By Outsider Steve
Something just dawned on me while I was writing this piece about the wheels coming off of the 2011 Seattle Mariners. An epiphany really, those do not happen very often, but right in the middle of a thought, it hit me like a bat to the forehead (sorry Nick Franklin). The wheels have completely come off this franchise, and it’s now sitting atop of concrete cinder blocks in some dank back alley.
How the hell did this happen so fast? Seriously! Wasn’t it just ten years ago that we were in the midst of the best stretch of baseball in Franchise history, with 393 wins, and two LCS appearances in four years? I remember telling a good friend of mine at the time, the days of 90+ loss seasons were over for good. Even if the Mariners were to have a losing season, it wasn’t going to be anything worse than 82 losses. That was back in 2002 after the A’s caught the Mariners in September. I was 22 at the time and feeling a little good about our baseball team. Flash forward now, I am 30-years-old and a father of a four-year-old (good god am I old), and still feeling the sting of 478 losses spread out over five losing seasons since 2004.
Anyways, sorry about that rant. This team has that kind of effect on me. As I was saying about the Mariners being on cinder blocks, I’m going to take you back to a time when the Seattle Mariners bought their first new car. I think everyone can relate to this. It’s stepping out as an adult for the first time; making that financial commitment. It’s scary as hell, but in the end you know it will be worth every penny. The same can’t be said for the Mariners. They couldn’t afford to buy a new car, and they knew it. Sometimes people make rash decisions to fix a situation they are in at the time, and it’s completely understandable. Most people actually do their homework before making a huge purchase, but not the Mariners. They bought their new vehicle purely on hype, and it’s a shame too. Can you imagine what would’ve been had they started off on more of a practical foot? They would’ve had a much smoother ride.
It’s a good thing when someone purchases a new car. The best part about buying a new car is all the goodies that go along with it, the new car smell, all the gadgets, and let’s not forget the fake leather upholstery. That’s what Seattle was talked into buying back in 1977; a Ford Pinto. No matter how hard the Mariners friends kept telling him he had bought a Lemon, the Mariners were convinced they had a gem. The Mariners realized quickly though that his prized Pinto started to fall apart. He started having radiator issues, a starter here and alternator there. Pretty soon his timing belts started to go and it wasn’t long before the Mariners had to take it into the shop to have it fixed; the 70’s and 80’s.
It’s a funny thing when somebody tries to put lipstick on a pig. You have to give the mechanic credit though; he put some really good parts underneath the hood of that pinto. The mechanic put in an Edgar Martinez, a Jay Buhner, an Omar Vizquel, and even a Tino Matinez for good measure. He swapped out an old spark plug, Mark Langston, for a new one, Randy Johnson. When the Mariners took their Pinto home from the shop, they took it to a nearby car stereo shop and outfitted that Pinto with the newest, shiniest stereo they could buy, Ken Griffey Jr. Can you imagine the Mariners driving down First Avenue in that Pinto blaring Naughty BY Nature out of the windows in 1991-92? That would be a funny picture to see, as I was saying though; you can only fix a car so many times before it gets long in the tooth. The good news for the Mariners was that they got a raise at work in 1990 and they began saving for a new car. They knew it was only a matter of days, months, or years before that Pinto would be found dead on the shoulder of I-5 with a blown head gasket.
It only took them 16 years, but in December of 1992 the Mariners decided it was well overdue, and bought a brand new Ford Taurus, Lou Pinella. Before they decided to scrap that Pinto, they brought it to that same mechanic who then took all those new parts and put them into that brand new Taurus. What a sweet ride that was to the Mariners. Finally the Mariners could strut a little in front of all his AL West friends. Do you know what the best part is about owning a Taurus? It’s dependability. No matter how good your life is (’95 and ’97) or how bad (’94, ’98, and ’99), you will never have to worry about car breaking down on you.
It is amazing how things in life sneak up on you. Sometimes you receive things because you earned them. On other occasions sometimes you receive things because you’re just damn lucky. To this day I still don’t know how the Mariners got that promotion (Safeco Field), but they did. I’m still convinced there were some back door shenanigans going on. In any case, with that promotion came a fat raise and that trusty Taurus was no longer needed. Can you imagine showing up to your new gig and parking a Ford Taurus in a spot designated for the VP? I know right. You know how it goes in the corporate world; you have to look like you have been there before. The Mariners traded in that dependable Taurus for a sleek and sexy Cadillac, Pat Gillick. We all know what happens when someone pulls up in a brand new Caddy. We collectively rise are thumbs up, let out a whistle, followed by the standard “she’s a real peach”. Okay so maybe I’m the only one that does that, but the Mariners all of a sudden became very dapper. The new standard of excellence, they became the envy of all their friends, and for good measure too. Hadn’t they Mariners paid their dues? Things were starting to look up for the Mariners. You had the sense that all the troubles of the past were in the rear view mirror.
As I mentioned earlier, the best thing about a Ford Taurus is its dependability. Well, that all changes when that Taurus is ten years old and had been sitting for pasture. The spark plugs don’t fire off correctly, the transmissions timing is all out of whack. The car runs, but it’s nothing close to the reliability of the Cadillac. The problem with that particular Taurus was you had no idea if the damn thing would blow upon you or would not start for you. The sad part about that Taurus was all the parts were just too old. That mechanic, who knew how to make your last Taurus really go, moved his shop to Tampa. The Mariners all of a sudden became very irrational and spontaneous. They were stuck with an unreliable mode of transportation that constantly needed a tune up. They were throwing money at that car left and right. No matter much money they tried to throw at a problem, nothing got fixed.
That ten-year-old Taurus was the worst thing that ever happened to the Mariners. They knew it too, but unfortunately pride will never let the Mariners actually admit that out loud. In the fall of 2008 the Mariners had what alcoholics call “a moment of clarity”. They looked back at all their good times in the 1990’s and the early 2000’s, and realized a truth. It doesn’t matter what car you drive, all that’s important is if that car is reliable, dependable, and gets the job done. At that point the Taurus had broken down, so the Mariners hopped on a Metro bus and headed to a dealership and bought exactly that, a piece of solid American dependability; a Chevy truck, Jack Zdureincik.
In the end, reliability and dependability is exactly what I think will get the Mariners what they really desire, a World Series title. Knowing you have that steady rock behind the wheel, Eric Wedge, is important as well. Needing the direction and the ability to have the patience to see it though is so crucial nowadays. I think that the Mariners have learned their lessons. I don’t see them repeating the mistakes from their past. It would be too costly. Their reputation and credibility is so shot that repeating mistakes would bring a death sentence. Then again you never know with Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong running around. When something that resembles desperation creeps in, those two freak out and desperately try and fix things. The problem with that is they do it cheaply and we are left with a Pacer, or a Gremlin. Let’s hope those days are well behind us. Because if they aren’t, well, let’s just hope they are..