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Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Mariners' Too-Course Meal

When you're bad, there's no hiding it in the standings. And if the team's losing, the fans don't show up. It's hard to go places if you don't have a fan base, either.

Catch-22, right?

Maybe. The boys at U.S.S. Mariner have cogitated, unsurprisingly, about next year for a long time now, much longer than those of us still naively caught up in an ultimately unwinnable (for the Angels) division race. Dave Cameron takes on what the Mariners organization perceives to be a unique fan culture. In particular, he bounces off an Art Thiel column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer containing the following enormously interesting paragraph:

... new GM Bill Bavasi acknowledged that the fan base in Seattle "is different" than any in his experience. President Chuck Armstrong agreed, saying that the club's fan research reflected for years that the club has more female fans than any in baseball, and that the strong loyalty many fans had toward individual players was a factor in the bosses' reluctance to make some roster moves, which caught up to the club in a grim way this season.
That is to say, the club, by their own research, is visited -- indeed, dominated -- by fans like Maya. It also suggest that Bavasi has actually adhered to the big front-office business plan with his 2003/2004 offseason maneuvering, disastrous results and all. But that's not to say things have to stay that way:
In thinking about these reactions as the 2004 season flushed toward an ineptitude that may prove historic, my take was that ownership has been so focused on a success measurement that works for board rooms or stockholders, as well as some casual fans, that they missed a change in local baseball culture they helped create:

After investing $380 million in a ballpark, as well as about $150 per family of four per outing, there's a whole lot of Northwest fans who now demand excellence, and answers if there isn't excellence.

In other words, 1995 is SO over. And "over" is what fans will get regarding the departure of familiar faces, once expectations of winning big are met.

But Cameron disagrees that any such change needs to occur; rather, he suggests Thiel is misreading the Mariners' front office, wholesale:
The M’s organizational philosophy has always been to cultivate a permanent hope in the casual fan, and those fans have not needed a big ticket acquisition to have that hope the past years. Now that it’s required to avoid alienating a part of that fanbase, the M’s will respond in turn. But the underlying organizational philosophies of fiscal responsibility and competitiveness every year aren’t changing (and I’m one of the few who feel this is a good thing). The M’s aren’t going to become the Baltimore Orioles, trying to spend their way to a pennant. But they will do what it takes to keep the majority of fans interested in the team, and that will entail a big free agent signing this winter.
But it's hard to reconcile this notion -- that the club will open its wallet to fix the team's problems -- with the large number of holes the club needs to repair. Centerfield defense and corner infield power both need addressing. Likewise, the M's need a certain amount of bullpen help as well as starting rotation repair, and none of this -- especially the starting rotation -- is liable to get fixed in the near term from the farm. When you see the names the Zumsteg's kicking around (Glaus, Beltre, Carlos Beltran) you realize at least a few are as unrealistic as supermodels giving out their home phone numbers at science fiction conventions. But there's also some real possibilities there, and you have to remember that this offseason the M's have the motivation of a man in a burning house to take action. The question before the house: will Bavasi net a Beltran? Or another Mo Vaughn?

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