Including an excLLusive with its creator and up-to-date standings
by Jesse J. Eldred | Rallyfries | @jessejeldred
Sportsball has been dated in this part of the world to as far back as 1400 B.C. It has served many roles in that time, in primitive and modern civilizations, as a means of physical exertion, conflict resolution, entertainment and even ritual death. There have been many stories told through sport, and sport tells us much about ourselves.
The story of the "Sweeping Helmet," or more properly "el casco de la barrida," is as unique and specific to the world of professional sport in 2016 as it is an ordinary expression of a basic human transaction which has been extant for millennia. For what is more unique to our world than a third base coach tweeting pictures of what amounts to a game ball direct from the clubhouse to fans after every win? And yet, what is more basic to social organization than two people of different walks of life finding in each other something that neither had, and negotiating a trade for it? Is that not the origin of human language? (Did you know the bartering which resulted in the Swelmet trade was at least a trilingual affair - English, Spanish, and ASL?)
Here is, in the words of those who made it happen, everything the future discoverer of the Swelmet will want to know about it, two thousand years from now.
[Sources: Statements in quotation marks are taken from an article by Sean Quinton in the Seattle Times. The remaining quotes by Larry Andersen are paraphrased from a conversation with the author through an interpreter over the telephone on September 14, 2016. A similar interview, the author has learned, was conducted by Michelle Ludtka of Q13 on or around May 29, 2016 - this article was referenced for accuracy but not quoted. All other quotes are taken from the social media accounts of the speaker. In-game stats, as always, are courtesy of Baseball-reference.com. Sections in italics and words in brackets are mine.]
On May 4, 2016, a day informally celebrated by fans of the film Star Wars ("May the fourth be with you...") a baseball fan named Larry Andersen came to the Oakland Coliseum to watch an afternoon competition between the Mariners of Seattle and the Athletics of Oakland. He wore a cap, gloves, and cape, which anyone would easily associate with Darth Vader, the principal villain of the film. However, Mr. Andersen made a delightful "Mariners" twist to the helmet, spray painting it cornflower blue and goldenrod yellow, with the Mariners trident on one side and the King Felix "K" on the other.
LA: I made the helmet on May 3rd, the day before. I wasn't preparing to go to the game, but Felix [Hernandez] was pitching, and my daughters wanted to go so we decided to do it at the last minute. So I was rushing making the costume and made the helmet last minute.
On the morning of the same day, the Mariners woke up at 15-11, good enough for first place in the AL West, and looking for their first sweep of the young season. Mr. Andersen happened to have a seat at the first base corner behind the Mariners dugout. His costume did not fail to draw the attention of the Mariners, and third base coach Manny Acta in particular.
LA: I had tickets 3 or 4 rows back from the dugout, and of course a lot of fans were complementing it and I ended up on the broadcast. The players that looked back, they all liked it too, and would give me a thumbs up or something. Finally Manny Acta came over and tried to talk to me, and wanted to ask me about it, but I motioned to him that I'm deaf. So then he started trying to sign, and finally some fans in front of me got their phones out and were translating between us through text. And he was asking how much money I wanted for the helmet, and I said "no no, I don't want money," you know, but I said maybe you could get me a bat or something? So he told me to meet him at the end of the game.
Manny Acta: "We showed up to the game and a fan had a helmet on. He wanted a bat for the helmet [but I told him] ‘I don't have a bat, I have a fungo. I'm a coach, I don't swing a bat.'"
LA: Of course, Manny was really nice about it. He signed "I love you" to my daughters [who are also deaf].
On the field, the Mariners blew a 4-2 lead and fell behind 8-4 after back-to-back errors by Felix and Kyle Seager in the bottom of the fifth sent eleven men to the plate and allowed six of them to score. As they would do many more times over the next five months, the Mariners #KeptFighting (actually #KeepPushing, Acta's term, was the catchphrase at the time), ultimately winning 9-8 on Dae-ho Lee's second dinger of the game. Manny Acta kept his appointment with Larry Andersen.
LA: Manny Acta brought Robinson Cano over, because he is my favorite player, and Cano autographed his bat and gave it to me and I gave him the helmet. At first I thought he might just want to play with it or something, and it seemed like a good trade because I love to collect memorabilia. Back when I was a little kid, growing up in Oregon and Vancouver, I loved the Canseco brothers in '89, and I wanted the Jose Canseco card, but I got the Griffey rookie card instead. At first I was upset, but then of course I fell in love with the Mariners, and Griffey, and went to every game I could.
Manny and Robbie were equally pleased with the exchange, as the Mariners concluded their first sweep of the season and won their sixth series in a row. The first picture of the helmet with its new owners appeared that evening on Manny Acta's Instagram account, a selfie of him and first base coach Casey Candaele (wearing the helmet) with the bilingual caption: "With Casey Candaele and the sweeping helmet - Con Casey Candaele y el casco d[e] la barrida." Casey gets credit, per Ms. Ludtka, with shortening the name to "swelmet."
MA: "It's the coolest. It's got the Mariners logo and Felix K on the side. We have adopted it now. It's called the ‘swelmet,' the sweeping helmet."
Mariners bench coach Tim Bogar was also pictured modeling the helmet, but it was this picture the next day that really went viral, after Robbie hit a bases-clearing double and another run scoring single, and put the word "swelmet" into Mariners lexicon forever. May 5, Swelmet winner: Robinson Cano' (1).
LA: I was really excited, it went viral. "I was so shocked and proud. I saw the pictures on social media and my friends started texting me. Before I knew it, it was all over Instagram and Twitter." I get a kick out of it.
Rallyfries: Do you think other teams will have to introduce similar items to compete? Maybe a swaber or something?
LA: Yeah, yeah [laughs] that would be fun, start a new trend. I see some other teams trying to do similar stuff, and sometimes I get people reaching out, wanting me to make something. Kevin Martinez, he said he plans to do it as a giveaway, and give out duplicates. I hope that works, for something next year, I hope it happens. I've been asking if I could throw out the first pitch at a game, I'm gonna see if they'll let me.
As the swelmet went viral and the Mariners marketing department salivated, the ball club continued its winning May ways, peaking at 28-18 on May 25, in a 13-3 crushing of Oakland. On the way there, Chris Iannetta and Leonys Martin graced the Swelmet after their roles in completing two more sweeps. On May 24, Martin will become the first Mariner to back-to-back the Swelmet, after a walk-off comeback jack. Adam Lind is also awarded the Swelmet on May 19, for his contribution (3-run HR) to a bounce back series road win after a painful sweep at home which featured back to back blown saves.
MA: We came, ate really good seafood and won the series. Karns was solid without his best stuff + Lindo got the Swelmet.
Adam Lind will earn his second in the 13-3 shellacking of Oakland.
MA: Wow!!! A [4x] bombazos limpios. Adam Lind con una noche espectacular. Seguimos ganando series y despues hablamos. #Mariners #MuyDuros #Solid
The Mariners will not complete a sweep again until July 3 against the Baltimore Orioles. They will be swept four times by July 6, once by the worst team in the AL, once in a four game set, and twice by division opponents. They will lose 25 of 40 and be 43-43 on July 7, after one of 12 heartbreaking one-run losses during that span. The Swelmet will become a unifier of the team during that span, and always the cheerleader, Manny Acta continues the trend of using the plastic trinket as an MVP-game ball after every win.
MA [May 29]: Tough series in front of a great crowd, at least The Cactus in Alki Beach can ease the pain. #GreatPlace #Seattleisbeautiful #PlayEveryPitch.
MA [May 30]: Back on track. Karns was solid and our offense did the rest. Cruz, Lind and Lee [thumbs up! Strong!] but The Swelmet goes to Seager
MA [May 31]: Kuma + [5x bombs] = 16 - 4 [win over Padres]. Very close on The Swelmet, but Seager decided to give it to Edgar for today's offense. #GoMs.
On June 2, one of the most memorable nights in Mariners history, the boys erased a 12-2 deficit over the "hated" rival Padres, scoring on 7 consecutive 2-out singles in the 7th. A PH 3-run jack from Dae-ho Lee to get them back in it, and two more hits after that, earned him his first Swelmet.
MA: Baseball, you never know. We came back from a 10 run deficit. Great team effort! The legend of Dae Ho Lee. SWELMET!!
And so it continued throughout the up-and-down 2016 season, that every win - some few and far between (July 10-16) and some rattled off one after the other like a box of Saturn Missiles (Sept. 7-14) - was "capped" off with a photograph of one Mariner in a Swelmet. You will not ever see a photograph of a person with the Swelmet on their head who isn't smiling.
Rf: How has your life changed the most since you invented the Swelmet?
LA: Well, since I moved out to Indianapolis, I have to stay up late to watch games, to see who gets the Swelmet! At first, when it happened, a lot of people wanted to talk to me and stuff, but I didn't do many interviews really, and so a lot of people don't know about me. They know more about Manny but not the whole story. But I'm happy, the whole Swelmet thing just makes me really happy.
Rf: It looked on Twitter like you were up in Seattle for Griffey weekend, did you enjoy the festivities?
LA: Yes, yes, I went to six straight games.
The Mariners were 6-0 in those games.
On Friday, September 30, the Mariners flew Larry and his family back out to Seattle: Larry threw out the first pitch of that evening's game against the Oakland Athletics on Fan Appreciation Night. Manny Acta did the catching.
Final Season Swelmet Standings
1. Kyle Seager (6)*
May 30 (2-run HR); July 1 (GW 2-run HR); July 26 (1B, 2B, 2-run HR); Aug 9 (3-run HR, RBI 1B in 14th); Aug 14 (4 RBI); Aug 17 (Game saving 5-3)
T2. Hisashi Iwakuma (6)
July 8 (6.2 IP, 1 ER, 6K); July 16 (7 IP, 0 R, 8 K); Aug 3 (7.1 IP, 0 R, 7 K); Aug 8 (7 IP, 0 R, 8 K); Sept. 9 (6.2 IP, 2 R, 5 K); Sept. 14 (6.1 IP, 1 R)
T2. Robinson Cano (6)
May 5 (4 RBI - first swelmet); Aug 2 (GW 3-run HR); Aug 13 (2-run HR); Aug 19 (2-run HR); Sept 26 (3-4, 2 HR, 2B); Sept 30 (2-4, 2 HR, 3 RBI - final swelmet)
4. Adam Lind (5)
May 19 (3-run HR); May 25 (2 HRs, 4 H, 6 RBI); June 24 (3-run WO); July 18 (3-run WO #2); Sept 7 (2 HR, GS).
4. Leonys Martin (5)
May 22 (4-for-5, true swelmet); May 24 (WO); July 20 (WO); July 30 (2-out GW 2B); Sept. 28 (3-4, 3 R, 2 SB, RBI, BB)
Leonys also got half a swelmet for being a good teammate on Sept. 10.
6. Taijuan Walker (4)
June 8 (8 IP, 11 K); June 30 (6.1 IP, 1 ER); Sept 8 (Bounce-back 5 IP, 3 R); Sept. 13 (CGSO)
6. James Paxton (4)
June 16 (6 IP, 3 R, 5 K); July 22 (7 IP, 1 R, 9 K); Aug 7 (8.1 IP, 0 ER, 6 K); Sept. 23 (7 IP, 1 R, 9 K)
8. Nelson Cruz (3)
June 28 (HR-20); July 23 (2 HR, 7 RBI); Aug 10 (GW HR)
8. Felix Hernandez (3)
Aug 5 (8 IP, 3 H, 4 R); Aug 20 (8 IP, 2 R, 8 K); Aug 26 (7.1 IP, 1 R).
8. Mike Zunino (3)
July 2 (2 HRs on 1st 2016 start); Aug 23 (GW 3-run HR); Sept. 11 (2-run HR, 2B)
11. Mike Montgomery (2)
June 25 (2.1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 4 K); July 10 (Spot start: 6.1 IP, 1 ER)
11. Seth Smith (2)
July 3 (GS); Sept 18 (2 HR, 5 RBI)
11. Dae-ho Lee (2)**
June 2 (PH 3-run HR, 3 H); June 10 (2 HR, 4 RBI)
11. Ariel Miranda ("El Miro") (2)
Sept 2 (6 IP, 4 R); Sept. 12 (6 IP, 3 H, 0 R)
11. Jesus Sucre (2)
Sept. 5 (3-3, 2 RBI); Sept. 25 (2-run HR, 2B, +defense)
16. Chris Iannetta (1)
May 11 (WO, true swelmet)
16. Edgar Martinez (1)
May 31 (16 runs, 14 hits)
16. Wade Miley (1)
June 7 (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R)
16. Franklin Gutierrez (1)***
June 17 (2 HR, 2B, 6 RBI)
16. Shawn O'Malley (1)
Aug 6 (Griffey night- GW 3-run HR)
16. Tom Wilhelmsen (1)
Aug 15 (1.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R)
16. Nick Vincent (1)
Sept 21 (W, 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R)
16. Cotton Candy Girl (1)
Sept. 7 (world's best face)
*Kyle Seager wins the tie-breaker for unselfishly giving his Swelmet on May 31 to Edgar Martinez.
**DHL does not have four swelmets. He had 4 RBI the night he was pictured holding up four fingers.
***Another picture of Guti in the swelmet is extant, but appears to be from the same night.
Neither Edwin Diaz nor Steve Cishek, who combined for 43 saves, was awarded the Swelmet. Vidal Nuno, forever the clean-up man, never really had a chance. Among position players with 100+ AB, only Norichika Aoki and Ketel Marte failed to get a Swelmet.
Manny Acta was finally photographed wearing the Swelmet on Social Media Day.
Someone please turn that ugly list into an attractive box in the comments, please and thanks.