BY Art Thiel 10:02PM 09/08/2014

Thiel: Mariners’ fever cooled by long mediocrity

A crowd of 15,617 showed up for Monday night’s Mariners game. Pennant fever? Hardly. But the scar tissue runs thick and deep in Seattle.

Felix Hernandez pitched well, yet again came away with no decision. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest file

It’s after Labor Day and, for what seems like the first time Yesler Way was Skid Row, the Mariners are playing relevant baseball. They began Monday night virtually locked up with the Detroit Tigers for the American League’s second wild card berth, and two games behind Oakland for the first berth and its home field advantage.

The arrival of contention, 13 years removed from Seattle’s last playoff appearance (which for those of you who mark time via software, was three years before the launch of Facebook) was worthy of a brief team chat as the Mariners began their most recent road series in Texas.

“I told them, ‘Play your asses off and enjoy the journey,’” manager Lloyd McClendon recalled before Monday’s 4-1 win over Houston at Safeco. “That’s all.”

Robinson Cano, who as a Yankee likely has experienced more playoff games than the rest of the Mariners’ roster combined, was similarly low key.

“It’s too early,” he said. “What have we got — 20 games to go? No need to say anything.”

So for those who may be shocked/dismayed/perplexed by the fact that 15,617 showed up for one of the biggest games in years — Happy Felix Day, no less — feel free to listen to McClendon and Cano: It’s not early, but it’s also not late.

It could be argued, however, that since McClendon and Cano are in their first years in Seattle, they can’t possibly grasp the enormity of the cosmic ache fans have felt in watching season after season die by Memorial Day.

But the counterargument is this: Mediocrity in sports breeds contempt.

After eight losing seasons in the past 10, the bond for many has been broken. In the 2002 heyday, when 23,000 season ticket holders guaranteed a passionate throb every night and helped make sellouts plentiful, the sports populace was fully engaged. You know, like now, when Seahawks fans who didn’t know what a practice squad was two years ago debate the merits of a special-teams gunner from Wossamatta U.

Now, with erosion of the season-ticket base to around 7,000, those who made the often difficult decision to give up season tickets that sometimes take on the feel of a family heirloom, built up some resolve too. They want their decision to mean something, and a way to do that is by sticking with it until given compelling reasons otherwise.

For them, this season isn’t compelling. Yes, 78-64 is a good record, and baseball writers around the country will tsk-tsk Seattle fans for not showing up to celebrate the achievement. But writers are forever in search of familiar storylines, and the bedraggled outcast coming into the light is one of the most favored September fairy tales.

That doesn’t matter muchg to fans who for years have given money and time to an unrequited passion. They remain pissed off. They see players and managers come and go without apparent plan or accountability, and watch as teams with fewer resources catapult over a wealthy franchise and into the postseason.

The story is well-known locally, so no need for re-hash. Nor do I think I there’s anything special or different about this fan base than, say, Cleveland or Toronto. As did Seattle, those cities led baseball in annual attendance in the 1990s when their parks were new and the teams good. Then came the droughts, and the passions dried up.

To be fair about this one game, it was Monday, it was dreary and it was the Houston Astros, who’ve lost at least 100 games in each of the past three seasons. Plus, there were not one but two NFL Monday Night games on TV. Since the Mariners and MLB no longer are young and handsome in this town, another pretty boy has swooped in to steal sports hearts.

The Mariners actually are up more than 3,000 a game, to 25,251 average crowd (before Monday), 22nd in MLB, an increase in each of the past two years.

Still, it’s incremental. The Mariners have been a bottom-third team in wins and attendance for too long, relative to franchise wealth. The re-embrace is going to take longer.

The Mariners came to life in a season when three American League powerhouses, the Red Sox, Rangers and Yankees, who have won six of the past 10 AL pennants, faded. The Mariners can’t control that; to their credit, they did take advantage.

Nor can the players do anything about franchise history. All they can do is follow McClendon’s instructions: Play their asses off, and enjoy the journey, as they did Monday.

Also: Be patient. The scar tissue is thick.


  • jafabian

    The M’s play the A’s this weekend and have saved Felix and Kuma for that series. They could really help themselves with a good series against them. Do I dare make playoff plans?

    • art thiel

      At least for one game.

  • Effzee

    Honestly, the amount of enthusiasm I am capable of feeling for a Howard Lincoln product has a limit. Now all I can think of is, “Hey Howie – Imagine if you had been pretending to care about winning this whole time! Man, we could have been doing things aside from losing 90+ games repeatedly!” I admit is it pretty fun to have relevant baseball being played by our professional team, but if I get all gung-ho about it, I’ll just feel dirty.

    • Trygvesture

      True– but Howie’s influence towards the win column is negligible at best. Z made a zillion trades– most were terrible. He fell into a few–in spite of himself, frankly– that seem to be ok, and LM has done a very good job. Howie is surely incurring serious rotator cuff problems patting hiz-highness-self on the back for everything that is working now, including his masterful move in hiring many-years-a-loser-for-the-franchise Jack Z — and proving the infallibility of the Lincolnland Diocese by extending the yeZman way before a normal human would consider it.

      Lincoln has made it a clownship. He is an old school corporate numbskull manager, generally disliked by the employees as we hear it. He managed to have a few minor siezures and signed Feix and Cano while in a petit mal state, apparently. Probably lost sleep over it afterwards, too. I won’t give him my money–ever.
      But, I’ll continue to enjoy listerning on the radio while the fun continues this year and hope for more to come when Lincolnland closes its gates and becomes a serious baseball franchise with a sustainably competent front office.

      • RadioGuy

        I’m with both you guys. I like this year’s team and think the M’s are finally pointed in the right direction. Yes, Zduriencik does deserve some credit for that, along with Mac. However, what we’re seeing this year (which is not an optical illusion like 2009 was) won’t turn the franchise around by itself in terms of public perception. Chuckenhowie did too much damage over the past decade to make it that easy.

        I hope the Mariners continue to win and reach the playoffs. However, I haven’t attended a game all year (I usually go once a month) and have only watched Opening Night in Anaheim on TV because radio’s good enough and it’s free. Otherwise, I’m more psyched about football season even though all but one of my teams lost last weekend.

        • art thiel

          The resentments of the past dozen years run deep. I don’t blame anyone for resistance to the current charms. But remember, your attendance is not tacit support of the Taliban.

          • RadioGuy

            Can’t blame the players or Mac, that’s for sure. They’re just pawns on the chessboard.

            I decided to watch from afar this year because I live almost 100 miles away from Seattle and it’s becoming a real pain in the backside to get there, plus there’s plenty of baseball out there besides the MLB brand to watch: Prep, college, Legion, West Coast League, Rainiers, etc. And, yes, I’m not that stoked about my money ending up in Lincoln’s pockets.

      • art thiel

        Price issue aside, will you stay away if they make the Series?

        • Trygvesture

          Guess it depends on who’s the Nat’l League team…

          (Except for THAT 95 game– I was there, nosebleed section with my early-teens kids– some of my best times have been listening to the Series. On radio mostly, TV sometimes, with friends. Radio from the Colockum while hunting for a few days, radio from the Methow when Gibson hobbled into history, and when I was in Jr High, Mike the Mikman– a Chicago guy– would run his route early and join me playing sanctioned hooky to listen to Rizzuto and Caray call the Series and to root for the Cards after the hated Yanks beat out the Sox by one game for the pennant. So, I could still thoroughly enjoy and not feed Lincolnland directly. )

        • outdoorlifer

          Yes i will Art! I cant give my loyalty back to a team that has literally kick me and 1.5 million of my buddies in the Jimmies year after year and were told to like it. THANK YOU MR. LINCOLN! MAY I HAVE ANOTHER!!! Sorry love the players and Manger but HATE the front office. I hope that group NEVER EVER EVER gets to taste victory! They have neither earned it or deserve it.

    • art thiel

      I understand the principle, but it seems a bit of a shame to let it keep you from enjoying.

      • Effzee

        I know. It’s quite the conundrum. Argh, I say. ARGH! :P

    • outdoorlifer

      Wow Effzee! I feel the exact same way. I have been pissed on and crapped on by howard and his cronies for way to long. He has kicked every single male fan in the JIMMIES for almost a two decades. I will NEVER EVER be full back on till the day they run that worthless pile of nothing out of this town. I also feel dirty if i just bail back on the wagon when i HATE the FO. And that new whats his name….. Jerry mathers AKA the BEAVER is just a YES MAN to Howard the FAN killer.

  • notaboomer

    sorry to say this, but the live games are boring. and way too long. last night’s game took almost 4 hours and only 5 runs were scored. at least if the game is on the toob, i can fold laundry or do something useful with my time.

    • art thiel

      You and your laundry are the biggest threats to sports — staying home.

  • 1coolguy

    You described me in this article Art.
    I already went to my ONE M’s game this year, when Felix pitched of course, and will go to ONE game next year, as I have been doing for a number of years.
    Why? It’s been a LOUSY PRODUCT, that’s why. We know people vote with their pocketbooks and the M’s are a perfect example. There are simply too many other “better products” available.
    Frankly, until Lincoln is gone, this organization will continue to under-perform and only then will I consider becoming a season ticket holder again.

    • art thiel

      I’ve heard from many over a long time that feel as you do. But I do have a question: What will you do if the M’s reach the Series under Lincoln?

      • Jamo57

        I’ll be happy for Seattle and my friends who are Ms fans. But I have no plans to go to a parade and am content to let the bandwagon pass me by. It’s still about the Arena with me. Made a resolution to stay away until ground is broken (wherever that happens to be). To date nothing has happened to even tempt me to reconsider that decision and I don’t anticipate I will.

  • K.j. Hinton

    You mean… “adjustable pricing” didn’t fix these problems?

    I’m stunned.

    • art thiel

      I can tell it’s growing on you. Plenty of tickets for tongight.

  • Big

    I wish the M’s well and I will watch on TV. Dropping $100 plus at Safco is so yesterday for me.

    • Trygvesture

      That’s just poetry. Not a wasted syllable and you said it all.

  • Byron Drahold

    Until the current front office is gone, and I mean ALL gone, my heart will not be with the M’s. Apart from all the terrible baseball decisions over the years, opposing the local arena deal to bring the Sonics back was a knife in the back to all Seattle sports fans

  • Da Kid

    “It was Monday, it was dreary and it was the Houston Astros, who’ve lost at least 100 games in each of the past three seasons.”

    And STILL the perennially impotent M’s couldn’t get Felix any runs. He walked away with his 11TH No-Decision! Doesn’t anyone in the sportswriting community find outrage in the fact that a guy who should have well over 20 wins and be a lock for the Cy Young is treading water at the 14-win mark? In mid-September? With maybe three starts to go, four if they don’t shut him, down? Cripes, he’s not even the winningest pitcher on the staff! (Tied with Kuma.)

    And you wonder why we despise Lincoln and his cadre of front office clowns?

    Believe me, it has virtually nothing to do with the fact it was Monday, it was dreary and it was the Houston Astros, who’ve lost at least 100 games in each of the past three seasons.