Nightmare on Royal Brougham: The Chone Figgins Story

*Seattle – 2027*

A young Mariners fan carefully flips through a binder of his father’s old baseball cards as a thunderstorm rages outside their home in the shadows of Safeco Field. The boy smiles as he finds cards of Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez, players his dad cheered for in the halcyon days of baseball in the city and still speaks of fondly.

Those days are just a fairy tale to the boy who has never witnessed a winning season from the M’s in his lifetime. He sighs and continues to browse the cards for a sign that things might get better — for him and his beloved team — but finds none.

He starts to put the binder back in his father’s desk when curiosity gets the best of him. In the bottom of the desk is a binder covered in strange characters that reeks of pine tar and chewing tobacco. His father made the boy promise never to open the book, but what could one little look hurt? He glances to the next room to see if his father is watching before opening the binder…

The thunder rolls ominously in the distance as he stares at the lone card in the page. A chill runs up his spine as he reads the name of the strange creature with the beady eyes on the card. C-H-O-N-E…

“Dad, what’s a Chone Figgins,” the frightened boy asks.

A flash of lightning illuminates the man’s face in the adjoining room. His jaw is clenched and his hands are balled in fists at his side. He knew the time had come, that the boy was ready to know the truth, no matter how painful it was for him to recall. He takes a long swig from the bottle of whiskey he has been nursing all day and collects his thoughts.

“A Chone Figgins is a tiny, evil little goblin that haunts cursed baseball teams like the Mariners. It constantly complains and blames other people for its failures. It sticks around for years and costs millions of dollars to get rid of. It is evil incarnate.”

The boys furrows his brow. “Why would God make something like that?”

He wished the boy’s mother, Diane, was still there to help with big questions like this. He had never been able to deal with emotional issues. Maybe that’s why she left him and married Keith. Man he hated Keith.

“I don’t know son. I wish I had a better answer for you, but I just don’t know.”

The man takes another sip of whiskey and disappears into his thoughts. Why hadn’t he just thrown that dirty old binder away?

“We don’t have to worry about the Chone Figgins anymore…do we dad?”

The son’s words unleash a flood of deeply repressed memories to the father. His mind races back to that dreadful day so many years ago. He sees himself driving the wooden stake deep into the heart of the creature and remembers the terrible noise it made as it died and crumbled to ash. The father remembered the eyes. THOSE EYES. He didn’t know if it was fear or relief he saw in the waning seconds of the creature’s life, but he knew he would never be able to forget it. He also knew that he could never be forgiven for what he had done, but his son would never have to live in fear of Chone Figgins, and neither would the rest of his tortured city.

His thoughts return to the present and he realizes that his knuckles have turned white from squeezing the empty bottle of alcohol in his hands. He throws the bottle away and grabs two cans of Pepsi out of the fridge, handing one to his son.

“No. We don’t have to worry anymore.”

The boy breathes a sigh of relief and puts the binder away. “Can we turn on the game dad? It’s the season opener.”

“Sure thing kiddo.”

The two bask in the glow of the T.V. as Seattle’s leadoff hitter, a spindly rookie making his first big league start, lines a single into left field. Rain continues to fall on their roof, but suddenly it doesn’t seem quite so dark outside.

“Maybe this will be the Mariners year, huh dad?”

“Yeah,” the father smiles, “maybe it will be.”

Never again.

Never again.

 

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The Sweetest Thing: Seattle Mariners Now Frontrunners for 2011 World Series with Addition of Three Extra Home Games.

If Bono can't save the M's, who can?

Although Mariners’ fans still haven’t found what they’re looking for (a World Series title) their suffering may soon come to an end thanks to a very unlikely source…legendary rock and roll band U2.

Due to a scheduling conflict at Sun Life Stadium the Marlins vs. Mariners three-game series set for June 24-26 in Florida will be shifted to Safeco Field in order to accommodate U2’s “We’re So Much More Important Than Baseball” Tour.

The Mariners, a vastly superior team at home (35-46) compared to on the road (26-55), will look to cash in on three extra games at the friendly confines of Safeco. Most baseball experts switched their preseason predictions for the AL West upon learning of Seattle’s 84 home games with the Mariners as the clear-cut favorites in over 90 percent of Gallup Polls. ESPN’s Buster Olney explains why this seemingly minor move will have major ramifications for the rest of the league:

The Mariners are a team perfectly tailored for their home park (great pitching and an stellar offense) who will benefit greatly from their extra games in Safeco. Although the games are played with National League rules it will be the Mariners, not the Marlins, who will benefit from this move because it allows Seattle to insert a pitcher into their lineup rather than being dragged down by a designated ‘hitter’. We at the ESPN think tank conservatively estimate that the Mariners will win 80 of their 84 home games…throw in 20 or so wins on the road and you’ve got a team steamrolling into the playoffs with 100+ wins. If Seattle doesn’t win the World Series this year, I will forever relinquish my title as ‘Baseball’s Brightest Buster’. You heard it here first.”

Although the Mariners are attempting to draw attention from their newfound status as favorite by drumming up rumors of a Chone Figgins trade (who is far to valuable to ever consider moving*) it’s clear they won’t be able to hide forever. With Bono’s touch, 2011 will be as good as gold for Seattle…

*There’s a microscopic chance that comment is sarcastic.

Outrageous, Egregious, Preposterous: Citing Lack of Run Support, Felix Hernandez Hires Jackie Chiles, Sues Seattle Mariners.

After the latest in a string of painful defeats in which his teammates failed in every imaginable way to support yet another fine pitching effort, Felix Hernandez finally decided that he couldn’t stay quiet any longer, and got on the phone with his lawyer Jackie Chiles.

Losing is one thing, but the way Felix Hernandez has accumulated his 10 losses this season is something else altogether. In those 10 soul-crushing defeats, Hernandez’s teammates have managed to push across a measly seven runs with the King on the hill,  leading to the second worst run support in the league behind only Dallas Braden (but nobody likes him, so he doesn’t count). Does Felix have every right to be furious with his teammates? You’re damn right he does, and bringing aboard a winner like Jackie Chiles is the only chance Hernandez has to receive the credit, and cash, that he deserves.

Although best known for his work on Kramer v. Marlboro and The People v. Seinfeld, Chiles is an accomplished sports attorney and agent who has represented the likes of Keith Hernandez and Bernie Williams. Chiles called Hernandez’s suit an open and shut case, telling reporters at his office that:

Despite a sterling 2.62 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 172 strikeouts, my client only has eight wins to his name, in large part due to poor decisions from the Seattle front office and poor performance from nearly every offensive player on the team. When Felix signed a long-term contract to stay with the Mariners he was under the impression that the organization was building a team that would compete for a World Series, not the worst record in baseball. With certain escalator clauses in his contract that are triggered by All-Star appearances, Cy Young awards and trips to the playoffs, it has become obvious that the Mariners organization is trying to avoid paying my client these bonuses by putting an inferior product on the field behind him (.236 team batting average). Felix leads the league in quality starts and he has eight wins to show for it. Outrageous! Egregious! Preposterous!”

The Mariners front office refused to comment on the lawsuit, but several unnamed players agreed that, yeah, Felix was going to get paid. One player even went as far as to say that he would be willing to give up part of his wholly undeserved salary (cough Chone Figgins cough) in order to keep Hernandez happy and the case out of court.

Judging from Chiles track record though, Hernandez isn’t likely to settle with the M’s, and who can blame him?

He’s finally got a chance at a win…

Wak Blocked: Mariners Fire Second-Year Manager Don Wakamatsu; Admit That Season Isn’t Exactly Going As Planned.

Though Wakamatsu took the fall, no one in the organization is without blame.

Though the writing had been on the wall for months, yesterday’s firing of manager Don Wakamatsu still came as a surprise from an organization that had come to reward mediocrity over the last decade.  

With the team in a free fall and showing no signs of improvement, GM Jack Zduriencik decided that Wakamatsu was no longer the right man for the job, and showed his hand-picked manager the door.  

The Mariners entered Monday night with a record of 42-70, the third worst in baseball, after a busy offseason that brought hope of a return to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. With virtually every player on the team underperforming Wakamatsu never really had a chance to succeed (it is a Seattle sports team after all). Wakamastu wasn’t without blame though;  his questionable handling of the bullpen and inability to get maximum effort out of the team made the lame duck manager a perfect scapegoat for the M’s numerous shortcomings.  

Triple-A manager Darren “Aw Shucks” Brown will replace Wakamatsu for the remainder of the season, though with the current squad, he’s probably not expected to do anything more than shake out the roster and try to figure out which pieces hold value moving into 2011 (so long Jose Lopez, Milton Bradley, Rob Johnson, etc). It would behoove Brown to manage with a bit more evident passion than Wakamatsu, whose Zen-like persona made him appear like an apathetic captain at the helm of a sinking ship.  

It’s unfortunate that a classy manager like Wakamatsu had to be fired after just two seasons because of poor front office decisions, but it was apparent from his run-ins with Ken Griffey Jr., Milton Bradley, Michael Lohan and Chone Figgins that he no longer had the respect of his players. 

He’s not the only one whose lost respect this season–Seattle’s front office and ownership are also on thin ice with M’s fans after putting one of the sorriest teams on the field in the organization’s storied history. 

If more changes aren’t made soon, Wakamatsu won’t be the only one looking for work this offseason…

Mariners Monthly Roundup: July “From Bad to Worse” Edition.

Michael Saunders is one of the few sources of hope in a dismal season.

Record: 6-22 (Overall 39-66)     

A.L. West Standings: Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle     

Top Hitter: With virtually the whole team slumping in the month it wasn’t difficult for second-year outfielder Michael Saunders to walk away as the best hitter in July. The 23-year-old began to show the potential that made him one of the Mariners most highly regarded prospects, hitting .279 with one HR and 6 RBI’s in the month. More importantly, Saunders flashed improved plate discipline with a 16/11 strikeout-to-walk ratio, leading to a .380 OBP. He’s shown himself to be an above-average defensive player and if he can continue to develop as a hitter, Saunders should be a major part of Seattle’s rebuilding effort moving forward.     

Top Pitcher: Felix Hernandez picked up right where Cliff Lee left off in June, although thanks to an anemic Mariners’ offense, the King only won a single game in July despite a 2.54 ERA and 33 strikeouts against only 9 walks. Besides Erik Bedard Luke French Ryan Rowland-Smith Justin Vargas, Felix is the only sure thing on the Mariners’ staff right now, and the team will have plenty of holes to fill heading into 2010. This team would be completely unwatchable if not for the presence of King Felix.  

Biggest Surprise: Left for dead with the acquisitions of Justin Smoak and Russell Branyan, Casey Kotchman finally decided it was time to play like a big leaguer, hitting .318 with 4 HR’s and 10 RBI’s in the month. With Smoak currently in Triple-A and Branyan manning DH duties, Kotchman should see some significant playing time moving forward. He’s not part of the team’s future, but it would be nice to see him get a chance to play for another team–preferably in the division.    

Biggest Disappointment: Every player on the team not named Felix Hernandez. Also, I wish that Don Wakamatsu and Chone Figgins’ fight had escalated in a full-blown dugout brawl with Rob Johnson’s leg getting broken in the scrum. It’s little things like that which help keep interest up in a long season. And it’s been a loooooooooong season…   

Injuries: Erik Bedard (out for season–hypochondria); Milton Bradley (15-day DL–patellar tendonitis); Shawn Kelley (15-day DL–elbow inflammation); Ryan-Rowland Smith (15-day DL–overall awfulness–set to meet with Men at Work on Monday).   

Lingering Questions: Will the Mariners finish with the worst record in baseball? Will Ichiro be the only Mariner to finish the season hitting over .250? How long before the pitchers and hitters engage in a bloody civil war? Why do I keep watching if they bring me nothing but pain? Can Adam Moore possibly be worse than Rob Johnson? Should fans start showing up at the games with bags on their heads? 

August Schedule: 1 @ Minnesota; 3 vs. Texas; 3 vs. Kansas City; 3 vs. Oakland; 3 @ Cleveland; 3 @ Baltimore; 3 @ New York; 3 @ Boston; 3 vs. Minnesota; 2 vs. Los Angeles.     

Overall Grade: (F) I’m out of words to describe the abomination that is the Mariners, so this picture will have to do.

Mariners Monthly Roundup: June “If Only We Played in the NL Central” Edition.

Cliff Lee's tremendous month of June won't make it any easier to say goodbye.

Record: 14-13  (Overall 33-44)

AL West Standings: Texas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle.

 

Top Hitter: It’s almost by default that Ichiro claims his place as the team’s top hitter because no one else on the Mariners seemed to know what they were doing at the plate in June. The ageless Suzuki just kept plugging along, hitting .321 in the month with 2 HR’s, 14 RBI’s and 8 stolen bases. Considering that Seattle has a team batting average of .239, Ichiro might be more valuable to the Mariners than he ever has been. Whatever he’s getting paid, he’s worth it. Can you imagine this offense with Ichiro?

Top Pitcher: If June truly was Cliff Lee’s last month as a Mariner he made the most of it. The most coveted trade chip in all of baseball posted a 4-1 record with a 1.76 ERA and an unbelievable four complete games (his 36/2 strikeout-to-walk ration wasn’t too shabby either). Though Lee won’t be able to lead the Mariners back to the playoffs (not single-handedly at least), he should bring in a hearty bounty of prospects from whichever contender acquires his services (Minnesota, St. Louis and the New York Mets are all in the mix). Thanks for the memories Cliff; maybe someday we’ll be reunited once again. Maybe…

Biggest Surprise: Finally given a chance to play everyday, Michael “the Condor” Saunders has shown why he was one of the most highly regarded prospects in the Mariners’ organization, connecting for a team-high five home runs in the month of June. The 23-year-old is still struggling to find consistency at the plate and needs to cut down on the K’s (37 in 112 AB’s) but he provides some hope that the M’s might not be terrible forever.

Biggest Disappointment: Rob Johnson (.200 BA) and Sean White (7.58 ERA) are not major league caliber players. Not today, not ever. Don’t tell me that there are no players in our farm system capable of what those two bumbling idiots are doing at the big league level. Please do something about them Seattle front office. Please?

Griffey Watch: N/A…insert sad face here.

Happy Trails: The Ian Snell Experiment (0-5, 6.41 ERA) wasn’t anymore successful in 2010 than it was last year. The Mariners showed amazing patience with the struggling pitcher, but finally had enough after Snell showed no signs of turning things around, and designated him for assignment. Shockingly, no other team was willing to take a chance on him. Color me surprised…

Injuries: Erik Bedard (shoulder surgery, 60-day DL–early July return); Mark Lowe (lower back inflammation, 15-day DL); Shawn Kelley (right elbow inflammation, 15-day DL); Mike Sweeney (old age, 15-day DL): Rob Johnson (inability to catch balls thrown his way, no known cure).

Lingering Questions: Will Russell Branyan lead the Mariners in home runs for the season despite not joining the team until late June? Will King Felix continue to pitch at a high level once Cliff Lee is traded? Should fans continue to show up to Safeco Field if Rob Johnson is still the starting catcher? What’s Ken Griffey Jr. up to?

July Schedule: 4 @ Detroit, 3 vs. Kansas City, 4 vs. New York, All Star Break, 4 @ Los Angeles, 3 vs. Chicago, 4 vs. Boston, 4 @ Chicago, 2 @ Minnesota.

Overall Grade: (B) It only took until June, but the Mariners finally posted their first winning month of the season–one game over .500!! Despite a strong finish to the month, Seattle actually lost ground in the division as Texas was hotter than, well, Texas on a summer’s day. The 1-2 punch of Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez finally lived up to the hype, but not even dominating performances from those two aces could obscure just how badly the offense has performed all season. With virtually no chance to catch the Rangers in the division, it will be interesting to see what big names the Mariners consider moving at the trade deadline, and what pieces they can acquire to build for 2011 and beyond. This is Jack Zdrunciek’s best shot to prove that he is not Bill Bavasi part deux. No pressure though…

Mariners Monthly Roundup: May “It’s Like Watching a Loved One Slowly Pass Away” Edition

Someone made Mike Sweeney mad and pitchers all over baseball are paying the price in a big way.

Record: 8-19  (Overall 19-31) 

AL West Standings: Oakland, Texas, Los Angeles………….Seattle 

Top Hitter: Ichiro has done his part all year to get the Mariners’ offense started but the team has been unable to cash in on the opportunities when he reaches base. Suzuki was as consistent as ever in May, hitting .336 with one HR, 7 RBI’s and 7 SB’s (but only 10 runs scored). At 36-years-old, Ichiro has shown no signs of slowing down, and gives M’s fans something to look forward to (a 10th straight 200-hit season) in an otherwise dismal year. 

Top Pitcher:  Hopefully Mariners’ fans enjoyed watching Cliff Lee pitch in May because it’s doubtful that the crafty lefty will be in Seattle much longer. In his first full month with the team Lee went 3-2 with a 3.82 ERA and 34 strikeouts against only 3 walks. Not only did the Mariners slow start eliminate them from playoff contention, but it also probably eliminated whatever small chance they had of resigning Lee after the season. Thanks Seattle. Thanks a lot.

Biggest Surprise: Mike “the Bat” Sweeney awoke from an early season slumber with a vengeance in May (.310-6 HR’s-14 RBI’s) providing fans with a bevy of souvenirs in the outfield stands and injecting some much-needed life into the Mariners’ lineup. Unfortunately, the Mariners’ best hitter is on the wrong side of 40, and had to miss numerous games due to a bad back (apparently it was “barking” at him. Is that an actual medical condition? Because I’ve never heard about it on Grey’s Anatomy. Is there a doctor in the building?) Can we catch a break? Just one, that’s all I ask for. Let Sweeney use steroids and not get caught, he’s just using them to help keep him on the field…I promise. 

Biggest Disappointment: Chone Figgins was supposed to be the spark plug that helped Seattle’s offense get to the next level and give the Mariners’ tremendous pitching staff some run support. Two months through the season Figgins is hitting just .211 and is on pace for over 150 strikeouts, which would be okay if he was going to hit 45 home runs but he is currently sitting on zero, so 45 seems a bit bullish…just a little.

Chone Figgins' poor play has been a major factor in the Mariners terrible start.

Griffey Watch: May 2010 is a month that Ken Griffey Jr. can’t forget soon enough. He made national headlines with “napgate”, was rumored to be on the verge of being released by Seattle and looked like a dinosaur at the plate (.122-0 HR’s-3 RBI’s). No matter how much he brings to the clubhouse, the Griffey experiment part 2 has been an unmitigated disaster. Let’s hope he hits one last home run and rides peacefully off into the sunset. 

Home Run Tracker: After hitting just nine home runs in the season’s first month the M’s exploded for 20 in May, which sadly, stills leave them last in all of baseball.

Happy Trails: Struggling relievers Kanekoa Teixeira and Jesus Colome were both designated for assignment after an implosion against the Angels that cost the Mariners a chance at a rare victory. I don’t think they’ll be sorely missed…or at all. 

Injuries: Erik Bedard (shoulder surgery, 60-day DL–return looking increasingly unlikely–shocker); Mark Lowe (lower back inflammation, 15-day DL); Josh Bard (strained calf, 15-day DL); Adam Moore (heel, 15-day DL); Jack Wilson (hamstring strain, 15-day DL–early June return). 

Lingering Questions: How many games does Seattle have to fall behind in the division before the team starts shopping Cliff Lee? Why didn’t someone get Griffey a coffee or 5-hour energy? Will King Felix regain the form that made him dominant in 2009? Did Carlos Silva really strike out 11 batters in a game? Will Chone Figgins really hit .200 all season? Is Don Wakamatsu on the hot seat? 

June Schedule: 3 vs. Minnesota, 3 vs. L.A., 4 @ Texas, 3 @ San Diego, 3 @ St. Louis, 3 vs. Cincinnati, 3 vs. Chicago (NL), 3 @Milwaukee, 2 @ New York 

Overall Grade: (F-)  The Mariners were simply awful in May. They can’t hit, they can’t field and they can’t run the bases. On the rare occasion when they do those things, and have a lead, the bullpen implodes and Seattle loses in the most painful ways possible. The Mariners are the most disappointing team in all of baseball and 2011 can’t get here soon enough. I’ve got to find something else to do this summer. Suggestions?