When I was a kid, I wanted the Mariners to have less fans. Safeco Field had too many, and the annoyance wasn't a result of the issues you might expect in today's adult world—long beer lines, crowded concourses, maybe parking. It was simple: there weren't enough seats.
Of course, that's especially true when all seven O'Keefes rolled over to Safeco to watch those early-2000s M's. But a lot of the time, there were four of us—me, my dad and my two little brothers. We never bought tickets in advance. Hell, we rarely ever bought them together.
We'd walk off the ferry from Bainbridge and over Safeco's left field gate; then we split into pairs, one of my little twin brothers with me, being maybe 13 or 14 at the time, and the other with my dad. Two of us stayed there where Occidental met Royal Brougham, two of us walked up the north side of the stadium, to just short of the railroad tracks. Then, as thousands upon thousands of fans streamed in from both directions, we yelled "ANYBODY GOT ONE EXTRA TICKET?!" until, through sheer will and the power of youthful innocence, we had the requisite four to get in.
So we'd do our best to find a spot in the bleachers and then, no more than a couple innings later, the search for four better ones was on. And it was never easy. Well, spotting four empty ones was easy—because in a sea of shirts and jackets, even just a few open dark green seats stood out, but then having them staying that way never was.
So I'd go home, I'd watch Sportscenter, and I'd see teams with a lower bowl flush with seats for the taking and I'd wish, just a bit, that Safeco afforded the freedom to roam in those empty seats. If I'd only know what it'd be like, a little more than a decade later, for that to be almost all there was.
This organization, it can be great again. Maybe my introduction to this team when it was among the best franchises in baseball—drawing three million fans and constantly winning 90-plus—has bound me with some level of permanent disillusionment, but I will argue that forever.
I argued it in the winter of 2004, when I took to AOL chatrooms titled "Baseball 1" and Baseball 2" to debate with anyone I could that the signings of Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre, combined with the continued development of Gil Meche, would put the Mariners right back in the playoffs. And you can be certain I'm going to do that now.
Before I do, I feel like I should apologize. I was wrong about this team. Yes, part of it was me just being optimistic, and that's never going to change—at least I hope not—but an even bigger part, a reasonable part, had logic saying this was going to be a can't-miss decent team. And that 's putting it conservatively.
I was one of many who had the 2015 M's in the World Series. While it's easy to see the holes now, in March it was a roster that let your imagination run. So with this year's roster, as with many moves of the Zduriencik era, it all seemed so snakebitten. This team, the failed prospects, the busted trades—how could it all continue to be so worst-case scenario?
This is going to sound like a cop out, so I apologize—but we're not supposed to know the answer. Reporters aren't, bloggers aren't, fans aren't. That's the job of the man (or woman) in the big chair. While the constant search for this game's secrets will never reach its conclusion, it's the job of the GM to possess more secrets than we do—and more importantly, than his competitors do.
You're supposed to know why things go wrong, why they go right, and you're supposed to know before either happen. And when you don't—whether that's through bad luck, lack of foresight or inattention to detail— the answer isn't to fire off 1,400-word emails. It's owning it. That's it, that's the job. And there should be plenty of people willing to take it on.
I know there will be any number of individuals saying otherwise, but this sentiment here is entirely expected:
i cant say who the mariners will hire as gm, but i can this: everyone & his brother wants that job.cant blame 'em.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) August 28, 2015
This is a great gig. It goes beyond the fact that being a general manager of any major league team is a dream job—though that is a very important one. Though, a point should be made on the biggest reason many say people will stay away, and that's that this ownership group isn't easy to work with.
I'm not going to go out of my way to defend this ownership team, not with the track record it possesses. But while we'll never know the extent to which this group does it, owners meddle everywhere. It's the reason the biggest agent in the game, Scott Boras, prefers to work directly with the owners. And the biggest difference between a "meddlesome owner" and "a passionate owner who will do anything to win" is found almost entirely through results-based analysis.
So general managers expect, to some degree, that part of the job is keeping the man who writes the checks happy. In Seattle, that may or may not be more difficult than other places, but there's plenty of good to outweigh that bad.
First, this is a club ready to contend—and that will be the expectation. It's difficult to foresee them quickly morphing into the elite American League club we envisioned them being, but with Felix Hernandez, Robinson Canó, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager and a developing Taijuan Walker, the hard work is done.
The most pressing job of the next general manager is to excel where Zduriencik faltered, in building a complete major league roster replete with depth and, to put it plainly—way more average dudes. Pulling a couple four-win outfielders out of nowhere would be nice, but of even more importance is avoiding the black holes that plagued Zduriencik's teams.
A GM who revels in the finer points of roster construction should see this as an enormous opportunity. Sure, there are some load-bearing walls you likely can't knock out as part of the remodel, but this a decent condo with all the furnishings—and none of the furniture.
Also, if a bottom-up rebuild is more your style, guess what, the Mariners need that too. There are a multitude of young, talented players from which a player dev guru might be able to extract production, but this system needs a lot more—and the next GM will have the opportunity, nay obligation and freedom, to completely rework how the Mariners' player development system operates and, in doing so, add significantly to what now is a barren foundation of young talent.
And if this individual succeeds, he or she will be rewarded. They'll get all the credit.
I've written it so many times before, in a number of different contexts, but Seattle one of the most-up-and-coming cities in America—with clear parallels to the early-2000s dotcom era that accompanied this franchise's most successful period. This city loves its sports and, as with most, it'll show when the teams win.
And it's this overflowing support, if it happens, that can spur future success. Seattle is not only a burgeoning city, in general, but an expanding media market—one, with the existing cable deal, that could (should) continue to push payroll towards $150 million and beyond.
Of course, this is all taking place in a ballpark that is one of baseball's jewels—and a jewel that, thanks to that ever-flowing cable revenue, continues to be polished.
Now, it's time to fill it again.
That individual has the opportunity to take this organization to places its never been, and accomplish things it's never done. If they do, they'll be a demigod.
The bar is set high here, as it should be. That's what this city, in recent years, has come to expect. If that bar is cleared, the praise will be endless, and the individual who manages to push the organization to do so will be celebrated in this town will be celebrated like very few have.
Now, the Mariners just have to find him—or her.