A product of thoughtful consideration (and content quotas!), I’ve begun email exchanges with a variety of luminaries across a range of professions and interests. This is hardly true. There is something to be said, however, about the implications of form qua blog and the enacting of discourse, but I won’t say it because it’s mostly doodoo. Academic and grounded in…something, but doodoo nonetheless. With that resounding endorsement, I present to you the first installment of The Crossover.
Dude, I’m only kind of into the Mariners. I said it. Or I wrote it. Or whatever. It’s out there. There are pangs of guilt and all. But I can’t bring myself to do it anymore. I love being a shameless fan of pretty much everything (Lebron, mahjong, froyo), but I think I’ve found my limit—or at the very least, I’m awfully fucking close to it. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s awesome that they’re much better than they’ve been in a long time (and of course it had to happen the year the AL West wasn’t a fucking pig sty). But frankly, it’s hard to get excited about simply not sucking.
My floating apathy has made it so I’ve watched precisely and only one inning of Mariners baseball pretty much all season (sure I’ve skimmed a few games, even saw that one live that they lost, but nothing close to the pitch-by-pitch, frame-by-frame intensity of this last game).It was the 9th inning of the game against the New York Mets on Tuesday night.
Bottom of the inning: the first M up to the plate Kyle Seager grounds out easily to the first-baseman. Been there. Done that. Now Kyle Seager is one of six dudes on the Mariners I could name or pick out of a line up. At this point, my hopes have been dashed so many times, I can’t even muster the strength to put names to constant revolving door of faces that is the Mariner’s lineup in recent years.
Down 3-1 in the bottom of the ninth, somehow a tying run gets to first. Somehow. Something tingles inside of me. I see a dude with an upside-down fedora on his head, and what are certainly Microsoft bros doing some kind of jig to get on the jumbo screen. It seems like a classic American baseball moment—the kinds that scream Underdog and Self-Reliance. I allow myself to get invested.
Then the dude with the wicked cool white beard at the plate for the M’s grounds to the pitcher (the pitcher!) who swings it to the second baseman who swings it to first. Double play. Game over.
Vindication of suspicion. Festering betrayal. And now we’re here.
I was recently having a conversation with Owen who is probably one of about 4 people I know who still labors under the masochistic delusion that the Mariners might someday be good. It takes a special kind of internal fortitude to care deeply about a team that has been godawful for so long without so much as hinting towards improvement in the meantime. Note that the context of this conversation is the Mariners’ recent reacquisition of Kendrys Morales, a DH who is playing poorly for Minnesota following a contract holdout who turned down a qualifying offer from the Mariners this past offseason and also expressly stated that he had zero interest staying in Seattle and signing an extension. People really hate playing baseball here.
In bullet form below are some of the comments that I think are more or less indicative of Mariners’ fandom at large:
- We just traded for fucking Kendrys Morales
- I’m going down with this ship (to the moon!)
- But I won’t put my hands up and surrender. There will be no white flag upon my door, I’m in love and always….will be
- I’m Mother Teresa, I get off on the weak and pathetic—come die with us Kendrys
- I heard we are calling up Chris Taylor
- The more the merrier!
- Let’s see Felix tomorrow
- Sounds good I think I already have tickets if not let’s go ahead and buy them because after all, we are white
- The color of Kings!
- And prophets
- Lost Prophets
- Last Train Home
I would say that pretty much runs the gauntlet of Mariners fandom with a quick nod to white privilege and the Pacific Northwest at-large in the end there.
What has been sort of incredible about the Mariners is their consistent ability to put solid pitching staffs together without any real success in terms of wins. Pitchers are considered a volatile commodity in baseball and that consideration has been largely validated in light of the recent rash of elbow-injuries that has more or less decimated the “next wave” of great pitchers.
The Mariners have developed multiple arms that have proven to be effective, durable big-league players and despite this advantage over several other organizations who haven’t sniffed the kind of consistent success generated by pitchers coming up with or acquired by the Mariners (Fister, Vargas, Felix, Iwakuma, Taijuan Walker, Roenis Elias, etc.), we have not been able to parlay this organizational strength into wins as it is offset by a near-mythic weakness.
What has hurt the Mariners is their inability to do what many other organizations take for granted: develop young high-talent position players. There has been almost no way to explain this decade-long trend save to perhaps chalk it up to wacko pagan superstition or blame the ballpark (which is nonsense, the spacious outfield in Safeco actually should be a great place to hit for guys willing to adopt a reasonable, line-drive approach and the power alley in right is hardly so far away as to not work for guys trying to hit for reasonable amounts of power. Kyle Seager is on pace to hit for just shy of 30 dingers and he is not a big or imposing figure by any stretch of the imagination and oh by the way his middle name is Deurr). The reality is that, for whatever reasons, solid fast-rising minor-league performers have been called up to the Mariners to die—their only real chance for healthy, productive careers being basically predicated upon a move to another, more God-fearing organization.
White guilt might be favorite part of interacting with Seattlites on the whole. Love the bulleted list—bonus points for demonstrating visual acuity!
(See! I’m doing it again! Dammit, have I become the Pharrell Williams of sports blogging—too happy with everything!)
I am ardently sympathetic to loving teams that don’t love you back. Mine left me. Or should I say, was stolen from me, 19th century Peshawar-style stole my betrothed. As if it were my fault that I somehow miscalculated the overly complicated agrarian-collective-bargaining-agreement dowry system. I mean, doesn’t five chickens seem equitable to three sheep to you??
Anyhow, I’m still scaling the peaks and spelunking the caverns of the Torabora-like landscape of my fandom. As of late, I feel like I’m over compensating. I mean I really, really, really got into the Phoenix Suns this season. Unreasonably so. To the point that when they lost their second to last regular season game against the Memphis Grizzlies (falling out of playoff contention), I felt personally scorned. For days, I shit on the Eastern Conference. I fucking love the Eastern Conference. I’ve shown time and time again, I can’t help it. I have Stockholm syndrome, and Marcin Gortat is my captor:
With 48 wins, the Suns would have been the third seed in the East! Everyone thought they were tanking. They weren’t supposed to be that good. Correction. They were supposed to be terrible. They’re rolling out two point guards: one who can’t shoot and one who’s European. Gerald Green is their “sparkplug.” Channing Frye is coming off a season off due to open heart surgery. Who’s P.J. Tucker? Which Plumlee is that again? How do you tell Marcus and Markieff apart when they have the same tattoos?!?! These were the Lost Boys of the NBA and Hornacek was Peter Pan—it might as well have been magic! The Suns finish the season with the 9th best offense and the 10th worst defense. They tried hard, and it somehow seemed to work!
Maybe it’s precisely due to the blindsiding whirlwind with which the Suns entered my life that I fell so head over heels for them. In some ways, it wasn’t so different from the last great Seattle Supersonics season, 2005. Talk about a franchise that didn’t hang its hat on sustained excellence…
Coming off a 37-win season—which wasn’t terrible considering the roster and that they had posted the third best offense—the Sonics somehow exploded for a “salty” 52 wins, and a third seed in the West. The roster: Ray #JesusSaves Allen and Rashard #AmnestyKing Lewis, the second highest scoring duo that season (behind none other than Gilbert Arenas and Larry Hughes, baby! Man this was weird time in the NBA…) and most recently spotted singing backup vocals for the King and his Court on South Beach. Luke Ridnour the boy wonder. Reggie Evans, I’m fairly certain is a Pokemon. Jerome James, most famous for the fast one he pulled on Isaiah Thomas the greater New York metropolitan area. Danny Fortson, the Enforcer LOL. Antonio Daniels, the Popovich-schooled sage. Vladimir Radmonovic, who couldn’t miss a three all season and was my introduction into high-integer jersey numbers (#77). Vitaly “lay the lumber” Potapenko. Nick Collison, last seen digging a shallow grave for himself in the hard Oklahoma country. And the greatest glue-guy of all time: Mateen fucking Cleaves. There were some Robert Swifts in there and a nephew of Dominique Wilkins but whatever.
Seriously though, writing that just sent me back to freshman year of high school, sitting cross-legged on my bed listening to untelevised games (which there were quite a few of because they were supposed tot be terrible) on my alarm clock radio. My alarm clock radio! Jesus, who was I?
Xbox, play ESPN.
Suffice to say, I’m utterly familiar with holding out hope. That singular aberrational season, at one point in my life, deluded me into thinking: “Yeah, that Johan Petro/Mikhael Gelabale/Mohammed Sene/any other Sonics-drafted foreigner is ahelluva potentially game-changing prospect, bro!”
Shades of that one ever weirder season—shortly after a decade of good Sonics ball—that teamed up a 32-year old Gary Payton with a 38-year old Patrick Ewing (only his penultimate season playing in the Association!).
Seriously, let’s never forget that this was a thing:
That was the season Nate Macmillan was promoted to head coach after a 6-9 start. They actually won 44 games that season, but missed the playoffs. Maybe they were more like the Phoenix Suns…
It was Desmond Mason’s rookie year and there bears a lot of resemblance to Gerald Green:
I’m pretty sure I had a point here before I went .gif hunting.
It was probably that 13 years is long fucking time to go without even a glimmer of hope. In my mind’s history of things, I generally characterize the Sonics as being a pretty bad team, but that isn’t really true. At least they gave us something to root for every few years.
Does this mean the Mariners are due for a big one?
No. The Mariners are not due for anything because in baseball there is no semblance of enforced parity and the illusion of benefit provided by the draft doesn’t really fool anybody anymore.
In basketball you can suck your way into being a good team. It happens all of the time. The 76ers have consecutively drafted 2 project big men coming off major surgeries with absolutely zero expectations regarding their immediate contribution. Actually, that isn’t even correct. They did have expectations regarding the aforementioned-and-now-named Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid. They expected neither of them to contribute at all. The 76ers did not draft Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid despite their injuries, they drafted those players because they were hurt.
And why not? The 76ers understand exactly what the score is in the NBA. With a fairly strict cap and some extremely complicated logistics regarding trades (where players are moved like cattle from team to team over and over again despite any real value due purely to the fact that they have a cap number that allows them to match up with a trading partner’s asset’s salary), the quickest path to success in the NBA is the path that would at first glance seem the most ponderous—developing high-upside and talent.
I love the New York Knicks. They were the first basketball team I cared about and when the Sonics got pulled out from underneath me, they were the only team in the NBA that I had left to cling to. The Knicks are a blueprint about what not to do in the NBA. James Dolan is a drunken fuck-wad of a human being whose face is perpetually fixed in the stubble-clad rictus that seems to simultaneously project a kind of leud impertinence, a fierce impatience, and a lack of the kind of mental firepower which would be required to reign in either prior impulse.
His body’s presence in this universe being an abuse of the space it occupies, Dolan’s swelling girth and ever-swarthier features are simply an exaggeration of that abuse—a fact that now lends my perception of him a unique sort of disdain usually reserved for highly-televised white-collar criminals, a profound, deep yet somewhat passive disapproval and smoldering hatred founded in both expectation and hardwired bourgeoisie disgust that is inextricably tied to discovering a billionaire is an idiot whilst simultaneously assuming that they should fucking know better.
James Dolan does not want to build through the draft. James Dolan doesn’t give a fuck about the draft. James Dolan thinks that free agency is a quick fix. Free Agency is quick but it doesn’t fix a hell of a lot. As a rule, teams should do what Dolan does not do in the NBA. The 76ers know this. Sam Presti knows this. So when the 76ers draft Joel Embiid, they see more than the project that he is as a player. They see the opportunity to grab a high-upside talent that they can develop along with the added bonus that his initial limitations will keep them out of the mediocrity doldrums. It is good to suck in the NBA. It is crippling to be average.
Baseball doesn’t work this way. Baseball doesn’t give a fuck about your rules. Salary cap? Lol. There is a luxury tax (sort of) that teams are trying a bit harder to avoid (as there is now a stipulation that teams are charged a greater penalty for being over the luxury tax multiple years consecutively) but it isn’t that big of a deal and most teams fall well below it. The difference in payrolls between a team like the A’s and a team like the Dodgers is astronomical. Baseball is less about the matching of salaries and more about the gravitas of a franchise and the amount of money a team is willing to pay. The Mariners signed Robinson Cano because they were willing to pay 40 million dollars more than anyone else. There was no cap number to work with, it wasn’t a matter of Robbie getting multiple “max” offers and choosing from among them based on location, strength of the franchise, etc. Robbie went to Seattle because we backed a truckload of guaranteed cash into his lap over a ludicrous ten-year deal that pays him more than Lebron is paid now until he is 40 years old even if he were to break his leg in half and never even watch a baseball game on TV for the rest of his life. Note that this number is also representative of his base salary and does not consider some of the incentives and performance escalators built into the deal that are often underreported because cosmically, who fucking cares.
So you see that Free Agency is a cluster-fuck where a team can buy their way into contention. Every team cannot do this however. The Dodgers seem to have at least 5 guys on their team making more than 100 million dollars over the next 5 years. It goes without mentioning that the A’s cannot and do not have similar resources at their disposal, seeing as they are still posting the lowest attendance in baseball despite possessing the best record in the league.
If we switch gears to operate from the NBA perspective, we can point to clever drafting as a solution, but in baseball, the draft is more or less worthless unless you luck out with a Strasburg or a Trout, but even then, Mike Trout was drafted among the last 10 picks of the first round of his draft. Baseball players are never proven entities until they have played and performed well in the major leagues for multiple seasons. Baseball is too difficult and too unique of a sport for someone’s physical talents to mask other aspects of their game that lack refinement.
A guy can have Lebron’s strength and Usain Bolt’s speed and still never amount to anything. It happens all the time though with less hyperbolic comparisons. Carlos Peguero was a Mariners prospect who could hit a baseball about as hard as I have ever seen a guy hit a baseball. Carlos Peguero was and remains fucking terrible, and the last time he was in the headlines involved his wife going on an online shopping spree with Felix Hernandez’ wife’s credit card.
All of the aforementioned issues are compounded by the fact that only American players are eligible to be drafted in baseball at all. Ever notice that there are many players in the league with names like Carlos? Yasiel? Masahiro? Most of these players were never subjected to the draft process and were instead offered the opportunity to choose their own organization to play for since, you know, it is their fucking career. (Small exception to be made for Japanese players. Though, in the new posting system, a team need only bid the maximum 20 million in order to negotiate with the player in question, which makes the process identical to true free agency albeit with a pay-to-play element that eliminates some of the less serious names from competition)
These players are subject only to restrictions that have recently been put in place regarding international signing bonuses. That being said, these restrictions are flimsy and do little to change the landscape. High-profile teams are therefore in the driver seat to land international free agents based on the strength of their international popularity as well as the iconic nature of the franchise itself. That is why a guy like Yasiel Puig is far more likely to end up in Los Angeles then say, Minnesota. It is fucking cold in Minnesota and if you were a guy who just defected from Cuba you are not going to want to go play in the cold in front of small crowds for less money—not when Los Angeles is off to the West throwing dollars at players like its Magic Fucking Mike. A similar statement can be made for the Yankees, whose storied franchise is often on the tip of young international player’s tongues as they offer the kind of panache and international celebrity that any young, insanely talented man dreams of.
The result is that the MLB is more of a “rich get richer” kind of league, lacking some of the parity of the NBA or NFL. That being said, allowances have to be made in regards to the successes of low-budget phenoms such as the Oakland A’s or, to a lesser extent, the Tampa Bay Rays. These teams lack both the appeal of a high-profile destination and the backing of crazy-rich owners. Despite this, Oakland has found success by targeting undervalued assets buried within asset-rich organizations. Baseball teams are unique to basketball and football teams by virtue of the fact that they function as much larger organizations with several minor league affiliates under their direct control. The result is a wealth of assets in each organization that can at times become either overlooked or simply lack a place in the vision of an organization.
The A’s get a lot of kudos for player development, but their true strength lies in targeted scouting of existing undervalued assets in deep organizations. That is why when the A’s are linked to a guy like the Mariners’ Nick Franklin, it makes a lot of sense. Nick Franklin plays second base and is blocked for the next 10 years by Robinson Cano. He has consistently shown that he cannot play Shortstop at the major league level but he is young and has a highly projectable bat with some impressive power given his diminutive frame. Franklin has a good chance of being a solid major league player, but he has no place on the Mariners. Enter the A’s, they realize the positional issues with Franklin and identify him as an asset. Further, by recognizing that the Mariners have to trade him at some point in time to derive any value from him (he will not replace Cano) they ensure that they have all of the leverage in any ensuing negotiations. That is why the A’s never seem to give up anything to get the guys they do. They look for overabundances of positional talent within an organization and negotiate aggressively with trade partners that lack any real leverage.
The Mariners aren’t like the A’s. We are a bad organization run by bad people operating in the middle ground between the big boys who just make it rain on free agents and the clever guys who maximize their assets as well as the assets of others. We either need Paul Allen to swoop in and start throwing scrillions at guys or a new front office with more maneuverability and less interference on the part of ownership. We lack these things presently. That being said, we are playing pretty well now so whatever maybe we turned it around.
Hmmm. That was the clearest explanation of off-season baseball I’ve ever encountered, and I have tried maybe a dozen times to figure it out over the years. The “Magic Fucking Mike” metaphor is almost certainly what drove the point home.
Acquisitions and franchise structure in the MLB seem to oddly resemble the structure of a lot of soccer leagues (enter a healthy dose of nationalism juxtaposed with that game that they use their feet in that we just refuse to call football though, literally, everyone else in the world calls it that).
There are clearly issues with the way baseball teams conduct business (looking at you Jack!), but if they have something right on the whole, it’s got to be in player development. I’ve been thinking a lot lately on how the NBA is doing it (and I’m working on a piece now that’s got some ideas).
Perhaps it boils down to talent. History has proven you can’t win an NBA championship without a top ten (maybe 15) player. The game of baseball inherently diffuses talent across the park, and this results in (overblown) underdog movies starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. I’m no expert, but I’d venture to say the talent disparity between a Mike Trout and Toronto Blue Jays Triple-A MVP Ryan Goins is not nearly as steep as the one between Lebron James and NBA D-League MVP Othyus Jeffers.
That is probably a pretty obvious goddamn statement, but it’s almost 4,000 words later. It’s been an interesting ride, for sure. That said, I kinda like this format.
Thanks for trying out the experiment, Joey. We’ll do it again soon.
And, reader, if, defying logic, you are indeed out there: God bless your eternal soul.