvisable amount of discretionary income into tickets for that first playoff game at Safeco. Imagine the pregame buzz in that place. Imagine trying not to cry.

This is not for us, and never has been. This is for Seattle, and for the future, and all the people who have never done this before. It has been long enough. It’s time, now. The Seattle Mariners are going to the playoffs. Have the summer of your lives, dear friends.

Go M’s.

 

James Paxton threw a no-hitter, and is still nicer than you

On the Mariners newest ace pitcher

1. This is a story of tears. Not mine, certainly. I was raised with the tired and foolish notion that tears show weakness. My emotions can get plenty stirred, but years of that foolish notion have dug a pretty deep pit for me to keep them, so it takes quite a bit of turbulence to get them so agitated and bubbly that they actually come out. When James Paxton threw the sixth no-hitter in Mariners history last night, I silently put my arms over my head. My wife patted me on the shoulder, and said congratulations. Then we went back to our game.

It’s not about your tears, either, and I don’t say that as a rebuke. There are approximately fifty million things about our world today that could bring a person to tears, and almost all of them also require us to avoid that actual release of emotion. They require us to protect ourselves. Baseball’s beautiful, simple stories provide a wonderful exception to that, and if you found yourself with wetness trickling down your face while watching Paxton and his teammates jump up and down on the mound well congratulations you’ve found a way to use sports in a potentially healthy manner. I’m envious, really.

But still, the tears in focus here, the ones that purchased last night’s history, are those of a kid in his backyard in British Columbia. He’s a pudgy guy, one of those kids on the playground who becomes “it” in tag and can never catch a classmate, growing increasingly red, sweaty, and embarrassed as they remain forever just out of reach until he either quits, or the bell frees him.

He’s in the backyard, and he’s running, and he’s tired.. He wants to play sports, and he’s committed to get in better shape. His mother, watching all this play out in front of her, goes out to tell him “James, honey, you can come inside. That’s enough.” But he stays, and he runs, and he hates it, and he’s crying. When I think about that kid, and his tears, and flash back to last night, and this:

Pax No no

Well let’s say a better man would at this point add his tears to the party. I won’t, but I get mighty close.

2. I’m the jackass who, years back, in an effort to make up a nickname equal parts catchy and biting, coined the “Dadgut” term for James. Over time I’ve realized how insecure James may have been about his non-typical for an a professional athlete physique, and the very real harm in the idea of body shaming. James may never have heard that nickname, and he almost definitely won’t read this but still, James, I’m sorry for that. That was wrong of me.

3. It’s hard to define when exactly the listening/viewing experience of a no-hitter goes from the casual, background noise of another evening at home to “holy shit everyone shut up no I will not turn it down go play in your room”, but in this case it was exactly when Kyle Seager threw out Kevin Pillar.

The impressive thing isn’t the stop. It’s not that the ball was hissing and spinning and hopping like a demon on that hateful turf, actually getting past Seager before he snatched it out of nowhere like Rose’s sister the bomber pilot grabbing the detonator at the beginning of The Last Jedi. It’s not even really the throw either, which he accomplished without pausing to even look at first base, trusting that a decade of fielding hundreds of groundballs every day had built in the necessary motor memory to make actually seeing his target an unnecessary indulgence. No, for me, the most amazing thing about that play is what happens between the stop and the throw.

Do me a favor here, and go lay on your stomach, and stretch one arm above your head. Are you doing it? I don’t know how if you’re reading this still but if so thank you. Now, I want you from that position to see how long it takes you to stand up and be ready to do something else.

Did you do it? Wow you’re very compliant I’ll ask for your social security number next time. Anyway, the point here is neither Seager’s stop nor his throw matter at all if he doesn’t exert some incredible, kung-fu Matrix-level nonsense getting from one to the other in the time it takes to snap your fingers. In Seattle we’re spoiled by third base greatness but given the context game situation and speed of runner that is just about as fine a play as you’ll see a third baseman make.

Seager said afterward if the ball had gotten past him he wouldn’t have been able to sleep, because Kyle Seager’s mechanism for greatness is not a press towards success, but an eternal, endless-runner style flee from failure. We are sympatico in that way. I love Kyle Seager.

4. As an American in 2018 the idea of national pride is a thing I view with increased cynicism. We are a nation in many ways at war with ourselves over who are, and who we want to be. As such the concept of being the first Canadian to throw a no-hitter on Canadian soil in the major leagues is an achievement difficult for me to fully grasp. The sight postgame of Paxton looking into the crowd, pointing at his maple leaf tattoo, was something I would and do scoff at when I see Americans do similar things. Perhaps patriotism is something best experienced from the perspective of an outside observer, because this, this felt pretty damn cool to see. The crowd loved it, James loved it, I loved it.

5. As he continues to write what is increasingly becoming a story very worth telling, the tale of James Paxton is going to come back to the first half of 2016, and a start in San Diego when he got hit to hell. 3 2/3 IP, 10 H, 8 R is not the kind of line you point to and say “that’s the birth of a star,” but it was. Paxton struck out seven, and walked one. His delivery, once a confused mishmash of half ideas and awkward pauses and springs, was smooth and unencumbered. His arm slot was slightly lower. His command was improved, and oh by the way, the threw one hundred miles an hour now.

Since that time, the only thing that has stopped James Paxton from being one of the ten best starting pitchers alive has been health. He has taken everything, the bad nicknames from bad bloggers, the speculation that he profiled as a reliever, the arduous journey from the University of Kentucky to the big leagues, losing out on a rotation spot at the beginning of 2016, and he has done what aces do. He has shoved. He has shoved, and so far this year the Mariners have shoved right along with him. He stands now as one of the American League’s best pitchers, fully formed, a looming terror for any opponent every fifth day. He has thrown a no-hitter. He has bought it all with tears, seen and unseen, and no one can touch him now.

Go M’s. Go James.

 

Breakfast & Biz 4/11/18 – The Work

Seattle’s silent superstar

The records are getting close to falling now. First, sometime in late July or early August, it will be most WAR at the position in franchise history. Or maybe it will be games at 2B. They will fall in close succession, and they will herald the coming of a blizzard of accomplishment and achievement that, when cleared, will cement what has been true since before he ever stepped foot on a field in a Mariner uniform: Robinson Cano is the greatest second baseman to ever play baseball in Seattle.

It has gone by so fast, and seemingly, so quietly. For a man coming from New York, with a contract worth nearly the amount we all vilified Alex for taking, so long ago, his presence is largely felt, rather than heard. He came with the jeers of Yankee fans at his heels, whispers of complacency, bordering on laziness. His second year here, tormented by a body and spirit in agony, his slow start led to the team’s first base coach blasting him in the media. “The worst third-place, everyday hitter I’ve ever seen.” In response, Cano was largely silent, until the season, when his official spokesperson, his bat, hit 39 home runs, the official statement on the matter.

Indeed, having been in Seattle for now nearly half of that massive contract, it is the stillness, and quietness, around Robinson Cano that marks him. Like his head at the plate, or the slow pause at second base on the turn, Robinson Cano himself seems to understand the idea of wasted motion and energy better than most. He is comported in the team’s clubhouse with a respect and status, for a roster often filled with players grasping desperately for the smallest amount of his success, borders on lordship. Whatever rumors of work ethic and effort that followed him here on poisoned tongues have long since washed away. “The Work” is one of baseball’s many equally revered and imprecise terms, and no one in Seattle puts in The Work like Robinson Cano.

Yesterday, Robinson Cano was fooled on a first pitch breaking ball. Out on his front foot just a touch, he would be easy for his hips to open early, his torso to turn, and his hands to guide his bat just millimeters higher than intended, rolling the ball over to second base. But Robinson Cano puts in The Work, and part of The Work is drilling to keep your hands, and weight, back. To slow down, and meet the ball where it’s at. Still head, still hands. Wait. Wait. Fire.

We say of other, more intimately beloved Mariners, “He is ours, and you cannot have him.” For Robinson Cano, soon if not now one of the ten greatest players to ever play here, and emphatically the greatest second baseman this franchise has ever known, it feels as though the current of that love has reversed. “The world lay before him, for his choosing. He chose us.” Halfway through our decade together we can’t say much more than, thanks Robbie.

Dome and Bedlam’s 2018 Mariner Predictions

Reasonably predictable predictions are found herein

The first year was 2007. Felix Hernandez, a week from being able to legally consume alcohol in this country, faced an Oakland lineup featuring, among others, Shannon Stewart, Mike Piazza, Jason Kendall, and Bobby Crosby.

Felix went eight innings, struck out twelve, and allowed no runs. The Mariners won 4-0.

The baseball season is a set of traditions and rhythms, and starting the year with Felix Hernandez stomping out to the mound as Seattle’s personal kaiju to lay waste to some other city’s helpless collection of humans has become something to check off the calendar every April. In 2009 it was Felix throwing eight and allowing only a run against the Twins. 2011 was a complete game, 108-pitch master class in efficiency against Oakland. 2012, eight more innings of one-run ball. 2014 was eleven strikeouts in only 6.2 innings against the Angels.

Year after year, seemingly with no end, an always preposterously ever-young Felix would welcome opposing teams to start their season as he turned Safeco into his own personal Area X. Teams would walk in wide-eyed, gaze in awe, and know that nature can create in ways more great and terrible than we can conceive. Then, whomp, the trap would spring, and out of the shadows would jump Felix’s horrors. ANNIHILATION.

Time and progress though, know no gods but themselves. Years, innings, injuries, and the Mariners themselves have worn Felix down. He has been supplanted by James Paxton, both in ability and in the hearts of Mariner fans. It is only by the very slimmest of margins, and by cashing in the very last credits of deference and respect that the current front office feels towards him, that he has earned one final Opening Day start. We as fans and the Mariners themselves stand upon a bridge between eras, with Felix on the shoreline, growing ever distant.

Below you will see the predictions of myself and the rest of Dome and Bedlam. The win totals and general outlook will be much bleaker than other Mariner fansites. It is, generally, more in tune with what you’ll see from projection systems, and the opinions of national writers/analysts with less of a personal stake in the team’s fortunes. It reads like we want failure, or that we don’t care. I get that, I really do. You’re a fan, and you want hope, excitement, a reason to feel like this season will be different.

I can’t give that to you. We will not give that to you. Dome and Bedlam is not a hype site, and for many of us saying something will happen that we don’t truly believe will happen is anathema to what we hold dear. The truth is as we see it the Mariners will probably need a large amount of good fortune to make the playoffs, and once-in-a-lifetime amount of luck to challenge for anything beyond the participation trophy that is the Wild Card playoff game.

What I can also tell you, what we can offer, is that, for at least one more year, Felix is toeing the rubber in the top of the first of Game 1 at Safeco Field. For that, in honor of that yearly tradition, of the familiar rhythm it sets in motion for our spring and summer, for Felix’s decision to stick with this team, city, and fanbase through it all we are here, ride or die, win or lose, to be a part of whatever happens to the 2018 Seattle Mariners with you.

Long live the King.

*****

Season Prediction in a Sentence

Andrew: Although the Mariners largely avoid the injury bug (somehow), the bullpen disappoints and the ravages of time continue to slowly errode the Seager+Cano+Cruz triumvirate.

Dan: Veterans with too much dropoff to offset the gains of the young players

Matt: They raised the beer prices at Hit It Here Again?!?

Nathan: The scene in Last Jedi where Rey is down in the Dark Side hole and there are thousands of reflections of her doing the same exact thing echoing through the eternity of time and space

SG:
Golden Knights

Weebs: Wait, what inning is it?

Skiba: The scene in Last Jedi where Yoda burns the tree and can’t stop laughing.

Woodsy: Is it college basketball season yet?

D&BPredicts

 

Episode 19 – Blood for the Blood God

Pulling a hammy together, as a family

Welcome, friends, to an extremely nineteenth episode of the Dome and Bedlam podcast. We talk about it briefly during the episode but I’ll re-state it here: This is our attempt to do the show a bit more regularly than, ah, once every other month or so. We’ll be keeping episodes shorter, tighter, and a bit more focused, but hopefully still provide the feel and flow of our show we think works, and makes for a fun listening experience.

As always, we really appreciate your feedback and thoughts/comments/insults over at the ol’ tweeter. Got it? Ok, on with the show.

****

Let’s catch up on injuries! Between last week and this, the Mariners have lost 3-4 players to injury including their presumptive fourth starter, their star second baseman and designated hitter. This, this is not good!

David, Scott, and Nathan talk about that, the free agent market finally shaking out a bit, and try to figure out what’s worse: Offering Jon Jay a three-year contract, choosing a 44-year old Ichiro over Jon Jay, or having a need for Jon Jay in the first place?

Additionally, we answer your questions, including trying to get to the bottom of the TRIDENT CURSE.

(Musical credits: Howard Ashman, Teenage Wrist)

As always, rate and FIVE STAR REVIEW us on iTunes here, and check us out at SoundCloud here. No, we aren’t really on anything else. Yes, we find technology confusing and threatening. Thanks again all!

 

Mariners re-sign Ichiro, insist they can juggle both work and family

“We can have it all”, swears team spokesperson

The Mariners, it would seem, are back. Not the Mariners organization, which has been stubbornly playing baseball games annually for over forty years now. Rather, what fans of a certain experience level and age think of as the capitalized, formal, “The Mariners”.

During the entire Jerry Dipoto Regime, we have been sold on a Grand Plan working towards some grand vision; a sort of seventy-five dimensional chess leading towards checkmating all the Friedmans, Lunhows & Epsteins that only the True Galaxy Brains could see. We’ve heard it over, and over, and over, how this team has rubric’d, and positive energy’d, and essential oiled its way from one of the worst farm systems into, erm, one of the worst farm systems and a major league roster with oodles of club control READY TO DISRUPT A $9 BILLION DOLLAR INDUSTRY.

I won’t go as far to say that after today that’s all over now. Jerry Dipoto is still the Mariners General Manager, and Andy McKay and Lorena Martin have barely had time to implement any of their ideas and philosophies. It’s foolish to try to guess the future, and far more so to try and predict it. But, faced with an offseason as pivotal as any in recent memory the Mariners have sat on their hands, and have only acquiesced to bolstering their depth after the fourth member of the hypothetical 25-man Opening Day Roster was lost to injury. To break their streak of near winter-long inactivity to acquire a 44-year old outfielder coming off a a 75 wRC+ and -0.2 fWAR is a comical, and definitive point: The 2018 Mariners are not serious about contending for a playoff spot. I have no insider information but I would frankly be shocked if this was a decision sprung from anyone in the Dipoto front office. This is a move catering to sepia-toned slideshows, begging for a voice over from James Earl Jones and directed by Ken Burns. It’s blatant, obvious, fan service.

And you know what? On a very real level I think it’s fantastic. Ichiro Suzuki is one of this organization’s five or six greatest players ever, and is probably only exceeded as an icon here by Ken Griffey Jr. That’s to say nothing of his status globally, where he is almost certainly the biggest star this franchise has ever had. The Mariners, that’s “The Mariners” again, have finally stepped out behind the mountainous pile of dung they’ve been flinging at fans for six months and gone for a straight, naked, common fan good will grab right through those fans’ hearts to their wallets. We’ve been crying for the Mariners just to do something fun, and this is indeed fun.

From a on-the-field perspective, well, there’s a few things to consider. The first is that Ben Gamel, whose injury likely was impetus for Ichiro’s return. like Ryon Healy before him, is probably not all that good even if healthy. If the oblique injury sidelines Gamel for longer than the 4-6 weeks currently projected, well, here is a thing for you to consider.

Last 215 major league plate appearances:

Ichiro Suzuku – 75 wRC+
Ben Gamel – 52 wRC+

Incredibly, despite the DECADES that separate their age, saying that Ichiro and Gamel are comparable defenders and baserunners may actually be too generous to GAMEL. Considering Guillermo Heredia’s rapid recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, Mitch Haniger having gone a full week without hurting himself, and Dee Gordon taking to centerfield in a promising manner, this will likely have a negligible impact on the won-loss record of the 2018 Mariners.

But the real takeaway is The Mariners are back, baby! In twenty-four days Ichiro, number 51 emblazoned in navy on the back of his pristine white home jersey, will step out onto the red walkway, and casually run out to an uproarious standing ovation from a gleeful sellout crowd. Hell, I just spent 500 words mostly making fun of this team and I may just change my plans to make sure I’m there among them.

Nothing about this news changes what we expect out the performance of the Mariners this year. But The Mariners have never been about capturing fans with success. We’ve all fallen in love with this stupid team for various different reasons, and we’re fortunate that baseball is a game that still allows enough space for those various reasons to co-exist.

We’d all love the Mariners to be poised to have breakout success in 2018, and it’s frankly fairly silly and, depending on your perspective, infuriating that instead they are dipping back into the safe, money-filled sea of nostalgia. But I’m choosing to be happy about it, and I can’t wait to see it. At a certain point, you realize most things in life have a healthy portion of love and hate mixed together. I’ve been hating on the Mariners all offseason. It’s time to find some of the love.

EE

CHEE

ROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

 

The Ball and The (Ever Moving) Stick

What do we root for, when winning means different things to different people?

(Ed’s note: WordPress is not cooperating but we would like to note that this piece is co-authored by Nathan Bishop and Matt Ellis)

During last Sunday’s Super Bowl, we were fortunate enough to share company with many old and dear friends. One of those friends brought a baseball, for reasons he could not explain when pressed. As has been the case our entire life when occupying space in close proximity to a baseball, we held it in our hand. We did so for long enough that others felt compelled to press us on why, and we confess it was for reasons that, we too, could not explain.

For every baseball player, we imagine it is variations on similar themes: At some point, somewhere as a small child a parent, sibling, friend, or relative put a ball of some kind in that child’s hand, took five or six steps back, and told them to throw. Most probably, without knowing how they knew how to do it, wound back and threw that ball with a kind of innate force and velocity that belies all instruction and training. After that, maybe it was a stick swung at a softly lobbed rolled up pair of socks. Or a toy truck at a balloon. From that tiny genesis springs forth the game’s rivers of life: Little League, travel teams, youth showcases, scholarships, academies, weighted ball training, and professional careers that earn wealth the likes of which has ruined the lives of many a Mega Millions winner.

At the beginning, though, we believe it is important to remember it was just a kid, throwing a ball, and swinging a stick.

*****

We have some thoughts on billionaires, and while we understand you probably don’t want to hear them, we hope that you will extend us that same fair share of understanding when we say we don’t really care. So here:

We do not begrudge anyone on this planet whatever form of wealth or plenty they manage to acquire during their short time in this dimension. What we do believe is that the mindset, and the actions that spring out of it, that leads to the acquisition of the kind of wealth of, say, a Carl Pohlad are almost universally not only not aligned with the fundamental, collective good of our fellow man, but diametrically opposed to it.

We believe that the primary skill of a billionaire lies in one of two areas:

  1. The exploitation of one of the great flaws of our modern age, and that is that there is more profit in the acquisition and marketing of greatness than there is in simply performing greatly.
  2. Being the child of a billionaire.

We believe that many billionaires do not think of themselves as evil, and often legitimately do not understand why the 99.9% of this world’s population’s increasing dependence on their altruism for things like health care, space exploration, and clean water is viewed as a bad thing by many. We believe Mariners’ owner John Stanton had a childhood dream of playing in the major leagues, just as we believe he truly thinks living somewhere where you run into Jeff Bezos at the grocery store, and see the founders of Microsoft playing tennis qualifies as “a fairly normal life.”

We believe that John Stanton believes this, because we believe almost all people believe themselves to be good, even if that illusion requires the insulation of gated communities, security forces, and the support of your fellow twenty-nine baseball owners as you drive your team, no, the community’s team that you profit off of, to what may very well be their seventeenth straight season without a postseason appearance.

We have many more things we believe about billionaires. We originally were going to list all of them through this section, but there is no point. The views you share on wealth and whether or not the vast preponderance of it being held by a comically small few qualifies as proof of liberty and opportunity or a hollow pyramid scheme with those same words functioning as nothing but good #branding will not be changed in any meaningful way by what we say here.

This is, largely, how we got here in the first place.

*****

In short: in an attempt to understand, and critique, the current wave of labor disputes in the MLB, it might be time to look beyond the language of “collusion.” This is not to say the owners have not engaged, or are currently not in any way engaging in collusion. The so-called Gentleman’s Agreement for one, was quite literally the definition of collusion, and the concept has been frequently invoked by the MLBPA since its founding in 1966. Clearly, it retains some analytic precision for those actually materially invested in labor struggles (i.e. those of us whose role in Major League Baseball encompasses more than swigging beer on the couch while yelling at Danny Valencia Ryon Healy).

The image of a smoke filled room inhabited by anthropomorphic pigs in top hats and monocles laughing as they devise a secret plan might have worked for early Soviet agitprop propaganda, as they traveled the post-revolutionary countryside in an attempt to distill the essence of global capitalism to the rural, heavily illiterate peasantry. But there are a number of problems with this: first, there is the fact that large swaths of the rural peasantry already kind of implicitly understood that they were being screwed, and second, that this simple yet effective image reduces the complexities of global capitalism into a problem with a clearly attainable solution: just get the dang pig and his stupid top hat!

Marx–whatever you think of him–understood capitalism to be something much more complicated: a machine, globalized. A period in material history undergoing continuous development, one which does not rely on the inherent “human nature” of agents and actors but rather through the machinations of the gears and levers which delimit all that it can, and will be able to, do.* In the first of his three-volume, ten-bazillion-page study on capitalism, Marx outlines his reading of the labor theory of value, which stands effectively in contrast to other theories of value which might sound familiar to our popular American understanding of economics.

It gets way more complicated when you bring in value in use and value in exchange, and I realize this is a baseball blog, after all so I’ll keep this brief. In short, we are fooled when we look at something we want to purchase–say a fancy, shiny car or a game-used replica Dustin Ackley jersey at the Mariners team store–and think wow that looks amazing it must be so expensive. You put a down payment on a home for the lamborghini, and shell out hundreds on the jersey because that’s just what those things are worth. But why is a game-used Dustin Ackley jersey $300 dollars? (spoiler: it isn’t).

To Marx, the value in a given commodity is indexed to the labor required for its production, including the labor required to produce the conditions under which that commodity was able to be produced in the first place (the factory where they individually packaged Northwest-Green replica #13 jerseys to sit unpurchased on the shelf, or if we will, Safeco Field itself). You can see where I’m going with this.

If we take the labor theory of value at its face, and argue that we fundamentally ignore its discovery in place of other theories of value focused on the lure of the object itself, then the historical development of contemporary market capitalism is fundamentally the reason why this labor crisis is happening. The owners don’t need to collude if the market rewards them for shedding payroll. As millionaires, Major League baseball players may be miles away from the economic realities you and I inhabit, but they nevertheless are key laborers in the production of Major League Baseball’s commodities. And not just major leaguers–the entire labor force that actually produces value for the league and owners here encompasses the minor leaguers subsiding on Top Ramen and the Robinson Canós of the world.

But a refrain of this sort has started to emerge in recent discourses about our perplexingly slow 2018 offseason. In one sense, we would argue well-meaning critiques of the league do a disservice to the real struggle which needs to be fought for the future of the game and the players which produce its value. Some have argued a player strike would damage the public face of the fight, while others have rightfully critiqued the MLBPA for its relative silence on the plight of minor leaguers. But we are lying to ourselves if we think that dealing with a class of owners who seek first and foremost to maximize profit and “balance” spreadsheets (an obvious echo here to politicians bemoaning the spiraling deficit while public institutions are rapidly privatized–one which we mostly see through arguably because baseball is more fun than congress) is one in which we can de-link the brutal exploitation of minor leaguers and the Major Leaguers whose value is being siphoned upwards more and more as this CBA marches towards its inevitable explosion in 2020. You can’t: for the death of what little power labor currently has–power which needs to grow and expand downwards to cover the minor leaguerswill irrevocably be eroded once we start calling for players to make “the right grievances,” or to stop “complaining” about arbitration. They may be millionaires, but whose interest would such tactics truly serve?

Indeed, the structure of baseball since the institutionalization of its current form around the turn of the century is one in which the labor of the players versus the interests of the owners has constantly been in struggle. And while it is true that players today, thanks to the Marvin Millers and Curt Floods in history, have been able to regain some ground in this struggle of appropriation–the market is changing itself in response to the growing threat of labor power in much the same ways political theorists such as David Harvey have noted the entire global market began changing in the 1970s when faced with similar paradigm shifts.

No, rather than conceive of this large free agent class two days before pitchers and catchers report as the result of a backroom poker game between Thomas Ricketts and Arte Moreno, we should instead look to a number of historical, economic, and indeed on-field events as key constitutive factors in producing this backlog. We all praise Billy Beane and watched the movie, perhaps even read the book. We watched as Jack Zduriencik abandoned spreadsheets with disagreeable fonts and chased right-handed power hitters, and we begged for the man to look at the new data that was frustratingly available to seemingly half the league. Hell, we all did.

At the time, the stats revolution seemed like a positive development for fringe players possessing skills that the system had deemed useless, or at the very least, inefficient. But while the popular myth of moneyball narrativizes the fight of the tight-pocketed owner versus the #disruptor GM of #innovation, we should look back on this period of history with one single, operative question: whose interest did this revolution truly serve? Indeed: moneyball emerged in part as a response to a constitutive problem of an owner refusing to give his GM more money to field a winning team. It was, in effect, a capitulation that sought band-aids rather than antibiotics.

So while we can laugh at the absurdity of Albert Pujols being paid a quarter-of-a-billion dollars to be the worst player in baseball (and to be clear, it is funny), we should also remember he was being paid $200,000 in a season in which he earned 7.1 fWAR for the St. Louis Cardinals in a decade in which he was, arguably, one of the two best baseball players on the planet. The next season, Billy Beane infamously signed Scott Hatteberg and his fucked-up elbow for $950,000 and he immediately put up a season that ranks right up with the best of Pujols’ entire tenure with the Angels. We can point to this division, and we should also ask what it means that we fans can seemingly only conceive of “value” as a metric of on-field performance in the aggregate, rather than the amount of profit each player produces for the league, their teams, and the requisite owners.

But most of all we should remember that all three of these men–Albert Pujols, Scott Hatteberg, and John Stanton–arguably spent long periods of their childhood holding baseballs like the rest of us, dreaming first as fans, tossing them back and forth into makeshift gloves with glee, or swinging sticks in the air. All three of them, arguably, love the game and each want to “win” in their own way, and each feels they have (or had) something useful to contribute to the process. But “winning,” arguably, means something very different to two of these men than the other.

The Mariners want to win. But ask yourself what that word really means.

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“But all methods for the production of surplus-value are at the same time methods of accumulation; and every extension of accumulation becomes, conversely, a means for the development of those methods. It follows therefore that in proportion as capital accumulates, the situation of the worker, be his payment high or low, must grow worse.” from “The General Law of Capitalist Accumulation,” in Marx, Karl. Capital Vol 1, pp. 799.