Friday, December 31, 2004

All Quiet On The Safeco Front

Happy New Year. We of the Mariner Nation had a nice Christmas present in the double signings of Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. Now it's time for Bill 'Buzzy Jr' Bavasi to get us some supporting players. He's had two weeks to "scan the list of non-tenders" and while other teams have snatched several of those players up, the M's have done nothing.
One more bat, either a lefty or a switchhitter, would be nice. It doesn't have to be baseball royalty, just another line-drive slap hitter with some speed. Wait a minute, that sounds just like Randy Winn, whom we'd probably have to trade to GET that guy anyway.
So maybe we keep Winn.
Let's keep Spiezio, too. Give him a chance to redeem himself. I he doesn't, there's always July 31st. If Winn, Spiezio, and Boone all redeem themselves (and Boonie had a decent year by anyone else's standards.)
then Sexson and Beltre live up to even 70% of their potential, we should have a good year.

What we really need is a fourth or fifth starter, so we can send Ryan Franklin back to long relief. Let's bring back Aaron Sele. It was a huge mistake letting Sele go away. When healthy, the Poulsbo native is the kind of innings-eater we need to take some pressure off the bullpen. Just like Don Drysdale was with the 1960's Dodgers... sure Koufax had better stuff and better press, but Drysdale was always there, day in day out, a grinder, a gamer. Chris Bosio was like that for the M's, when he wasn't getting hit by line-drives. Tim Belcher was a gamer and a grinder, too. In 1995, when the "Refuse To Lose" M's were being praised for picking up Andy Benes to go along with Randy Johnson, it was Belcher who was the true hero, the anchor.

Sele has slowly worked his way back from rotator cuff surgery, but he improved last year to a 9-4 record, after a dissapointing 7-11 record in 2003. His 130 innings a year the last two years work out just over 5 innings per start, bu rotator cuff surgery can take a few years to come back from. Sele still has the best curveball in the business.

Maybe he can teach that curveball to King Felix.



Thursday, December 23, 2004

Mama Told Me There'd Be Daves Like This.

Swung on and belted...

It will fly away...

Break out the rye bread and mustard, grandma, it's a grand salami...

Make no mistake: Dave Niehaus is the man.
The sad thing is no one outside of the Pacific Northwest may ever know this. Mr. Niehaus may be a perennial nominee for the Ford Frick Award, but he will probably never win this outstanding baseball announcer award because he's our own best-kept-secret. Being the modest man that he is, Dave will probably say, "I'm certainly honored just to be nominated" and then, graciously, congratulate the winner. "They deserve it." He'll say.
Sometimes M's fans wonder whether or not Dave Niehaus knows just how good he is.

When Niehaus comes on the radio, after an inning or two break in which his longtime second-banana Rick Rizzs calls the game, the atmosphere changes. The electricity and excitement in his voice brings even one-sided blowouts to a fever pitch of near-Olymp0ian proprtion. It's not that Rick Rizzs is bad. Rizzs is actually very good, in a craftsman-like manner. Rizzs' own homerun call of, "Goodbye, baseball" has it's own lopsided charm. But where Rizzs is smooth and professional and ever-so-cool, Dave is the perpetual kid in the candy store; still so excited to be calling a baseball game that he's practically beside hismself with glee.

He made lackluster Mariners players seem like gods. At least at the time. Jim Presley, Darnell Coles, Pete O'Brien, Jeffrey 'Hac Man' Leonard. Like the Will Rogers of Baseball, Dave Niehaus never met a player, manager, coach, trainer, umpire, or clubhouse attendant he didn't truly like. He even lavished true feelings of love and respect on rival players, tossing off anedotes gleaned from the team media guides. But make no mistake, Niehaus is a Mariner.
"The young left hander looks in for a sign... tugs at that baseball cap, that golden hair flying in the breeze. Joe Carter pinwheels the bat.. digs that front toe into the batter's box... ready for the pitch... the wind-up and the 2-2 pitch... swing and a miss... got 'im! Mark Langston with another big strikeout!"

I grew up in Los Angeles. I was raised listening to the great Vin Scully as he called Dodger games. I remember him talking about Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Maury Wills, Don Sutton, and the glories of Farmer John Sausage. Still, when I first heard Dave Niehaus call a Mariner game in 1986, I knew he had something that even Vin Scully didn't have. That deep bass purr that Niehaus can roll into with ease when announcing a "Striiiike, at the kneees!" That sheer joy of being at the ball game... other announcers can be smooth and professional (Rizzs, Scully, the younger Carays) others can be personable (Scully, Harry Caray, Jon Miller) some even exhibit the sheer joy of calling a game (Caray, Miller, former Niehaus partner Ken Levine) but Dave puts it all together in spades.

One of the greatest joys in my life has been listening to a Mariner game on the radio as Dave Niehaus brings me the sights, the sounds, the color, the personalities of the game. Even when we were losing. And when we did lose, and we did quite often, Niehaus was there to tell us how much of a "heartbreaker" it was, and then he'd sign off with a "We'll get 'em next time" tone of voice that left me raring for more.

The Mariners should erect a statue of Mr. David Niehaus in front of Safeco Field. The inscription on the pedestal should read:

"Dave Niehaus... the Voice of the Mariners: He Gave Us Hope.'

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Swung on and Beltrayed!

It's been nearly a week now since the Good Ship Mariner put some wind in her sails with the stunning double signings of First Baseman Richmond 'Richie' Sexson and Third Baseman Adrian Beltre. Many M's fans, especially those dedicated bloggers out there, have weighed in as to whether these were good signings or not. Most agree that Beltre was a great pick-up. Many are not sure about Sexson.

As a lifelong baseball fanatic and Mariners fan, I think that there is no such thing as a sure bet. Ya gotta have hope. Remember how mind-blowing it was when we aquired Kevin Mitchell? The sportswriters were throwing out names for the outfield tandem of Mitchell, Griffey, and Buhner. They were calling them the "100 homerun outfield' 'The Puget Power Company' etc. That all looks good on posters. They even MADE a poster with Mitch, The Kid, and Bone glaring menacingly at the photographer amidst a stack of crates marked TNT (left over from a Bugs Bunny cartoon, no doubt.) They also made a poster of the M's touted 'Young Guns' rotation with Unit, Holman, Hanson, and Bankhead wearing six-guns-and-holsters over their Jeff Smulyan era home uniforms. Scott Bankhead? What, was Rich DeLucia too sick for the photo shoot?

It just goes to show you that "Ya never know."

Luckily, position players/hitters are more dependable than pitching. Free agent stud pitchers have this nasty way of tearing their rotator cuffs, labrums, what have you. Hitters are usually less fragile.

I hope that Richie and Adrian work out well. They both have decent spits against righthanded pitching, Beltre even hits better against RHPs than LHPs, and Sexson has done well against RHPs, also. What this means for new skipper Mike Hargrove is that he needn't worry about hitting Beltre and Sexson third and fourth against righthanded pitching. Grover need not sandwich a lefthanded hitter between the two. That's good news. All we need is the other teams' managers stacking up righty after righty against the heart of the order. I do agree, however, that this situation does place lefty or switch hitters at a premium. Keep Randy Winn. Platoon him at DH with Bucky Jacobsen. It's not just Sexson and Beltre we have to consider. All of our prime sources of power... Beltre, Sexson, Boone, Jacobsen ... bat righthanded.

Is it too late to bring in the leftfield fence about 50 feet?


Saturday, December 04, 2004

Welcome to Mariner Madness

My name is Chris Becker, and I've been a Mariners fanatic since the mid 1980's. I was a casual fan before then, but some of those teams, like the one where Phil Bradley and Harold Reynolds lead the league in steals, and then came Alvin Davis, then Jim Presley, then Jay Buhner, then Ken Griffey Jr. There was always something to give us M's fans a ray of hope in the midst of those hundred-game-losing seasons.

Along the way I even worked for the Mariner organization (marketing for the Bellingham Mariners) and I was with the Bellingham club when several of the brighter lights of the Mariners system passed through. My son Andy, now 21, as a little league catcher, used to catch Shawn Estes after school. I was with the "Baby M's" the night of their annual Kingdome doubleheader ( The Baby M's would play an NWL team in the afternoon, then the "Big M's" would play an MLB game) when Randy Johnson took a no-hitter into the ninth against the World Champion Oakland A's. That was the A's team with Rickey, Big Mac, Canseco, Hendu... then Mike Gallego ruined it by hotting a flare to short center field. The funny thing about that night: Scott Bankhead started on a rehab assignment for Bellingham, and he totally blew away all the poor little Everett Giants. Then, after we watched Randy nearly no hit the A's, we went back to Bellingham, and our next-night starter, a kid by the name of Mike Hampton, threw a no hitter (or maybe he just took a no-no into the ninth, I forget the details.

Back in those days, when the M's had a lot fewer fans even in the Northwest, you could really get to know some of the players. I've been given tips on how to throw a curveball by Erik Hanson, talked to Dave Valle about how much he hated catching some pitchers ... Randy was hard too catch, but the guy who really drove him nuts was Mark Langston: too many sliders in the dirt in front of the plate... and I got to talk to Jeff Nelson, Bill Hasselman, Jay Buhner, Mickey Brantley, Brian Holman, Felix Fermin and his ever present sidekick Luis Sojo, and too many other Mariners and former Mariners to name. Todd Cruz, Ivan Calderon, Phil Bradley.

Later, I worked for the Giants organization, but it just wasn't the same.

The Mariners, and their fans, are truly a family. Win or lose, they'll always be my team.