The Seattle Mariners: A History of Mediocrity

Mandatory Credit:

Mandatory Credit:

As you are undoubtedly aware, the Toronto Blue Jays made the playoffs this year, marking the first time they have done so since 1993 when they won the World Series and for that, my genuine congratulations go out to the organization and its fans. What you may not be aware of, though, is that this now means that the Seattle Mariners now possess the longest playoff drought in Major League Baseball. They haven’t seen October since their historic, 116-win campaign back in 2001.

Now, a 14-year drought when put into the context of the rest of baseball doesn’t appear quite as severe. Of droughts that took place in part during the expanded postseason era (1995 and beyond), the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals franchise holds the record with a drought spanning 30 years, from 1981 to 2012, and there are six others throughout MLB history that lasted longer than 14 years. But the Mariners are painfully close to that top seven, and if new general manager Jerry Dipoto doesn’t help put together a winner, they will join those ranks in less than a year’s time.

A few things serve to make their dearth sting a little more though, the first being nostalgia for the ’95 and 2001 teams, the latter of course being their final playoff appearance, and the season in which they won a record-tying 116 games. It isn’t easy to come off a string of success, only to enter an even longer string of failure. The fan base had a taste of success without reaching the pinnacle, before being transferred into 14 years of — for lack of a better word — suck.

The second factor is the lack of exciting or competitive seasons, constant turnover of personnel, and the repetition of mistakes and shortcomings. The team managed to win 93 games in both 2002 and 2003, but from 2004 on, a period of 12 years, the M’s only won 80 or more games three times — 88 in 2007, 85 in 2009 and 87 in 2014. That’s nine seasons in which the team likely didn’t play meaningful baseball beyond August, if not earlier. At least there can exist some excitement when the team is good enough to be in the hunt, versus a season that feels lost by the All-Star break and fails to procure any enthusiasm.

Their combined winning percentage of .470 from 2002 through 2015 is sixth worst in the league, but all five teams below them — Houston, Baltimore, Colorado, Pittsburgh and Kansas City — have, obviously, made the playoffs more recently. Three of them made it this year. What we have is a fatal combination of one of the worst team performances over the past 14 seasons, and the inability to even squeak their way in to a wild card spot. These other teams have been worse overall over the time period, but they managed to right the ship at some point and find themselves playing ball in October.

Perhaps the saddest note of this whole affair, is that this isn’t even the longest drought in the franchise’s history. Their previous one ended before the 1995 cutoff, so I didn’t list it with the others above, but the team began it’s life with 18 straight postseason-less years, and a .432 team winning percentage. What this means is that 1995 to 2001 is their only productive period in franchise history, in which they made the playoffs four out of seven seasons, with a .552 winning percentage. Even their period of dominance wasn’t all that dominant, especially when you remember that 116 of those wins came in a single season.

All of this combines for an all-time franchise winning percentage of .468. The only franchises that come in below that are the Rockies, Rays and Padres. The Mariners are, at least in one sense — probably the most important sense on account of the point of the game is to win — the fourth worst MLB franchise in baseball. You could even make a case that they are below that, depending on how you factor in the whole playoff drought situation.

Seeing as I am a Mariner fan, you might be able to imagine how difficult it was to write some of this. Of course I knew that the franchise was in a rough spot, doesn’t have much of a history, have never won a World Series, etc. But I had never dug too far into the details like I just did. I suppose if you had pressed me, I would have had a tough time coming up with many examples of franchises that are inferior to that of the Seattle Mariners, but that doesn’t mean it was at the front of my mind, something I was ready and willing to admit. I preferred to hold on to a certain level of dignity in my love for this team.

But, this site is about the history of baseball, and these things are simply facts that cannot be denied. It may not have been all that fun writing this piece, but it needed to be done, and ultimately I think it is a positive, even for optimistic Mariner fans. The franchise has been a disappointment for virtually it’s entire history, and yet we still hang around. I made this realization for myself recently while writing an essay for an English class. This team has been about as disappointing as can be during my lifetime (and it’s entire history) and yet my fandom hasn’t wavered.

Perhaps this tells us something about sports fandom as a whole. Sure, there are those who like to jump on the most recent bandwagon so they can say they follow a winner, and we all know they are the worst. But there is a significant portion of the population who has a genuine passion for their team, in baseball certainly, but also in other sports. We grow with the team; we experience it’s ups and downs right along side it, and no matter how far down we go, we never get off this metaphorical roller-coaster that I apparently just created. We might get frustrated, and it might not be easy, but ultimately we hang on until we hit the upswing, and it is all worth it again.

As this article has demonstrated, there haven’t been many upswings for me to experience. Maybe my downswing has been a little tougher than others. But that doesn’t mean I am any more likely to jump ship. I, and all of my fellow Mariner fans, just need to hang on a little longer. We’ve made it this far, and I for one am (perhaps illogically) optimistic that it shouldn’t be too long before we are immersed in the spirit of the MLB postseason for the first time in 14 years. And maybe we will get lucky, and the long break will make the experience that much more meaningful.

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