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Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

July 28, 2010 at 3:51 PM

Most disappointing Mariners team, part 2: Winning season division

Today’s Mariners minor-league report. Kyle Seager’s hit streak for High Desert ends at 32 games.

I was glad to see my blog post pondering whether this year’s Mariner team is the most disappointing in franchise history stirred up a lot of debate.

I was intrigued to see that so many people weighed in to say that the 2001 Seattle team — which won 116 games but got knocked out of the American League Championship Series by the Yankees in five games — was the most disappointing. I believe “ajjrt” was the first to make that point:

I think there was one year which really killed me…the year they won 116! When we lost to Cleveland, it appeared that we could not regain any composure and then the playoffs…what a failure! I really think that was my most disappointing Mariners season…but 2010 is definitely the most disappointing Mariners TEAM!

(The Cleveland reference is to the game in August in which the Mariners blew a 12-0 lead — an historic meltdown — and lost 15-14 in 11 innings).

Other commenters mentioned various other Mariner seasons that appeared to be fairly successful, when judged by wins, but were still perceived as being under-achievements.

Those are valid thoughts. I was focused on pitiful seasons of miserable results (or miserable seasons of pitiful results), but I can see where 2001 was a huge letdown in a different sense. I guess the problem is the word “disappointing.” If I had used “infuriating,” then many of those type years probably wouldn’t have jumped to mind. There’s a different quality to the disappointment in a season like 2010 or 2008, compared to, say, 2001 or 1997. The former tends to fuel anger and finger-pointing, the latter more of an empty feeling of sadness and regret.

But I said disappointing, and there’s no doubt that Mariner fans have experienced that feeling in seasons that didn’t end in 90-plus losses. After all, they are one of only three franchises to still have never reached the World Series (along with Montreal/Washington and Texas — though Texas, with Cliff Lee, could escape that list this season); in that light, they’ve all been ultimately disappointing, right?

Here is a new poll, with six candidates for the most disappointing Mariners team from a year in which they had a winning record, or even a postseason berth:

1) 1995. Yeah, I know, it’s crazy to even intimate that the most electrifying and beloved Mariners team of them all, the one that put them on the baseball map, could be viewed as disappointing. But, hey, the last image anyone has of those M’s is Joey Cora crying on the bench and being comforted by Alex Rodriguez after being knocked out by Cleveland in the ALCS. The ’95 Mariners seemed to have that World Series karma going, but they couldn’t quite take the final step.

2) 1997.Historians from future generations will puzzle over this team, and wonder how a club with four Hall of Famers (yeah, Edgar Martinez is going to make it. Not sure about A-Rod, but no one can argue he wasn’t a Hall of Fame talent. Big Unit and Ken Griffey are first-ballot locks), one that set the still-standing record for homers in a season (a guy named Buhner hit 40) couldn’t get out of the first round of the playoffs. And then those historians will look at the bullpen and say, “Oh, I get it.” Woody Woodward’s eternal quest for relief help cost the M’s Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe and Jose Cruz Jr.

3) 2001: It’s been said many times that this team was never quite the same after 9-11, and there’s definitely something to that. The M’s stood pat at the trade deadline, but I can’t fault them too much for that — they were 76-30 with a 19-game lead on July 31. In retrospect, they could have used a frontline pitcher or a big bat, but I think they had enough to win it all if they had played better in the postseason. Remember, the Mariners almost had the indignity of getting knocked out in the first round by Cleveland. The Indians went up two games to one in the best-of-five Division Series with a 17-2 bashing of Seattle in Game 3. But the M’s pulled out the next two games, behind Freddy Garcia and Jamie Moyer, to advance. The Yankees won the first two games at Safeco in the ALCS, after which Lou Piniella vowed the M’s would come back for Game 6. But after winning Game 3 at Yankee Stadium, they dropped the next two games to again fall short of a World Series — or even a return trip to Seattle. The Mariner hopes pretty much expired when Arthur Rhodes and Kaz Sasaki couldn’t hold a 1-0, eighth-inning lead in Game 4.

4) 2002: Naturally, expectations were still sky-high, especially when the Mariners seemingly strengthened their lineup by trading for third baseman Jeff Cirillo to replace David Bell. That didn’t work out so well, with Cirillo hitting just .249. The Mariners won 93 games, but clinging to a two-game division lead on July 31, they stood pat at the trade deadline. The M’s ended up stumbling down the stretch, going 27-27 in August and September to finish 10 games behind AL West champion Oakland and six behind the wild-card Angels, who went on to win the World Series. After the season, Lou Piniella asked out of his contract to manage Tampa Bay, with the Mariners receiving Randy Winn as compensation.

5) 2003: In Bob Melvin’s first season, the Mariners again won 93 games, which would be enough to make the postseason in a lot of years. But not this year. And the fact that the Mariners had a seven-game lead as late as July 8, with a 56-32 record, and went 37-37 the rest of the way to finish three game behind the A’s (and two games out of the wild card) made it more frustrating. The M’s once again were largely idle at the trade deadline, picking up only reserve shortstop Rey Sanchez.

6) 2007: The good news is the Mariners turned in their first winning season since 2003 (88-74), escaped three years in the cellar to finish second, and were in strong contention as late as Aug. 24 (73-53 record, one game out).

The bad news is that, as I documented in the earlier post, they lost 13 of their next 14 games beginning Aug. 25, and were nine games out by Sept. 7. There was also that whole weird business of Mike Hargrove mysteriously quitting on July 1, replaced by bench coach John McLaren.

So here’s the poll: which of these winning Mariner seasons was the most disappointing?

Which of these Mariners team with a winning record was the most disappointing?<span style="font-

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