Wednesday’s Book Review: “Shipwrecked”

ShipwreckedShipwrecked: A People’s History of the Seattle Mariners. By Jon Wells. Kenmore WA: Epicenter Press, 2012.

If ever there was a poorly managed major league baseball (MLB) franchise it was the Seattle Mariners. At least that is the case according to author Jon Wells, who is editor and publisher of “The Grand Salami,” a Mariner fan magazine. Born in 1977, the Mariners suffered through a seemingly interminable set of losing seasons until 1991 when they began to win.

They made the playoffs for the first time in 1995, and then again in 1997 and 2000. Then they had a remarkable 116-46 season in 2001. At no time, however, did they make into the World Series, and in both 2000 and 2001 they lost to the hated New York Yankees in a league championship series that did not even go the full seven games. Since 2001 the Mariners have not made the playoffs and have had losing seasons in nine of the years since. Through all of this the Mariners have been, according to Wells, in a caretaker status with an ownership group that cares about profits over championships and the result has been mediocrity.

Wells dissects the failed plans laid by the Mariners’ front office, the failure to make appropriate trades and free agent signings, but especially failure to keep two of the greatest players of the last twenty-five years. Ken Griffey Jr. came up in 1989 and played a decade for the Mariners. His Hall of Fame career fueled much of the success of the Mariners in the 1990s. So too did Randy Johnson, the greatest left-handed pitcher of the last thirty years, who wore a Mariners uniform between 1989 and 1998. Despite a supporting cast of talented everyday players the Mariners never made a serious run at championships. Wells lays that failure firmly at the feet of the Mariners’ management.

The shortsightedness of the ownership group that valued profits above all else, led by Hiroshi Yamauchi of the Nintendo Corp., in Wells’ estimation bordered on incompetence for much of the history of franchise. Additionally, a management team that was ineffectual ensured the failure of the team on the field. All this, despite the fact that the tanking of the team year after year allowed for high draft picks for talented players that should have ensured the team’s success. With strong revenue streams this is not a “small market” team without resources. The people marshaling those resources, however, have been marginal at best.

Wells, who published this book in 2012, believed at that point that the Mariners were on the verge of returning to competitive baseball. He was wrong. The team has enjoyed only one winning season in the last five years, 87–75 in 2014. They have been mediocre at best, losing more than 90 games twice in that span. The troubles that Wells documents concerning the Mariners persist.

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