Partly because they’re coming to town tomorrow and partly because of my general demeanor, I’ve had pirates on the mind recently. I’ve been thinking about how they operated and, most interestingly, when a pirate group can be considered to have risen to the status of being a state unto itself.
There are a lot of misconceptions about pirates, mostly stemming from the specific pirates that we talk about most often. Right now, you’re thinking of pirates like Blackbeard, Jack Rackham, and William Kidd. Or maybe you’re thinking of fictional pirates like Jack Sparrow, Edward Kenway, and Guybrush Threepwood. Thanks to pop culture, we tend to think of pirates in a very narrow band of both time and space, but piracy has existed everywhere - for as long as there have been boats, there have been people trying to take those boats. In fact, the most successful pirate in history was a woman from China named Zheng Yi Sao.
Zheng Yi Sao’s pirate nation only worked because of one thing: it operated efficiently. While they had hundreds of ships, they broke down into small fleets and squadrons and only applied exactly as much force as they needed to achieve their objective.
The same thing can be said about tonight’s Seattle Mariners. Nothing embodies efficiency in baseball more than great pitching and a one-run win. Rumors of the death of the one-run win Mariners may have been exaggerated, with the M’s squeaking out 2 such wins in this 4 game series. Tonight was one of those games. But before we talk about where the M’s runs came from, let’s talk about Oakland’s runs.
They scored both of them in the first inning, coming off a Ryan Noda double and a Seth Brown home run. Digging yourself a two-run hole at the start of the game is never good, but Logan Gilbert, sporting hair that can only be described as swashbuckling, knuckled down and retired the next fifteen hitters in a row. It is hard to describe how quickly he was working. I got up to grab a drink from the fridge at the start of an inning, and by the time I sat back down, that inning was over. Ryan Noda became a problem again, breaking LoGi’s streak, but that didn’t really matter since Gilbert got the next 7 guys in a row anyway. Paul Sewald came in to close, and moved his saves/opportunities to a perfect 11/11, mixing in a couple strikeouts.
In a fleet as large as Zheng Yi Sao, resources had to be managed by a vast logistical bureaucracy, ensuring that every ship was well stocked with food and gunpowder. Part of that process means making sure that no ship is over-used in battle. Scott was asked about why Logan, who was just at 77 pitches, was not given the opportunity to complete the game. Scott answered that the team was being mindful about the load being placed on the starting pitching this year (reading between the lines: with Ray out), and that 80 pitches was going to be their “empty the tank” mark anyway. Logan went out, did his job, and the team left him out long enough for him to earn the win, and they withdrew him when they needed to. Efficiency.
Going along with supplying food and gunpowder, the pirate fleet also had to supply its ships with cannons. Getting them was simple. They stole them from other ships. A British naval officer, captured and later ransomed by Zheng Yi Sao’s pirates reported that a pirate captain, upon seeing a European ship with a new, larger cannon remarked that soon all the ships in the pirate fleet would be supplied with such guns, so reliable was their logistics network.
The Mariners lineup, with some homegrown exceptions, can be thought of in the same way: stolen. The main gun in tonight's broadside was Ty France, who was previously liberated from the USS San Diego Padres back in 2020 in a trade that we’re going to be writing thinkpieces on for years. Ty, returning tonight after getting plunked on the hand a couple of days ago, wasted no time getting comfortable at the dish, sending this first-pitch sweeper into Edgar’s Cantina.
Oh and then, one hour and 5 innings later, he came up later to face Trevor May, the guy who hit him a couple days ago, and went and did it again. I think its safe to say that his wrist is alright.
[insert ty france tie game pun here] pic.twitter.com/rC1rmUDtdJ— Seattle Mariners (@Mariners) May 26, 2023
Zheng Yi Sao’s pirate confederation was massive, consisted of over 500 ships and 70,000 pirates. But, bucking some misconceptions that we have about pirates, they made most of their profits not from seizing ships on the high seas, but from extorting merchants through a protection racket. Ships passing through waters controlled by her fleet could stop at an outpost, rent a flag, fly it for protection, and then return it when they left. By basically controlling the vital East China Sea trade routes, Zheng Yi Sao because obscenely wealthy and powerful.
And tonight was similar for the Mariners who won not with dingers, but with walks. In the bottom of the eighth, recent hero José Cabballero led off by working a great full count walk. J.P. struck out behind him, and Ty couldn’t make it a three homer night, instead popping up to shortstop Nick Allen. Making a heads up play, Allen let the ball drop in order to force Cabby out at second and swap the runners. That smart thinking looked like it paid off, since Julio then smacked a double at 100.6 mph that moved Ty up to third. Maybe, maybe, Cabby could’ve scored from it. The A’s, fearing another stolen cannon, issued Jarred Kelenic a free pass to bring up Eugenio Suarez with the bases loaded. At this point, the wheels had completely come off the Garrett Acton mobile, and Eugenio worked a pretty easy five-pitch walk to give the M’s a 3-2 lead.
In piratical fashion, Eugenio was not completely prepared for his plate appearance. In the press conference, Scott mention that Eugenio was in the bathroom, and with Julio doubling on the first pitch and the A’s IBBing Jarred, he had to put on his batting gloves and go hit without ever having seen Acton pitch before. He didn’t even know what the guy threw. Reminds me of how Zheng Yi Sao’s pirates would sometimes go into battle playing dice or cards, only picking up their weapons when they drew in close.
So what happened to Zheng Yi Sao? Did she go out in a blaze of glory like so many other famous pirates? No, actually. She retired. The Qing Chinese government eventually just gave up and offered her and all of her pirates full pardons. They even got to keep the wealth they had
stolen extorted earned.
The moral of the story, beyond being that crime actually does pay if you’re good enough at it, is that by working together and working efficiently, any outcome is achievable. If a peasant woman from a small village can turn poor fishermen into the most powerful navy on the planet (this is a source of scholarly debate and I am prepared to defend this point), then what’s stopping the Mariners, these Mariners, from taking it all?