On Geoff Baker Live! last night, seen in the video below, we played you clips of Eric Wedge describing the message he gave his players prior to opening the second-half of their schedule. Safe to say, they didn’t follow through. Somebody asked whether I see Kyle Seager as this team’s third base option long-term. Frankly, I have my doubts. It has to do with the terrible offense, which reared its ugly head again last night. Another viewer asked why the Mariners aren’t simply hiding Chone Figgins on the DL. I explained why I think that would be a bad idea. A viewer asked whether the team’s increased minor league pitching depth enables them to trade pitching at the deadline or next winter. Finally, a long dissertation on Ichiro’s contract and how it is harming the Mariners present-day and will continue to unless the team hikes overall payroll.
As for the 2001 Mariners, the topic of this very post this morning, we’ll have Norm Charlton from that 2001 team on at noon PT for a live chat. You can sign up for it by clicking the link at the bottom of this page.
On to the post…
Lots more discussion than I expected both in the blogosphere and over the airwaves about what the Mariners should — or should not — be doing with respect to their 116-win team from 2001. This marks the 10th anniversary of that team and the M’s have a big bash scheduled for tomorrow night to honor that.
Some fans locally are scoffing at the whole thing. They figure that since that squad was beaten rather handily in five games by the New York Yankees in that year’s ALCS, this whole honoring thing is a bit of a sad joke put on by a franchise that can’t win the big one.
Now, I must say, I think it’s progress that some fans remain skeptical about celebrating a team that didn’t win. We talk about “raising the bar” here a lot and of demanding more than mediocrity or “maybe next time” attitudes. I have even written, as recently as this month, that no one outside of Seattle really cares much about that 2001 team because it didn’t get the job done in the playoffs and the Diamondbacks-Yankees World Series that followed was so great that it was the lasting baseball legacy from that year.
And I still believe that.
But I also believe there’s nothing wrong with Seattle fans honoring a Mariners team that did make major league history. Because another part about becoming a truly first-class city — whether in sports or just in life — is to stop caring so much about what other people think and just celebrate what you are. Believe me, the folks in Paris don’t walk around giving a hoot about whether people from Arkansas think their waiters are rude or their streets smell like urine. Many French have thought for 100 years that the Eiffel Tower is an eyesore and aren’t afraid to say so, no matter what it might do to the rest of the world’s impressions of their most visible landmark.
Self-confidence, as both a city and a person, comes with accepting that — despite your shortcomings — you’re still a pretty good overall package and that anybody with a brain should be able to see that. If not, too bad for them.
Doesn’t mean you have to stop demanding excellence. Because part of what makes you excellent in your mind is the knowledge that you know how to criticize your own flaws. That you are always striving to be better. But what will then separate you from the people who go insane is the knowledge that you will never be completely perfect. That there will always be — as Sinatra and many others once sang — unreachable stars. And that the key to life is to also stop and appreciate the journey along the way. Because the journey to reach that unreachable star will always be memorable, whether you get there or not.
You can spend your entire life trying to reach a goal, finally reach it and then die soon after. If you don’t stop to appreciate what it took to get there — while it’s actually going on — you can wind up leading an empty life.
And so, we come back to the 2001 Mariners. Playoff fold or not, they were some of the best of what Seattle has ever produced in baseball or any big-time professional sport in general. And while I never advocate a dismissive attitude towards reaching ultimate goals, I don’t see anything wrong with giving them their due on the 10th anniversary of reaching an all-time major league wins mark.
Baseball chat with former Mariner Norm Charlton
Because as an organization, it’s important to have some type of lore to pass on to generations of fans that come afterwards. And for the Mariners, who, like the franchise I cheered for growing up a baseball fan, the Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos, there is no World Series lore yet. So, that 2001 team, for now, is some of the best there is.
When the Mariners do finally win a championship, they can celebrate that team to the hilt. Right now, this is the best they’ve got. And the 2001 team did set a record. So, it’s not like we’re stretching things all that much by celebrating them.
Just keep it tasteful. Don’t become obsessive about it as an organization. If the M’s start honoring the 2001 team every year, that will be a problem. Part of the criticism we’re seeing now, I think, stems from the perception that the 1995 Mariners are a little too overdone by the organization. Some folks, for all of their great memories of what it took for the 1995 squad to make the post-season that year, followed by the dramatic first-round win over the Yankees, are a little sick of hearing about it all the time.
I understand both viewpoints rather well.
Growing up in Montreal, the Expos did less over 35 years of existence than the Mariners have to this point playoff-wise. There were no championships there either, just a bunch of pre-wild-card misses, a strike-aborted dream season in 1994 and a lone playoff appearance during a strike-shortened, added playoff round campaign in 1981.
And yes, the baseball fans in Montreal did talk about the 1981 and 1994 teams all the time. And they were not afraid to honor them in the end even though, as I’ve mentioned, they didn’t win anything.
There was perspective about the 1981 team though. That team was a win away from the World Series, playing a decisive fifth game at home in a best-of-five NLCS against the Dodgers on a Monday afternoon. It was 1-1 in the ninth when Rick Monday hit the decisive home run off Steve Rodgers to catapult the Dodgers to the World Series and an eventual championship.
From then on, that day was always known as Blue Monday in our city.
Now, eventually, we shook the loss off and took time to look back on and celebrate that year’s team and the even-better editions beaten out for division titles by the eventual World Series winning Pirates in 1979 and Phillies in 1980 when there were no wild-cards for second-best teams.
But the mere name Blue Monday kept some perspective. That, as fond as we were for that Expos team being a game away from a World Series (Terry Francona was in the outfield for Montreal when Monday hit the home run…think he’s exorcised some demons for himself managing the Red Sox?) the mere name Blue Monday suggests we also accepted that we fell short in the end. That our city’s heart was crushed. That there was still an unreachable star out there.
One that Expos fans — unlike fans here — no longer have a shot at ever reaching.
Perhaps the fact that our city also had the hockey equivalent of the New York Yankees in the Canadiens helped us gain that instant perspective. The Canadiens would never celebrate a second-best team, because they had piled up 22 championships by 1981 and didn’t have room on the schedule for also-rans.
But the Expos weren’t the Canadiens. And the Mariners aren’t the Yankees. Like I said, when the Mariners win some titles, they can worry about honoring those teams. For now, this is about the best they’ve had since 1977 and could be the most they have for some time to come. So, you can’t ignore the best in your personal history.
If they can make a movie out of Oakland A’s teams that couldn’t win a World Series last decade, surely we can find room in our Seattle hearts to honor a Mariners squad that at least made history en route to failing to win the big one.
Nothing wrong with that. Just keep some perspective in the back of your mind. Know that there’s a star that has yet to be reached. But also accept that, as part of life’s journey, this 2001 team was close to as good as it gets. And go out tomorrow night and revel in that for a few hours.
Believe me, the present will still be around to wallow in after that. If anything, remembering what the 2001 team did and almost accomplished might actually help deal with the present-day Mariners.
It might serve as a reminder of what our ultimate goal is as a baseball city and help us zero in on what it will take to get there.