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Geoff Baker covers the Mariners for The Seattle Times. He provides daily coverage of the team throughout spring training, and during the season.

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March 26, 2008 4:16 AM

Protecting your fan-hood

Posted by Geoff Baker

Great debate yesterday on my question of what makes Seattle baseball fans tick. The point of the exercise wasn't to complain about you disputing my picks. It was to figure out exactly what was driving some of the negative reactions I was seeing; the literally vitriolic backlash to suggestions the Mariners might have a good thing going and be able to win the AL West. I was impressed by how much thought went into your answers and I am in agreement with much of what was said. Let's look at some of it:

Certainly part of the answer is that there are a lot of reasonably intelligent folks in Mariner Blogland who think that the Mariners management makes some pretty poor decisions. They would like the team to be well run and think it is not. They differ with your more rosy assessment of the Ms chances and are pretty sure last year's record was fool's gold. -- Mike

USSM and Lookout Landing are two of the best statistics based sites on the internet, they also happen to be Mariners based sites. While the writers of those sights offer intelligent well thought out discourse on the M's they do not currently have a high opinion of the make up of the team and front office. -- skiba

It's probably safe to say the M's have a higher percentage of sabermetrics fans than other teams. The fans Geoff speaks of are most likely rooting for/against the conflicting philosphies, not necessarily the team. -- Thomas

Agree with those statements and others like them. Not the "rosy analysis'' and "fool's gold'' parts, obviously, but the general thrust. The Mariner blogosphere might be the most intelligent in the country when it comes to understanding statistical analysis. And I believe that any team not embracing the new numbers as enthusiastically, at least in public, could take it on the chin when things go wrong. The M's certainly fall into that category, seen as more traditional in approach and having accomplished very little on the field since the true eruption of the blogosphere the past five years.

Shall we continue?

The Mariners consistently make a lot of money, and consistently have high attendance records because fans show up regardless of the product. Now, in one way that is great. I am not saying boycott for a bad season. But if you really think about it, it gives little reason for the front office to be afraid (and) do whatever it takes to win. The Mariners have paid a lot of money out over the last 5-10 years to be sure... but never enough to get that bonafide superstar, only enough for a Sexson or Beltre. -- cooner

Speaking for myself, I have my doubts as the whether or not the ultimate goal for the Mariner's organization is winning the division. I believe that the highest goal for the organization is to run a profitable business and second, to be as competitive as necessary to keep fans coming to the ballpark. I've followed the team closely for more than 10 years and I have an increasing skepticism that the owners and higher management (above Bavasi) are in it to win on the field. It's more about the money. -- Ollie

I've heard that reason plenty of times. I understand the frustration after Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez left. But Adrian Beltre was viewed as one of the bigger stars of the game when the Mariners signed him. Richie Sexson was another big name, if not a superstar. Since I arrived here, the M's took a pass on Daisuke Matsuzaka, I'll give you that one in the hold-your-wallet department. But they did make a play for Johan Santana. And they did just acquire Erik Bedard, who could turn out to be a better value than Santana if trends continue. Yes, there is an impression management doesn't do everything it takes to win. But I think that argument was stronger a few years ago. The team got Bedard, has re-upped Ichiro and did overpay big-time to get Carlos Silva and ensure one of the best free-agent pitchers on the market came here to upgrade the rotation. if anything, some fans now think the team is trying to win too quickly instead of building long-term. But yes, I buy this theory as a reason for fan behavior, if not the argument itself.

I honestly think there are people that would want (Adam Jones) to homer off (Erik Bedard) just so they could smirk with their cynical negative selves. -- jujay

Why pull any punches? I agree, this type of thinking is motivating some fans. Hey, who doesn't want to be right when they put themselves out there? I sure do. When I picked the M's to win 78-82 games last season, of course I wanted them to fit in that range. At least, a small part of me did. But do you know what? It's impossible to always be right. You have to get used to that in life. And when something surprises me, I've learned not to take it personally and just try to figure out why. In my job, it wouldn't be honest of me, or fair to readers, to keep pushing an agenda and trying to make my round pegs fit square holes. If I'm wrong, I learn to accept it, try to figure out why and move on. Even if I thought my methodology was right and that something that happened was a fluke, an odd exception, a blind squirrel finding a nut so-to-speak, I would still do some re-assessing of that methogdology and maybe not be as fervent about it the next time. By the way, if I truly thought the M's were a fluke last year, I'd say so. It would back up my initial assessment of the team from 12 months ago. But I believe this team showed an ability to win at key times last year. Maybe it's really an 85-win team, but I believe it's a legit winner, not a 79-win club like the Pythagorean record says. I also believe there are some people who would rather see the team lose to prove a point than win and be shown up. Maybe it's a minority of fans, but I believe there's a segment out there. Does it make them bad? Well, it makes them human.

Agree with the comment that we want to hear no more about Toronto, Montreal, hockey or your ex-jock days in Canada. -- Fred

Tough luck. If you don't like it, start your own blog. The hockey stuff could have been about an MLB, NFL, or Aussie Rules team. It was in there to make a point. Anything constructive to say?

Fans here are skeptical because of their experience with Mariners management---bad trades, player decisions and acquisitions and a general attitude that "the Safeco" experience alone is enough to justify ever rising ticket, parking and concession prices.

That's better, Fred, I think you may be on to something. So does the poster below.

I think what you are seeing is the backlash from several seasons of an incompetently managed team. I think many fans are just fed up with the team giving away productive players, making poor trades, and basically, not really understanding how to evaluate players' abilities (Cairo??? HoRam???) Now, if this offseason had been filled with smart moves -- acquiring talent at a reasonable price, keeping players who are likely to contribute to the long-term success of the team, dropping ineffective players - then I think you would see a lot more optimism. -- Simon

All I can say is poor Miguel Cairo is about to get run out of town without even playing a game yet. LOL! But I agree with Simon and Fred's premise, at least that some fans think there is a correct way to build a ballclub and management has not done this. I actually agree. I think that if Bill Bavasi's team makes the playoffs, it will be in spite of some of poor roster construction found on this club. I'm actually amazed at what Bavasi accomplished this winter with his rotation and that he seems on the verge of climbing out of a very deep hole he dug for himself. Especially after the Horacio Ramirez debacle. I actually dubbed his plan "Fuzzy-ball'' in our season preview a year ago. No rhyme or reason to a lot of it. But it's a little less fuzzy to me now. I think parts of it may now be enough to get this team to the playoffs.

I will admit it right now: I worry if the Mariners win the division in 2008. I think that (Bill) Bavasi and (John) McLaren are at least in the bottom-three of GM/Manager combos in the game. I think they are terribly unqualified. I think the Mariners incorrectly value players, and I believe the Bavasi regime's track record bears this out. I believe the fluke that was 2007 has allowed them wrongful justification which will be detrimental to this franchise's future.

In short, I don't believe they are the right men to lead this team (saying nothing about (Howard) Lincoln and (Chuck) Armstrong) and not even a division championship in 2008 will change that...So I am stuck. I want the M's to win, but I don't want Bavasi and McLaren to win. I want Bedard here for the next six years, but not Bavasi and McLaren. I want the team to build the right way, like the smart teams (see: Boston, NY, Cleveland, Arizona, Colorado, Milwaukee, Anahiem), so that it can contend for years at a time, rather than go all-in with a Bedard trade. -- Adam

I love honesty. Let's cut through all the b.s. and get down to what's really going on here. This was a late addition by one of our more visible posters. It's very close to what we talked about before, about some fans wanting to be right above all else and willing to sacrifice a season or two to get there. Only this isn't a fan wanting either. But it's about as close as you can get to a fan being willing to write off a couple of seasons in order to force a management change. Adam isn't saying he'd do it. He says he torn up about it. That's different. And he's not alone. I have heard this opinion expressed by many fans. Media as well. They thought last season was the worst possible outcome. The team won zilch that mattered. But it won just enough to keep everyone in their jobs. It was Kafka at his finest. A surreal nightmare for many fans. And the nightmare, for them at least, continues. Must be tough.

Not as tough for the poster below, who is willing to make the supreme sacrifice.

It doesn't matter how the team does on the field, they just don't get the message that a sustainable, winning team is achievable in the short term and long term with the resources available. But bone-headed decisions keep costing this team wins, dollars, and fans. I want the team to win, but if losing brings about some change, it will be worth it in the long run. -- AC

So, a fan willing to lose in order to win the way he/she thinks is best. Interesting.

Fans are skeptical because they've been hearing for the past five years how this year's team is different, not like last year, playoff-bound, etc. You can get fans to bite on that for at least 4-5 years. Then suddenly the schtick gets old and ceases to have its desired effect. -- madrone

A whole four or five years, huh? Oh, the humanity. This is where some of you start to lose me. For the record, it's been seven years since the M's made the playoffs. Guess what? The Yankees haven't won a World Series in eight years. Want to guess which is seen as a worse failure by most baseball fans outside of Seattle? Look, I know it's been a while. But seven years is not a very long time in baseball. The Royals haven't made the playoffs in 23 years. Milwaukee hasn't made it in 26 years. Toronto in 15 years. You're getting antsy, I know. Been there, done that. My Montreal Expos, growing up, finally made the playoffs in 1981, then weren't competitive again in September until 1992. Bill Krueger was on that 1992 team. Talked to him about it last night. Believe me, by 1988 -- seven years after that one post-season -- us Expos fans were getting fed up. It seemed like forever. But it wasn't that long. That's baseball. Want instant playoff gratification, better stick to NBA, NFL or -- gasp, no!-- hockey. Maybe the CFL is for you? Only eight teams and six get in. A franchise practically has to go bankrupt (and some do) not to make the post-season in three-down, Great White North football. Not making excuses for M's ownership. It's just the way MLB is built. Only a miniscule handful of teams consistently make the playoffs. The Cleveland Indians just ended a six-year drought after a long stretch of success. The Colorado Rockies had missed for 12 years before also getting in. Detroit endured a 19-year playoff absence before making it in 2006.

I recognize that the Cubs and others have had this same experience, but also realize that they have more of a history of baseball in their city. We don't. Maybe that's part of the problem as well. -- peter

No, Peter, the Cubs have gone 100 years without a title. You can't possibly imagine, nor can I, what that must be like. Nothing the M's have gone through compares to that. But you do have a valid point. This is still a young baseball city. The fans here are suffering, there is no disputing that. But four playoff appearances in six years probably had a lot to do with it. Were the Seattle fans spoiled? Let's just say that was a pretty good run of success, which would make seven years of drought seem like 70 to some. Especially younger fans for whom time doesn't slip by as quickly as us older types. There seems to be a lack of perspective as far as time goes in Seattle. I'm not trying to be condescending, but I'm also not going to kiss up to readers by sugarcoating it. Seven years is not a long time

That said, the Seattle fans do have a worthy gripe when it comes to the 31 years the franchise has existed without winning a World Series. For many of you, that's your entire lifetime and three decades is no drop in the bucket. I can see where being "teased'' by all those playoff runs in a span of six years could make the lack of a title even that much more frustrating. Many of the teams I've mentioned with longer playoff droughts, like Detroit, Milwaukee, Toronto, Kansas City and Colorado, have all either won or at least been to a World Series in the last 30 years. But talk to the Cleveland Indians fans. They might have a thought or two about title droughts.

The Boston Red Sox went 86 years without winning a World Series -- which ranks amongst the worst fan torture because their followers are nuts, I'm talking crazy, about their team -- but at least they got to the finals a bunch of times.

Be careful what you wish for, though. Getting to the big dance and losing? Oh, that hurts. Not that I know. My baseball team never made it there, either. Blame Rick Monday. (Look it up).


Just seems like everyone puts on rose colored glasses when it comes to the Mariners and refuses to acknowledge huge flaws. Anyone who thinks last years 88 win season was legit needs to take of the shades. Smoke and mirrors along with a ton of luck made that happen. -- j.

Well, I also think a certain segment of fan thinks that being constantly cynical and negative makes them objective and impartial. It doesn't. We try to drum that notion out of young journalists in their first five years or so. Doesn't always work. It's actually an immature view of the world. Not everybody is wrong all the time. Just like not everybody is right. So, believing the 88-win Mariners were legit is rose-colored? What if I told you that in the last 10 years, there were 34 winning teams -- winning teams -- that outperformed their Pythagorean record by at least five wins? That's three per season. Did you know that 17 winning teams over that span outperformed their Pythag by at least six wins? Or that 10 teams -- one per year -- outperformed it by seven wins or more? The Pythagorean expectation is reasonably accurate, but hardly as impenetrable as it's made out to be. If it was, its proponents would be billionaires betting baseball in Las Vegas. But they're not and there is a reason. Rose-colored glasses? Sounds like you're a little too sure of yourself. Last time I checked, the M's won 88. If you think they shouldn't have, why is that? The Pythagorean record? Hmm. OK, I guess. You are entitled to your opinion.

The Internet has allowed seemingly reasonable people to create anonymous personas and dominate others with their point of view. -- Beady Eye Guy

Yes, but in the old days, the schoolyard bullies could pound away on reasonably-thinking people without giving them a chance to speak. This evens things out, I guess.

You get emails like that because you are clearly a shill for management and ownership. -- Thomas

My, aren't you a Doubting Thomas? See the statement a few graphs above about cynicism, negativity, young journalists and immaturity. But if you still think I'm a shill, so be it. Getting people to always see things my way stopped being a lifetime goal years ago.

I think a lot of us feel like you are enabling the Luddite M's management by supporting some of the more questionable decisions they make. -- Jeff

Like what, exactly? The Horacio Ramirez deal? Ripping Chuck Armstrong in public for hinting there was a secret problem with Rafael Soriano? Stating the team needed a drop-dead date with Richie Sexson in lieu of playing him every day? Saying the 2007 team needed to trade for another starter, or a set-up reliever, or its bullpen would implode? My suggestion they re-sign Jose Guillen? Asking if Cha Seung Baek would have been a cheaper and better fifth starter option than Jeff Weaver? My unwavering support for keeping Bill Bavasi on as GM (that's sarcasm)? You confusing this for another paper?

Every single major pro team in our city has held the team hostage for big public dollars. Like infidelity in marriage...you can patch things up after something like that, but the relationship will never be the same. I think Seattle fans have become jaded about their teams because of the cynical way the teams have manipulated our emotions for big bucks. -- shortbus

No argument there. That would tick me off as a fan and taxpayer.

We are conditioned to lose close, excruciating playoff games or games of importance, or be mired in last place. Anything else is merely a placeholder until the next excruciating loss. We expected eventual failure last year, and that's what we got, making it the most successful season in a while. When you journalists try to ramp up our hopes and get us to start believing again, all you're really doing is making the end of season failure that much worse. -- Menelaus

We're not counting Edgar's double, right?

Seattle-ites have a big chip on their shoulders. They think they are big time, deserving of big city treatment, but in reality they are treated like a kid brother by the national media in everything from sports to business to music to whatever else. -- Menelaus

It's true. The games here were played too late when I was back East to bother caring what went on in Seattle until the team actually did something. Fact of time zone life. But I wanted Seattle to win because it was one of my favorite road cities and my paper back then actually let me cover playoff rounds. Hint, hint.

For years we've seen the local media writers sing the praises of the Mariners ballclub despite horrible personnel decisions and disastrous failures. -- Brian L.

I won't lie to you. This isn't New York or Boston when it comes to beat-writing. But Seattle isn't New York or Boston when it comes to stress and fast-paced life, either. All I can say is, with an open and honest blogosphere and fans who legitimately criticize a team, while leaving open the possibility they may not always be right, it makes it very tough for any beat writer to be a shill and get away with it. But you know what? The fans get what they ask for. Demand more, you keep the writers on their toes. We won't always agree with you. But we'll need to find better reasons for why we don't.

Long, dark winters, dark moodiness, dark coffee, dark beer, dark music. Hmmm...I wonder if any of these things are related? -- Mt. Grizzly

Hey, I like all of those things. Minus the winters. Remind me to show you a photo of my mother's place buried under five feet of snow.

The stat-head, for the most part, lives in reality, and his love of the rich aspects of the game cause him to dig deeper and seek better analysis, BUT, he's always hoping for the team's moves - however much he disagrees - to work out in whatever way will get the win and lead to a championship. And we do cheer moves we feel are good. Optimism is not viewing a move that is bad one that is good. That's falsehood. Is it optimistic or somewhat foolish to hope a horse with 3 legs will win the Kentucky Derby? Well, if that horse is mine (as I feel the M's are in some way) yes, I'll hope against odds that he wins, but next year I'll hope for a horse with all its limbs. -- M's Fan in CO Exile

Ah, yes. The pursuit of excellence. Can't argue with that one. We all want that perfect Pulitzer. But sometimes, when we win unexpectedly, it can be fun as well. Right? I wouldn't know. But I think it would be that way. My horses have been a bit wobbly of late.

If you disagree with Geoff that the M's are division favorites, then you must hate the M's and secretly be rooting for their opponents! -- Nick in pdx

Strawman alert! (I've wanted to use that line for the past year. Finally got the chance). This isn't about that silly "You're not a fan if you don't always support your team'' debate. I asked you all for reasons why you behave the way you do. You're giving them to me. Deal with it. No need to get defensive.

You'll have to excuse me....I've been out shooting video all day. -- j.j.

Then send some of it in, already. I've been blogging for the past 19 hours. Could have used the backup.

You have to remember that the people who post comments on blogs, a very small percentage of all readers, are not going to represent the overall sentiment of a fan base. -- Tyler

Actually, Tyler, our numbers say that it changing very quickly. The voices you hear on this blog represent more and more what casual fans are saying and thinking. That's because they are posting here. Business leaders, account executives, lawyers, teachers. They're all here.

Geoff, Who asked you to figure out the fans? I thought you where supposed to help us figure out the team. -- Batter up!

-- Ain't diversity great?

Anyway, I recall a psychological study from the 1970s that determined that folks in Seattle are happiest on rainy days and most depressed on sunny days. The idea was that Seattle people, uniquely, at least then, were during the rain looking ahead and envisioning the rain stopping, while during the good weather they were anticipating the coming of rain. -- Dr. Lo

So, this should be the happiest blogosphere in the world, doc. What happened?

Great...a beat writer who doesn't understand his audience...maybe you should go back to Yellowknife? -- Oh Boy

Bet I can name more state capitals than you can territorial capitals. I think I know my audience. Check out the number of comments.

USSM has created somewhat of a movement and generally any debate about the Mariners today involves arguments, statistics, and facts given by USSM. The problem is that all of us are persuaded by what we read in some way and often will take on the views and attitudes of what we read. It's not brain-washing but it can manipulate. -- AntiUSSMarinerII

What, I already missed AntiUSSMariner Part I? I knew this blogging was keeping me from getting out to see enough movies. Blog posts can manipulate? Really? Well, I'm not going to blame someone for trying to persuade you about their argument. But you're free to come here if you disagree with them. Free to go there if you want a different take from my daily feed. It's called democracy. When we start marching you over to USS Mariner in straight lines, then you'll know you're in North Korea. Until then, you've got options, and believe me, it's a good thing.

OK, I think we've seen enough. Lots of thought-provoking commentary here. From hearing it all, let's conclude that Mariners fans (some, if not all) are angst-ridden from not having won a World Series in 31 years of existence and have been teased a bit by four playoff appearances in six years prior to this latest seven-year drought. We'll say that the ownership, while opening its wallet (especially lately), has usually seemed more interested in profits than winning, hasn't always made the shrewdest of purchases and did let a number of stars walk before the money from Safeco Field began rolling in. Taxpayer-subsidized Safeco Field, we should add.

After some dismal seasons and abysmal trades, many Mariners fans, already distrustful of a media they see as compliant, are reluctant to believe last season's 88 wins were anything but a fluke. And until they see some actual proof on-paper, they reserve the right to be skeptical and read any blog they darned well please. Whether it's USS Mariner, Lookout Landing, or this one. And nobody had better tell them another blog is better than their prefered reading.

Oh, and no more hockey.

Sound about right? I hope so, because I've got to get up in a few hours. This has been a fun and educational day. And it should be a fun and educational season as well. Looking forward to it.




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