(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.