BY Art Thiel 11:08PM 10/04/2010

Unspeakable, deplorable and preposterous

Other than Ichiro, Felix, M’s found new sub-basement

Ichiro Suzuki - Seattle Mariners - 2010 - 1

Ichiro

“I thought such awful thoughts that I cannot even say them out loud because they would make Jesus want to drink gin straight out of the cat dish.”

– Anne Lamott

Lamott is a best-selling author of fiction and non-fiction books, but her interest in baseball is unknown to me.

She writes, however, as if she could have been a follower of the 2010 Seattle Mariners.

By itself, 101 losses in a single season of major league baseball is an awful thought.

Where it gets unspeakable is that this edition of the team, with a $93 million payroll, was:

*Built to contend by a general manager and a field manager who, one season earlier, were toasts of the town;

*So inept that it managed to replicate the 101-loss disaster of 2008;

* The worst offensive team in Major League Baseball, by every statistical measure, since the designated hitter position came into the American League in 1973;

*Perhaps the first team in the game’s history to fire a pitching coach in-season whose staff was leading the league at time of dismissal;

*The inventor of a new way to lose a game — the walk-off strikeout. In the bottom of the ninth Wednesday in Texas, the Mariners could not catch strike three on a pitch that bounced off the dirt, off the catcher, off the backstop wall, then was thrown into right field, allowing a runner to score the game-winner from first base on what was scored as a strikeout;

*Ended the season Sunday denying fans a chance to see the local hero, Cy Young Award candidate Felix Hernandez, pitch once more, instead starting Ryan Rowland-Smith, who, at 1-10, had one more win this season than Smokey Bear, Ivar’s Clam and Captain Plastic, among other costumed talents in the house on Mascot Day.

As Lamott wrote . . . unspeakable.

That’s without mentioning the deplorable exit of franchise icon Ken Griffey Jr., the sex-crime record of a player that was overlooked by the club at his acquisition, the ultra-high maintenance of Milton Bradley and the withdrawn suicide-squeeze bunt attempt by Eric Byrnes, a play so preposterous that the opposing manager was ejected for arguing, basically, that no major league ballplayer could be that stupid.

Let’s pull up a second cat dish. We’ll all have another.

So many are the absurdities, great and small, that it is overwhelming. But the consequence of so many failings is clear.

The franchise is destroying its credibility.

Once lost, it’s a hard thing to get back.

Ask the teams in Toronto, Cleveland and Baltimore, one-time attendance leaders with cool new stadiums whose business success was brought asunder by repeated seasons of competitive futility.

The seasonal turnstile count after Sunday’s 4-3 loss to Oakland was 2,085,914, a Safeco Field-record low and the eighth consecutive year of decline.

It’s just not the fans who are alienated. Quality, veteran players and their agents will see sometime soon the Mariners introduce their seventh manager since Lou Piniella left after the 2002 season. The interim guy, Daren Brown, a 10-season veteran of the franchise, sacrificed some part of his career to keep the seat warm for half a dismal season.

All of baseball wonders what is going on in Seattle.

Perhaps including Ichiro.

Asked after the game whether so many managers troubles him, he said:

“You can see it in the results. It’s very tough to play for so many managers.

“The ideal is to play for one manager.”

As do most Japanese players, Ichiro believes in a top-down hierarchy in which leadership comes from owners and managers, not players. But here, ownership has not publicly acknowledged any responsibility except in the most generic, buck-stops-here rhetoric.

In Seattle, the majority owner has never seen a game, never spoken to fans except through press releases, and never holds his top people to account, at least in any way meaningful to the customers and taxpayers who helped fund the stadium.

Hiroshi Yamauchi has done a great service for Northwest sports fans, taking the risk in 1991 when no one else locally had the guts to be ownership’s top man in a sport that was floundering locally and nationally. Our gratitude to him is richly deserved.

But his operation these days has dwindling credibility.

After nine consecutive seasons without playoffs in a sport where competitive parity has arrived — Tampa and Texas are in the playoffs despite being broke or in bankruptcy, fergawdsakes — and having never reached the World Series, the Mariners have re-joined the sick list of the AL have-nots.

Despite general manager Jack Zduriencik’s insistence that a build is underway, this season was supposed to have been part of it. Instead, things were worse.

Such a view is not coming from merely from the press box or the stands. Ichiro shares it too.

Asked whether this was the most disappointing season in his decade in Seattle, he said, “We had very big expectations but the results were terrible. I could say the gap in between was the biggest.”

So is the gap in credibility between the fans who were told to “Believe Big” by the franchise that delivered the worst team in the AL despite resources and support that are the envy of most franchises.

The awful baseball thoughts overwhelm.


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