The 16 year struggle is only part of the story. Many Seattle Mariners fans ask the question, "are we like the Cubs and Red Sox? Are we cursed?" Well, lets start with some interesting but disappointing facts about Seattle. They are only 1 of 2 teams to never make a World Series appearance, with the Washington Nationals being the other. The M's have only 3 Division Titles and 13 winning seasons in 40 years. So that brings up that question again: is Seattle cursed?
Don't get me wrong - there have been some bright spots in those 40 years, and it all started in 1995. This was the season that no Mariner fan will ever forget. With the leadership of Lou Piniella and the bat of superstar Ken Griffey Jr., the Mariners got off to a hot start in '95. Then in May, the Mariners lost Junior to a broken wrist, leading to him being sidelined until mid-August. This big hit resulted in the M's falling in the standings until a gift from the baseball gods came in August 1995. Seattle got hot right as Junior was coming off the DL. Perfect timing. The Mariners came roaring back from 11 1/2 games back, winning 25 of their last 36 games. They managed to tie the California Angels atop the AL West to force a tie breaker game, which the Mariners went on to win. Seattle had a date with New York in the ALDS, which, to this day, was one of the best 5 game series' of all time, concluding in a Game 5 that no one would ever forget. I will bet that most true Seattle fans can recite Dave Niehaus's most famous call on air: "Lined down the left field line for a base hit! Here comes Joey, here is Junior to third base...They're gonna wave him in! The throw to the plate will be...LATE! The Mariners are gonna play for the American League Championship! I don't believe it! It just continues! MY, OH MY!" Just writing that famous, game-ending call gives me goosebumps, and I am sure if you were to ask most M's fans, they can tell you where they were for "The Double".
In the ALCS, the magic was gone. The players and the Seattle fans themselves were spent after a grueling ALDS. Cleveland would win the ALCS in 6 games, but 1995 will always be a franchise changing season in Mariner history. Not only did it rekindle the love for baseball in Seattle, but '95 saved baseball in Seattle. Safeco Field would have never been built, and the M's would have moved to Tampa Bay if it wasn't for '95. Seattle would go on to have some solid seasons 1996-2000, and in 1997, Seattle won their 2nd Division Title in franchise history. Then in 2000, Seattle won a wild card berth, only to fall short in the playoffs once again.
Then came 2001. The roster was almost unrecognizable, and the 3 superstars that Seattle fans loved so much were gone. In 1998, Randy Johnson was traded to the Astros. One year later in 1999, we saw Seattle's Son, Ken Griffey Jr., traded to the Reds. To pour salt on the wound, Alex Rodriguez left Seattle in free agency after the 2000 season to join the Texas Rangers, and signed the biggest contract in baseball history at the time. Seattle fans didn't have a lot to look forward to in 2001, with only 4 players from the magical '95 team still on the roster. But to the surprise of Mariner fans, Seattle would go on to win 116 games that season, tying the 1906 Cubs record for most wins in a season. The year was filled with clutch hits and plays from every member on the team. Japan superstar Ichiro Suzuki was key to the success of Seattle in 2001, having a breakout rookie season and winning both AL Rookie Of The Year and AL MVP. When the playoffs came around, Seattle fans had a swagger to them. I mean, there was no way that we don't go to the World Series, right? WRONG. The M's would get past the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, only to fall to the New York Yankees in the ALCS for the second straight year. After the 2001 season, the years that followed were the start of the downfall. To give you an example, it was pretty much like being a Browns fan. From the carousel of coaches, to the two worst GM's in the history of baseball...oh and let's not forget about all the missed drafts. There was no hope in sight for Seattle fans, but hey...at least every couple of years they would add more bars to Safeco Field so we could drown our sorrows while watching the MLB version of the Bad News Bears.
Now this brings us to 2017. Seattle's GM Jerry Dipoto was one of the most active GM's this offseason. Dipoto has built a team that is capable of winning games at Safeco Field - speed, defense and pitching are the keys to success. Adding shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Jarrod Dyson will bring the speed atop the lineup that Seattle so desperately needs. With these new additions through free agency and trades, the M's will have, in my opinion, the fastest outfield in the league. Veterans Dyson and Martin as well as young talent Gamel, Haniger, and Heredia show that Seattle looks in good shape. Pitching has been hot and cold over the years for Seattle, but with the leadership of ace Felix Hernandez, the M's look poised to have a phenomenal year. Yes - to most people, Seattle's rotation is average, but with bounce-back years from newly acquired starters Drew Smyly and Yovani Gallardo, as well as injury-free years from Hisashi Iwakuma and James Paxton, this rotation is capable of tops in the American League. The pen is filled with live young arms, anchored by Electric Eddie Diaz who I believe, with a full season, could be the top closer in the league with that free and easy 100+ MPH fastball. Seattle's playoff hopes will go nowhere unless the big 3 can perform; Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Kyle Seager have to repeat their numbers from last year for the M's to have a shot at October.
On paper, this team is very solid, young, and competitive, and I think Seattle will get off to a hot start in April. They had the benefit this spring of having several of their key players competing in the World Baseball Classic, which means that they are playing meaningful games instead of half-assing it in meaningless spring training matchups. Those key players being out of camp playing in the WBC gave Seattle the opportunity to get a real good look at the young talent in the minors. The AL West will be a seesaw battle atop the standings between Seattle and Houston all year long. So in the end, we find ourselves asking that question: can Seattle end the 16 year struggle? Only time will tell, but for all Seattle fans, including this one, I sure hope so.