Know when you’ve become a baseball town – or, for our purposes, region?
When you’ve learned how to hate.
Anyone can profess love for a team. You can proudly wear your Ken Griffey Jr. replica jersey, line up your arguments for Edgar Martinez’s Hall of Fame candidacy and search Amazon.com for your copy of Ichiro Suzuki’s “Zen and the Art of Slapping Another Sorry-Weak Grounder That I Don’t Beat Out Much Anymore.” These are but the first steps to devotion.
But if you can click over to the Kardashians without a care during another Seattle Mariners beatdown, or until you call a radio talk show to go ballistic, or get nauseous over the Bum of the Month not just failing to hit but simply being in the lineup, you don’t really have it.
You gotta love these guys? Nah. You gotta hate.
This was nearly impossible in the first 15 years of the franchise because the Mariners couldn’t make anyone care enough. You were supposed to work up a froth over $150,000 free-agent pitchers like Milt Wilcox going 0-8, or Byron McLaughlin missing a start because he’d bruised his hand practicing his throwing motion in a hotel room?
Then the M’s gave everyone a taste of how the winning half lives, and nothing breeds disgust quite like having to go back.
Which brings us to this morning, a Mariners-record 14-game losing streak and a list – not 14 long, but just 10, of the most hated Mariners of all time – to argue over until they win again:
10. George Argyros. Yes, the M’s skinflint owner (1981-89) was entrenched in the no-hope era, but it was the way he didn’t win: cheap, clueless, cantankerous. He once sent manager Rene Lachemann a list of suggestions to try during spring training intrasquad games (among them: Batters could run to first on any wild pitch). When Lachemann explained his reluctance to yank a starting pitcher because “it’s not like we have any Cy Youngs in the bullpen,” Argyros asked, “Who’s Cy Young?”
9. Heathcliff Slocumb. In 1997, the M’s traded for a closer who couldn’t close. They only gave up Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek, who between them have been in five All-Star Games and on teams that won the World Series twice.
8. Alex Rodriguez. No, he wasn’t thoroughly reviled until he suckered Texas into a $250 million contract – after suckering M’s management with some fake sincerity about being willing to re-sign. But he’s still booed in Safeco a decade later, and that’s worth something.
7. Scott Spiezio. Not only was he among the worst free-agent signings, he bad-mouthed the franchise for giving him $4.5 million, advising Jeff Weaver – another colossal dud – “I flat out told him he was going to hate it.”
6. Jeff Cirillo. Another whiner – $29 million worth. “Lou Piniella made it very hard for me – just fitting in, feeling comfortable,” he sniveled after 2002. “For me, I’m glad he’s gone.”
5. Richie Sexson. He did hit 73 homers his first two seasons, then tanked horribly, turtled when fans booed (“if you want me to do well, that’s the last thing you should do”) and then showed his tough-guy side when he felt Texas’ Kason Gabbard came inside (sort of), charged the mound – and threw his helmet at the pitcher.
4. Milton Bradley/Carlos Silva. Two sides of the same $48 million coin, busts of epic proportions. Not only did neither produce, but Silva tried to deflect attention from his failures by not-so-subtly insinuating that Ichiro was “selfish” and Bradley, well, the M’s should have considered a mental health bobblehead night. He’s the only Mariner known to have worn earplugs to block out hecklers – at home.
3. Bobby Ayala. Single-handedly threatened to undo the franchise-saving season of 1995 with his human torch act out of the bullpen. When the M’s clinched their playoff spot, he could be seen sneaking around the fringes of the locker room celebration, aiming his champagne bottle at writers he thought had soured fans on him.
2. Chone Figgins. Let’s keep this simple: $36 million deal, .182 batting average.
But, you ask, if Figgins is only No. 2, who’s No. 1? Surely he’s more hated than Kevin Mitchell, Jeff Weaver, Jose Mesa, Mike Schooler – all worthy honorable mentions to this list.
Well, isn’t it obvious?
1. Howard Lincoln/Chuck Armstrong. Eight managers and three general managers have been employed during the deconstruction of the M’s over the past decade. The only two constants are the Teflon toads, who front for an absentee owner with no interest in the club’s field success whatsoever. That owner may have rescued baseball for Seattle; these two carbuncles seem bent on killing it.
Don’t feel bad. Despise these guys. They’ve earned it.