Straining A Bond

Last night, the Mariners non-tendered Ryan Rowland-Smith. RRS was offered a Major League contract, but he didn't agree with the terms - whatever those might've been - and so, in the end, he was cut loose. While the possibility exists that he could still re-sign with the team after exploring the market, all of his quotes seem to indicate that he's prepared to move on. Next year, he's going to be playing somewhere else.

Let's make this clear right now - as a baseball move, it's a sensible one. RRS wasn't in line to make much money at all, so there aren't really significant savings involved, but you could make a convincing statistical argument that he was the worst pitcher in baseball a year ago, and that says all that needs to be said. Out of options, RRS would've had to stick on the roster next year, and there just isn't much room. The Mariners are not losing much by dropping a low-ceiling lefty who - while he's better than he looked in 2010 - isn't going to end up in any All-Star Games.

But this wasn't just a baseball move. Not to me, not to most of you, and not to countless others. RRS isn't just a guy with numbers by his name. While every athlete is a person, RRS is a person that many of us to some extent got to know. With his engaging and endearing personality and ready accessibility - first on a blog, and more recently on Twitter - an attachment formed that was deeper than the attachment felt to most players, because this was an attachment that went both ways. There was two-way interaction, and within the game of baseball, and certainly with the Mariners, that's rare.

Through that interaction, we got to learn something - RRS is good people. Not good people in that he donated money to charity or made appearances at local schools; those things, while obviously good, don't necessarily reflect a guy's character. Good people, in that he's affable, and caring, and most importantly, down-to-earth. He understands that he makes good money living a dream, but doesn't put himself above anybody else. This is a really good story that I think captures it all pretty well. Speaking from personal experience, we had dinner a few months ago, and after setting a location he contacted me to suggest somewhere quieter. We then chatted for three hours. We'd never met and we'd hardly ever talked, and so I think that, too, captures what he's all about.

Naturally, this turned him into a fan favorite. I think fans can convince themselves to root for pretty much anyone. That old Seinfeld line about rooting for laundry is absolutely true, and ultimately, we just want our team to win, no matter who makes it up. We wanted Carl Everett to do well a few years ago. We supported Milton Bradley in 2010. Francisco Rodriguez beat up his girlfriend, and later beat up his girlfriend's father, but he'll be the Mets' closer in 2011, and if he and the team do well, Mets fans will be happy. When circumstances dictate, most fans are able to separate a guy's talent from his personality, and decide that they're rooting for players, not people.

But while fans are able to ignore or look past a guy's unpleasant personality or checkered past, the good guys - they always get a boost. We root for laundry, with exceptions. RRS has been one of the exceptions - a guy whose successes were exceptionally gratifying. It just so happened that he was wearing the right laundry, too, but we weren't just cheering for RRS the player. We were cheering for RRS the person as well, because we got to know the person at least to some small degree, and we concluded that RRS is the kind of person we want to see succeed. I don't like the word "deserve" very much because, at its core, it's judgmental, but I think it's fair to say a guy like RRS deserves success more than a guy like Julio Mateo.

We all want so badly for good things to happen to good people. We wish that were how the world worked. That isn't, of course, how the world works, and one bit of evidence is that, again, Ryan Rowland-Smith was arguably the worst pitcher in the Major Leagues last season. He didn't miss enough bats, he didn't throw enough strikes, and every other fly ball left the yard. The entire team was terrible, but RRS might've struggled more than any other Mariner, and what's more is that we had a window into how he was affected as the season ran its course. We wanted some indication that things would reverse, for our sake and for his, but those indications were few and far between. RRS' best game was probably his last one. There's too late, and then there's allowing two runs in five innings to the A's on the third of October.

Headed into the offseason, I knew that RRS could be non-tendered. I didn't think it would happen, but I was aware of the possibility, and I tried not to think about it. Unfortunately, this is our reality now, and it's a weird one, in that the team made a move I don't disagree with that still makes me upset. I'm not upset at the M's for doing what they did. I'm just upset that it came to this, because RRS was a guy who enhanced the whole baseball experience. Felix and Ichiro can make games more exciting with what they do on the field, and RRS can't come close to matching their natural ability, but there's no denying that, despite his up-and-down career, RRS made liking the Mariners more fun. He added to it in a way that no other Mariner has.

Now he's gone, and there's a void. Michael Saunders or Josh Wilson or Anthony Varvaro might be great guys, but we don't know. Garrett Olson seems like he'd be fun, but that's not based on anything substantial. Josh Lueke's on Twitter and he interacts with people all the time, but I don't think I need to explain why Josh Lueke couldn't fill the fan favorite void left by Ryan Rowland-Smith. The Mariners had something over the last few years that they probably won't have in 2011, and that sucks.

We root for laundry, with exceptions. I root for Josh Wilson. I root for Erik Bedard. I couldn't give a rip anymore about J.J. Putz or Ryan Franklin. For RRS, though, I'll be wishing him all the best wherever he ends up, be it in San Diego, Kansas City, or Anaheim. I'd love to see him get his career back on track. With most players, a bond is formed when a player arrives, and the bond is broken when the player departs. This bond, though - this bond will be strained, but it's too strong to snap.

Kick ass, Ryan, wherever you go.

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