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The Curse of the Amazon

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Everything is terrible and it’s pretty clearly Amazon’s fault

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Amazon Unveils Its First Smartphone Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

April 6, 1936: A tornado kills more than 200 people in Gainesville, GA

April 6, 1199: Richard the Lionheart dies from wounds sustained in battle

April 6, 1903: The Kishinev pogrom drives thousands of Jews out of Bessarabia

April 6, 1667: An earthquake devastates the city-state of Dubrovnik

April 6, 2017: The US launches 59 Tomahawk Missiles at Syria

April 6, 1917: Woodrow Wilson declares war on Germany

...

April 6, 1977: the Seattle Mariners begin franchise history with a loss against the California Angels, 7-0.

For 108 years, the Cubs owned the title of baseball’s most cursed franchise. Nothing could touch them. History was (not) on their side. Then:

World Series - Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians - Game Seven Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

And:

World Series - Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians - Game Seven Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

That’s what winning the World Series looks like. And it’s something we as Mariners fans will never know, because we are now the ones with our very own homegrown, deep-in-the-marrow curse. While it hasn’t attained the illustrious length of the curse of the Cubbies, it’s been steadily growing in power for the last two decades.

The Mariners are cursed because of the same thing that’s made Seattle basically unaffordable for the average person these days.

The Mariners are cursed because of Amazon.

Sure, it could be argued that the Mariners have been mostly lousy since their inception, that cold, cruel day in April. Expansion teams, made up from the dreck of other teams’ castoffs and unproven rookies, usually do poorly, and tightfisted management from California-based real estate developer George Argyros, whose approach to the shepherding the team was like particularly low-budget HGTV filler between the Property Brothers and those cultish Texans, kept the team in the basement during the 80s. But everything changed during a magical, improbable mid-90s run, where the voice of Dave Niehaus resonated through the twilight of every summer evening. The team showed it had a heartbeat, that it wasn’t just MLB’s window dressing in a far-flung outpost. Stars emerged, real homegrown stars like Griffey or Edgar, and others joined them in the form of Buhner and Johnson and others. Suddenly our Northwest sky wasn’t so dark.

Yankees V Mariners
Though we’ve always had a sneaking suspicion it probably wasn’t the best idea to light off massive explosives indoors

But nothing burns without fuel. No light comes without a cost.

In October 1995, the same month the Mariners lost their first playoff series—everyone take a Double shot—a former Wall Street executive named Jeff Bezos took his new Seattle-based business venture up onto the web. He called it Amazon. (Initially he called it “Cadabra” but made the switch after it was continually misheard as the decidedly more morbid “Cadaver,” a name perfectly suited for a curse, but probably not a multinational corporation). The Mariners and this nascent company were both on the upswing. What would follow, however, would be a series of Amazon achieving ever-greater things at the cost of Mariners’ playoff ambitions. As Amazon has blossomed, our poor team has wilted.

Mariners dugout
Looks about right.

In 1997, the year of the Mariners’ first 90-win season and first league MVP, Barnes & Noble sued Amazon, claiming its slogan “the world’s largest bookstore” was false, because Amazon acts not as a book seller, but a book broker. This began the use of the term “brick and mortar” as a way to differentiate a company’s online presence from its real, in-the-world presence, and also presaging the loss of small, independent bookstores nationwide. Whether or not you feel that independent booksellers are a vital part of a literate society is entirely up to you. Either way, the lawsuit was settled out of court, mighty Amazon persisted unscathed, and the most promising Mariners team limply exited the playoffs in the divisional round.

Mariners V Orioles
Not pictured: The M’s winning a playoff series

After six years of strategically undercutting competitors, Amazon first turned a profit in the final quarter of 2001, around the same time the Mariners tied the MLB record for wins in a season. As you all know, however, the magic of 2001 fizzled in the playoffs, and the Mariners were eliminated in the ALCS for the second straight year by the team-who-shall-not-be-named. The 2001 team is a special dart to the heart of all who were there to witness that historic season that somehow ended in...nothing. Not even a pennant. But in hindsight, the reason for this seemingly odds-defying result become painfully clear. The Amazon monster was growing, and it would not be satiated until it ate the souls of every Mariners fan past, present, and future.

Amazon Unveils Its First Smartphone
Bezos hungry.
Photo by David Ryder/Getty Images

In 2002 and 2003, the Mariners won at least 90 games but barely missed the playoffs. Amazon, however, was too busy turning a profit to notice—modest at first, a mere $35M in 2003, but ballooning to $588m in 2004. That year the Mariners won a paltry 63 games, their lowest total since 1983, with the exception of the strike-shortened 1994 season. Though Ichiro set the single-season hits record, a brief respite from the pain, the descent was upon us.

2007 brought us the Amazon Kindle, and the best Mariners season in four years. Of course, it wasn’t enough for a playoff berth, because--if you haven’t gotten the message yet—it never is. The Kindle represented the loss of the book as object, and further pushed the brick-and-mortar bookstore into obsolescence. Bailey/Coy bookstore on Capitol Hill closed in 2009, citing low sales and higher rents. That year, the Mariners posted a winning record, though at what cost we may never know. Also of note: 2009 was bookended by two of the worst seasons in franchise history, with the Mariners losing 101 games each year. Another notable event of 2010: Amazon moved out of the Pacific Medical Center in Beacon Hill, which it had occupied since 1998, like a hermit crab seeking new, developable land elsewhere, and leaving the stately Art Deco building a virtual ghost town.

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners
Much like the Safeco stands that year
Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

2014 ushered in virtual personal assistant and robo-wench Alexa, so gadget-inclined Mariners fans could drown in a sea of Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Hurt” without even lifting a finger when the team missed out on a wild card spot on day 162 of the season. Alexa can tell you the time, give you the latest news, weather or traffic, arrange a ride, or even turn your lights on or off or unlock your doors. Last I checked, she cannot ease the pain of loving a bad baseball team.

Seattle Mariners v Oakland Athletics
“Alexa, why does everything hurt?”
Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Also in 2014: Stories of Amazon employees’ bad experiences working for the company began to trickle out. A weeklong series on Gawker described working at Amazon as “soul-crushing” and “bizarre” and another article expressed concern that Amazon’s employees were overworked and underpaid. Later that year, the company began offering incentives to unhappy employees to quit. If only fans of the 2015 Mariners had been offered the same.

In 2016, the Mariners just missed the playoffs, again, with an especially gut-wrenching loss in game 161. That same year, Amazon offered for sale the following items: a sexy burka, a cat muzzle, a book titled “I Wish My Kids Had Cancer,” and something called “The Backyard Brains RoboRoach” for children who love cockroaches, imposing their will, and non-elective surgery.

2017 isn’t even half-over, but we’re already feeling the ill effects of Amazon’s continued expanded influence. Amazon has spread its tentacles throughout South Lake Union, crushing entire city blocks in its grip. It can feel airless, weaving between the boxy modern buildings that tower where industrial buildings that fed the city once stood, home now to pie companies and extreme barre studios and artisanal soup shops. For every building that goes up, seemingly, a Mariner player goes down, and yet we root on, we cannot look away. It makes one wonder if Amazon hasn’t expanded on the technology in the RoboRoach. Sometimes my feet walk towards Safeco and I don’t even know why.

And while it’s definitely Amazon’s fault that the Mariners are so bad, it’s our fault too. We have become soft, here in our golden cage. Remember that Christmas in 2012 when Amazon issued a 5% credit to customers using their smartphones to price-check books in brick-and-mortar stores, thereby undercutting local businesses and driving the final nail deeper into the coffin of independent bookstores? We should have done something then. Amazon will sell us hundreds of titles about breaking bad habits, but none about how to break the Amazon habit. Here are some ideas for reversing the curse:

  • You know you should buy books from your local independent bookstore, but don’t forget about e-books, too! Unless you have a Kindle, in which case, shame. Buy a copy of a poet’s chapbook in penance. (Find any local university, you will probably find a gaggle of poets selling chapbooks.)
  • Remember when Amazon and Hachette were in a big fight because Amazon was trying to strong-arm Hachette regarding e-book pricing? That blew over, but let’s not forget Amazon’s sneaky practice of removing books for sale from publishers they’re in a tiff with. In retaliation, find a copy of Donna Tartt’s behemoth The Goldfinch, a Hachette title, and place it lovingly in the center of the bronze glove sculpture. Hiss at anyone who would attempt to remove it.
  • Amazon drones are taking to the skies, upsetting the natural balance of the heavens. Do your part to knock them from the sky wherever possible. If you need a weapon, consider using a balled-up copy of the “Time to Believe” 2015 SI cover launched from a stretched-out Dustin Ackley jersey.
  • Apparently, Jeff Bezos can get bitter and sarcastic when expressing disappointment with his employees. Jeff, you might be king at Amazon, but Mariners fans have basically cornered the market on bitter and sarcastic. Show Jeff who really knows bitter by standing outside Amazon HQ with a loop of this on repeat. (No, Dave. It’s never going to stop. Take us with you to wherever you are.)
  • When all else fails, return to the cleansing power of fire: fold a copy of the day’s Washington Post up into a paper boat, light it on fire, and sail it out into Lake Washington, thus evoking the deep magic of the triple-Washingtons. Look for a sign the ritual has worked in the form of a cloud that looks like George Washington slapping Dave Niehaus five. Stay there until you see it.