Felix Hernandez’s well-deserved Cy Young Award, announced last week, places a bookend (I hope) on 20 years of maddening Seattle Mariners baseball. Being an M’s fan over the past two decades has given me the unique and aggravating experience of watching some of the best baseball players in the world, playing on some of the most mediocre teams in the league.
The 1990s Mariners had four of the best players of the past 25 years: Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, and Randy Johnson. Consider what Griffey, A-Rod and Edgar did during their time with Seattle:
This does not include two second-place finishes for the AL MVP (Griffey, 1994; A-Rod, 1996). In 1996, the Mariners scored 993 runs. In 1997, they set the major league record for team home runs with 264. Oh man, were they fun to watch hit.
Meanwhile, Randy Johnson morphed from the stuff of John Kruk’s nightmares into one of the most dominant (and terrifying) pitchers in the game. The tallest pitcher in the history of the game (at the time), he threw two pitches: a high-90’s fastball and a sweeping 80’s slider. He led the American league in strikeouts from 1992-1995 (as well as hit-by-pitches 92-93) and won the 1995 AL CY Young award (he finished 2nd in the voting in 1993, 4th in 1996, and 2nd again in 1997). He. Was. Awesome.
What did these Mariners teams do, with four Hall of Fame-calibur players? From 1992 through 2000, the Mariners won 695 games and lost 694. One game over .500. They went to the playoffs three times (1995, 1997, 2000), advancing to the AL Championship series twice (95, ’00). A decent showing, but nothing that could be mistaken for a perennial contender.
If the 1990s Mariners were the teams of Randy, Griffey and Edgar, the 2000’s are Ichiro’s teams. We’ve had Ichiro all decade, and now we have Felix, and the trend continues. Ichiro won the AL MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Batting title in 2001. He won another batting title in 2004, and has led the league in hits in seven of the past ten years. Felix finished 2nd in the Cy Young voting last year, and won it this year.
These teams? With Ichiro, the Mariners are dead even over the past ten years, at 813-813. Over Felix’s last two dominant seasons, the M’s are 146-178. Take out the miraculous 2001 season, and the Mariners haven’t been to the playoffs since 2000.
What’s the takeaway here? Mariner fans have watched, up close, the best individual pitching and hitting in all of baseball over the past 20 years. Those twenty years have resulted in teams cumulatively one game above .500. I’d argue that no fanbase has a better appreciation for the ways in which baseball is a team sport masquerading as an individual sport. Would I trade Griffey’s brilliance for a trip to the World Series? Probably not. But would I trade Felix’s 2012 Cy Young Award for a trip to the playoffs? Absolutely.