This seems appropriate as Robinson Cano officially becomes a Mariner today. Written my freshman year of college…13 years ago (seriously?!), it’s quite the interesting trip down memory lane, and it’s quite different being on the other side of the fence. I prefer this side.
In 1995 a core group of players became forever imbedded in Mariner fans’ hearts. Much like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Mantle are the classic Yankees, these players were seen as the Mariner players for the ages. Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Randy Johnson, Alex Rodriguez, Dan Wilson, and Jay Buhner. Of these six, three stood out. They were superstars. As the new millennium dawns and the haze of euphoria from six years ago has perhaps finally worn off, Mariner fans awaken to the knowledge that these three are gone.
Johnson was the first to go. He left in the middle of controversy and finger pointing that soured the chemistry of the defending division champions. Traded to a contender in the eleventh hour of the trading deadline, his departure left sorrow and anger in its wake. Didn’t he always give his all in every game he pitched? His intensity was legendary, his drive incredible. He returned from back trouble in 1996 to finish second in Cy Young award voting in 1997. He hadn’t had a hint of back trouble since. And yet Mariner brass determined that he was too old, too hindered by “chronic back trouble,” too expensive. They announced that he was to be traded. No contract talks. No negotiations. It was set in stone; the Big Unit would not be a Mariner much longer. He left on July 31, 1998 for Houston. In his free-agent year he was lured to Arizona where he has been nothing short of overpowering.
Nearly as soon as Johnson left, we began to hear whispers about Rodriguez and Griffey. Would they stay or would they go? Every week there was another rumor and more speculation about the situation. Both insisted all they wanted was a chance at a ring, the Holy Grail of baseball. It’s not about the money they insisted. Both had misgivings about the Mariners new ballpark. The fences are too far back; our power numbers will suffer. Both expressed discontent with Mariner management and player development. Then Pat Gillick arrived as the new General Manager to save the day. Possessing baseball savvy that had won World Championships, he began to fill the Mariner roster with roll players, players with solid fundamentals who would complement the power of the big two. But by this point, they had lost Griffey. He demanded a trade to Cincinnati. His abrupt departure stung. The Mariners first legitimate superstar just packed up and left without saying good bye. He had some harsh parting shots, but they were to be expected. After all, in his ten years in Seattle he had often played the spoiled child.
Two of our most loved players had left. We should be used to this by now. Every year another one leaves. Then why does this hurt so much? Losing Arod was an event we all prepared ourselves for. But we thought we knew him. We thought he was, maybe, different from all the other egotistical athletes out there. He seemed to genuinely care about the future of this team. He showed up to play every day. He never bad mouthed teammates or made excuses. He was honest and passionate about the game. He led the new look Mariners to victory in 2000. They won the wild card and earned a trip to the American League Championship Series. We all thought he was serious when he said he wanted to play for a winning team. They finished well over the .500 mark, and proved themselves to be the second best team in the AL. They were a winning team and showed signs of being just as good next year. But more than that, they were his team.
So why all the demands for private jets, shorter distances down the right field line, and ten year contracts? Not about the money? Could have fooled me. If he wanted to play for a winning team, why did he sign with the Rangers? Rafael Palmeiro, in a Sports Center interview, is under the impression that he will add twenty to twenty-five wins to the Rangers paltry 70 in 2000. If one player were capable of an impact that great, then shouldn’t the St. Louis Cardinals be celebrating their third consecutive World Championship? The Rangers have average power, average defense, and average pitching. Yet, they finished below .500. Arod will certainly help out the power and defense, but he is only one player. He can’t defend all nine sides of the diamond. He can’t stop an opposing team’s big inning.
His role in Seattle was to provide some pop from the three hole, amazing defense at shortstop, and leadership. The Mariners have other players who can hit and perform other offensive duties. They have players that can catch and throw. His role with Seattle was to accent these other players and in that way put the Mariner heads above the other teams in their division. The Rangers have too many holes; one player cannot fill them all.
He said he left feeling disappointed in the Mariners offer of a five-year contract. You almost get the feeling that he was leading us on, feeding us these lies about winning in Seattle and wanting to play here. With Griffey it was different. He simply said screw you, and left. Arod said I love you and want to be with you, but still walked out without a word. We’re left feeling betrayed and wondering what happened. It all comes down to one simple truth. Alex Rodriguez is like every other superstar athlete. In the end, greed won out. We were wrong about him and now we look to the next star to lead the Mariners on the field while Arod enjoys his 252 million new best friends. Perhaps this outfielder from Japan, Ichiro Suzuki, will step to the plate and fill the holes in both the roster and our hearts that Alex left.