Being a Seattle Mariners baseball fan has been a pretty tough proposition for most of their 35 years. For us locals, it has been sort of par for the course though. We have not had great luck in the world of professional sports. Although Seattle is now a “world-class” city (supposedly), the old lackadaisical attitudes toward such things are pretty well ingrained into our DNA. It is only the newbies who raise a fuss, and show us “how it should be.”
Such is the case with the new book Shipwrecked: A People’s History of the Seattle Mariners by Jon Wells. The author moved here in 1994 and was immediately taken with the fact that he could easily attend just about every home game he chose. All of the major obstacles he ran into in other cities were easily overcome here, traffic isn’t bad, the tickets are reasonably priced (and available), and even parking was generally not much of a problem. Outside of a few highly-coveted home stands, such as against the Yankees, those conditions remain pretty similar to this day.
What Wells breaks down in depth though is how screwed we as fans have been by the management of our team for most of these years. There is no denying that the fans have come last for decades in terms of consideration of what is best for the franchise. When he breaks down the performance of the team season by season over the years, it reveals a pretty sad state of affairs.
Except for the big year of 1995. Our town has never been as excited by the team as we were that season. It was definitely a Cinderella story, where the M’s came practically from the basement to within one game of going to the World Series. Did the fact that they were facing massive opposition to their dreams of building what would become Safeco Field contribute to management‘s decision to field a solid team? I think the answer is pretty obvious. Once the commitments were made, the M’s went back to business as usual. Superstars such as Randy Johnson, A-Rod, and others were soon on their way out.
The final chapter “Will The M’s Ever Win The World Series?” at least offers some hope. Wells cites a number of factors that bode well. It may be just good old-fashioned optimism, but I’ll take it. The team’s arguments about finances are shown to be patently ridiculous. What is most striking is the idea that since the Mariners are not in a major market such as New York or Chicago that the money simply is not there. This is a bald-faced lie, as Mariners fans are among the most loyal in baseball. Citing attendance figures for the 15 years between 1996 to 2011, the team have consistently ranked among the top five in all of baseball.
Once again this goes to the heart of the “personality” of the Northwest. We, as fans, and our local sports columnists do not make the type of noise that Yankees fans do when they feel they are getting screwed. Getting back to Wells’ point about the M’s winning a Series though, what it comes down to is management making that a priority. In ‘95, getting out of the horrific Kingdome and into a “real” baseball stadium was a major priority, and we were treated to an unforgettable season. But there is really no pressure at all on management to produce these days.
When Paul Allen took over the Seahawks, and hired Mike Holmgren to get them to the Superbowl, it happened. We got completely screwed at the game itself, but that is beside the point. The point is that we at least got there. After 35 freaking years, there is no earthly reason besides management choosing big profits every single time over spending the money to put together a truly dominant team is what has stopped the Mariners.
The people’s history of the Seattle Mariners that Jon Wells has written is exactly that. When we pull back the veil of excuses and caveats that the front office throws up, the truth is pretty damned clear. Until the fans rise up and really show management that they expect more than business as usual, nothing will change.
Frankly, the hubris is unbelievable. Just as I was closing this review out, I happened to catch a little local news story concerning a possible return of our beloved Sonics basketball team. There is a group of investors who are putting together a plan to build a new basketball and hockey stadium in the same industrial area of town that houses both Safeco field, and the Century Link stadium (home of the Seahawks). The Mariners oppose it, saying that it would be unfair to add another venue (read competition) nearby.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but that response is total bullshit. It goes to the very heart of what is wrong with the relationship between the fans and M’s management. Everyone in this town who enjoys sports should tell those holier than thou dicks in the front office where to go. This is about as insulting a position as anything I can imagine. Where the hell do they get off? Although Jon Wells does not come right out and say that Seattle fans are constantly rolling over and allowing ourselves to be completely taken advantage of, the evidence presented is undeniable.
Shipwrecked is well written, with loads of facts and figures showing how poorly we as fans have been treated by those in charge. I’m hoping others will read this and get what I think is the main point. In the end, it is up to us as fans to rise up and say that enough is enough, and that we deserve better.
I think the book has a broader appeal as well. At one point or another, I am sure that every pro sports fan has had their expectations dashed by the owners. It is in the nature of the beast. I think there are very few who are forced to deal with this as consistently as those of us in Seattle are. The whole point seems to be just how much contempt can be heaped on the paying customers before they say enough is enough.
After reading Shipwrecked, I’m waiting for “Boot in the Ass” day at Safeco. It doesn’t seem far off. Pay $50 for a ticket, walk through the turnstile, and bend over. This type of treatment is unacceptable, but we allow these jackasses to get away with it. It is time for a change, and I think anyone who reads Shipwrecked will come away as disgusted with the way we as fans have been treated as I am. We deserve better.