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Mariners improved? Don't buy the spin
Seattle Times staff columnist
Soon the propaganda will begin to flow from the Mariners' clubhouse and front office as relentless as political ads.
The season will be spun as if the good ship Mariner is back on course. As if serious holes have been filled. As if significant progress has been made. As if the future is as bright as the center-field glare on a sunny Sunday at Safeco.
The M's will be spinning like those contestants in the bat races at minor-league ballparks.
We'll hear about all of the improvements they have made. The double-play combination of Yuniesky Betancourt and Jose Lopez is set for the rest of the decade. J.J. Putz accepted the challenge and has become the undisputed closer for 2007.
You'll hear about improvements like — yippee — the fact they didn't lose 90 games this season. That they have made progress the past three seasons, from 63 wins two seasons ago, to 69 last year, to — hold on to your M's cap — more than 70 this season.
The front office will tell you the bullpen is one of the deepest in baseball. It will mention that Ichiro had another 200-plus-hit season. And Richie Sexson had another 100-plus-RBI year. And Raul Ibanez was as steady as a sextant.
They will explain away another losing season in the same manner CBS News is trying to explain Katie Couric's tumbling ratings.
There are no postseasons anymore for Mariners baseball. But there is plenty of spin.
There will be reasons offered to stay the course.
Don't buy those reasons.
So what if last year they finished 26 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Angels and are only 15games behind first-place Oakland this season.
That shouldn't be anybody's definition of true improvement.
Praising that as a positive step is like a golfer bragging about lowering his handicap by six strokes, then admitting it's still 35.
The truth is, this is the Mariners' fourth straight going-nowhere September. It is their third straight losing season. And, barring some fluke streak, their third straight last-place finish.
Their offense has scored the second-fewest runs in the American League. They spent the whole season without finding a No. 2 hitter behind Ichiro, who despite all of his hits, is not a good leadoff hitter. How could someone with his speed have only 33 extra-base hits in 648 at-bats?
Everything you needed to know about the heart of this club, the intangibles of this team, the possible improvement of this team, was answered in its 0-11 road trip. This season ended for good Aug. 20 after the final game of that trip.
And really it was over earlier than that. It was over after Oakland swept three straight from the Mariners at Safeco during the first weekend of August.
So don't believe the clubhouse propagandists who will try to sell this season as much improved over last season. No season done by Aug. 6 is a good season.
Instead, demand change. Ask to see some boldness from the front office.
Ask somebody with some clout in the ownership group — Chris Larson maybe — to stand up like Peter Finch in the movie "Network" and say he's mad as hell and he's not going to take it anymore.
What front-office guy is listening to the fans?
In 2001 and 2002 the Mariners drew more than 3.5 million fans. This year, they will draw about 2.3 million, some 400,000 fewer than last season. Shouldn't that be a sign the fans are angry?
Who speaks for them?
Who among the owners will say we are tired of manager Mike Hargrove, who stuck too long this season with injured closer Eddie Guardado and washed-up designated hitter Carl Everett? Who notices that this will be Hargrove's sixth consecutive losing season as a manager?
Who will ask, "Exactly what has general manager Bill Bavasi done to make the franchise better?"
The Mariners need to be bold this off-season. They need to sign two top-of-the-rotation starters, preferably Japan's Daisuke Matsuzaka, the MVP of the World Baseball Classic, and San Francisco's Jason Schmidt.
They need to find another power hitter like Carlos Lee, so that, once again, the Mariners' offense isn't at the bottom of the American League.
They need to shake up this city the way the Seahawks have. They need to be dramatic.
Imagine a news conference next month announcing the return of Lou Piniella to manage the club. Or think how excited Seattle might get if a favorite son like Joey Cora were brought back to manage.
As recently as 2002, the Mariners owned this town. The sound of Dave Niehaus' voice wafted through open doors and screen windows every warm summer night. The M's held this city in their webbing.
Where has that feeling gone? And, more important, where will this ownership group go to get that feeling back?
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company