Shipwrecked (A Review)

Shipwrecked

Not long ago, I started getting assaulted by emails having to do with this new book, Shipwrecked. The first email begins:

Profits Over Pennants

Shortsighted Owners Mean Mediocre Mariners

The book, like many other books, draws comparisons to Moneyball, and if you're hung up, a book is a bound collection of pages with words or illustrations, kind of like a slower, physical Internet. Shipwrecked was written by Jon Wells, whose name you might recognize, and it's basically about why the Mariners haven't done more with what they've had. I haven't read it, but Arne Christensen has, and he wrote up the following review. Christensen has run the 1995 Mariners blog, and he submitted this interview with Jack Perconte, and this interview with Steve Cox.

***

If you go to Mariners games, you've seen Grand Salami, the unofficial Mariners magazine, being sold outside Safeco on game days. Jon Wells, the guy who started Grand Salami in 1996 and still runs it, has written a book, Shipwrecked, that tries to explain why the Mariners have failed to do more with the talent on hand from 1992 through 2011. After two very brief chapters covering 1977 through 1991, years that were grim enough for M's fans, Wells swings into the full force of his argument, which is, briefly: Ownership and top management (basically Armstrong and Lincoln) has been consistently unwilling to spend the extra 10 to 20 percent on team payroll that would have capitalized on the exceptional talent the Mariners have squandered. The exception, when Bill Bavasi was given a fairly free rein to spend tens of millions signing free agents, was almost universally wasted on a procession of nightmares that fans can only try to forget.

Wells closes with optimism, writing that "Zduriencik has a solid plan in place and has displayed good acumen in several key areas-evaluating and developing amateur players, trading creatively, and finding useful talent undervalued by other teams." He also sees the fiscal backwash from the Bavasi regime clearing out in coming years, freeing up funds to pay players who can help the team win. But this optimism about Zduriencik's abilities and the Mariners' upcoming prospects is offset by doubts about whether the franchise is willing to expand its budget and finally invest in a winner.

If you appreciated Art Thiel's book, Out of Left Field (published in 2003), you'll like what Wells does in Shipwrecked. Thiel and Wells both try to explain to the reader the real reasons why everything from the terrible Rafael Soriano for Horacio Ramirez trade to the dismantling of much of the '95 team happened. Wells' book is more negative than Thiel's, but after all, the nine years since Out of Left Field have been pretty ugly ones for the franchise.

Publicity efforts for the book connect it to Moneyball, and that's also a legitimate comparison, but Wells is working on a notably smaller canvas than Michael Lewis, and there's already been about a decade worth of books that connect themselves to Moneyball. If you're a more casual fan or someone who just doesn't care about back-office finances, management and "inside baseball" reporting on the past, you don't really need to get Shipwrecked. If you do care about those things, and want to learn more about the Mariners' past and the direction of the franchise, Wells' book is worth it.

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