Left field has been the Mariners' organization's black hole for more than a decade, sucking up potential candidates and spitting them out.
CLEVELAND — Maybe Carlos Peguero will emerge as the Mariners’ long-term answer in left field, or perhaps Mike Wilson, typecast as a career minor-leaguer, will prove his mettle during a long-awaited tryout.
Maybe Michael Saunders will finally blossom, or perhaps some unexpected phenom will rise through the minor leagues and become the left-field man. Maybe the Mariners will muddle through by making do in 2011, and reach into the free-agent or trade market in the offseason to find a viable solution.
Then again, maybe left field for the Mariners will revert to being the organization’s black hole, as it was for more than a decade, sucking up potential candidates and spitting them out.
The latest casualty is Milton Bradley, the opening-day starter the past two seasons but sent packing last Monday, the victim of too many distractions and not enough production.
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Raul Ibanez provided a dose of left-field stability in the middle of first decade of the 2000s, but before, and since, the position has been the Mariners’ destination of doom.
A total of 271 players have manned left field in the organization’s history, dating back to 1977. Steve Braun was the inaugural left fielder before giving to Bruce Bochte in 1978, then Tom Paciorek in 1979, then Dan Meyer in 1980 … well, you get the picture.
But the carousel truly began to turn with blinding speed after Phil Bradley was traded to Baltimore on Dec. 9, 1987.
From Bradley (Phil) to Bradley (Milton), with Bradley (Scott) in between — he was a catcher by trade, one of many who have done stints in left — the Mariners have flailed to find the answer. And mostly failed.
It wasn’t Kevin Mitchell, for whom the Mariners traded three promising (and ultimately productive) pitchers to San Francisco, or his cousin Keith Mitchell. It wasn’t Brian Hunter, or the other Brian Hunter. It wasn’t Tiny Felder, or Pee Wee Briley, or Jeffrey Leonard, or Eric Anthony, or Tracy Jones.
It wasn’t Jose Cruz Jr., though it could have been if not for Woody Woodward’s dire need to obtain relief help in 1997. It wasn’t Darren Bragg, but he at least netted a nice parting gift when sent to Boston: Jamie Moyer.
In more recent years, it wasn’t Wladimir Balentien, or Eric Byrnes, or Endy Chavez, or Charlton Jimerson, or Greg Halman (not yet, anyway).
In 35 seasons, 22 different players have started in left field on opening day, with Ibanez’s four starts leading the pack.
Center field, by comparison, has been a rock of stability. Ken Griffey Jr. held it down for more than a decade before handing off to Mike Cameron. Now Franklin Gutierrez, presuming he conquers his stomach issues, is ensconced in the position.
As for right field, Jay Buhner and now Ichiro (except for some brief forays into center in 2007 and 2008) have been pillars there for nearly 20 years.
Granted, the Mariners have had some immortal players in left over the years. But Rickey Henderson was long past his prime when he arrived in 2000; and Griffey lasted just a day when, for a lark, he shifted over for the final game of the 1997 season.
Griffey also played eight games in left in 2009, but that player was a vague facsimile of vintage Griffey — more in line with Ken Griffey Sr., who was in his 40s when he played left alongside his son for 46 heartwarming games in 1990 and 1991.
They’ve also had some comical cameos in left — Randy Johnson for an inning (on Oct. 3, 1993, when he convinced manager Lou Piniella, on the last day of the season, to let him play a position other than pitcher), and Jeff Nelson for a batter (earlier in 1993, when Piniella put him out there so left-hander Dennis Powell could face Boston lefty hitter Mike Greenwell).
Here’s what I wrote in 2003, when Randy Winn was supposed to be the long-term answer in left (he wasn’t):
“Moses (Johnny) couldn’t lead them to the promised land, nor did Cruz Jr. turn out to be the left-field savior the franchise expected.
“From Cradle (Rickey) to grave, from Strange (Doug) to stranger (like, for instance, Harold Reynolds for one game in 1992), left field for the Mariners has been a problem, and an unsolved mystery.”
Griffey once signed a picture for Buhner: “To Bone, It’s always better looking to my left because I never know who’s on my right.”
Looks like Gutierrez, when he gets back, might be saying that to Ichiro.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|A look at the players who have played left field for the Mariners in the past three seasons. Games are total number in that season.|
|Ken Griffey Jr.||8|