BY Art Thiel 07:00AM 07/25/2011

Thiel: Don’t soil memory of ’92 with these Mariners

Last time the Mariners lost so many in a row, there was a good team in the making, crippled by injuries. But the 2011 team has far less hope — unless the trade deadline brings help.

Jack Zduriencik - Seattle Mariners - 2010 - 2

GM Jack Zduriencik is loathe to trade Felix Hernandez, but 15-game losing streaks can change a fella's mind. / Ben van Houten, Mariners

Since everyone is mentioning Bill Plummer this week . . .

The circumstances around the 14 games in a row lost by the Mariners in 1992 under Plummer were far different than the record 15 consecutive spit up by the Mariners as of Sunday. The coincidental streak lengths are not reflections on either manager at the time, nor of the condition of the franchise.

The current streak is far more embarrassing and rare — in fact, according to Elias Sports, no team at or above .500 (43-43 when it began) has lost this many in a row since the 1985 Chicago Cubs.

The over-matched Plummer was hired as a one-year caretaker for a franchise that was, upon his employment, not-so-secretly planning to move from Seattle to Tampa.

A year earlier, Plummer’s predecessor, Jim Lefebvre, brought in the club’s first winning record, 83-79, but found himself fired because then-owner Jeff Smulyan couldn’t trust him to keep his mouth shut about the franchise’s happy-feet agenda.

That off-season, to the surprise of exactly everyone on the planet who cared, Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Yamauchi, who owed then-Sen. Slade Gorton a political favor, paid him back by buying the the Mariners from Smulyan for $100 million in order to keep the franchise in Seattle.

But the purchase by a non-American caused such a controversy within MLB that approval of the deal was held up six months before the owners were bullied and shamed into doing the only right thing.

The ‘92 Mariners actually had a lot going for them — the opening night lineup included Ken Griffey Jr.,  Edgar Martinez, Tino Martinez, Jay Buhner, Randy Johnson, Harold Reynolds and Omar Vizquel, just to name a few  All-Stars. Not to mention a rookie named Bret Boone.

But injuries and franchise inertia crushed that ’92 team. The Mariners used a record 48 players and put 15 on the disabled list 19 times, losing a total of 747 man-games. The team ERA was 4.55, second worst in the American League. The 14-game losing streak that fell Sunday happened from Sept. 2-19, long after contention faded and youngsters were called up to finish off what became a 98-loss, seventh-place season, 32 games behind the Oakland A’s.

The club drew 1.65 million customers to the Kingdome, 12th among the 14 AL franchises. Payroll, less than $30 million, was led by the corpulent Kevin Mitchell, best known for throwing up so violently after a pre-game pig-out that he missed several games with pulled rib muscles.

Still, the ’92 team had a lot of youthful potential that, besides injuries, was compromised by an underfunded, deliberately neglectful ownership and management stuck in a mediocre stadium with low gate and media revenues.

In contrast, the 2011 Mariners have been relatively healthy, but with only modest potential compromised by a wealthy but benignly neglectful ownership and management that has failed to exploit good media revenues and five-state monopoly in a beautiful, taxpayer-funded stadium and a four-team division.

Now at 43-58 heading into three games in New York against the Yankees, the Mariners are more or less where they were forecasted to be after spring training, when the failure to improve the AL’s worst offense from 2010 was apparent to many, if not most, observant schoolchildren.

The pleasant surprise was a starting rotation so potent, thanks largely to the addition of rookie Michael Pineda and a renaissance from Erik Bedard, that it kept the Mariners close enough to pull off a half-dozen wins that were less about baseball and more about Hogwarts.

But Bedard is hurt, Felix Hernandez is losing concentration and the scouting reports have caught up to two-pitch Pineda. The burden of needing to pitch nearly perfect was too much for the rotation to bear, crumbling just as the offense picked up a bit lately ( 29 runs in the last six games).

To lose 15 in a row at mid-season without injuries as a primary cause is an epic jaw-dropper, so weird that the probability tables groan under the weight. But since the streak broke the record set in 1992, the look back at player personnel provokes an intriguing question:

Would a Mariners fan prefer the team of 19 years ago, or the one now?

With so many positions unsettled, and with so much payroll tied up in unproductive or fired veterans, it is hard to imagine a vote for the Naught Elevens. Easy to say, of course, because we know how the careers turned out for many in the the ’92 group. But aside from  Pineda, second baseman Dustin Ackley and perhaps outfielder Greg Halman, the other youngsters haven’t gained enough traction to suggest 2012 holds much, never mind 2011. And the rising stars in the system remain in the system, where they should stay for a while, unless anyone thought the recent Kyle Seager experience at third base was a good idea.

That’s why it was suggested here recently that, aside from Ackley and Pineda, the Mariners need to put in play everyone on the roster at this trade deadline, including Hernandez.

It’s a dreadful suggestion for Mariners fans who agonize over lost stars,  and scary for those increasingly mistrustful of the judgment of GM Jack Zduriencik. But the biggest problem remains with an ownership that won’t begin a dialogue to move Ichiro and his salary, which was a burden even when he was at the top of his game.

A team can pay a singles hitter $18 million when it has a payroll of $120-$130 million, but not when it’s $90 million, especially with another $21 million dedicated to Milton Bradley and Chone Figgins.

Thanks to a wildly imbalanced roster, the losing streak was was a baseball disaster waiting to happen.

The time for a painful fix is upon the Mariners. Unless, of course, there’s a worse option — it’s unfixable.


YourThoughts

  • Jerryj

    The only time to you want to get rid of the ace of your staff is when he has a year of less left on his contract and the chances of resigning him are pretty slim due to his asking price or some other reason.  This guy is like an anchor.  He is a fan draw.  His gives your team an element of respect and recognition from fans, opposing players and from the media covering the sport.  
    Why would you throw all of that away when your ace is young, strong and has several years left on his current contract? It makes no sense. Maybe three years from now it will make sense – but not now.

    I say blow up everyone BUT Felix, Ackley and “2 pitch” Pineda (really? I mean giving a young pitcher with so much potential that stupid nickname kind of undermines Thiel’s baseball cred.  It might of been better to say something like: “The way batters have been hitting him lately, Pineda should change his name to Pinata(you read it here first) ;)    

  • Jerryj

    The only time to you want to get rid of the ace of your staff is when he has a year of less left on his contract and the chances of resigning him are pretty slim due to his asking price or some other reason.  This guy is like an anchor.  He is a fan draw.  His gives your team an element of respect and recognition from fans, opposing players and from the media covering the sport.  
    Why would you throw all of that away when your ace is young, strong and has several years left on his current contract? It makes no sense. Maybe three years from now it will make sense – but not now.

    I say blow up everyone BUT Felix, Ackley and “2 pitch” Pineda (really? I mean giving a young pitcher with so much potential that stupid nickname kind of undermines Thiel’s baseball cred.  It might of been better to say something like: “The way batters have been hitting him lately, Pineda should change his name to Pinata(you read it here first) ;)    

  • hillbillybob

    What, pray tell, can one get for Ichiro, without eating much of the salary?  There may be a lot of teams that would like him, but zero to few at the current salary. 

    And he’s a 10/5 guy.  He gets to approve the trade.  I doubt he would agree to go to any Rust Belt team. 

    Art is correct when he says he could be afforded on a team with a 120-130 M payroll.  If the big payday was the president’s idea, his baseball people should have told him that is not the norm and that additional money would be needed for some power in the lineup (which should come, in part from the RFer). 

  • hillbillybob

    What, pray tell, can one get for Ichiro, without eating much of the salary?  There may be a lot of teams that would like him, but zero to few at the current salary. 

    And he’s a 10/5 guy.  He gets to approve the trade.  I doubt he would agree to go to any Rust Belt team. 

    Art is correct when he says he could be afforded on a team with a 120-130 M payroll.  If the big payday was the president’s idea, his baseball people should have told him that is not the norm and that additional money would be needed for some power in the lineup (which should come, in part from the RFer). 

  • Michael Kaiser

    So are you saying there was an excuse in 1992 and that now we just suck?  I remember a day game in 1992 that twice I stepped outside from or something and missed two Kevin Mitchell homers, a somewhat measurable portion of his rather paltry production that year.  Griffey apparently liked him, though.  Also, another aspect of our “imbalance” is two leadoff hitters, one a pure leadoff hitter and the other one of the leading hitters of all time.  Difficult situation that has hurt everyone involved and most of all, I believe, the team.

  • Michael Kaiser

    So are you saying there was an excuse in 1992 and that now we just suck?  I remember a day game in 1992 that twice I stepped outside from or something and missed two Kevin Mitchell homers, a somewhat measurable portion of his rather paltry production that year.  Griffey apparently liked him, though.  Also, another aspect of our “imbalance” is two leadoff hitters, one a pure leadoff hitter and the other one of the leading hitters of all time.  Difficult situation that has hurt everyone involved and most of all, I believe, the team.

  • Bobby

    Felix Hernandez is arguably the most valuable pitcher in the league, in terms of talent and age. He and Pineda are better building blocks than anything we’d get in return. The thought of taking the Yankees top 4 prospects or some other teams top young guys is definitely intriguing, but I don’t think giving up Felix is the answer here.
    Smoak has had a rough year, both on and off the field, but give him some more time. He clearly has the talent. Ackley looks solid. Let’s be patient and add bats around what we already have. I don’t see how blowing it up is the answer at this point.

  • Bobby

    Felix Hernandez is arguably the most valuable pitcher in the league, in terms of talent and age. He and Pineda are better building blocks than anything we’d get in return. The thought of taking the Yankees top 4 prospects or some other teams top young guys is definitely intriguing, but I don’t think giving up Felix is the answer here.
    Smoak has had a rough year, both on and off the field, but give him some more time. He clearly has the talent. Ackley looks solid. Let’s be patient and add bats around what we already have. I don’t see how blowing it up is the answer at this point.

  • Johnarms

    “whose tip to himself in the 90th minute appeared to be a save that saved the game. ” Chicago was called off-sides on the play. Had they scored it wouldn’t have counted.