Bryan LaHair, shown above, is a member of one of the most prominent groups at this year’s All-Star Game: Former Mariners. I chronicled his story, and how the Mariners let him get away, a few weeks ago, but this was my first chance to actually ask him about how it came down in Seattle. First of all, LaHair was clearly thrilled just to be there, having finally established himself in the majors after a decade of kicking around the minor leagues. Leaving Seattle after the 2009 season (when he became a minor-league free agent, and they made no effort to keep him) and signing with the Cubs organization turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to his career.
“I don’t know if there’s anyone in this room more excited than me,” he said. “It’s an incredible moment for me. I wasn’t quite sure where I was headed (after he left Seattle). I didn’t doubt myself for a second. I knew I had to continue to work hard. I had to prove myself in a different organization, what kind of player I was. I continued to put in the work, and good things happen when you do that.”
I asked LaHair if he thought he got a fair shot with the Mariners. He gave me an incredulous look.
“In Seattle? Nah. I don’t feel I had a full opportunity to show what I was capable of doing in Seattle.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s bitter. His feelings about his Seattle stint – seven years in the organization – aren’t all negative.
“I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity they gave me,” he said. “I thank the organization for developing me and putting me in a situation to succeed for the future. They did a great job developing my skills at first base and the outfield and especially hitting. I had a lot of great hitting coaches in that organization, from Terry Pollreisz to Henry Cotto, Alonzo Powell. Daren Brown was a great manager for me. Pedro Grifol. I had a great development stage in Seattle.
“I was attached to Seattle. I felt like I was being developed to be there. I love the fans, I loved playing up there, I loved the weather. My wife loved it up in Seattle. It was a great place.”
That phrase about the Mariners developing him and putting him in a situation to succeed in the future is a telling one, of course. Because the Mariners could have sure used some of that success. Others who left Seattle for bigger and better things who are in KC for the All-Star Game include Asdrubal Cabrera (Indians), R.A. Dickey (Mets), Adam Jones (Orioles) and Adrian Beltre (Rangers). I guess you could put David Ortiz on that list, too. And then there’s Cardinals stud pitcher Lance Lynn, who was selected by the Mariners in the sixth round in 2005 but didn’t sign. After attending the University of Mississippi, Lynn was selected by the Cardinals in the first round in 2008,and now he reaches the break as an 11-game winner.
Lynn told me today he was open to signing with the Mariners, but “we didn’t see eye to eye on what was needed to keep me from going to college. I was able to go to college and have a pretty good career down there and got myself into the situation I’m in now. I was open to signing if the number was right. They just weren’t close to that.”
I asked if he’s thought about how his career would have been different if the Mariners had signed him. Doesn’t sound like he’s wallowing in regret.
“You always think of what decision you could have made differently, but when it comes down to it, the best decision I ever made was going to college. You grow up there, become the person you are. I was able to meet my wife and have my daughter, so it was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
So how far apart was Lynn with the Mariners? “Quite a bit,” he said, but wouldn’t elaborate.
Dickey, shown above, had one season in Seattle, going 5-8 with a 5.21 ERA in 32 games in 2008 (14 starts). They didn’t re-sign him after the season, and he went for a year to the Twins before landing with the Mets. There, after tutelage from Phil Niekro, Dickey perfected his knuckleball and is now one of the top pitchers in baseball.
I asked Dickey today if he felt he was near a similar breakthrough when he was with the Mariners.
“I felt like I was close,” he said. “It’s hard to second-guess things. Because if I hadn’t left Seattle, I probably wouldn’t have ended up with Phil Niekro. That was the big stepping stone for me, when I went down to Atlanta, met with Phil, looked at video from Seattle, because I had just come from Seattle, and had signed with Minnesota. As I said, that was the big stepping stone for me, and that might not have happened if I had gotten signed back with Seattle.”