The 2010 season was supposed to be the year that things finally worked out for the Seattle Mariners. It was supposed to be the successful sophomore campaign for Mariners manager, Don Wakamatsu. And the addition of game changing players – like Cliff Lee, Chone Figgins, and Milton Bradley – was supposed to be all the help the Mariners needed to make the jump from postseason hopeful to hero.
Yet, on the eve of the All-Star game, Seattle struggles to stay afloat among the choppy seas of the A.L. West, which raises more than just a few questions.
How did the Mariners get so far off course? Who is to blame for steering the team in the wrong direction? Are the Mariners doomed to be dry-docked in last place? Will I ever stop making nautical puns?
At the end of the 2008 MLB regular season the Seattle Mariners owned the worst record in the American League, 61 wins and 101 losses. The team finished an embarrassing 39 games out of first place and edged out the Washington Nationals by two wins to avoid the dubious title of worst record in baseball. With new skipper Don Wakamatsu at the helm and almost nowhere to go but up, the Mariners improved by leaps and bounds in 2009 and finished with a record of 85 wins and 77 losses, just 12 games behind the division winning Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. With such progress in just one season it seemed that all the M’s needed was a few key player acquisitions and the division title was for the taking. But as quickly and dramatically as the team’s turnaround occurred, the bottom seemed to fall out once again this season.
Despite making all the right moves during the offseason the Mariners struggled early and often. The team managed only eight wins in the entire month of May. As soon as the Mariners began to struggle, fans and media began to second guess the manager. In a split second Wakamatsu went from savior to scapegoat. The same man who was heralded as a blessing for managing the team through the 2009 turnaround was now on the hot seat for what was quickly developing into a lost season.
To make matters worse, a story of Ken Griffey, Jr. sleeping through a pinch hit opportunity surfaced and brought drama and criticism to the embattled club. Unnamed players leaked to the media that Junior was actually sleeping in a chair in the clubhouse when he was wanted for a critical at bat during a close game. This not only gave a perception that Griffey was old and beyond ready for retirement, but the story also highlighted an unorganized clubhouse. With a manager not able to wake a slumbering slugger, and players running their mouths to reporters, it was clear that not everyone was on the same page… and the club’s struggles began to look more substantial than coincidental.
Similarly, it became increasingly apparent that the Seattle’s roster additions were not enough to keep pace in the division, especially with the suddenly strong Texas Rangers. Led by the resurgent bat of Vlad Guerrero the Rangers left the Mariners treading water at the bottom of the division. (See? There I go again with the maritime puns.)
In June the club was rocked again by the sudden mid-season retirement of Ken Griffey, Jr. After 22 seasons the aging slugger called it quits. Unhappy with his diminishing ability he decided to walk away from the game he loved so much. Unfortunately for Junior, and Mariners fans, the retirement of one of the greatest players of his era was completely overshadowed by the Armando Galarraga blown perfect game scandal. Sports news media honed in on the controversial blown call and the ending of the Junior Era in baseball sailed quietly into the Pacific night. (Seriously, I can’t help myself.)
The nail in the coffin of any legit chances of a miraculous turnabout to this season came in the form of the Cliff Lee trade. It was rumored that the New York Yankees were likely to win the services of the talented hurler, but just a few days ago the ace pitcher was dealt to the division leading rivals, the Texas Rangers. This move was the figurative embodiment of raising the white flag of surrender. Dealing such a talented player within the division obviously communicated that the M’s have thrown in the towel on the season.
With the bad luck the team has endured throughout the first half it seems the Mariners will continue to struggle through the second half, unable to wrest the albatross from their burdened necks. (That’s right, a Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner reference).