erik lundegaard

Seattle Mariners posts

Wednesday May 02, 2012

Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong, Accountable to No One (Or How the Seattle Mariners Became Soylent Green)

I've been reading Jon Wells' “Shipwrecked: A People's History of the Seattle Mariners” and having trouble not throwing the book across the room. It keeps reminding me of all the golden opportunities the M's front office have wasted over the years.

Has any team had more talent than that 1995-1997 Mariners yet never made it to the World Series? We had the best player in baseball (Ken Griffey, Jr.), the best power pitcher in baseball (Randy Johnson), one of the greatest shortstops of all time (Alex Rodriguez). Throw in a batting champion like Edgar Martinez, a 40-HR/120-RBI man like Jay Buhner, and your various Tino Martinezes, Dan Wilsons, Jeff Nelsons and Jamie Moyerses. The underachievement is stunning.

But it gets worse in the 2000s.

The following is a chart of average attendance at Mariners games at Safeco Field since 2001:

Average attendance, Seattle Mariners, 2001-2012

source: ESPN.com

You'd think if you ran an organization that lost more than half of its customers in a 10-year span you'd lose your job. Certainly Mariners' managers and general managers have come and gone during this period. But the main guys, the guys who are really running the show, M's CEO Howard Lincoln and M's president Chuck Armstrong, keep on keeping on. They occasionally pepper the local news with their idiotic comments but they never lose their jobs.

How is that possible?

Well, as M's fans know, the majority owner of the Seattle Mariners baseball club, Nintendo's Hiroshi Yamauchi, is the ultimate absentee owner. Even when the Mariners traveled to Japan this spring for two regular season games against the Oakland A's, he couldn't be bothered to make it to the park. To this day, he's never seen his team play.

Yet you'd think he'd notice the drop in gate receipts. The drop in profit. The drop in value.

And there's the rub. During the 10-year span that M's attendance has been cut in half, from an average of 43,709 in 2002 to an average of 20,654 so far in 2012, the value of the ballclub, according to Forbes magazine, has almost doubled: from $373 million in 2001 to $585 million in 2011.

How is that possible?

For one, revenue has steadily climbed while operating income has remained in the black:

Year 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Revenue (in millions) 166 167 169 173 179 182 194 189 191 204 210
Operating Income 14.1 23.3 17 10.8 7.3 21.5 10.1 3.8 10.5 9.9 2.2

source: Forbes Magazine

Of course, there's some dispute with these numbers. A few years back, Deadspin published the financial documents of several ballclubs, including the Seattle Mariners, and the numbers didn't quites match Forbes' numbers. (It makes one wonder where Forbes gets its numbers.)

Even so, in terms of revenue and operating income, at least in the Forbes version, the M's look like they have a good business model.

But if you look at operating income rank among MLB teams, of which there are 30, the picture isn't so rosy:

Year 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Operating Income 14.1 23.3 17 10.8 7.3 21.5 10.1 3.8 10.5 9.9 2.2
Op. Inc. MLB Rank 9 1 1 10 23 9 23 27 22 23

26

source: Forbes Magazine

The Mariners used to turn the greatest profit in the game. Now we're near the bottom. It's like the attendance figures above.

At the same time, the M's value as a ballclub is never near the bottom among MLB teams. Even during these dog days—and man have they been dog days—the rank of the team's value has stayed fair to middling:

Year 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011
Valuation (mil$) 373 385 396 415 428 436 466 426 439 449 585
Forbes Ranking 6 6 5 5 8 12 11 13 14 15 12

source: Forbes Magazine

Why?

In my research, I came across a good 2010 piece on Marinercentral.com, in which the unnamed author pulled together much of the same information I was pulling together, and he asked some of the same questions I was asking. His conclusion? The M's don't have competition. They run a monopoly in the Pacific Northwest. The geographic isolation of the Seattle Mariners has always been a pain to its players, who have to travel farther and more often just to get a game going, but it's a boon for guys like Lincoln and Armstrong who don't have to worry about a decent product on the field, since, for MLB fans in the Pacific Northwest, there's only one product: your Seattle Mariners. It's doesn't matter that lately the Mariners have become the baseball equivalent of soylent green—the only food available to futuristic denizens in the infamously bad 1973 sci-fi film of the same name. To Lincoln and Armstrong, it's still green.

Our MarinerCenteral writer writes, of towns in Idaho and Montana, Alaska and Oregon:

If we add those markets together in conjunction with the Seattle-Tacoma market, that gives us a total of 4,468,210 homes – which easily vaults the media market in to which the Mariners broadcast firmly into the top 3 or 4 in the country!!

Then he reminds us how well the M's, with Ichiro on board, do in Japan:

...in 2004 they also enjoyed revenues from a half-dozen Japanese firms who bought advertisement at Safeco with the idea of marketing to Japanese audiences watching Mariner games. That article in the Seattle Business Journal quoted Howard Lincoln as saying, “If there was no Ichiro, there would be no broadcast of games back to Japan, and none of these companies would be interested in Safeco Field.”

All of this goes a long way toward explaining why Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong still have jobs. Yes, they've taken a once promising franchise and turned it into a joke: a franchise first in attendance that is now second-to-last; a franchise first in operating income that is now near the bottom; a team that used to be feared but is now ... not. But that team is never in the red, the overall value of the club has gone up (as the value of all clubs have gone up), and its value-ranking among MLB teams is buoyed by its isolation in the Pacific Northwest.

Smarter baseball men running the show, and paying attention to the product on the field, might have widened the revenue streams rather than narrowed them by half, as Lincoln and Armstrong have done. But Hiroshi Yamauchi doesn't seem to care about this. He doesn't seem to care about the quality of the product. He doesn't seem to care that we, and he, have lost face in Major League Baseball.

At some point it's going to matter. At some point the loss of the local fanbase will be too great to be compensated by other revenue streams. At some point, Lincoln and Armstrong, and maybe even Yamauchi, will realize that soylent green isn't just green; it's people.

Safeco Field, April 15, 2012

What Lincoln and Armstrong have wrought: the crowd at Safeco Field on April 15, 2012, five minutes before gametime. (Photo via Darren Rovell on Twitter.)

Posted at 07:38 AM on May 02, 2012 in category Seattle Mariners
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Monday April 30, 2012

Howard Lincoln and Some Part of a Horse, Midstream

I came across this quote in Jon Well's book “Shipwrecked: A Peoples' History of the Seattle Mariners” and wanted to throw the book across the room. I often want to throw his book across the room. Jon's a friend, and it's a good book, but it keeps reminding me just how much I despise the M's front office: how blithely incompetent M's CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong have been over the years and yet how long they've kept their jobs; how there's just no accountability there. There's just ... waste. A vast waste of opportunity and possibility and talent and time.

Shipwrecked: A People's History of the Seattle MarinersIn the quote, Lincoln is talking about retaining then-manager John McLaren and then-GM Billy Bavasi. I've got nothing to say about the former but the latter is surely the worst GM in M's history. I assumed it was impossible to surpass the sluggish ineptitude of Woody Woodward but Bavasi managed it with his brand of energetic ineptitude. You wished Woody would get off the golf course and work the phones. With Bavasi, you wanted him on the golf course. Put down the phone, Mr. Bavasi. Please. Don't make any more deals.

Anyway, here's the quote. It's from September 26, 2007:

“I don't like to change horses in midstream. I didn't want to do it last season and I think the decision I made last season to stick with Bill and Mike proved to be the right decision. I think the decision to remain with Bill and John will turn out to be the right decision.”

He'd made a similar quote the year before, on September 29, 2006:

...there was “no sense changing horses in midstream,” Lincoln said.

Two things:

  1. “Horses in midstream” is the idiotic campaign slogan of a corrupt president in David Mamet's political satire “Wag the Dog.” It was discredited long before Lincoln kept uttering it.
  2. If the end of the season is “midstream,” what isn't?

More to come.

Posted at 07:05 AM on Apr 30, 2012 in category Seattle Mariners
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Sunday April 22, 2012

Humber Humber Throws Perfect Game* Against Some Team

My friend Jeff asked me to the M’s game last Sunday, April 15, but I was a little under-the-weather and still had taxes to do and begged off. But as I did my taxes, I checked the score occasionally. I wanted the M’s to win, certainly, and they did, beating the A’s 5-3, but more, I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a no-hitter for either side. I’ve never been at the ballpark for a no-hitter, of which there have been 272 in Major League Baseball history, and would’ve kicked myself for missing that one for something as silly as taxes.

Yesterday, a rare sunny day in Seattle, I went with Patricia and Ward to celebrate a friend’s birthday in Port Townsend, Wa. We were driving back around 9 pm when Ward checked his smartphone and came back with news. Apparently someone had pitched a perfect game against the Seattle Mariners.

“You’re kidding,” I said, immediately uncomfortable. “A perfect game? Who was pitching?” We were playing the White Sox, I knew, but did I know even one White Sox pitcher anymore? Mark Buehrle, who pitched a perfect game in 2009, was now with the Miami Marlins.

“You know how rare this is?” I asked the car, which didn’t care. “I think there have only been like 21 ever.”

“Humber,” Ward read. “Philip Humber.”

A nobody. “Crap,” I said.

“It was the 21st perfect game in baseball history,” Ward read.

“Crap crap,” I said.

I wasn’t bummed about missing the game. I hadn’t thought about attending and no one had asked. I’m part of a season-ticket package but scaled back to only five games this year because I ate too many tickets last year, and I picked no games in April. Weather is usually lousy in April and if it wasn’t I knew I could always do the walk-up. Tickets are to be had in Seattle these days.

No, I was bummed it was my Seattle Mariners, my up-and-coming Seattle Mariners, against whom a perfecto had been thrown. Last year or the year before, when they finished last in the Majors in almost every offensive category, sure, I might’ve expected it. But we were getting younger and better now. We were banishing the ghost of Bill Bavasi. Weren’t we?

I thought up excuses. The sun was in their eyes. We’re not used to sun in Seattle. I thought, “Where’s Jim Joyce when you need him?” referring to the first base ump whose blown call upset a perfect game for the Tigers’ Armando Galarraga in 2010. When I got home I even tweeted that, thinking myself clever. Turns out, because the last out was a disputed call, a checked swing by Brendan Ryan on a 3-2 count that should’ve result in a walk and no perfect game, everyone and their brother had already tweeted something similar.

“Crap,” I said.

I looked up the box score. The M’s are better than last year, with more upside, but we still began the game with only two starters with OBPs above .300—Dustin Ackley and Ichiro—and we ended it with no starters with OBPs above .300. As my father wrote yesterday:

Will Humber's perfect game go in to the record books with an asterisk because it was against the Mariners?

I looked up Humber, or “Humber Humber,” as I began to think of him. He was a former No. 1 draft pick with the Mets. Traded to the Twins. Picked up on waivers by the A's and then the ChiSox. Second-fewest career wins for a perfect-game winner.

Articles were already proclaiming him a member of an elite club that included Cy Young, Sandy Koufax, Randy Johnson, Catfish Hunter and Roy Halladay. Yes, I thought, and Len Barker and Tom Browning and Dallas Braden.

It’s called the 21st perfect game in Major League history but to me it’s the 19th. Not sure how you can count the two from 1880, when foul balls picked up on a hop were considered outs, and the losing teams were named the Worcester Ruby Legs and the Buffalo Bisons.

Here are the 19 perfect games of the modern era:


Date Winning team Losing team Pitcher Catcher Umpire Ks
1 5-May-1904 Boston Americans Philadelphia A's Cy Young Lou Criger Frank Dwyer 8
2 2-Oct-1908 Cleveland Naps Chicago White Sox Addie Joss Nig Clarke Tommy Connolly 3
3 30-Apr-1922 Chicago White Sox Detroit Tigers Charlie Robertson Ray Schalk Dick Nallin 6
4 8-Oct-1956 New York Yankees Brooklyn Dodgers Don Larsen Yogi Berra Babe Pinellli 7
5 21-Jun-1964 Philadelphia Phillies New York Mets Jim Bunning Gus Triandos Ed Sudol 10
6 9-Sep-1965 LA Dodgers Chicago Cubs Sandy Koufax Jeff Torborg Ed Vargo 14
7 8-May-1968 Oakland A's Minnesota Twins Catfish Hunter Jim Pagliaroni Jerry Neudecker 11
8 15-May-1981 Cleveland Indians Toronto Blue Jays Len Barker Ron Hassey Rich Garcia 11
9 30-Sep-1984 California Angels Texas Rangers Mike Witt Bob Boone Greg Kosc 10
10 16-Sep-1988 Cincinnati Reds LA Dodgers Tom Browning Jeff Reed Jim Quick 7
11 28-Jul-1991 Montreal Expos LA Dodgers Dennis Martinez Ron Hassey Larry Poncino 5
12 28-Jul-1994 Texas Rangers California Angels Kenny Rogers Ivan Rodriguez Ed Bean 8
13 17-May-1998 New York Yankees Minnesota Twins David Wells Jorge Posada Tim McClelland 11
14 18-Jul-1999 New York Yankees Montreal Expos David Cone Joe Girardi Ted Barrett 10
15 18-May-2004 Arizona Diamondbacks Atlanta Braves Randy Johnson Robby Hammock Greg Gibson 13
16 23-Jul-2009 Chicago White Sox Tampa Bay Rays Mark Buehrle Ramon Castro Eric Cooper 6
17 9-May-2010 Oakland A's Tampa Bay Rays Dallas Braden Landon Powell Jim Wolf 6
18 29-May-2010 Philadelphia Phillies Florida Marlins Roy Halladay Carlos Ruiz Mike DiMuro 11
19 21-Apr-2012 Chicago White Sox Seattle Mariners Phillip Humber A.J. Pierzynski Brian Runge 9

Remember the name Ron Hassey for potential bar bets. He’s the only guy on this list whose name appears more than once. No one has even umped two perfect games. Perfection is singular, with the exception of Hassey.

So what’s to account for the spate of perfect games in the post-1961 expansion era? Dilution of talent? I thought strikeouts maybe, since it’s easier to keep players off base if they’re not hitting the ball in play; but while Ks have generally gone up, they haven’t necessarily gone up during perfect games. Much.

Looking over the list, I began to see a kind of parity, or karma, in which one year’s victim (1908 ChiSox) became another year’s victor (1922 ChiSox), or vice versa (’84 Angels/’94 Angels). Crunching the numbers further, I realized there was no parity. The Yankees are 3-0 in perfect games, the Phillies and Indians both 2-0, the Twins and Rays both 0-2. In fact, only six teams have been on either end of a pefect game:

Perfect Game Teams Wins Losses
New York Yankees 3 0
Chicago White Sox 3 1
Philadelphia Phillies 2 0
Cleveland Indians 2 0
Oakland A's 2 1
Red Sox 1 0
Cincinnati Reds 1 0
Arizona Diamondbacks 1 0
California Angels 1 1
Montreal Expos 1 1
Texas Rangers 1 1
Los Angeles Dodgers 1 3
Detroit Tigers 0 1
New York Mets 0 1
Chicago Cubs 0 1
Toronto Blue Jays 0 1
Atlanta Braves 0 1
Florida Marlins 0 1
Seattle Mariners 0 1
Minnesota Twins 0 2
Tampa Bay Rays 0 2

And was it my imagination or did more perfect games happen early in the year?

Month No. of Perfect Games
April 2
May 7
June 1
July 4
August 0
September 3
October 2

Not my imagination. And did more of these games happen in American League?

American League 11
National League 6
Inter-League 2

Yep. Even in the DH era, when NL teams should be an easier mark for imperfectos, the AL leads 7-4, with one interleague game in the mix. (The Yankees bolster their numbers with interleague games.)

I was curious: How did losing teams wind up doing the season they were imperfected? The M’s have no shot, of course. But do they have even less of a shot than the no-shot they had before?

Date Losing team Team's final record
5-May-1904 Philadelphia A's 81-70, 5th of 8 teams
2-Oct-1908 Chicago White Sox 88-63, 3rd of 8
30-Apr-1922 Detroit Tigers 79-75, 3rd of 8
8-Oct-1956 Brooklyn Dodgers 93-61, lost World Series, 4-3, to Yankees
21-Jun-1964 New York Mets 53-109, 10th of 10
9-Sep-1965 Chicago Cubs 72-90, 8th of 10
8-May-1968 Minnesota Twins 79-83, 7th of 10
15-May-1981 Toronto Blue Jays 37-69, 7th of 7
30-Sep-1984 Texas Rangers 69-92, 7th of 7
16-Sep-1988 LA Dodgers 94-67, won World Series, 4-1, over A's
28-Jul-1991 LA Dodgers 93-69, 2nd of 6
28-Jul-1994 California Angels 47-68, 4th of 4
17-May-1998 Minnesota Twins 70-92, 4th of 5
18-Jul-1999 Montreal Expos 68-94, 4th of 5
18-May-2004 Atlanta Braves 96-66, 1st of 5, lost LDS, 3-2, to Houston
23-Jul-2009 Tampa Bay Rays 84-78, 3rd of 5
9-May-2010 Tampa Bay Rays 96-66, 1st of 4, lost LDS, 3-2, to Texas
29-May-2010 Florida Marlins 80-82, 3rd of 5
21-Apr-2012 Seattle Mariners ????

Most of the post-’61 perfectos have resulted from bottom-feeding: ’64 Mets, ’81 Blue Jays, ‘99 Twins. These are some of the worst teams in baseball history.

The Dodgers are an intereseting subset here. For being on the wrong end of three perfect games, they’ve done fairly well for themselves in those years. Obviously the ’56 perfecto happened during the World Series, which they lost, 4-3, but the ’88 Dodgers shook off that ‘88 perfecto and actually won the World Series. The ’91 team won 93 games. They give hope to the imperfected.

One positive out of all this? The White Sox are now 3-1 in perfect games and thus have as many perfectos as the New York Yankees, who are a dastardly 3-0. Isn’t it time those bastards wound up on the wrong end of one of these? Now that would be a perfect game. That would be the perfect perfect game.

Humber Humber admires his perfect game against the low-hitting Seattle Mariners: April 21, 2012

Humber Humber admires his perfect game against some team or other: April 21, 2012

Posted at 12:05 PM on Apr 22, 2012 in category Seattle Mariners
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Sunday 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.

Grand Salami, May 2001It 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.

Posted at 04:18 PM on Feb 19, 2012 in category Seattle Mariners
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Saturday January 14, 2012

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.

Michael Pineda, former Seattle Mariner

Posted at 08:51 AM on Jan 14, 2012 in category Seattle Mariners
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