Is a train wreck actualized in the moment the cars leave the rails? Does it not count until it collides with something weighty or consequential? Or does it begin at the moment the speed and friction surpass a point of no return, recognized or not by the conductor, passengers, or passersby?
The Jack Zduriencik Era didn’t end in 2010, with the most disappointing season in franchise history and the bungled handling of the Josh Lueke trade, nor in the 2012-2013 offseason, when he dealt away John Jaso, nor even the following winter, when the Seattle Times published Geoff Baker’s vivisection of the franchise, featuring wroth from former manager Eric Wedge, pitching coach Rick Adair, top international scouts Bob Engle and Patrick Guerrero, and the now-infamous paragraph quotation from one-time Assistant GM Tony Blengino:
Blengino said he prepared the [GM job application] package because he was versed in the hot trend of using advanced stats for team decisions. “Jack portrayed himself as a scouting/stats hybrid because that’s what he needed to get the job,” Blengino said. “But Jack never has understood one iota about statistical analysis. To this day, he evaluates hitters by homers, RBI and batting average and pitchers by wins and ERA. Statistical analysis was foreign to him. But he knew he needed it to get in the door.”
Ownership came off similarly incompetent in that piece, with the notably ludicrous details of Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong requesting Félix Hernández throw live batting practice between starts to give players reps to bunt and situationally hit against. Less than one week later, Seattle stunned the world and signed Robinson Canó. Still, it would be a thrilling 2014 and an underachieving 2015 before Zduriencik was finally shown the door. Jack Z hit the bricks that August, but his eulogy began with Baker’s article.
For many, the collapse of the 2010 squad was an irreversible alteration in their fandom. For me, still tangential in my reading of LL and awareness of the advancements in the game at that time, Baker’s 2013 exposé was far more jarring. The hairless cat was out of the bag - not only were things not improving, but the chances that they would do so at some point soon were dubious at best.
Fandom comes in waves - many among our community remember the first pitch of the 1977 season. On our staff, the formative years of fandom range from the halcyon early 90s clubs to my own heyday of the early 2000s, to Jack Z’s own wretched workings in the early 2010s. Most high schoolers today have not breathed air in a world with playoff-bound Mariners, and most college students have no memory of the concept. These years were a missed opportunity to bridge the gap - a hitch in the cycle that is supposed to occur for most mid-market teams, that has ground the gears to a halt for nearly two decades. The decade had many moments, grand and gruesome, but never did I feel more certain success was passing the Mariners by than that day. The necessity of skepticism solidified in me those years, as it did many in Mariners fandom, and carries through even as bits of encouragement glint in the next decade. If for nothing else, thanks for that, Jack.