Impotent hitting, no power and a dysfunctional clubhouse make this Mariners team not just the most disappointing Seattle team, but perhaps the worst.
The 1978 Mariners lost 104 games, but they had a rock-solid excuse. Those M’s were a second-year team, comprised of spare parts from other organizations and raw rookies pushed prematurely into The Show.
For 32 years, that 56-104 mark, the handiwork of Bob Stinson, Ruppert Jones, Dick Pole and company, has stood as the benchmark of Mariners futility. Not that any of the Mariners faithful — and I use the term loosely; the M’s drew 877,440 to the Kingdome that year, an average of 11,249 — were particularly overwrought.
It was, after all, the price to pay for bringing major-league baseball back to Seattle. The Mariners stunk, but they stunk with affection, hope and even some pizazz.
Now, more than three decades later, a Mariners team has come along that will challenge the 1978 record for defeats.
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Minus the affection, hope and pizazz.
Oh, technically, as they prepare to open a nine-game homestand on Tuesday against Texas — a team that leads Seattle by a mere 22 ½ games and can rub Cliff Lee into their faces (though he’s not scheduled to pitch) the 2010 Mariners are on pace to lose “only” 102.
But anyone who has watched the Mariners during their ongoing collapse — they were 6-22 in July, the worst month in club history — knows full well that the losing pace is accelerating at a dizzying rate.
Barring an unforeseen change in fortune (and the Cardinals are probably not going to trade them Albert Pujols this month) they are playing with enough ineptitude and dysfunction to make 105 losses a real possibility. If they lose at the same clip as they have since July 1, they will drop 111 games.
This column started out to be an offshoot of a recent Hot Stone League blog post that pondered whether this version of the Mariners is the most disappointing team in franchise history.
I concluded that it was, indeed, based on the huge expectations that greeted this season, and the full-blown disaster that has resulted.
Other candidates were:
• The 2008 Mariners, who were expected to contend after winning 88 games the previous year and acquiring Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva. They wound up losing 101 (but not the three at the end that could have netted them Stephen Strasburg).
• The 2004 Mariners, who started the current downtrodden era by losing 99 games, right on the heels of the most prolific streak of victories in franchise history (91, 116, 93 and 93 the previous four years). It was Bill Bavasi’s first season as general manager, and the misguided acquisitions of Rich Aurilia and Scott Spiezio began a disastrous trend.
• The 1998 Mariners, coming off their second division title in three years, with four Hall-of-Fame caliber players in their relative primes (Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, Edgar Martinez and Alex Rodriguez). They somehow managed to finish nine games under .500 at 76-85.
• The 1992 Mariners, who had just finished the franchise’s first winning season in their 15-year history (but still fired manager Jim Lefebvre). Under new skipper Bill Plummer, they plummeted to 98 losses, causing management to whack Plummer and hire Lou Piniella.
It’s a potpourri of disappointment, but now, in light of a losing streak that just continues (to steal one of Dave Niehaus’ most famous expressions, from a much happier time), I’m expanding the terms.
Never mind most disappointing. It’s now appropriate to ask: Is this the worst team in Mariners history?
The quick answer, from someone who has been around for only about half the 34 seasons: It sure feels like it.
It’s too soon to know if they will finish with a worse record than the 1978 Mariners (who had a doubleheader rained out in Cleveland that was never replayed, resulting in a 160-game season). But with Lee’s absence from the rotation; the apparent (and understandable) regression of Doug Fister and Jason Vargas, who were so brilliant in the first half; and an offense that has a chance to be historically bad, it’s hard-pressed to see them not making a strong challenge.
Just three other Mariners teams have lost more than 100 games — in 1980 (59-103), 1983 (60-102) and 2008 (61-101).
But it is the offensive struggles that make this team uniquely dreadful. The M’s are on pace to score 526 runs, which would be Seattle’s lowest total in a 162-game season — 32 fewer than in 1983. But again, their pace has slowed so much in the past couple of months that they could wind up well below even that meager total.
They are also on pace to hit a record-low 96 homers, just magnifying further the crippling lack of pop on this team.
An unmistakable tension has gripped the team since Griffey’s abrupt departure, only exacerbated by Chone Figgins’ confrontation with manager Don Wakamatsu on the last homestand.
The future of Wakamatsu is in limbo, and GM Jack Zduriencik’s absence of strong public support after the Figgins incident only made him seem more vulnerable. But Zduriencik is under fire himself after most of his offseason moves — heralded at the time — fizzled.
When you can make 2008 seem like “the good old days,” you know it’s been a bad, bad year.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org