BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 12/18/2013

Thiel: Family? Please. Can’t sports be honest?

When Robinson Cano said coming to the Mariners was because it was “like family,” my ooga horn went off. This is not not family. This is business. Try being honest with customers.

We all know the deal, Jack Zduriencik. No need to suck up to the bosses  in public. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

In order to avoid being made to feel as dumb as lichen, and on behalf of those Mariners fans who fancy themselves sentient beings, I’d like to suggest some changes to the local introductions of star players.

Since I am flattering the Mariners by inferring there will be more to come — Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, anyone? —  now that the club has bypassed 20th century methods by going from the 19th century to the 21st, I am certain they will be pleased at my optimism.

In explaining the desire to become a Mariner, please instruct players to avoid references to being made to feel like family. Which family? Coreleone? Bumstead? Manson? Addams? Kardashian? Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers? Are you talking about the families that Hallmark writes about for Christmas, or the rest of us?

The Norman Rockwell view of family is barely hanging onto its top-row bleacher seat in the American cultural ballpark. For Robinson Cano to invoke “family” as a decisive reason to become a Seattle Mariner is the acme of absurdity.

That’s not to say there aren’t many wonderful people at the Mariners who were undoubtedly kind and helpful to Cano and his robust entourage. The Mariners have always done parties and celebrations well.

But this deal had nothing to do with pinching Jay-Z’s cheek and saying, “Wudgie, wudgie!” It was purely a collision of desperation and opportunism — the corporate hallmarks of many a major deal in America. For good or ill, the Mariners pulled off a stunner, so it’s OK for Cano to say something like, “The Mariners made me a financial offer that would be irresistible to anyone. I will pay them back with great baseball and, hopefully, several championships.”

No family references, least of all here. After the Seattle Times story last week that made the Mariners operation appear to be like the moment in the “Pink Panther” movie franchise when Inspector Clouseau received a bomb at the door, there is an urgency to avoid public comment on the snuggly family nature of the franchise. The irony could bend light waves. Which brings us to a corollary:

In the long thank-yous inevitable after complicated transactions, please limit references to CEO Howard Lincoln and President Chuck Armstrong (preferably, once). At the press conference, general manager Jack Zduriencik fell all over himself talking up the wonderfulness of his bosses in making the Cano deal happen.

Please, Jack: Stop.

Everyone knows better. Yes, Lincoln and Armstrong finally broke down and played the insane business game of major league baseball the way it is played in the more serious markets. But the breakdown was from a position of weakness, not strength.

No amount of your words are going to fix what happened under their stewardship. Facts are facts. You are engaging in suck-up so formidable that it will change the tides. Just say thanks once, and move on. Which brings us to a related point . . .

Everyone knows it’s about the money: Don’t be ashamed. The astounding nature of the 10-year, $240 million offer and its acceptance should be at least acknowledged, if not celebrated. Lincoln and Armstrong would have been well-served to address media and fans about such a decisive departure from previous norms.

Yes, they would have been peppered with questions about the on-the-record accusations in the Times from former manager Eric Wedge and other ex-employees. But they politely could have declined to respond, for a very good reason — there’s nothing to be said that would amount to any kind of a quality retort. The Mariners are left with: “Yo mama is so fat she has to iron her pants in the driveway!”

The nature of the accusations is so broad, and so undocumented, that no response is possible. Nor is there any action pending from the accusations — no legal charges, no dispute over a contract, no rebuttals that are more persuasive than, “Did not!” So let it go.

Zduriencik’s one-page attempt at a rebuttal only made things worse. Long-term, the only things that matter are actions, such as winning. If Cano and the rest of the Mariners win, no one will care. If the Mariners lose . . . well, it’s not as if they have never before spent $100 million in a season to lose 100 games.

Having written all of the above, if the Mariners feel a bit beleaguered because they’re not the only team that misplays the PR game, let us offer a suggestion to the Yankees, whose president, Randy Levine, responded to Cano’s claim of no respect from the Yanks by saying, “I feel bad for him because I think he’s disappointed he’s not a Yankee.”

Shut the hell up. You feel bad because Cano has left to dance with wolves? That he is among the quivering wretches in the hinterlands, where we scratch out our sustenance from roots and berries, aspiring one day to be at your feet wiping Manhattan sewage from your tassled loafers?

You supercilious twit. Once Seattle boy Jeff Bezos weaponizes his cute little Amazon drones, count on the first one coming into your Connecticut backyard barbecue bearing a boxcar of barnyard offal.

These superstar transactions are controversial and often complicated. Do yourselves a favor, Mariners, Yankees and anyone else, by treating your constituencies as something more than potted plants.


  • bent irony

    Family? This family is selling groggy fast food, cialis, and payday loans inning after inning after… Well, I’m not here to lecture anyone, buy I’m disgusted with us.

    • Jamo57

      Don’t forget casinos!

    • art thiel

      Commercialization has always been with us, and is a symptom, not a cause. People want to believe in the Mariners, but it starts with trust. It’s long been lost.

  • Gary

    You forgot to have clown music in the background for this article, actually should be required for any Mariner article.

    • art thiel

      In the absence of a calliope, I’m sure you can Benny Hill theme music.

  • RadioGuy

    Spot-on piece, Art, although (ironically) A-Rod could’ve saved himself a lot of grief when he left the Mariners to sign with Texas for the first of his three ridiculous contracts if he’d said something like, “Baseball is my profession but I only have so many years that I’ll be able to play. This was the best opportunity to make sure that everyone in my family, including myself, will be as well taken care of as possible for years to come.” Not that he would’ve been any more sincere saying that than going with his ridiculous “I want to beat the Yankees” line (since the Rangers were to the Yankees what Lenny was to George back then), but the reasoning would’ve been a little harder to refute.

    • art thiel

      That candor, so rare in sports, takes a degree of maturity and sophistication that even A-Rod today is incapable of. As well as many of his contemporaries. That’s why I’d like to see some sports team take the lead in offering candor to its followers rather than pabulum.

      Simple, declarative honesty would be so original and refreshing that it would build far more trust that trying to tell the Root broadcasters to soft-pedal the truth.

  • Jamo57

    Thanks again Art for reminding us we are simply cheering for billion dollar corporate entertainment providers, not community ball teams. I have that argument frequently with friends of mine who accuse me of being a ‘fair-weather fan’. My reply is to say I’m not a fan but simply a customer (admittedly stolen from Keith Olbermann).

    I’ve been through too many work stoppages (lock-outs more often than strikes, an important difference); threatened, attempted, and actual franchise moves in my time here in Seattle to see it any differently. The ‘fans’ just don’t enter into the equation when the battle for leverage with player unions or local governments is in play.

    Howard Lincoln is frequently quoted (in justifying his opposition to the arena among other things) that he is simply trying to run a business here in Seattle. Well, businesses have customers not fans. And customers can come and go based on the price and quality of the experience of the transaction.

    No amount of Mariner Moose appearances at local elementary schools with Rick Rizzs and a (insert player name here) Mariner can cover up that fact. The Moose could just as easily be Ronald McDonald handing out Happy Meals. They’re simply promoting their business masking it as representing ‘our’ team.

    • art thiel

      Jamo, your views represent the exhaustion of many longtime sports followers who have seen the pleasurable aspects of fandom perverted by money. It’s hardly unique to sports, but what is nearly unique to sports is a fandom connected to place and community.

      Most people feel a proprietary interest in their teams that is different than liking Nordstrom or Costco or Best Buy or Microsoft. That is lost on Lincoln and Armstrong.

  • Tian Biao

    Yes! I totally agree. it’s America, baby: it’s always about the money. But somehow nobody can say that, like when a-wad left for Texas, it was all this twaddle about playing for a winner and improving his future and whatnot. Just say it: it was a huge pile of money and i took it. No team in baseball understands that better than the Yankees, so yes, you tell him Art: don’t get all high-horsey on us, Levine. The Yankees practically invented this business model. But i disagree about one thing: I love it when Jack, Levine, and the rest start talking, because it’s just so amusing. more, please!

    • art thiel

      Can’t argue with the quantity of material provided by our sports figures. I mean, how bad can Levine feel for a guy who wound up $65M richer, when money is the true Yankees barometer of success?

  • Will

    Smiles around when you write articles such as this one.

    Art, great metaphors!

    • art thiel

      The language, she is a beaut to be celebrated.

      But honestly, I’d rather the Mariners win.

  • Gary S

    One of the reasons for my degenerative fandom of the Seattle Mariners had to due with being treated like an idiot for so many years by the front office. I was expected to be entertained at the ballpark by everything but the play on the field. Things like virtual hydroplane races were a sad attempt to get me to enjoy my game day experience, rather than what was taking place between the lines. Their “Smoke and mirrors” approach to get fans in the seats was, and will continue to be, condescending and pathetic!

    • art thiel

      That is where the M’s have missed, pardon the expression, the boat. They’ve put the ballpark above baseball. Until the ownership group sells to a party uninvolved in the stadium creation, it’s not going to change.

  • Big

    I was dragged. into the Mall last night and thought a Mariners game must be playing somewhere. I fled.

    • art thiel

      They don’t call it a mallpark for no reason.

  • Greg

    Sadly, the notion of team and family left the field with free agency, not that I begrudge the players their due it’s just that I’m old enough to have known teams that you knew season to season, you knew players like family. If players were traded or retired, you lost a family member and they found a special place amongst your baseball cards.

    Now, our best (Seattle) baseball is played amost everywhere other than on the field, endless discussions in watering holes, kitchens, living rooms, news confrences and articles like Art’s with tongue firmly planted in cheek as we have learned to laugh through the tears. And, how can you help it when we are consistantly treated like we just fell off the turnip truck by management.

    • art thiel

      Much has been lost, but I think much is retrievable if teams were to try candor. It starts by avoiding hiring anyone who uses the term messaging.

  • Effzee

    Get out the rye bread and the mustard grandma, this column is a grand salami!

    • art thiel

      Knowing Dave as I did, he might say, “Unn-believable!”

  • jafabian

    Watching Junior’s induction ceremony I can see how it seems as though the M’s try to build a family sense to them. Probably inspired by the way the Yankees foster that within their own organization but the difference being the Yankees stems from their tradition of winning. Ditto the Red Sox, Dodgers, A’s, Reds, etc. Until that happens in Seattle there isn’t much to crow about in the Emerald City regarding professional baseball.

    They need to quit talking the talk. Quit saying “there’s more to come.” I could care less if they build a team of All Stars or trot out last years team. Just win baby. And more importantly, make Seatle proud doing so. No PEDs, no DUI’s, no smoking weed. You where a uniform that says Seattle. Represent Seattle. The Storm understand that.

    • art thiel

      Junior was treated well here, and now that he’s done playing, he wants to make sure he’s always welcome somewhere.. Look at how Gary Payton is so available and friendly to his Seattle constituency.

      It’s human nature. Young athletes think they own the world. Why shouldn’t they? But after that short career is done, the void is a scary place.

  • Matt712

    Classic Art. I have three Christmas wishes…
    1.) You publish a book called Hoary Bromides: A Compilation of Sports Rants by Art Theil
    2.) John Cleese reads the last four paragraphs of this piece to me.
    3.) An end to the use of the word “YOUR” at home games when announcing the team.
    Merry Christmas!

    • art thiel

      Hey, Matt, you’re on as my publicist. If we can’t get Cleese, would you settle for Lewis Black?

  • Hawk Fan

    Damn Art, you’re good.

    • art thiel

      You ought to see my jump shot.

  • rick penix

    Freak Brothers?? OMG .I can not stop laughing,,this is the best article Ive read in years,,Thank You Mr Thiel,, you made a crappy day a whole lot better.

    • art thiel

      Backatya, Rick. You made my day.

  • one174

    Hey Art, remember Peter Gent’s book “North Dallas Forty”?

    “Every time I say it’s a game, you tell me it’s a business. Every time I say it’s a business, you tell me it’s a game.”

    Swap “family” for “business” and there you have it.

    • art thiel

      Gent’s book was a long time ago, but most of it remains dead-on today.

      Same mythology prevails in the NFL regarding concussions.

  • Gary A.

    I haven’t read anything so funny, yet so on-target, since you needled the rabid Nebraska Cornhusker faithful in one article (was it 1991?) and used their responses (including death threats) to skewer them in a follow-up article. Keep up the good work.

    • art thiel

      Wow, Gary. Good memory. I believe the Nebraska exchange was in 1997-98. It earned me a visit with then-Gov. Ben Nelson, and many other delightful people in that state. Still can’t believe they elected Tom Osborne to federal office. Having a hard time imagining Sark as a senator.

  • Nan Holcomb

    Thank you for your spot on article. I can not be alone in having gone from full season tickets to attending only one game last year.

    • art thiel

      The Mariners can’t go from 23,000 season tickets to 7,000 without many more like you walking away.

  • Ira

    Great article. And bringing up The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers? Icing on the cake!

    • art thiel

      Those who don’t know, read on. Those that do, have a sinus-clearing snort.

  • giorgio547

    They are trying to be polite. They could have told their constituents, “Let them eat cake” or did they…

    • art thiel

      Go ahead, sports teams, be rude to me and try honesty.

  • MarkS

    You should try stand up comedy Art

    • art thiel

      Being in the audience is safer. Fewer beer bottles to the temple.

  • just passing thru

    pay me 25XL a year and I’ll be family, too.

    Great article, Art, and wonderful Pink Panther reference!

  • duk

    Art, your writing gets better and better, as the great atomic clock ticks off the years since the closing of the PI. You are producing probably what amounts to the best reportage in the Seatle area. Next assignment: put your radar onto the feckless mgmt at City Hall. I’d help you with that.