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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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September 25, 2008 9:18 AM

Where membership has no privileges

Posted by Geoff Baker

THE OFFICIAL 100/100 CLUB OF MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Established: Sept. 24, 2008

Founder: Seattle Mariners

Chairman: Seattle Mariners

President: Seattle Mariners

Members: Seattle Mariners

2008 Membership dues: $117.6 million

Never thought that a blog written back in June, when I was having trouble coming up with a topic for that morning, would take on a life of its own. As one of you wrote, this "club'' has since been mentioned on ESPN's Baseball Tonight. I heard the local KOMO TV news and sports anchors chatting about it last night as I readied for bed. Our pals over at USS Mariner have noticed the significance of it all. Yes, the sad concept of the 100/100 club has become reality. The Mariners are the first team with a payroll of $100 million or more to lose 100 games or more. This club will surely gain more members as inflation kicks in and more teams achieve three-digit payrolls in the millions. But probably not for a long time. It just is not that easy to spend so much and achieve so little. It takes more than disappointing stats. It takes a group of players who simply cannot meld together. We touch on some more of the Mariners' clubouse problems in Part II of our Rebuilding the Mariners series this morning.

Here are some of the key points of today's installment:

1. Raul Ibanez says the 2008 season has been "miserable'' and "emotional'' and that playing on a winning team will be a priority as he decides where to sign as a free agent. Ibanez will put a phone call in to Mariners HQ soon after the season ends and gauge where the team is headed competition-wise

2. A clubhouse insider -- sorry, can't get more specific than that, but the source is golden and others have confirmed his account -- says animosity towards Ichiro by teammates was so heavy in the first few months of the season that he feared the Japanese leadoff man was going to be physically attacked in the clubhouse. The coaching staff intervened and called a team meeting to clear the air over allegations Ichiro was a "selfish'' player. A similar meeting was called in May 2007 at Tropicana Field because of internal grumbling by players about Ichiro.

3. There are few power-hitting replacements waiting in the wings to replace Ibanez, or Adrian Beltre, should the former leave and the latter get traded. The outfield power shortage could be particularly damaging should Ibanez leave, Ichiro remain in right field and the M's not import a power-hitting center fielder via free-agency (which will cost big bucks the team already said it won't spend).

In other words, the possibility of a 100-loss season for 2009 is as strong as ever. One of you wrote in, asking whether a team has ever had consecutive 100-loss seasons. Yes, it's happened before. From 1938 through 1942, the Phillies had five straight 100-loss seasons, compiling a .299 winning percentage over those five years (no wonder their fans are so grumpy). Others have endured conseuctive 100-loss seasons throughout history. More recently, the Tampa Bay Rays lost 100 games in 2001, then 106 games in 2002. And you thought they built this year's playoff team with a couple of shrewd moves? Well, OK, they made some great moves. But they also had the foundation of a decade of losing and top draft picks to build off of.

So, maybe the title of this blog is wrong? Maybe membership does have its privileges? Hey, there's an upside to everything. After all, the M's will have $117.6 million to split between them this winter as they hit the golf courses and ponder what went wrong -- on the field and in the clubhouse. But can this 100-loss season be repeated? Right now, I'm actually wondering how they're going to avoid that happening. This team is a train wreck, through and through.

ADDITIONAL NOTE (10:25 a.m.): For those of you who are already speculating (here and on other sites) as to the names of those who had a problem with Ichiro earlier this season, I can tell you the full answer would shock many of you. I'm not going to throw particular names out there, because it isn't limited to one person and would not be fair to include some names while omitting others. I know that's rough and that your curiosity is heightened. But my goal here was to highlight that there was a problem. I've been hearing from some of you all season that clubhouse chemistry is not important and that we were overstating the internal strife within the team. This story today should emphasize that there was more going on than meets the eye from an outside perspective. Did we have an inkling of what was going on throughout the year? Of course we did. But there is a time and a place for every story. We tried to address issues throughout the season as they became apparent. And it often takes time, as a season progresses, for people to open up and be forthcoming about what really went on. Not just locker room whispers, but details, corroboration, all the important stuff. As you can see, folks still won't go on the record. And who could blame them? The key point is, Ichiro had an image problem in his own clubhouse. And not just with one or two players. And not just this season. And it gets to a point where, it doesn't even matter what the reality is. When the perception, rightly or wrongly, becomes the reality, you either address the perception or it can become a distraction. In this case, it did. The coaching staff tried to address it. From what I hear, the results of their efforts were not entirely successful. Although Ichiro is still in one piece, so we can assume they were partly successful.


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