Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Tatonka List: 1998

Remember that old Sesame Street/Little Golden book, The Monster at the End of This Book? That is just exactly what this series is like. I'm sort of an anti-Grover, guiding you firmly toward looking at the monster (who won't turn out to be me, no matter how much my weight might resemble Kevin Mitchell's). The further we go, the more the dread increases.

Entering the 1997-8 offseason, the Seattle Mariners had a nucleus of all three superstars, and came off the franchise's first 90-win season ever, along with the second AL West title in the last three seasons. Did we really NEED a Tatonka, some sort of offseason talent injection designed to inspire hope and season-ticket sales?

Well, the Sherriff rode out of town in November, and no sane person trusted Bobby Ayala with a lead, so it made sense to pick up some bullpen help. Of course, Woody Woodward, then GM of the team, had made those two dreadful trade-deadline deals in 1997 to fix the bullpen, sending away Jason Varitek, Derek Lowe, and Jose Cruz, Jr. to pick up aging Mike Timlin, aging and ineffective Heathcliff Slocumb, and ineffective Paul Spoljaric. Those three, plus Ayala, would log most of the high-leverage innings in 1998...which doomed us in advance.

Having already "fixed" the bullpen (note that the same word was used when we recently took my daughter's pet bunny rabbit into the vet to have an operation), Woodward instead focused on two field positions in need of upgrading: first base, and left field. To fill those, we signed David Segui (meh), and Glenallen Hill.

Hill, a nine-year veteran at that point, had the well-deserved defensive reputation of a very large block of wood, but had at least been an above-average hitter most of his career. Plus, he could stand in left field as well as anywhere else. Voila, we have a "left fielder."

Mount Ves-Lou-vius was with Mariners fans, by the way, in skepticism about Hill's value to the franchise. Despite the absolute void at outfield in the high minors in 1998, Glenallen "rhymes with Hesignated Ditter" Hill so irritated Lou with his outfield "play" that Piniella persuaded the Woodward regime to waive the slugger in early July, just in time for the Cubs to pick him up. Then we got the aging Rich Amaral and a cast of faceless thousands patrolling left field; this group could neither field NOR hit, and the Mariners got worse.

In his defense, it should be pointed out that Glenallen Hill hit the ball just fine as a Seattle Mariner, going 290/332/521 including 12 HR in 259 AB. In context, that was good for an OPS+ of 118. There's no way to calculate, however, how many runs Mr. Hill cost the team in the outfield. Something about fundamental rules of math, dividing by zero and whatnot.

In any case, this Tatonka never really inspired much hope, nor did he perform anywhere near well enough to have justified any hope he might have inspired. (Honestly, is it conceivable that ANYONE really said out loud..."Hey, we signed Glenallen Hill. Yes!!!"?) The flip side of the annual Tatonka parade, and this will be increasingly true as we go back in time, is that every year, former Mariners would do quite well playing for other teams. I wonder, for instance, whatever happened to those guys like Varitek, Lowe, and Cruz? Oh, yeah, they're still playing as solid major leaguers. Oh well, at least none of them won championships or anything elsewhere...what? They did? Crap.

See you tomorrow.

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 up next


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