SEATTLE — The 1978 Mariners lost 104 games, but they had a rock-solid excuse. Those M’s were a second-year expansion team, comprised of spare parts from other organizations and raw rookies pushed prematurely into The Show.
For 32 years, that 56-104 mark, the handiwork of Bob Stinson, Ruppert Jones, Dick Pole and company, has stood as the benchmark of Mariner futility. Not that any of the Mariners’ faithful—and I use the term loosely; the M’s drew 877,440 to the Kingdome that year, an average of 11.249 per game—were particularly overwrought.
It was, after all, the price to pay for bringing major-league baseball back to Seattle. The Mariners stunk, but they stunk with affection, hope, and even some pizzazz.
Now, more than three decades later, a Mariners team has come along that will challenge the 1978 record for defeats.
Minus the affection, hope and pizzazz.
Oh, technically, as they prepare to open a nine-game homestand today against Texas, the Mariners are on pace to lose “only” 102.
But anyone who has watched the Mariners during their ongoing collapse – they were 6-22 in June, the worst month in club history – knows full well that the losing pace is accelerating at a dizzying rate.
Barring an unforeseen change in fortune, they are playing with enough ineptitude and dysfunction to make 105 losses a real possibility. If they lose at the same clip as they have since July 1, they will lose 111.
It’s now appropriate to ask: Is this the worst team in Mariners’ history?
The quick answer, from someone who has been around for half the 34 seasons: It sure feels like it.
It’s too soon to know if they will finish with a worse record than the 1978 Mariners. But with Lee’s absence from the rotation, the apparent (and understandable) regression of Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, who were so brilliant in the first half; and an offense that has a chance to be historically bad, it’s hard-pressed to see them not making a strong challenge.
Just three other Mariners teams have lost more than 100 games—in 1980 (59-103), 1983 (60-102) and 2008 (61-101). In 2008 they were expected to contend after winning 88 games the previous year and acquiring Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva.
But it is the offensive struggles that make this team uniquely dreadful. They are on pace to score 526 runs, which would be Seattle’s lowest total ever in a 162- game season.
They are also on pace to hit a record-low 96 homers, just magnifying further the crippling lack of pop on this team.
An unmistakable tension has gripped the team since Ken Griffey Jr.’s abrupt departure, only exacerbated by Chone Figgins’ confrontation with manager Don Wakamatsu on the last homestand.
The future of Wakamatsu is in limbo, and GM Jack Zduriencik’s absence of strong public support after the Figgins’ incident only made him seem more vulnerable. But Zduriencik is under fire himself after most of his offseason moves—heralded at the time—fizzled.
When you can make 2008 seem like “the good old days,” you know it’s been a bad, bad year.