Seattle Mariners postsSunday February 19, 2012
“And they're STILL cheering Mike Cameron...”
I'll always remember Mike Cameron for one thing.
It wasn't how he was dealt for two great players: Paul Konerko (straight up) during the 1998-99 off-season and Ken Griffey, Jr. (as the main part of a package) during the following 1999-2000 off-season.
It wasn't for the itinerant nature of his career. In 17 seasons he played for eight teams, and his stay in Seattle, four full seasons, was his longest. The Washington Nationals in 2012 would've been his ninth club but he called it quits today at the age of 39.
It wasn't for his numbers, which were nice if unexceptional: .249/.338/.444. He won three Gold Gloves, made one All-Star Game (I was there) and is currently 8th all-time in career strikeouts with 1901. Admittedly, he was nearly a 300-300 guy, with 278 career home runs and 297 career stolen bases, and admittedly he had that day, in May 2002, when he did what only 12 previous players in baseball history had done when he hit four home runs in a single game. But that's not what I'll remember him for.
I'll remember him for my first impression of him.
Back in 2000 I was still writing the player profiles for The Grand Salami, an alternative Mariners program, and this is what I wrote about our new acquisition:
Michael Terrance Cameron (44)
Height: 6'2,“ Weight: 195
Bats: Right, Throws: Right
Born: 1-8-73 in LaGrange, GA
Family: Wife, JaBreka, and two children, Dazmon and T'Aja
Acquired: If you don't know, you've been in a coma all winter
Major League debut: August 27, 1996, with Chicago White Sox
This was Cameron's second off-season trade in as many years. In November 1998 he was swapped by the ChiSox to Cincy for 1B Paul Konerko. Then in February 2000... Well, you know. In Cameron's one season in the NL he didn't perform poorly: .256 BA, .357 OBP, 34 doubles, 21 HRs, 37 SBs. Plus a helluva glove. His one major drawback is strikeouts. He piles great gobs of strikeouts onto his plate: over 100 each of the last three seasons, and 146 in 1999 (fourth most in the majors). The one place you don't want to bat him then is second, since the second spot is designed for moving the runner along, and strikeouts tend not to do that (unless Lou Brock is on the basepaths). So where are the M's talking about batting Cameron? Second. We say lead him off.
It was a bad time to be a Mariners fan. It would soon get good again (in 2000), and then great (in 2001), and then bad again (October 2001-present), but we didn't know that. We also didn't know that the guy we got for Griffey would, in his four years with us, outhomer Griffey's first four years in Cincinnati, (87-83), that he would drive in more runs (344-232), that he would steal more bases (106-10), that he would win more Gold Gloves (2-0). We didn't know he would charm us. We just knew our franchise guy, the ”All-Century“ player, the guy everyone thought would break Hank Aaron's homerun record, was gone. We were bitter. I know I was. Some magic seemed to have gone from the world. And to Cincinnati of all places.
Was it my first game of the season? The M's had already played three home games when the defending-champion New York Yankees, the team we loved to hate, and used to crush, sauntered in on a chilly Friday night, April 7, 2000. The pitching matchup didn't favor us (Andy Pettitte vs. John Halama), and our lineup, which used to feature a modern murderer's row, now included the likes of Charles Gipson, Joe Oliver and David Bell. A-Rod batted third, Griffey's slot, and hit a homerun. Cameron led off and went 1-4: a two-out double in the 4th with nobody on. He didn't score.
For a while, the game was a back-and-forth affair. M's went up 2-0. Yanks tied it and went ahead 3-2. We tied it and went ahead. In the top of the 8th, it was 6-3, us, but the Yankees had the top of their lineup against reliever Paul Abbott. Chuck Knoblauch flew out for the first out.
Then this happened.
We went nuts. We gave Cameron a standing 'o' after the catch, we gave him a standing 'o' as he trotted in, we gave him a standing 'o' as he batted the next inning, and we gave him a standing 'o' as he walked back to the dugout after striking out on three pitches. ”I don't think I've ever seen anyone get an ovation for striking out," Lou Piniella said with a smile after the game. But how could we not? How else do you thank someone who lets you know it's not over? How else do you thank someone who's restored a bit of magic to the world?
Cameron, robbing Jeter, April 7, 2000.
Michael, We Hardly Knew Ye
If “Don’t trade with the New York Yankees” isn’t No. 1 on the list of Erik’s Unwritten Rules for Baseball GMs, it’s because the following is No. 1 on that list:
- Don’t trade to the New York Yankees something they desperately need.
The 2012 Yankees desperately needed front-of-the-line starting pitching. So what happened yesterday? Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik traded Michael Pineda, one of the best young pitchers in baseball, to the Yankees, for catcher/DH Jesus Montero, one of the top hitting prospects in the nation.
Many fans will say what Jayson Stark said last night on ESPN: “This is one of those deals where both sides got something they were specifically looking for.” Mariners needed hitting and got it, Yankees needed pitching and got it. Done and done.
But you can’t play the game of even-steven with the Yankees. If your goal is not only to improve your team but eventually get to the World Series, you have to go through the Yankees. Playing even-up in trades doesn’t do that because the Yankees can spend you into the ground. You have to keep from them what they need. Like starting pitching. Like Michael Pineda.
Worse, the M’s almost had Jesus Montero in July 2010 for half a season of Cliff Lee. Apparently Zd didn’t seal that deal because Yankees GM Brian Cashman refused to throw in Ivan Nova or Eduardo Nunez. Instead he dealt Lee to Texas for first baseman Justin Smoak. Which means in the scheme of things he traded Michael Pineda for Justin Smoak. Which is a bad trade.
I was high on Zd for awhile. But after Lee, Doug Fister and now Pineda, I’m beginning to wonder. I hope I’m wrong.
Good-bye, Michael. We hardly knew ye.
The Biggest Hurt of All: The MLB Network’s Countdown of the Greatest Players Never to Appear in the World Series
After a long week of work and illness, I plopped onto the couch Friday night to watch a bit of the MLB Network to cheer myself up. Usually works. One of their “Prime 9” shows was on, this one about the best players to never play in the World Series, and so, despite the awful MLB Network commercials, I stuck around to the end. I wanted to see if Ken Griffey, Jr. was their No. 1. As he was mine.
He was. Their list:
9) Phil Niekro
8) Ryne Sandberg
7) Luke Appling
6) Ernie Banks
5) Ferguson Jenkins
4) Gaylord Perry
3) Frank Thomas
2) Rod Carew
1) Ken Griffey, Jr.
Chicago is well-represented: Three Cubs, Two White Sox.
I’m well-represented. No. 2 on the list is the guy I watched growing up in Minnesota. No. 1 on the list is the guy I watched living as a young adult in Seattle. I guess I’m bad news. (Speaking of: Where will we put Ichiro on this list? How about Edgar Martinez?)
All of which is a little sadder than I wanted for a Friday night after a long week of work and illness.
But then Prime 9 did something I’d never seen before. They went beyond the list to provide editorial comment on one team. No, not the White Sox or the Cubs. My Mariners. My 1990s Mariners.
Here’s what they said:
Griffey is just one reason why it’s hard to believe those Mariners teams of the late 1990s never reached a World Series. For beyond Junior, who was arguably the best player in baseball at that time, they also had the game’s premiere designated hitter. (Cue footage and audio from Dave Niehaus: “Edgar Martinez with another home run! Unbelievable!”)
There was also a precocious talent emerging as one of the game’s superstar shortstops. (Cue Niehaus: “That’s going to be...CAUGHT BY RODRIGUEZ! An amazing catch by Alex!”)
And on the mound, Seattle had the Big Unit, one of the most dominant and successful pitchers baseball has ever seen. (Cue announcer: How good is this guy? One of the best.”)
There was a wealth of riches in Seattle in those years. But there was one jewel missing from this gem of a team: A ring.
And that’s our Prime 9. What’s yours?
Well, that is my Prime 9. I'd already written about it back in June 2010 when Ken Griffey, Jr. retired from baseball:
I wasn't there at the beginning but I was there at the end. Not Junior's last game on Memorial Day, but the first Major League Baseball game without Junior on a roster. As he drove home to Florida, M's management played the tribute video they'd probably had in the can for 14 months and the grounds crew created a “24” in the dirt out by second base, and me and my friend Jim watched this team, once mighty, once a potential dynasty, now as weak and characterless as the day he arrived to save them, eke out a win in extra innings. But there was nothing electric about it. There was no future in it. The M's are still a backwards-looking franchise that doesn't even have a definitive victory to look back on. In the 1990s they had three of the greatest players ever to play on the same team, Junior, A-Rod and Randy, and they couldn't get past the ALCS. Two of those players now have rings from other franchises. The last will go down as the greatest player in baseball history never to be in a World Series.
But any baseball fan in Seattle could tell you the same. We know. The rest of the country may be waking up to this just now, but we’ve known since 1998 or ’99. We even know who to blame. From the same post:
Moreover, Junior’s team, the lowly Mariners, who stormed ahead in '95, and seemed, in '96 and early '97, on the verge of a dynasty, was already being undone by awful relief pitching and awfuler moves. Omar Vizquel for Felix Fermin. Tino Martinez and Jeff Nelson for Sterling Hitchcock and Russ Davis. In July '97, with Norm Charlton and Bobby Ayala forever blowing ballgames, M's GM Woody Woodward went out and got three relief pitchers: Bad (Mike Timlin), Badder (Paul Spoljarec) and Baddest (Heathcliff Slocumb). To get them he gave up what felt like the future: another Jr. (Jose Cruz), catcher Jason Veritek and pitcher Derek Lowe. It didn't even work short-term. The M's got killed by Baltimore in the '97 ALDS, three games to one, and from the right-field stands I watched Junior flub a chance at a great play. The ball went off his glove. I'd never seen that before. I thought: “What is that? He normally gets that.” The next season was worse. We lost Randy Johnson in July, and while Junior was blasting homeruns it wasn't at the pace of the two testeronic monstrosities, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who ruled the summer. Junior was a diminished figure in the steroids era. The M's were a diminished team in the Yankees era.
I still contend that if the M’s hadn’t made that ’95 trade to the Yankees, if they’d just been smart about their trades in ’97, if they’d just spent a little more for relief, the great baseball dynasty of the late 1990s wouldn’t have been the effin' New York Yankees. It would’ve been my Seattle Mariners.
But ownership’s purse remained tight, the front office continued to fumble, GM Woody Woodward continued to play golf.
In Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary, talking head Billy Crystal says that the Yankees defeat to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1960 World Series still hurts. But Billy Crystal doesn’t know from hurt. The Big Hurt was No. 3 on MLB’s list but the biggest hurt of all was there at No. 1. It’s a hurt that hasn’t healed in Seattle. It probably never will.
Safeco Field, the night after the day Ken Griffey, Jr. retired from baseball. (Click here for more posts about the Seattle Mariners.)
The Lonely Road to Safeco Field
My friend Tim invited me to the Mariners game Saturday at 4:00, Fan Appreciation Night, or Day, or Fan Appreciation Overcast Late Afternoon, and I went more for Tim than the M's. I'm higher on the team than I've been in years, since they're doing what I urged them to do in 2004--get young--but it's a long season, and manager Eric Wedge is still trotting out the likes of Adam Kennedy (.234/.276/.354), who is 35 and has no upside, rather than some September call-up who does. But it's still fun to sit at the park, see the action, talk baseball.
I was hoping for sun but that was the previous weekend. The walk down provided its own form of gloom, too. Elliott Bay Books relocated more than a year ago, closer to where I live, but its former locatioin is still unoccupied:
The former Elliott Bay Books: a half-hour before gametime.
I found Occidental Avenue, the road to Safeco, also surprisingly unoccupied, even though it was 25 minutes before gametime.
Occidental Avenue: Many of the few fans there were Sounders fans, too, whose game started two hours after the M's game.
Even the left field gate on Royal Brougham, usually bustling, is far from it 15 minutes before gametime.
Russ Davis glove on the right; the faithful few on the left.
The game was an oddity: high-scoring, lots of pitching changes, yet surprisingly fast. Clutch hitting put the M's up 4-1 in the 2nd, but in the top of the 3rd M's starter Anthony Vasquez gave up three homers on four pitches, all blistered, and punctuated by former Mariner Adrian Beltre who practically dented the upper-deck facade in left field with his blast. The ball was just rocketing off Rangers' bats and squibbling off ours, which may explain why, down just one run in the 5th, 7-6, the game felt lost. Which it ultimately was.
Tim and I didn't win, either. Fan Appreciation Night is also giveaway night—autographed jerseys and balls, suites and seats, flat-screen TVs and planetrips, and “much much more” as they say—and Tim and I got bupkis, as per normal. The year before, sitting in the seat I now occupied, Tim's friend Bill won a suite for a game, which we all attended last April, so Tim figured our seats were shot for another few years, if in fact the giveaway is that logical. But a woman three rows in front of us won a luxury cruise for two, which was pretty cool, and Tim and I had fun riffing on some of the giveaways. Working with the Mariners groundscrew? Sounds more like unpaid labor. What next? “A chance to scrub Mariner urinals!” We imagined the winner of that imaginary giveaway being approached by the winner of a real giveaway, an autographed Chone Figgins baseball: “Wanna trade?”
7-6 was the final, putting me at 6-5 on the year. Hoping for better next year. Until then, God bless, Mr. B, wherever you are.
Long-suffering Mariners fan, Mr. B, center, takes tickets at the left field gate.
Celebrating the Tradition at Safeco Field
It’s a long walk back to First Hill from Safeco Field—two miles according to Google maps, uphill mostly, a little more than half an hour usually—but last night, after the Mariners 3-0 loss to the Chicago White Sox, it seemed longer than usual.
It’s not just that our starting pitcher, rookie Michael Pineda, struck out eight in 6 innings and gave up only three hits, all singles, but left the game down 2-0. It’s not just that the only three hits for the M’s included an infield single by Ichiro that should’ve been scored E5 and an excuse-me double by Miguel Olivo, nor that our last two innings contained no loft of hope (strikeout, strikeout, groundout/ groundout, groundout, strikeout), nor that rookie sensation Dustin Ackley looked less than sensational while the starting lineup included only three guys from our opening day lineup (Ichiro, Olivo, Ryan) way back on April 1st, April Fools Day, when we beat the A’s 6-2. In fact, I like that last fact. I like the team going young. I’ve been urging it on M’s management since 2004.
No, what’s depressing is that disconnect between the sketchy world outside Safeco and the false cheer within Safeco. You walk down James Street and through Occidental Park, with its homage to fallen firefighters, and are eyed by the men on the sidelines, the homeless, as if you might be their last meal, then past King Street onto Occidental Avenue, where you’re accosted by the scalpers, hoping to sell, hoping to buy, and you wonder why the two groups, buyers and sellers, don’t get together; but then you assume they do: that the men wishing to buy are with the guys pushing to sell, and you wonder what the profit margin for such an enterprise could possibly be. Who, these days, would buy an M’s ticket for more than face value? And you look around at the vendors urging fatty foods on fatty people and hawking jersey T-shirts with ... whose name? Who’s left? Ichiro, sure, and Ackley, yes, and is it too early to get a Mike Carp or a Trayvon Robinson? Is it too late to get a Justin Smoak? How reduced is that Chone Figgins M’s jersey? In what landfill did the Bradley and Bedard and Fister jerseys wind up? And you look at the sign advertising upcoming concerts at WaMu Theater at CenturyLink Field, which used to be Qwest Field, which used to be Seahawks Stadium, which was paid for with mostly public money, $360 million, but is now named after a private company you didn’t know existed until this year. But at least this crappily named theater is offering the equivalent, crappy concerts, haggard noisemakers (Iron Maiden) and a teenage provocateur so talentless it makes you fear for the younger generation (Ke$ha).
Inside it should be better, it should be clean, but they push false, family-friendly cheer on you until you want to puke. Here are the ballgirls. Here’s Timmy with the rosin bag. Here’s Susie announcing “Play ball!” Here is all the between-innings crap, the bloopers and hydro races and “Find the ball under the M’s cap” shite that keeps your mind off the lousy team and the lousy area and keeps you “entertained,” and thus passive; and since you are so passive, here are your scoreboard cues for the game itself, admonitions to “Put your hands together” and “Make noise” and “LOUDER,” and it works, you passive Pavlovian idiots, you actually make noise when you’re told.
But then you’re at the game, most of you, not for the game but for the freebie before the game, the bobblehead doll made in the image of a fictional creation, Larry Bernandez, a lame gag from a TV commercial in which it’s implied that Cy Young winner Felix Hernandez loves to pitch so much that on off days he puts on a wig and glasses and muttonchops and pretends to be “Larry Bernandez.” This is what Mariners fans, who once had Ken Griffey, Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez, Jamie Moyer and Jay Buhner on the same team, this is what they hold onto this year: Larry Bernandez. Of course it's not that Felix Hernandez loves to pitch; it’s that M’s PR people have so little to pitch. So they pitch him. He’s not a pitcher, he’s the pitchee. A curve ball that misses the plate by a mile. M’s fans swing anyway.
You sit with a couple of these dullards, people who make more noise for the hydro races—screaming “Green!”—than they do for the team, and who crow about getting a Larry Bernandez bobblehead from Larry Bernandez himself. He looks normal at first, this fan, maybe someone you can actually talk baseball with; but that’s before he begins babbling about bobbleheads and you notice the shopping bag full of them, and you know, no, not this guy. Meanwhile, four rows behind you, four boys, late teens or early twenties, hold up their homemade signs, one of which reads, “Who’s goin’ to DREAMGIRLS after the game?,” and that may have been the most depressing sign of all. Dreamgirls is a gentleman’s club that recently opened a half a block from Edgar Martinez Drive, where men-without-women go to watch women-they-can’t-have undulate. And you wonder what’s more depressing: that these boys are proud that they are without women; or that they agree to shill for Dreamgirls for nothing. Unless they’re plants. Which would be sadder still. A fake leer insinuating itself within the fake smile of the stadium. Even our libidoes are false.
So you hope for something clean to wash away all of this—a clean single, a clean double, a clean homer—but the M’s can’t even manage a dirty run. It’s a pitcher’s night, like most nights at Safeco, where even the White Sox three runs are dirty, full of infield and bloop singles, and homeruns that barely escape the park, but you stay to the end, the dirty end, hoping for something clean that never comes. And as you and your girl leave by the left-field gate you notice the signs, the latest PR campaign, the “Celebrate the Tradition” banners all along the entryways. They're filled with shots from the 1995 and 2001 seasons, winning seasons, but you know the true Mariners tradition—how it took 15 years before they even had a winning season; how the M’s are one of two teams who have never even been to a World Series; and how for the last two years they’ve been last in every major offensive category in the Major Leagues—and you find your friend Mike, who works the left-field gate, and who’s been a hapless M’s fan since ’77, and you point back at the “Celebrate the Tradition” banners and say, “I believe we just did,” before escaping into the night.
Celebrate the Tradition.