Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Tatonka List: 1992

Welcome back, after a very long absence, to our list of Tatonkas. To refresh your memory, Tatonka "honors" the spirit of Mariners baseball, in the form of identifying players who were added to the team each offseason (usually the offseason) who were SUPPOSED to inspire hope, a better tomorrow, and to teach the world to sing about Coca Cola. Or something.

In practice, the REAL Tatonka's vision of hope lasted all of Spring Training, and then he fizzled out in the heat of the tough media market that is Seattle...uh, no. He wilted in the miserably bad hitters park that was the Kingdome. Sorry, wrong again. He...ate his way to ineffectiveness, and was exposed against the better pitchers in the AL? Possible.

Not all of the Tatonkas have been busts, although the more that the 2005 version plays, the more I wonder. Way to start off 2006 with a 5-for-42 start, Mr. Beltre. It's not like you needed to inspire any hope at all in the fans so they could get behind you.


THE Tatonka, which is the man that we're up to in the list in the year 1992, came to Seattle in trade for valuable commodities that the fans were willing to wave goodbye to as we salivated over the possibility of a real live HR slugger starting every day for our Mariners. No more Alvin Davises (as good as he was), nor Gorman Thomases (aging sluggers who inspired little hope of genuine excitement at the ballpark). Instead, this was a bold move by Woody Woodward to add a "real #4 hitter" to the team to go along with Junior and EdGRR. The trade, consummated on 11 December 1991, sent Bill Swift, whiny Mike Jackson, and young Dave Burba to the San Francisco Giants in exchange for bulky slugger and 1989 MVP Kevin Mitchell. (Oh, and a young Mike Remlinger, who would toil in the Mariner minors for two seasons before leaving via free agency for the Mets.)

Mitchell's arrival, despite his down season in 1991 (only 27 HR), whipped the Seattle merchandising community into a frenzy. I recall vividly the larger-than-life (as if that were possible) Kevin Mitchell poster in which he posed, bat cocked to fire in anger, amidst crates marked menacingly "TNT," "explosive," and the like.

Little did we know that the crates were all filled with Twinkies.

As he arrived a good 30 pounds overweight for Mariners Spring Training, and since Kevin Costner's most recent silver screen flop (sorry, Dancing With Wolves lovers) was in the air, it just seemed right to nickname the slugger Tatonka. Hey, Cecil the Vessel could hit 50 bombs, and we were playing in the Kingdome. It's not like the guy would have to actually RUN.

Unfortunately, the extra weight on our newest buffalo was his tragic end. He would hit OK, but not in the same universe as a recent MVP winner, when healthy. But a knee injury (huh...could that have been related to his extra bulk?) kept him from ever getting going. That, and rumors that he couldn't figure out curveballs from sneaky AL pitchers.

Serious? How do you mash 47 HR in 1989 without the ability to hit a curve?

The very best part about this Tatonka's tenure was that Woody cut bait on him right away, and as we saw last time, this Tatonka led directly into a much more successful one by way of trade.

The real problem here (besides Bill Plummer as manager. Please!) was that Tatonka inspired such great hope, and consequently let us down so far. Sure, he compiled an OPS that was 17% better than the AL average in 1992 (.779), but for an "outfielder" with no range on a team already stocked at DH, and for a guy with recent MVP numbers who was only 30 years old, his NINE home runs were just not sufficient. Even freakin' Dave Valle hit 9 HR that season, which shows you just how low Tatonka sank.

To make matters worse, Swifty (the one really popular player leaving in the deal) had a season for the ages in 1992 with San Francisco, as they moved the fragile junkballer from relief to a starting role, and he managed to not hurt himself all season. That led to a 10-4, 2.08 ERA season in 164 2/3 IP on a miserable Giants team that nevertheless won 8 more games than Seattle did in 1992. Mike Jackson posted serviceable numbers as the setup guy behind Rod Beck, while that Burba character also began his big league career in SF that summer, although any potential that he had was still disguised well.

Somewhere in this story is the very essence of Mariners baseball, from a fan's point of view. We are willing to go see the games even if we're losing, but we're so thirsty for even the appearance of a plan that we jump hard onto the bandwagon of anything that smells remotely like a big move toward a good team. But after Tatonka, we're also wary that big moves bring big risks, and that they are costly in resources that could have been kept.

In certain ways, I blame Kevin Mitchell (oh, and, well, the internet) for the strength of the Mariners blogosphere. So many of us want to yell at the GM and ownership, because we've already seen the mistakes made that they could learn from, but instead, we keep signing the Scott Spiezios and Jarrod Washburns of the world to too-large contracts. Aaaargh!

OK, calm now. Rage...subsiding. Before I leave you with the retrospective Tatonkas back to THE ONE, let me just ask the following musical question: Did Scott Spiezio put something in Adrian Beltre's drinks before departing? I just can't believe that the same man who looked so good as recently as the WBC can LOOK so clueless at the plate, EVERY DAY. It's NOT know, that Speez-endorsed pizza-and-doughnuts regimen. (Note: don't get me wrong...I could live on pizza and doughnuts, as long as some caffeine got into the diet somehow as well. But then again, no GM has yet signed me and my golden arm, to throw my deceptive 42-MPH heater as a closer for their major league squad.)

I'm afraid that Tatonka has returned from the mists of time to curse Beltre, and--don't look now, but he's got a box of Krispy Kremes and the DVD of Waterworld with him.

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 Tatonka! (Kevin Mitchell)
1991 up next


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