Seattle Mariners fans haven’t had much to cheer about over the past decade. Since 2003, the M’s have only had three winning seasons, finished higher than third in the A.L. West just twice and failed to make a postseason appearance. In 2008, Seattle lost 101 games and although an 85-77 finish the following season appeared to be a positive step in the right direction, an Enron-esque downward turn had Seattle’s loss column right back in the triple-digits in 2010.
There was a time that Seattle boasted a mix of a core of top prospects with a crew of veteran leaders that had them playing the best baseball in franchise history. Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez taking the game by storm, Randy Johnson’s impossibly super-fastball (in Major League Baseball with Ken Griffey Jr., a 1998 Nintendo 64 video game, Johnson had not only a fastball, but a “super-fastball”), Jamie Moyer’s complementarily slow changeup, and the stoic figures of Edgar Martinez, John Olerud and Dan Wilson were the prime reasons the Northwest was baseball’s biggest fan in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Griffey left and broke a lot of hearts along the way, but Ichiro entered wearing Superman’s cape, sweeping up sunken spirits out of midair and providing a new icon for M’s fans to fall in love with all over again.
The Mariners and their fans are desperately seeking to return to the glory days, and while there have been positive moments over the past 10 years, there is yet to come a figure to spark memories of the sodo-mojo era. Adrian Beltre, Bret Boone and Richie Sexson teased the M’s faithful with awesome but short lived power displays, and Mike Cameron and Randy Winn forever embedded themselves into the Seattle family as fan favorites. Of course, “King” Felix Hernandez has been the best thing to happen to Seattle since the late Dave Niehaus coined “My, oh my,” as the 27-year-old phenom is arguably the best in the world from 60 feet, six inches. Seattle has a core of solid young talent in Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Jesus Montero, but the team lacks a group of veteran leaders who have been with the team for an extended period of time. The father-like presence of players like Martinez and Olerud ceases to exist and it is one of the M’s key roadblocks.
While the struggles have come in terms of player development and producing a consistent core of players to build the team around, outside factors haven’t exactly helped the Mariners’ chances of winning a division title either. The Los Angeles Angels brought in Albert Pujols, have the prospect of a generation in Mike Trout, and the veteran tenure of Mike Scioscia at the helm is validated by his 2002 World Series championship. The Texas Rangers benefitted from, amongst solid pitching and a deadly lineup, a born-again Josh Hamilton until he jumped ship and ended up – much to Seattle’s dismay – in Los Angeles.
The Oakland A’s? Well, they just play like the A’s. Billy Beane’s pieced-together group of oddballs and misfits has found a way to not only win ballgames, but be a contender in one of the toughest divisions in the Majors. And if all that weren’t enough, the relocation of the Houston Astros put one more team in Seattle’s way of contending for a division title.
So as the Mariners continue to struggle through rough times, the memory of the record-setting squad of 2001 and everyone else who made those teams who they were will live on. Hopefully, a resurgence is within the near future.
Evan O'Kelly is on Twitter. Follow him at @evo5giants