It seems like a particularly fanciful (or delusional) notion right now, based on the current American League standings, and based on the team’s largely depressing history. You may snicker and mock at your pleasure.
But watching the fans in St. Louis and Toronto so deeply invested in their teams this month, so jubilant in victory and heartbroken in defeat, and ultimately so delirious in their title-clinching joy — a cathartic release that goes beyond even the normal championship euphoria — got me to thinking.
When the Mariners finally win a World Series, what is it going to be like in Seattle? And I’m going to bravely say “when” instead of “if,” because Cubs fans learned that it might take nearly a century of misery, but it will happen.
I think we just got a sneak preview of the raw emotion that would come pouring forth. Just Google “Blues victory celebration,” and you’ll get a reminder of what happens when a long-suffering city finally gets enveloped in a Champagne bath.
Of course, Seattle has tasted professional championships before, sporadically. The Sonics’ NBA title in 1979 will always be special because it was the first (and yes, I know about the Metropolitans winning the Stanley Cup in 1917; I’m going to limit this discussion to titles obtained within the last 100 years). The Seahawks’ Super Bowl run in 2013 galvanized this city in a way I had never witnessed. The Sounders’ MLS Cup triumph and the Storm’s three WNBA titles were duly commemorated.
But I suspect that when — that word again — the Mariners make it to the World Series, and win it, however far into the future, it will surpass all those other titles in emotional investment.
I might not be around to see it. I hope my children are. Maybe the new hockey team starting in 2021 will beat the Mariners to the parade, even though they don’t even have a name yet, let alone players. Little has happened this year to give hope that it’s going to happen any time soon, though Jerry Dipoto would argue otherwise.
Aw, but therein lies the rub. It’s precisely the Mariners’ sordid past and frustrating present that is going to make this hypothetical future event so majestic. That’s how it works. Every year of disillusionment and disappointment is stored away in the collective heart of hearts to blossom into ever more powerful emotion when the breakthrough comes. And it’s possible, if not probable, that much more Mariner heartbreak lies ahead before the blessed event.
I know there are people who are sputtering that I’m insane; the Mariners will never win the World Series. You know who else said that? Red Sox fans during their 86-year curse, and White Sox fans during their 88-year championship drought, and Cubs fans during that aforementioned 108-year dark period. But the Red Sox won it all in 2004, the White Sox in 2005, the Cubs in 2016. The Giants, Royals, Astros and Angels all had their own long-awaited titles within the last 20 years, which were met with just the sort of delirium we’ve just witnessed.
So, it happens — and it’s that much sweeter when it does. I’d suspect that many Blues’ fans were in the “it’s never going to happen” camp, too. Born in 1967, the Blues had never won a Stanley Cup in franchise history, and never been to the finals since a fluky three-year run in an expansion-team-only conference from 1967-70. They were swept all three times.
It wasn’t as if the Blues were awful. They made the playoffs 42 times in 52 seasons but never could quite get to the promised land, which just added to the misery. And this year, the Blues got off to a disastrous start. Coach Mike Yeo was fired in November, and they still had the fewest points in the league on Jan. 3. That’s when the magical ride started, one that ended with the hoisting of the Cup and the literal dancing in the street on Wednesday.
I have friends in St. Louis who say this is a more profound and heartfelt experience than the World Series triumphs of the beloved Cardinals, who have won it all twice in the 2000s. Maybe it’s because the Cardinals are in the midst of a lackluster season. Maybe it’s because of the Rams bolting for Los Angeles in 2016 (after already losing the football Cardinals to Arizona). I suspect it was the sheer audacity of the Blues’ midseason turnaround, coupled with the half-century of waiting.
The Mariners are at 43 years and counting. Only four times have they made the playoffs, and they couldn’t take the final step to the World Series — one of only two teams, along with the Washington Nationals, to never make the Fall Classic. When it comes to the collective-misery element, the Mariners have impeccable bona fides.
I called up Ken Wilson, who was part of the original Mariners’ broadcast crew in 1977 as Dave Niehaus’ partner. He called Mariners’ games for their first six seasons (plus two more in 2011-12), before moving on to St. Louis to broadcast Blues games for 20 years, 1984-2004.
“I’m the only guy in the world who has that perspective,” said Wilson, now 71 and retired in Hawaii.
He was duly thrilled when the Blues won Game 7 over Boston to grab the Stanley Cup, and he felt a vicarious pleasure as he watched St. Louis go crazy, to use the famous phrase of St. Louis legend Jack Buck. Wilson recalled broadcasting Game 7 of the conference finals in 1985-86 when the Blues lost to Calgary with a chance to get to the Stanley Cup Final.
“It’s not like they’ve never been close, but that’s a long haul for fans to be loyal,’’ he said. “So I can understand why they’ve been so excited about even getting to the Stanley Cup Final, let alone winning the Cup.”
Wilson said he was recently asked on a radio show if he thought the Blues would ever win the Stanley Cup.
“I said, ‘Yeah, they’re going to win the Stanley Cup. You just never know when.’ I sort of thought it would be in my lifetime. I’m grateful it happened in my lifetime.”
Which brings us to the Seattle Mariners, whose original fans are growing long in the tooth, and many of whose pioneers, including Niehaus, are no longer with us.
“I told my wife, I can’t help but feel badly for the people with the Blues who didn’t make it,’’ he said. “The GMs or presidents or even some of the key players who didn’t get a chance to see it. When the Mariners get in the World Series and win the world championship, we’ll be saying the same type of thing. Unfortunately, many of the folks who were there at the start won’t be around.”
But Wilson agreed that the teams’ tribulations and collective suffering just makes the triumph sweeter, whenever it happens.
“It’s easy to win a Stanley Cup or World Series once every three or four years,’’ he said wryly. “Try doing it once every 50 years. That’s a lot trickier.’’
For the Mariners, it continues to be an unsolvable trick. Watching the first titles of the Blues and Raptors (who were born in 1995, the same year the Mariners gave a glimpse of how they can capture the fancy of a city) just serves to amplify the frustration. But it also shows that fortunes can turn in unexpected ways.
“We know it will happen; it’s just will it happen in our lifetime,’’ Wilson said. “It’s hard to get to a Stanley Cup and win it. It’s just as hard to get into the World Series and win it. But it’s bound to happen. I’d love to be in Seattle when it does.”
I’d suspect that if he were, Wilson would see the biggest party ever thrown in these parts.
Until then, the suffering continues.