I’m not going to write about the 2007 New England Patriots that finished 18-1. Not going to do it. No way, no how. I’m also not going to write about the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors that finished the regular season 73-9 either, because as of this writing, they’re not out of it yet. But people are talking. Warriors have their back against the wall. They have to win 2 more in a row against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (and Steven freaking Adams) in order to make it to the NBA Finals, where everyone was sure they were a shoe-in. There is something fascinating about these types of teams – I’ll call them the “Beautiful Disasters” (shout out to 311). They waltz through the regular season, lighting record books on fire, only to hit a randomly-placed brick wall in the postseason.
And then they sink into oblivion, forgotten by a majority of sports fans for eternity…
Do you remember the 2001 Seattle Mariners? No? Exactly. Let’s take a trip down memory lane.
(Author’s Note: I have nothing new to talk about, like, ever. So I just write about old things because I have no new ideas. Don’t tell Mikey. I don’t want the boss to know that my brain is dry.)
116 wins in a Major League Baseball season. Baffling. I could not imagine the Red Sox winning 116 games this season and they are currently lighting the world on fire with their offense. It’s amazing. But 116 games is untouchable. Unless you are the 2001 Seattle Mariners. And no one realizes it, because they didn’t win a damn thing (ya know, except 116 regular season games).
Let’s go back to 1999. Ken Griffey Jr. – the best baseball player you and I have ever witnessed – decides he wants out of Seattle. This was the city that made him a superstar, but he wanted to be closer to his family. His resume was the gold standard in baseball in the decade he spent there – 398 home runs, a 1997 MVP award, and on and on. But the team did not perform all too well, only turning in 5 winning seasons between 1989-1999. Once Griffey decided he wanted out, he was traded to Cincinnati for some players and a bag of baseballs (one of those guys was Mike Cameron. We’ll talk about him later). It truly was the end of an era in Mariners history.
Let’s jump forward one year – to 2000. Alongside Griffey, some handsome young chap from Miami, Florida came into his own in the league, making 4 All-Star games while in a Seattle uniform. That handsome young man goes by the name Alex Rodriguez. But we all know that Alex Rodriguez loves money, so as a free agent in 2000, he decided to ship off to Texas to sign the most lucrative contract in sports history at the time – making a whopping $252 million. The 2000 Mariners lost in the ALCS to the New York Yankees. There was still promise, but A-Rod was out of there.
So let’s wind it back and sum it up – two of the greatest baseball players of all-time spent a total of six years on the same team, and they turned in nothing to show for it. Quite literally nothing. And then they both decide to leave within two years of each other, and what remained in that Seattle Mariners locker room was the human form of one giant shoulder shrug.
Another author’s note: first off, don’t complain that I’m pausing again. You chose to read this. Secondly, I said those two guys were two of the best players of all-time. Well, the top five position players of my generation, 90s-00s, goes in order: (1) Griffey; (2) Bonds; (3) Rodriguez; (4) Pujols; (5a) J.D. Drew; (5b) David Eckstein. Fight me, I dare you.
(Editor’s note: I am in the midst of flying 3,000 miles to fight you for that. Like, actually fight. JD FUCKING DREW?!?! )
How the HELL are the Mariners going to fill the gaps that Griffey and Rodriguez left in the line up? Well they went and got Scott Podsednik, Bret Boone, and some guy from Japan that no one had ever heard of on the free agent market. Sweet, guys – have fun in the basement of the AL West forever.
Well, we were all wrong.
I can’t even tell you how they put it together. I didn’t even mention the fact that Randy Johnson also left Seattle in 1998. They were entirely depleted. And that Japanese free agent – his name was Ichiro Suzuki, by the way – wasn’t performing well in spring training. Jay Buhner injured his foot. It was an unmitigated disaster.
But then somehow, it all clicked, and baseball fans were in for an unbelievable ride. That same Ichiro that barely hit in spring training ended up batting .350 on the year, on his way to the AL MVP award in his first season in the United States. Bret Boone, that free agent pick up the Mariners signed to try and fill some of the hole that was left in the line-up, finished with one of the greatest hitting performances ever by a second basemen: .331, 37 HR, 141 RBI (1,000,000 steroids).
Those were just two of many bright stars. The Mariners ironically hosted the All-Star Game that year as well, in which they boasted 8 players. The AL won 4-1, with Mariners pitchers Freddy Garcia and Kaz Sasaki earning the win and save, respectively.
It is difficult to put the level of Mariners dominance in 2001 into perspective. At the all-star break, for example, they were 63-24. That is an insane record.
Now let’s frame that differently: they had a 19-game lead in their division. NINETEEN GAMES. Their performance was a level of dominance that cannot exactly be quantified – it was simply dominance that was sustained from April to September.
No team-wide records set. A few individual feats here and there – the aforementioned Ichiro MVP… and Rookie of the Year… and AL Batting Champion… and Stolen Base Leader. Freddy Garcia also had the lowest ERA in the AL, so it wasn’t just an offensive onslaught (yes it was. His ERA was 3.05 – a perfect product of the Steroid Era. A 3.05 ain’t going to cut it these days). Crazy-ass Lou Piniella also added a Coach of the Year award to his resume, but that is easy when your team wins 116 games. Hell, even the O.G. DH, Edgar Martinez, who was the man before David Ortiz, if you can remember that time and place, hit .306 with 116 RBIs as a 38-year old. Everyone produced. Remember Mike Cameron, that throw-in in the Griffey trade? Well he threw in a nice 25 HR, 110 RBI performance as well.
But nothing to show for it.
The Mariners ran to Game Five with the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, before knocking them off, only to run into the damn New York Yankees. Two years in a row it would be these two teams battling it out for a spot in the World Series. Man, after writing this I hate the 90s-00s New York Yankees even more. Not only did they ruin my Red Sox-worshipping life but look what they did to the lowly Seattle Mariners. Jesus, man. The Yankees took the series 4-1, with Andy Pettitte earning 2 wins.
The Yankees then lost to the Arizona Diamondbacks to halt a back-to-back-to-back effort. And no team has come close to 116 wins yet. The Cardinals won 105 in 2004. GUESS WHO THEY LOST TO IN THE WORLD SERIES?
Also, if you have made it this far into the piece, congratulations. 1250 words on a team I don’t follow very closely. Here is a nugget for you – isn’t it just sweet, poetic justice that the team that could ruin Golden State’s Mariners-type run through the regular season would be the basketball team that actually left Seattle? Man, when it rains, it pours in Seattle. Sorry, guys.FOLLOW THE OPEN FIELD