Here’s a crib-notes suggestion for how to read local writer Jon Wells’ telling new book Shipwrecked: A Peoples’ History of the Seattle Mariners (Epicenter Press, $15.95):
Start on page 143, where M’s apparent chairman and CEO for life Howard Lincoln is quoted confiding in 2002 to a Seattle Times columnist: “The goal of the Mariners is not to win a World Series. It is to field a competitive team year after year, to put itself in a position to win a World Series and hope at some point that happens.”
Then, as an example that helps confirm the cavalier disregard for seeking world championships, thumb back to page 69. There it's recounted how the "brain trust" of the only extant member of the American League never to have played in a World Series had selected in the 1999 player draft Willie Bloomquist ahead of Albert Pujols. This isn't to disparage the journeyman Northwest native Bloomquist. But Pujols (whose month-of-April National League record of 14 homers in 2006 nearly matches Bloomquist's 10-year career total of 17) has been what some would call the greatest player of the past decade. Not only was he part of the reason for last year’s World Series win by the St. Louis Cardinals. Since then he’s been acquired — make that “A”-quired — by the A-naheim A-ngels, meaning that the “A” on players’ caps until Pujols leaves the team will seem to stand for “Albert.”
The 2012 M’s? The letter “M” at best would seem to stand for “middlin’” in a division featuring Anaheim and 2010 and '11 American League champ Texas. Indeed, even before Seattle’s split of its opening series in Tokyo to start the major-league season, i could find no prediction in print or online that gave the M’s better than a shot at third place in the American League West.
Few in the Northwest are surprised. The M’s since their astonishing 116-win season in 2001 have mostly been a decade-long embarrassment of big-league baseball. Readers who care will already know this and won’t really need Wells’ book to remind them.
Why get the book? Literary masochism comes to mind. Wells dredges up the many bad memories of a franchise that kind of tipped its inept hand that night (and some of us were there) in April of 1977 when the team lost 7-0 on the way toward 14 straight losing seasons and nary a playoff appearance until the storied 1995 "refuse-to-lose" campaign.
Wells has a satisfying writing style and obvious affection for a franchise he wishes had been much better. For more than 15 years the author has generated M’s coverage via a magazine and web site called The Grand Salami, taken, obviously, from the late Dave Niehaus’ characterization of a grand-slam home run. Like many who have observed the fortunes or, more likely, the foibles of this franchise, Wells has sought to understand how management of such a major enterprise can have gotten it wrong so many times.
Rightly, he cites as eminently blameworthy the one ongoing non-variable component of the operation, which, alas, is upper management. Indeed, the most optimistic observation in the book is that, since Lincoln and club president Chuck Armstrong now are in their 70s, at least fans can anticipate that new stewards will come along — will maybe even lead the team to greatness.
Greatness (or even goodness) isn’t likely to happen anytime soon. The M’s are expected to play in a five-team division starting next season with the addition to the American League West of the current National League Houston franchise, moving as a way to produce six five-team groupings. Even with the expected adding of extra playoff teams to the postseason, it would seem a daunting challenge for the Mariners to vie anytime soon for a shot at a World Series appearance.
What this means is that it would seem to require something of a horrified fascination to buy (mine came in the mail free) and read Wells’ book. Those of us who have lived through the Mariners’ era already know much of what Wells admirably documents. Recalling it yet again while knowing that the same top-down ill-advised management decisions may prevail is just about the last way an optimist would care to greet what for many baseball fans is the most promising time of year.
But the book is definitely worth a look. Aside from belaboring the obvious about the operation, the author also has a number of patently subjective suggestions for various "best" and "worst" aspects of the franchise. Alas, for every Ken Griffey Jr., Ichiro Suzuki, Randy Johnson, and Edgar Martinez, there seems to have been about a hundred Carlos Silvas, Jeff Cirillos, Steve Trouts and Jeff Mantos (the singular Manto is adjudged by Wells to be the worst-ever M's player).
In any case, the author makes it clear that he endeavored to interview Lincoln and Armstrong for the book. Having read Shipwrecked, I'm inclined to feel their refusals may have been the smartest things they've done as M's execs.