FanPost

Dan Meyer: The Original Mr. Mariner


The first seven years of the Seattle Mariners play in the mind like a fever dream; most people can only recall the dignity of Lenny Randle or the glint of oil under Gaylord Perry's cap.  The last crumbling artifact of the entire first decade is the anti-ironic Mariners trident seen littering the caps and jerseys of Safeco Field's post-adolescent fans.  All of this is a shame, because the Seattle Mariners did engage in baseball-like activities; and over the span of 1,134 games, a few interesting things are going to happen.  One of those interesting things did happen, and in fact it happened 555 times: Seattle fielded the worst major-league baseball player of modern times. 

Dan Meyer was a fourth-round pick by the Detroit Tigers in 1972. As a nineteen year-old outfielder in Rookie ball, Dan Meyer hit .396 with a .672 slugging percentage.  As for many, his teenage years proved to be his zenith.  Four years later, he was drafted again, this time the fifth player chosen by the Seattle Mariners in the expansion draft.  Meyer rewarded this trust with an impressive-looking season, delivering a solid fantasy line:

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

R

HR

RBI

SB

639

.273

.320

.442

75

22

90

11

In actuality, Meyer was barely above average in 1977, because these statistics hide terrible plate discipline, a lack of doubles power, the harm he did on the basepaths (his steal percentage barely cracked 50%), and his clumsiness around the bag.  Strangely, Meyer failed to capitalize on the famously snug confines of the Kingdome, sporting a slugging percentage thirty points higher on the road.  Still, for a team that had little else to cheer for, it was better than nothing.  Barely.

The Reality that is Dan Meyer surfaced the following year, however, in the form of these numbers:

PA

AVG

OBP

SLG

R

HR

RBI

SB

477

.227

.264

.327

38

8

56

7

It could have been even worse.  By the end of July, Meyer was hitting .197 with an OPS of .531 in 308 plate appearances.  Perhaps the most amazing statistic of Meyer's 1978 season is that, having accrued these numbers, Meyer started 44 more games in August and September.  This is the sort of phenomenon that would be nearly impossible to reproduce in our current era; the Mariners simply had no one else to replace him with.  The expansion draft of 1977 was a cruel one (at least for the Mariners; Toronto, who perhaps had hired real live scouts, came away with valuable players like Jim Clancy, Dave Collins, Ernie Whitt, Garth Iorg, and Larry Anderson.)  The cupboards were bare, and would remain so.

Meyer once said that his Mariner career began as "hopeful", but that the malaise of Mariner failure began to set in.  It's amazing that it set in so quickly.  Meyer's already tenuous abilities with the glove fell off a cliff, and the end result was a season that ranks among the worst in non-Spiezio Mariner history.  His WAR (wins above replacement) that year was -2.5.

Meyer had one more solid year with the bat in 1979, but after that he was done, shipped off to the Oakland A's for Rich Bordi and eventually replaced at his own position by the first true Mariners star, Alvin Davis.  In reality, he was far more similar to his protégée at third base rather than first.  Meyer was Jim Presley, but a condensed, volatile, super-Presley, one that we as humans have learned to contain.

It is Meyer, not Davis, who deserves the nickname Mr. Mariner.  To be honest, it has always struck me as odd that we have crowned the title on the latter player as a reward for good play, when the first fifteen years of Mariner history symbolize everything that Meyer embodied and Davis did not.  Early Mariners baseball was forgettable and regrettable; it existed in a culture when not finishing last was a goal, but one that rarely happened.  In fact, what makes Dan Meyer such a symbol for the Seattle Mariners was not that he was bad, but that the M's thought he was good; they saw the empty batting average, the counting stats, the gorgeous golden locks, and failed to appreciate the flaws that helped prevent the team from actually winning games.  Meyer finished his Mariners career with a negative WAR.  Since the Mariners themselves were probably inferior to many minor league clubs, the comparison is poetic.


Postscript: I began this post by crowning Dan Meyer as the worst major league baseball player in modern history.  His only competition to this claim, from the data I have gathered, is Mets second baseman Doug Flynn.  The two players played at almost exactly the same time and had almost identical numbers of plate appearances; however, Flynn is an inferior hitter to Meyer in almost every possible way.  The difference: Flynn played second poorly, whereas Meyer played first and third (and a little outfield) atrociously.  Flynn is fascinating in his own right: batting in the eighth spot, a third of his walks were intentional, despite the fact that the pitchers following were probably better hitters than he was.  I give Meyer the edge because a) Flynn was technically a reserve for most of his career and b) he won a Gold Glove, even if he didn't deserve it.  Still, Flynn's claim for the title is certainly strong.

Also, I'd like to point out that though this article might seem somewhat critical of Mr. Meyer's abilities, perspective must be maintained: it is an accomplishment to be a major league ballplayer at all, let alone one who played in twelve seasons.  Longevity is no small matter, as players like Brian Kingman and Mike Morgan will attest.  In fact, Dan Meyer's performance is less an indictment on Dan Meyer himself as it is on the ballclub that could not find a superior alternative to him.  If not for the expansion draft, Meyer would likely have been out of baseball by 1979, and truly forgotten.  Instead, he is Mr. Mariner.

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