13-2: Ignorance

So we find the Seattle Mariners…

(Photo Credit AP/Orlin Wagner)

I would challenge that most of you reading this knew, no matter the fun you had last summer as the Mariners rocketed into Wild Card position, and even provided the briefest and mildest eclipse of the Astros’ white-hot divisional dominance, that eventually divisional equilibrium would be restored. You knew that a formula built on a paper-thin rotation and hole-filled lineup somehow always getting a 1-2 run lead to its generational closer couldn’t last. Maybe you didn’t see the A’s coming (how can we not see the A’s coming, after all these years?), but you knew it, on some level, it wasn’t going to happen. Even though I myself gave in and announced it was time for the Mariner to make the playoffs, it felt more like a shrugging recognition of mathematical probabilities than any true belief in the team itself.

The truth now is that, after winning today’s game against Kansas City 7-6 with their pants over their heads the entire game, I have no idea what I believe about this team, and after spending a good decade and a half trying to view the game and team through a perspective that seeks to better understand it, that looks at the sport as a code to crack, I’m overwhelmingly happy to live in this ignorance. The truth is that, while searching for understanding can be deeply rewarding and enjoyable, knowing things, in my experience, often kind of sucks; doubly so when that knowledge is that your team is going to eventually fall short yet again.

So we find ourselves with the Seattle God Damn Mariners, who are 13-2, the second AL team to start with such a record in 30 years. No one, including very specifically the Mariners themselves, had the slightest expectation, plan, or belief that anything remotely close to this could happen. This lack of expectation, the joy that is intrinsically and very especially tied to happy surprises, is the magic touch everyone within 200 miles of this organization needed. This thing that has happened, this oh-holy-shit-these-stupid-idiots-won-again-somehow feeling is the very molecular center of what made so many of us fall in love with the game in the first place.

There’s something to this, and if you’ll forgive a little axe-polishing over here, I want to try and talk about it. You see, the history of the last 10-15 years of baseball have been about one thing, and one thing primarily: The quest to understand the game to better predict, control, and thus capitalize upon it. Outside of a few hobbyist-turned-front-office employees, the sabermeteric revolution has done little to advance the game for the only two sets of people in baseball who matter: The players, and the fans. You may be part of a very small subset of people who enjoys knowing that Aaron Judge’s average launch angle has increased 1.5 degrees since last year, and if so god bless go with grace, but understand you’re a rarity. No, the advancement of understanding in the game of baseball has been used as a cudgel to maximize certainty, and certainty attracts investors, and investors are the kinds of people willing to sit out free agent markets for years at a time so that a kid from Latin America whose entire family and community depend on his athletic gifts providing food and housing has to agree to a tiny fraction of his value at the height of his peak abilities.

The stockholder, Wall St, venture capitalist-mindest has subsumed the games higher levels; so much so that at the Mariners pre-season media luncehon Jerry Dipoto spoke about putting the team in position for “launch” during the 2021 season, as though they were a new iPhone model. These methods and concepts have no connection to the mindset that made us fall in love with the game. And without love, fandom is an empty, bleak experience.

So again we have this gift, these idiot Mariners with gloves taped backwards on the wrong hands, huffing sweatily around the bases, collectively praying their over-30 leg tendons do not pull or tear in the effort. These glorious, incomprehensible, 13-2 morons who do nothing but bash home run after home run, at rates heretofore unseen in the history of the sport. They are the team we need, the team the whole sport needs.

I’m willing to bet in your heart you didn’t believe in the 2018 Seattle Mariners. You probably don’t really believe in the 2019 Seattle Mariners either, and that’s okay. Goodness knows I’ve worn the skeptic cap with this franchise to rags the past few years. But I’m going to tell you something true, and I’m going to tell it to you because it’s both different than what I would have said any other time this decade, and the exact opposite of what I would have said two weeks ago:

Are the Mariners going to make the playoffs? My friends, I have absolutely not the slightest clue, and neither does anybody else, including the people who built this team. That makes me as happy a fan as I can remember being.

goms

gobiz

8-2: The Mariner Won Today

Congrats on correctly predicting this, no one

Photo credit: Matt Marton / AP

The Mariners won today, 9-2. I’d love to tell you how that happened in detail but I couldn’t watch, and also there’s no particular reason for this roster to win any game on any particular day. So how did the Mariners win today? Well brother and sister, you tell me. I know It’s by and large a lot more dingers from a variety of guys the Mariners either acquired because they had to in order to get rid of someone expensive they didn’t want, or guys that were so bad last year they were hanging around the MLB clearance rack, snot-covered from over eager baby hands smeared all over him.

What I really know is the Mariners should have probably lost and instead, like eight of their first 10 games, they won. Because of the way this team has historically been, and the way I very much am, I want to use that to talk to you about depression.

(What a seamless transition!)

“Depression lies” is a phrase I hear a lot when talking about mental health. I’m sure that in many circumstances it can be true. For myself I’ve always felt that depression, by which I mean that feeling that sucks any ability to engage, share, or facilitate emotional experience with either myself or the people in my life who need me to be emotionally present straight through my nostrils and dumps it in a fat puddle on the floor for up to weeks at a time is the byproduct of too little lying. The truth is, looking around at the state of things, we probably shouldn’t be happy, and any unchecked mental push towards that reality without some built in fail safe distractions, or mild self-deceptions can lead us too far down a path most of us aren’t really meant to go down.

I’m more fortunate than most, but I have plenty of my own baggage. I got married far too young, and had children before I should have. I’ve been, in the past, extremely poor with my financial management and responsibility. I’ve abused alcohol, neglected anything resembling exercise, lied to avoid work responsibilities, and a lot more. I’ve shut myself in my bedroom with curtains drawn and a bottle of whiskey, door locked and wife and young children on the other side, just to try and grab a moment’s escape from the world. I count those experiences and many more like them as losses, and I’ve lost. I’ve lost plenty.

The latter half of 2018 was not kind to the Mariners, and it wasn’t kind to me. As the team’s hot start and miraculous May-June run faded into a fractured locker room. 17th consecutive missed playoff appearance, and an avalanche of self-induced scandals, I and my family were threatened by mounting work stress, financial obligations, fracturing relationships, and my response of bottoming out and being completely useless. Any honest appraisal of the situation in both cases could only return that, while things weren’t lost, there just weren’t a lot of fact-based reasons for hope. As the Mariners broke up their roster I spent the the holiday season in a self-medicating fog; each day’s challenge merely and solely to not go to bed before it was over. As I fell to sleep every night, it always felt like a loss.

Nothing substantive changed, for either of us. The Mariners did not stumble upon a previously undiscovered Next Moneyball, and find themselves three steps ahead of the rest of the game. I did not break through my depression through therapy and/or medication, as useful as both can be to so many. All I can say is for awhile now small problems that would have recently left me quivering in a heap have been overcome, one at a time, day by day. Work stress feels like nothing more than exactly that: the stress of a job that doesn’t define my daily experience, and is dealt with and left in the proper proportions.

It never feels easy or routine, and I always expect it to fall apart. There are so many reasons it should, and probably will. In the past I’d have almost thought those reasons into existence. But I had a thought a few weeks ago about things turning to shit, and I’ve held onto it ever since: It doesn’t have to. All I have to do is win today. So that’s what I’m trying to do.

The Mariners are 8-2, and you probably don’t need me to tell you that, well, lol. They really shouldn’t be. They can’t pitch. They CANNOT field, and the bullpen is Evel Knievel soaked in gasoline jumping over that Game of Thrones green flame stuff while holding a box of lit matches. It really, honestly, probably will end very poorly. But it doesn’t have to. It just might not. The Mariners won today. That’s all I can ask of anyone.

4-1: Teal Laces

Flipping on the TV on a lazy Saturday morning shows James Paxton, freshly shorn like a newly enlisted soldier. He stands tall and strong as always, but something is off, because he is not only no longer ours, he appears no longer him. Where once was a tall, awkward, good-humored guy from British Columbia now stands just another smooth-faced cog; just another Yankee.

Nate Karns is there, starting across for Baltimore across from Pax. Ours for one season, for 94.1 innings in 2016 we tried to convince ourselves the promising, powerful pitcher from Tampa was in there, somewhere. It was just a matter of consistent mechanics. And staying healthy. And executing his game plan. The next start was always going to be the one he figured it out. Then there weren’t anymore starts. Until today.

Drew Jackson is in centerfield, and in the major leagues no less. A Mariner only in dream; a slick-fielding shortstop who just needed to be held upside down and shaken until the Stanford dripped out of his swing. He was going to be ours, we dreamed, and that’s all a team’s prospects are. They’re all dreams, and hopes, and future parades and confetti and sweet, sticky champagne covering locker rooms. Future glories stored up in our minds, waiting for reality to fall in line.

Brett Gardner swings at the first pitch and lofts it to center, the ball’s gentle parabola allowing Jackson to settle under it easily. He shields his eyes, and squeezes it tight. A big leaguer, but not ours.

***

They are scattered everywhere now. The Mets won on Opening Day behind a Robinson Cano home run, and a perfect Edwin Diaz 9th. Jean Segura is trotting home as Bryce Harper hits a ball almost 500 feet in Philly. Nelson Cruz looms in Minnesota. They did not bring us the postseasons we are so desperately, hilariously overdue for, but they brought us much, much closer than anyone else has in a very long time. Despite falling short, I’m still very grateful to them for the run.

The ex-Mariners are everywhere, it seems, and we are going to see them all year.  They will haunt us, because they are the past, and that’s what the past does. When this year’s team stumbles, as the season’s math trickles into the gaps in this roster’s inadequacies and slowly widens them into canyons, we are going to miss them. As losses pile up we will sit, and we will wonder “what if?” That’s the price of giving up before the end. That’s the cost of not doing everything you can.

Jay Bruce is a Mariner now, today, at this very second, and tonight his three-run home run in the 5th inning gave the team just the amount of cushion it needed to survive the already glaringly obvious issues facing this team on defense and in relief. It doesn’t feel right to me. Jay Bruce isn’t a Mariner. He’s a Red. He’s the super prospect who became a star by 23. He hit the home run that sent them to the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. He was supposed to be a great one, instead he’s a failed attempt at a salary dump. His transient existence on this team exists merely as placeholder. The few moments of joy he provides are ancillary, the good memories an accident of process, loose strands of happiness burped from a machine that seeks nothing but greater efficiency

We are going to feel this way, all year, and we’re going to have to decide what matters for us. Being a sports fan means rooting for “our guys”, but our guys are almost all gone. They’ve been scattered to every corner of the sport’s map, a re-imagining that asks you, requires you, to root for laundry and laundry alone in a more obvious way than seems fair. The Mariners won tonight, and that was great. They’re 4-1, and a fast start sure is more fun than the other, more familiar start. But I struggle knowing what to root for. I think I’ll struggle all year. More and more, I just find myself finding and rooting for my guys.

***

Jesus Sucre is catching for Baltimore. The 2019 Orioles will be terrible, and I imagine Jesus knows that. Like many of his teammates, he is being asked to do more than he has in the past. He’s being asked to do more than he can. In the bottom of the first, Karns spot a moving fastball at the knees to Aaron Judge. Sucre’s practiced, deft framework snaps the glove shut and holds it still, and there you see it: Sucre’s glove has teal laces. He was ours once, and part of him is ours forever.

Boys Into Men

Two moments, two boys, two men, two futures, and one choice

It is Thursday, and Michigan State is losing to Bradley. Because college sports is the least regulated (and not coincidentally most wildly corrupt) institution in major American sports it’s easy for gross inequalities to form and widen. Michigan State and Bradley sit upon opposite sides of this now gaping chasm, and let’s just say Bradley shouldn’t be winning. There’s a time out and, from nowhere, chaos.

This is a man screaming at a boy. He does so not to instruct, nor to impart wisdom. He does so because he is furious. He does so because once, when he was a boy, someone near him was furious, and screamed at him. He screams because he can, because he has worked for it. His title, his tenure, his bank balance afford him unlimited power. He is not mad at a bad defensive rotation, a failure to make the extra pass, or a lack of hustle on the break. He is simply mad, and all that money and power affords him a convenient target, one so helpless and vulnerable he can be screamed at live on television and the majority of humans will think almost nothing of it. This is how boys become men.

***

It is very early in the morning on that very same Thursday, and in the middle of a baseball game a ceremony has broken out. Ichiro, a global icon whose impact on the game stands among the greats even if he were not also one of the greatest baseball players to ever live, is leaving the field as a player, for the final time. His teammates have lined up to hug, to high five, to pay their due respect for the legend. He reaches his teammate and countryman Yusei Kikuchi, who has just made his major league debut.

This is a man weeping into the shoulder of his idol. He does not cry because he is sad. He cries because, despite a world that declared it to be weak, someone near him made it clear to him that it’s OK. They told him no matter where, or when, or how, there will come times when the effort to hold it all in will not be worth the cost. That doing so will make us hard, and full of rage. He is crying because as a boy he found a man to idolize, a star by which to set his course. Unlike most of us, this boy stayed the course. He followed the path of his idol and, at the very end of that idol’s career, he shared the field with him. One game, one day, one moment shared. When it was over, he wept, and his idol embraced him. Two men, and one exchange. This is how boys become men.

 

Episode 24 – The Griffey Spectacular

Jerry van di Poto has a plan. He just needs some money…

Since the last time the we podcasted the Mariners have:

Fallen out of the playoffs

Fired/let go most of their coaching staff below Scott Servais

Been accused of racism and misogyny by an employee after less than a year of her working there

LOUDLY refuted those accusations on social media in a manner that one could even describe as PRESIDENTIAL

Traded Mike Zunino, James Paxton, Juan Nicasio, James Pazos, Robinson Cano, Edwin Diaz, and Jean Segura

So, yeah, there’s a few things to talk about. Also we took your questions for a good 45 minutes, because we love you. Please rate and subscribe, so you don’t miss even a second of this white hot, indispensable content.

All it took was maybe the most completely disastrous three months in the history of the Mariners’ franchise to summon us from our blissful slumber! Here are the things discussed in this episode

-The Mariners, now hear us out, are bad

-Jerry Dipoto is Dutch van der Linde

-The rebuild is good but also not good because it’s only good if you do it good, so do it good

-Definitive scarf takes

-Something called a “Tie Bar”?

-YOUR Q&A

-The Mariners are bad

What are the Mariners rebuilding?

They’re finally doing what we wanted right? Right!?

Since the signing of Robinson Cano in 2014 the Mariners have been caught in the middle. Their roster has been fun and competitive, but not elite. As the organization has entered season after season forever content to be as far from greatness as they were from failure, the clock kept ticking. As the the team’s core aged, the catastrophic state of the farm system only furthered the horror at the big league team’s inability to make the postseason, and ownership’s refusal to loosen the purse strings to help them do so. It has been a stressful, combative, and largely unenjoyable era.

So I’m happy to offer a belated congratulations to all Mariner fans: We did it! The Mariners are rebuilding. It took a season-long case of whiplash worthy of an immense court settlement, but Jerry Dipoto and friends have finally acquiesced to the inevitable. While Dipoto’s silicon valley thesaurus calls it a “step back” or “re-prioritizing” the decision to trade James Paxton and Mike Zunino for younger players signals, at long last, the Mariners’ acknowledgement that a change in course was necessary. We can quibble over whether Dipoto is the right man to lead a rebuild, or whether the talent returns thus far are sufficient. We can (and definitely should) point out that the necessity of a rebuild could be entirely avoided by an obscenely wealthy ownership group sinking consistent investment into on field talent, and committing fully to winning, but those are conversations for another day.

With Paxton and Zunino in New York and Tampa, respectively, Seattle finds itself already near the bottom of its barrel of valuable major league assets. This dearth is both why a rebuild is so necessary, and at least part of why the team has been so hesitant to get it underway. Outside of Mitch Haniger, who is the one current big leaguer with value I can see a clear case for retaining, the team is down to Jean Segura, Edwin Diaz, and Marco Gonzales.

That state of things is what has made the past 48 hours so distressing as a Mariner fan. While Segura rumors are indeed out there, the past two news cycles have been dominated not by the young talent the Mariners can acquire, but by the persistent and multiply-sourced rumors that the team is “desperate” to move Robinson Cano. Most concerning of all, is the thought that this desperation is sufficient for the team to package Diaz or a comparable talent with him. It is here, friends, we find ourselves with a booming “SAME OLD MARINERS” echoing from the back, and with good cause.

The idea of trading Robinson Cano is difficult to stomach. He is one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise. His acquisition in 2014 could have, and should have, heralded a new era, with the Mariners joining the game’s upper crust, as ownership continued to invest in the product on the field. Watching him play daily has been a constant joy. Outside of last year’s regrettable (and overly hand wrung over) PED suspension, he has been consistently great since the moment he arrived. He has been great, he is still great, and I imagine he’ll be great for a few more years. Still, with the course of the franchise’s next 2-3 years seemingly set and destined to continue the team’s comically long playoff absence, it is understandable why all parties might be ready to move on. Cano wants to win, and the Mariners have no urgent competitive need to spend $24 million a year for the last productive seasons of a player’s career. I get it. I hate it, but I get it.

ALL THAT BEING SAID, if the franchise is willing to neuter the substantial value in desperately needed young talent a player like Edwin Diaz can return by attaching him to a contract they no longer wish to pay, a contract that has zero negative impact on this team’s ability to win games now or in the future, then it says the Mariners are, at least in part, using this rebuild as a smokescreen to justify simply culling payroll to cull payroll. I want to be careful not to act as though this is something the team has actually done at this point. Rumors are rumors. But they do not spring out magically from the ground. Someone somewhere is leaking the idea. While it may not be someone connected to the Mariners, the team could easily enough squash the idea with public statement. They have not done so, and as such I feel comfortable believing it is a concept they are at least considering. This, to be blunt, is unacceptable, and should be loudly decried from every corner of the fanbase. I am pleased to see in some ways it already has been.

To newer fans it may seem rash to leap so readily to the call for torches and barricades, but consider the track record the organization has offered us over the present era. They have not made the playoffs. They have not committed the financial resources necessary to make not making the playoffs a statistical unlikelihood. They have bad mouthed and vilified Felix Hernandez, the most loyal player in team history, and one of its most beloved stars. It has come out that the team’s president and other members of the organization settled sexual harassment cases while with the org. The front office is in the midst of a scandal involving accusations of misogyny and racism that, at best, makes them look wholly incompetent. As the team looks to shed payroll they stand on the brink of a new naming rights deal for the taxpayer-funded stadium we built for them, a deal that will bring them many times more revenue than the previous deal with Safeco ever did. For anyone who has followed this team closely for any amount of time, the Mariners have offered us little rational choice but to assume the worst case scenario is also probably the most likely one.

It was three and a half years ago, the day Jack Zduriencik was fired, that I wrote about how tired the team had made me, and how concerning Kevin Mather’s spoken priorities were. As Jerry Dipoto’s era lurches onward, everything about the team speaks to an organization that places vastly more emphasis on process-oriented life hacks and trumpeted announcements of same, rather than simply trusting, believing in, and paying the talented men who produce the phenomenal level of baseball that made us all fans in the first place. The team is rebuilding at long last, but our experience with the Mariners tells us that we must watch carefully, and speak out quickly. Do they intend to rebuild their talent, or their profits?

 

The Mariners Have Been Accused of Discrimination

The term you are searching your brain for right now is: Bad

Well here is this then:

Lorena whoooooo boy.JPG

I want to be very, very careful here, because accusations like this are both extremely incendiary, and extremely important to consider seriously. Nothing I write here will impact how this ends up playing out, but still, this is news that has just broken, and we do not have #AllTheFacts.

Let us start with what we know:

We know that the Mariners clubhouse is one, both in volume, experience, and personality, dominated by players from Latin America. Jean Segura, Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Felix Hernandez, Leonys Martin, Ketel Marte, Edwin Diaz, Franklin Gutierrez, etc. These players have been the hub of the Mariners locker room in Jerry Dipoto’s time here. It is their voices, their music, their ideas of right and wrong, their culture that has led this team. This is the team that we follow, and make no mistake, it is these men, more than any analyst, executive, marketer, or other, that we have decided to cheer for.

We know that the front office has been extremely displeased with the state of the clubhouse since September, when Jerry Dipoto said this

In times of struggle you find out a lot about character, how people will answer in times of adversity, and frankly that was one of the highlights of this team in the first half of the season and it’s been one of the lowlights in the second half of the season. We have not responded to that adversity in the same way. … When teams pull apart when they no longer bind together and they don’t fight through the adversity.”

We know (as of about an hour ago) that Lorena Martin was deeply, deeply displeased with her role in the organization, and her experience with the Mariners over all. She was so displeased that she has taken the extraordinary step of making herself, at least in many professional sports circles, a radioactive hire by very publicly and specifically denouncing the people in charge of the Mariners by name.

We know that this not the first time the upper reaches of the Mariners organization has been credibly accused of being deeply harmful and dysfunctional. It is not the first time this decade or, hell, even the first time this calendar year.

I’m going to transition now very quickly to things that I know, because they are slightly apart from what’s listed above.

I know, from sources connected to the organization, that Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais are, and have been for some times, very annoyed with, among others, Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano, and Jean Segura. I know that on some basic level, be it for performance or contract, they have been in some way blamed for the franchise’s continued stagnation.

I know Dr. Lorena Martin had developed a reputation in her time in Seattle for being difficult to work with, to the point of being viewed as needlessly confrontational.

I know if that’s the case, then creating a role for her, specifically seeking her out and building an entire “High Performance System” for her to oversee was a catastrophic error in judgment and character assessment by Jerry Dipoto. The alternative is that she’s telling the truth. You choose which is worse nevermind you don’t get to and they’re both terrible anyway, just in different way. It’s all bad. Everything, as they say, is bad.

I know that blaming your employees, whose success is literally your job, for your own failure is poor management, and whether whatever was said (if it was indeed said, and it’s a big if at this point I want to stress) was simply blowing off frustration or otherwise, to do so in any capacity within earshot of any employee is not only poor leadership, but inexcusably stupid.

I know the timing of these revelations, from a pure roster construction standpoint, can be catastrophic, as the Mariners are now the one team no one wants to touch with a fifty-foot pole. Hell, THE MARLINS probably look at this and think “whoo boy, that’s not a great look now is it?” and move on to the next organization.

I know any prospective free agent, particularly one of latin decent, is going to be extra super duper skeptical about the idea of choosing to come here as long as the current leadership is in place.

Now, at last, what I and we don’t know.

I don’t know to what level Martin’s accusations are fueled by a workplace disagreement and/or personal grudge.

I don’t know to what extent these explosive allegations are issues that are globally systemic to baseball as a whole (hello, baseball as an institution is historically and still very much struggles with racism), and how much of it is specifically pointed to the Seattle Mariners organization possessing them to a degree that somehow sets them apart from the rest of the game. For the record, I am confident assuming, as it is his her first (and after today almost certainly last) job in baseball, neither does Dr. Lorena Martin.

I don’t know where this goes, if anyone loses a job, or what it all means in the grand meta-drama that seemingly forever surrounds this organization. It is as though they are Sideshow Bob, and for them the world is naught but rakes. An endless, horizon-less sea of rakes.

I wrote when news about Kevin Mather’s sexual harassment broke that I wasn’t sure where the line is for myself or others; the moment when we simply throw our hands up and worry ourselves with something, anything else. I still don’t know. All I know is, regardless of who said what about who to who, after today that line is getting closer.