I am not Jeff Sullivan, and I don't pretend to be him. He's one of the best in the business. (If you need evidence, try this, this, and this among many others, including the podcasts.) He founded and presided over one of SBN's original blogs, Lookout Landing, and he only recently retired from the site and full-time Mariners blogging. It's a testament to his sanity that he blogged about one of the worst teams in baseball basically every day for 10 years. It would have been like if someone blogged the Horace Clarke years and the Yankees still weren't exhibiting much cause for hope in the early-to-mid '70s.
Sullivan's at FanGraphs now, but he did a guest post for the Giants blog McCovey Chronicles to help out his BFF and SBN scribe Grant Brisbee. Basically, he simply recounted everything he knew about the Giants' recent history in typical Sullivan fashion, and I cannot do it justice by simply writing about it. Just read it. Needless to say, I liked the idea, so I present my concise history of the Seattle Mariners, the Yankees' opponent tonight and one of just two teams in baseball still missing from World Series play (je suis désolée,
Les Expos Nationals.)
The slightly more detailed version breaks the Mariners' history down into four parts:
1) Sucking, sucking, sucking, holy crap when will the sucking end, "How could you trade Jay Buhner?!"
Full history off the top of my head
Going off memory.
Once upon a time, there was also a terrible baseball team in Seattle named the Pilots. I first learned about them when going through my dad's old baseball cards. I was incredibly confused and a little pissed off since I thought they were a minor league team; after all, there was no team in baseball called the Pilots and I knew the Mariners were founded in 1977. These cards were from 1969.
I later learned that yes, the Pilots were a major league baseball expansion team, albeit an amazingly crappy one that existed for precisely one season. It would have been utterly forgotten in the history of baseball if Jim Bouton had not written Ball Four about his time on this team. They played in a minor league park named Sick's Stadium that had to have been better than the Kingdome on principle alone. I think Bud Selig bought the team and hustled them to Milwaukee in Spring Training of the next season, where they became the Brewers. So Seattle baseball fans have an extra reason to dislike Selig!
Baseball was dormant in Seattle for eight more years until the Mariners came into existence in 1977, when disco painfully ruled the airwaves, Reggie Jackson was bashing dingers, and Billy Martin was getting smashed while berating his players on a nightly basis. Good ol' days, eh? The Mariners were crap from the get-go, though they amusingly had one old Pilot from the first team named Diego Segui, who had a rocking chair in the bullpen. Nonetheless, they were crap as the '70s came to a close, and they played in an ugly publicly-funded dome called the Kingdome. I believe it was like the similarly ugly Olympic Stadium in Montreal ("The Big Owe") in that the city was still paying for it long after it ceased operations (maybe there's something the baseball gods are telling us about building domes like that). They might still be paying for it, for all I know. Maybe city officials hide their embarrassment by calling the tax something else, like the "Hey, Macklemore* likes Seattle, so you should pay for pride!" tax.
*I cheated a bit and briefly checked to see if Macklemore named himself after Mark McLemore. Regrettably (or maybe not), it was merely coincidence.
Kingdome rants aside, the Mariners were still crap as the '80s came to a close. Current MLB Network babbler Harold Reynolds was one of their best players and the highlight of the decade was some third baseman trying to blow a rolling infield single foul. Dark times. Very dark times.
I think they had a popular first baseman at some point named Al Davis because I remember him being mentioned when broadcasters discussed Tino Martinez's crap luck in replacing first baseman (Don Mattingly in New York, Mark McGwire in St. Louis, and most infamously, Travis Lee in Tampa Bay). However, I could not pick Al Davis out of a lineup, and if you mentioned his name, 99.9% of people would assume you were discussing the possibly-alive-in-vampiric-form former owner of the
Oakland Los Angeles Oakland Raiders.
The team was bad enough to get at least one top pick in baseball, and they were fortunate enough to be in position to grab one of the greatest high school prospects of all time: Ken Griffey, Jr. "The Kid" stormed through the system in time to play with his father near the end of the decade. As the Mariners entered the era of Vanilla Ice and miggidy miggidy miggidy mack daddies, there was actually a nice young core and incredibly, some hope for the future. Management played some voodoo tricks on George Steinbrenner and convinced him and his team to trade young slugging prospect Jay Buhner to them for aged DH Ken Phelps. The Reds' 1990 World Series-winning manager Lou Piniella became the skipper, and they hired the architect of the Blue Jays' back-to-back title winners in '92-'93, Pat Gillick. Tino and Edgar Martinez came up through the system, and management also made a trade for a 6'10" fireballing Expo with no control named Randy Johnson. I hope everyone laughed at his name at the time because the Internet would be mocking it like crazy if he was a prospect these days. Oddly enough, no one really made a big deal out of it, even when his nickname became "The Big Unit." Awkward.
The team finally cracked .500 in '93, but they seemed destined to move two years later with the team in a tailspin and King County about to vote down a proposal for a new stadium to replace the catacomb of teal green hell that was the Kingdome. Then, the Mariners came out of nowhere to obliterate a 13.5 game deficit to the Angels and win a one-game playoff for the AL West in which Johnson threw a shutout and Luis Sojo hit a little league grand slam. In the playoffs for the first time in their 18 seasons, the Mariners fell behind 2-0 to the Yankees at Yankee Stadium in the Division Series and the '95 season abruptly ended on the flight to Seattle. It was bizarre.
Fine, I'll level with you. The Mariners won Games 3 and 4 in the Kingdom thanks to shoddy relief from Yankees closer John Wetteland, and three outs from elimination, they broke Donnie Baseball's heart in Game 5 on a 10th inning two-run walk-off double by Edgar to score Griffey and win the ALDS. After all that excitement, the Mariners went down in the ALCS in six games to the 100-44 Indians, and the season was over. It was enough to encourage local politicians to help finance Safeco Field through a bump in taxes. The team was also bought by Nintendo around this time, and I don't think their CEO has seen a game since the purchase. Respect.
The next six years witnessed three more playoff appearances and two division titles as some powerful baby-faced kid in his early twenties joined the dangerous Mariners offense. The Orioles booted them from the playoffs in '97, and the Yankees exacted revenge for the '95 ALDS in the 2000 ALCS by sending them home in Game 6 thanks to David Justice. The aforementioned kid, Alex Rodriguez, left the team after 2000 and then killed your dog. (Or so I've been told.)
By 2001, Griffey and Johnson were also gone and Buhner was basically done. The Mariners went overseas and tried a Japanese star in the outfield to boost popularity and hopefully energize the offense. No Japanese position player had ever exceeded in the majors, but that is exactly what Ichiro Suzuki did. The '01 Mariners were just a very complete team, and career years by the likes of Bret Boone and Mike Cameron jetted the team to an American League record 116 victories. It is absolutely dumbfounding that a non-'98 Yankees team could do that in this day and age. I don't think any team has even gotten to 105 since the '04 Cardinals. Of course, the regular season went for naught, as they nearly lost in the ALDS to the Indians before falling to the Yankees in a five-game whimper of an ALCS. Piniella guaranteed that the series would go back to Seattle after the Mariners lost Game 2. Oh.
The Mariners contended again in '02 and '03, and they decided that four years of success was quite plenty enough for the decade, thank you very much. They fell apart in '04 even though Ichiro set the single-season hits record, and pretty much the only smart thing they did in the rest of the 2000s was calling up a 19-year-old Venezuelan phenom, Felix Hernandez. That worked. Everything else Gillick's replacement Bavasi did was an utter disaster. He was canned after an awful '08 and replaced by Jack Zdurienzick.
I'm not verifying Zdurienzieck's spelling because he's not worth it. Z's been quite terrible as well after turning on his stathead colleagues, probably because one contract did not work out. Stupid Chone Figgins. They tried to be relevant after a decent '09 by trading for Cliff Lee, and they turned out to be utter crap that year. Oops. Their highly-touted prospects Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley, and Jesus Montero have not worked out at all.
Aside from Felix, Seattle baseball has been basically unwatchable since 2003. So huzzah.