Friday, March 10, 2006

The Tatonka List: 1993

Deeper into the bowels of Mariners history we go...

Actually, the offseason between 1992 and 1993 contained some very hope-inspiring moves for me. I should preface this by saying that I couldn't stand Harold Reynolds. He was one of those guys talked about as a prospect, and who ended up playing WAY too much. Imagine, if you will, the Mariners deciding to play Willie Bloomquist as their everyday second baseman. Now imagine that he has less baserunning ability. And he's not quite as good at defense as Willie. You're zeroing in on Harold Reynolds IN HIS PRIME.

Now, he did have the ONE good season in 1989, but that is only good by comparison to the rest of his career. It produced a .300 batting average and a respectable .359 OBP, but his career-high OBP in that career year was a paltry .728, which wasn't really offset by his fielding liabilities--at best, the man was an average second baseman in the field.

Worse, of course, is something I like to call the Harold Reynolds phenomenon: after concluding his miserable playing career, he would go on to become one of the worst sports broadcasters in the history of humanity, frequently drawing on his supposed "insider" status as a former player, and offering "insights" into what matters on the field and in the clubhouse, without any indication that his brain is working. What a joke.

You might, then, get the idea that the best Mariners move while preparing for 1993 was the 26 October 1992 granting of free agency to Mr. Reynolds.

This could have been a hope-inspiring move, except that the organization had not a soul ready to replace Reynolds. Luckily, it was so easy to replace him that journeyman AAAA player Rich Amaral more than adequately filled his shoes as a 31-year old rookie in Seattle. (This was only after a cardboard cutout of a new superhero, Second Base Man, proved to demand a higher salary than would Amaral. Disclaimer--This part is not true. I have no idea how much money Second Base Man would have wanted.)

So we have to look elsewhere for our Tatonka. Other than Reynolds, the big problem with the 1992 Mariners was 98-fold. As in 98 losses after trading for THE Tatonka the previous offseason. Part of the problem was the bullpen, where absolutely Edwin Nunez-bad "closer" Mike Schooler had bumbled his way to being booed at home lustily EVERY time he entered a game. Dave Fleming was still healthy, young, promising Dave Fleming, while Randy Johnson was the Big Unit, but neither could muster more than 17 wins because the bullpen coughed up quite a number of victories, and Schooler was the personification of all that was bad.

As it turned out, then, the Tatonka move for 1993 would be the trade of the OLD Tatonka (Kevin Mitchell) to the Cincinnati Reds for a NEW Tatonka, Norm Charlton. This happened on the 17th of November, and it was followed by (trumpet fanfare, please) the release of Mike Schooler during Spring Training in 1993. School's out, indeed.

By spring of 1993, then, Seattle had addressed its bullpen problem, and had demonstrated an unwillingness to pay to retain its home-grown veterans who were approaching free-agency. In this particular case, that was a good policy. As a policy, it was stupid, as Woody Woodward would later prove over, and over, and over again.

We shouldn't, by the way, credit the 18-win improvement of the '93 M's entirely to the Sherriff. Others contributed as well, including free agent pickup Chris Bosio. Griffey was only 23, but was already hitting like a star in his prime. That was good, since an exhibition game in Vancouver B.C. just before the season opener saw defending batting champ Edgar Martinez injure his hamstring so badly that he would basically be unable to play that season much at all. Despite this huge loss against just modest player additions was the signing of our first legitimate major-league manager: Lou Piniella. (You're right if you're thinking that I am not too high on Dick Williams. You're wrong if you think I've forgotten him.) We don't give much credit to managers for winning, except when we give them too much credit...but certainly the signing of Lou inspired hope after a litany of no-name cheap managers who couldn't get the job done. I dare say that the Piniella era demonstrates exactly what effect the right manager at the right time can have on a franchise.

Nevertheless, the Sherriff gets the Tatonka. Lou just gets our loyalty and our thanks.

Tatonka List
2006 Kenji Johjima
2005 Adrian Beltre
2004 Eddie Guardado
2003 Randy Winn
2002 Jeff Cirillo
2001 Ichiro!
2000 John Olerud
1999 Jose Mesa
1998 Glenallen Hill
1997 Jeff Fassero
1996 Cerberus, er, Sterling Hitchock+Russ Davis+Paul Sorrento
1995 none
1994 Alex Rodriguez
1993 Norm Charlton
1992 up next (hint: it's the Real Thing, but it's not Coca Cola)


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