It happened almost every Saturday and Sunday in the summer of 1961. The Yankees were on CBS, and Pee Wee Reese and Dizzy Dean had the call.
Pee Wee was the perfect sidekick — urging Diz to tell stories about Sal “The Barber” Maglie or to use his fractured English (“He slud into third.”) And any player from Indiana prompted Diz to growl out a couple of verses of “The Wabash Cannonball.”
With a Yankees game a Yogi Berra mention happened just about every inning. Sometimes it was his remarkable play, but often it was just something he said. And his words are just about the only things that link his Yankees to the 2013 Seattle Mariners.
1. "It's deja vu all over again."
In the past decade the Mariners have finished fourth (and last) in the American League West division seven times, winning not once. Despite individual successes by Felix Hernandez (2010 Cy Young Award) and Ichiro Suzuki (2004 major league hit record), the Mariners often were out of contention for any postseason play after June. Accordingly, the Mariners had higher selections in the annual drafts, which would appear to enable them to build a strong, young team.
2. "When you come to a fork in the road....Take it."
The draft of young players never produced a contending team. In the decade since 2002, the Mariners have had 11 first-round draft choices. Among them, only three (Mike Zunino, Nick Franklin and Dustin Ackley) are on the Mariners' 2013 major league roster. Although Zunino and Ackley are adequate fielders, only Franklin has made any significant contribution at bat.
Nothing defines the Mariners' draft history like its 2006 choice, Brandon Morrow, whom the Mariners chose in lieu of Tim Lincecum, a University of Washington graduate who was then available. Lincecum has won two Cy Young Awards, appeared in four All-Star games and helped the San Francisco Giants to two world championships. Through July 2013 he has won more than twice as many games as Morrow (89 to 41), whom the Mariners finally traded in 2009. The Mariners' “baseball people” felt that Lincecum's delivery mechanics created too great a risk of injury, although it is Morrow who has been sidelined often by injury.
The Mariners' choices in the draft put additional pressure to remedy their mistakes through trades, many of which were counterproductive. A lineup of former Mariners that grace the All-Star team is stunning: Adam Jones, Steve Delabar, David Ortiz, R. A. Dickey, Adrian Beltre and Asdrubal Cabrera are recent examples.
3. “If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.”
A lack of a clear vision for the future has plagued the Mariners' personnel choices. Rather than stockpiling young talent (as it has claimed to do), or trading for immediate success (as it has also claimed to do), the Mariners have thrown darts at various strategies without any clear benefit. Unable to retain critical star players they developed (Ken Griffey, Jr., Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez) the Mariners have also failed to retain players that were the product of trades or free agent acquisitions (Cliff Lee, Beltre).
As the free agent signings this year were modest (Joe Saunders, Raul Ibanez and the departed Jason Bay), it appears that the Mariners have returned to the young-player development strategy. That is always accompanied by an “it will take time” admonition.
4. “Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.”
Why haven't the Mariners responded to their downward spiral with management firings? Despite a poor on-field record, the Mariners have actually made money for its ownership group. In 2012, the Mariners reportedly returned a profit of $5.86 million. Part is due to its aggressive ticket-pricing strategy, which charges a premium for games that more fans want to see — those involving the Red Sox, Yankees, Dodgers and Cubs. Concession prices have soared. Safeco Field remains rated as one of the game's best ballparks, which attracts fans when the Mariners have not contended for a title.
Those days of Safeco Field-generated attendance are ending though. In past years the Red Sox and Yankee games were either sold out or nearly so, but last month's normally-crowded Red Sox games featured thousands of empty seats. Series attendance averaged just over 24,000 fans. Attendance has dropped every year since 2002, when the Mariners posted its record per game average of 43,710 fans, with the exception of a slight increase in 2007. The average per game this year is likely to drop below 2012 levels with the Red Sox, Yankees, Pirates, Cubs games completed and the Mariners once again not in title contention. The Mariners attendance is 25th (of 30 teams), and may drop below 20,000 per game for the first time since its days in the Kingdome.
5. "You can observe a lot by watching."
What makes the baseball experience joyful? Winning certainly helps, but there appears to be little external pressure on the Mariners' executives to win. Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong have held their positions for no reason related to field performance.
The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of the few teams whose attendance does not always match its win-loss record, but their fans are treated to good weather, low concession prices, ample parking and an aggressive front office that demonstrates its willingness to spend money to be competitive.
Fans want to admire their teams for what they represent. The recent attempts by the Mariners to scuttle the location of a SoDo arena for potential NBA and NHL franchises were criticized by Seattle sports fans as selfish and illogical. The designated Stadium District has so far not created a serious problem for the Mariners, even when two venues are in play on the same day.
6. "If the world were perfect, it wouldn't be."
No one expects the Mariners to become overnight pennant contenders. But patience has its limits, and Mariners' fans have seen too much bad baseball. Fans appreciate a little Yogi Berra wit. How about some of his baseball skill as well?