There was a time when the 2013 season looked to be a promising one for the Seattle Mariners.
Unfortunately, barely a month into the season, things aren't going to plan. While there have been some solid pitching performances turned in by the M's starting staff (Felix Hernandez's win on Monday night is a perfect example), the bullpen and the starting lineup of hitters haven't delivered upon their play in spring training.
It begs many questions of many people involved, but for fans it's been a true test of their faith.
For the better part of their history the Mariners have struggled, yet this year looked to be a make or break season for fans hoping to see the team reach a certain level of relevance not seen for the better part of a decade.
So after nearly four weeks of baseball, I'm left to ponder an old saying.
"When the going gets tough, the tough..."
A. Get going
B. Get going to jump ship
C. Get nostalgic?
Last week I urged caution while opting for Option A, yet this week I'm going with Option C as a means of delaying what seems like the inevitable, Option B.
This week's focus, former Seattle Mariners who may not be as famous or as beloved as Junior, Edgar, Bone and The Big Unit, but players who in their own right made significant contributions while being perhaps a bit underrated or even under appreciated.
Sometimes that means being in the right place at the right time; in other cases it means the exact opposite as some players are overshadowed by teammates. Then of course there are the thankless roles of perhaps helping build an expansion team or replacing a legend.
Yet rather than putting together an endless list of players you may or may not have heard of, I figured I would focus on a handful that may have slipped through the cracks over the past three plus decades, most of whom you are probably more than familiar with.
So here are my five most under-appreciated Seattle Mariners of all time.
Even with a handful of decent players like hitters Rupert Jones, Dan Meyer and Bruce Bochte, the M's struggled; however most diehard fans old enough to remember that far back still have a fondness for second baseman Julio Cruz.
Honestly I didn't understand the appeal of Cruz until I started to dig a little deeper, as baseball-reference.com explains:
Despite a lack of power, Julio generally topped an 80 OPS+ in Seattle, fine for a second baseman and good for a second baseman with his speed and defensive skills. He stole 59 bases for the 1978 Mariners and twice was second in the American League in swipes.
Even beyond the '78 season Cruz stole over 40 bases each of the six seasons he played for the M's and remains second all time behind only Ichiro.
Even more impressive is that he posted a positive WAR (Fangraphs.com) every year in Seattle at a time when middle infielders were expected to do little more than field and occasionally take the bat off their shoulder to put the ball in play.
Keep in mind he did all of this while playing for an expansion club that wouldn't have a winning season until nearly a decade after being traded away.
Moving along in chronological order, I present outfielder Phil Bradley.
Before discussing his years in Seattle, did you know that Bradley was the starting quarterback at the University of Missouri during the late seventies / early eighties? (Wikipedia.com)
Bradley lettered in football at MU from 1977-81, and in baseball in 1970-80-81. Bradley quarterbacked the Tigers to three bowl games. He was a three-time Big Eight Conference "Offensive Player of the Year" and set the conference total offense record at 6,459 yards which stood for 10 years. In baseball, he starred as an outfielder on MU teams that won the Big Eight championship in 1980, and went to the NCAA Tournament in 1980 and '81.
Alas, Bradley was a Mariner, not a Seahawk.
Nevertheless Bradley in four full seasons (Fangraphs.com) in Seattle was quite solid, especially his final three years from 1985-1987.
Yet after the '87 season, the M's shipped him off to Philadelphia, which to this day still strikes me as one of the stranger deals in team history. Granted Bradley's career ended just a few years after leaving Seattle, but I always wondered what happened beyond the fact that he likely peaked in his late twenties and quickly declined.
In retrospect, it seems that time wasn't on Bradley's side. Coming up with the M's he was overshadowed by Mr. Mariner himself, Alvin Davis, with his breakthrough Rookie of the Year season in 1984, then shipped off a few years prior to having the chance to share the outfield with a young Ken Griffey Jr.
Perhaps in a different time and a different place, Bradley might have been a superstar either on the diamond or the gridiron, but in Seattle I feel he got lost in the shuffle.
Nevertheless I still feel Little Joey's contributions to the club are under-appreciated.
After struggling for the better part of a decade in the majors, Cora came to Seattle in 1995 as a free agent and, over the course of the next three-plus seasons, became a fan favorite with the M's.
You could argue that Cora was in the right place at the right time, but who could forget Cora's performance in Game 5 of the '95 ALDS against the Yankees?
Cora not only got the M's on the board with a solo shot off David Cone in the bottom of the third inning, but also laid down a perfect drag bunt in the 11th and later scored the tying run on Edgar Martinez double to win the series.
That game was simply a microcosm of what Cora embodied.
He was a true underdog given his small size and stature, but every game Joey laid it all on the line when it mattered, even if his numbers weren't quite off the charts (Fangraphs.com) for some truly exciting Mariner teams.
In recent years, Cora has been a coach with good friend Ozzie Guillen in both Chicago and Miami, but could Cora some day manage the Mariners?
Today that might sound crazy, yet in a few months' time with the way things are going, it might sound far more tempting.
One player that I was surprised to see that did not make Nick Eaton's Dream Team over at the Seattlepi.com was reliever Jeff Nelson.
While the choices of Kaz Sasaki, Arthur Rhodes, Norm Charlton and J.J. Putz are hard to argue, I tend to think that Nelson's contributions to the ballclub are under-appreciated.
Perhaps it didn't help matters that between two of his three stints in Seattle, he pitched for the New York Yankees?
It probably also didn't help that Nelson was a bit outspoken on occasion.
However, if you can look past those two points, what I think you'll find is one of the better setup men in the game for the better part of a decade.
Could it also be a coincidence that the Mariners best seasons (1995 and 2001) both came with with Nelson in the bullpen? OK, maybe that's stretching things a bit.
Still you have to consider the fact that from 1995-2001 Nelson pitched for a winner whether it was in Seattle or in the Bronx, while earning four World Series rings in the process.
Sadly none of them were in Seattle...
Last but not least, Mike Cameron.
Talk about a thankless gig.
Can you imagine having to replace a legend, but arguably the savior of an entire franchise?
That's exactly what Mike Cameron had to do after arriving in Seattle in 2000 after being traded to the M's for Ken Griffey Jr. While it's safe to say that Cameron never matched the accomplishments of Junior, (honestly who could?), he certainly didn't embarrass himself while in Seattle.
Granted Junior was injured most of those seasons, but the point is that all too often when superstars are traded, team's like the Mariners rarely come out on the better end of the deal.
Unfortunately Cameron didn't stick around for too long in Seattle as he ended up signing as a free agent with the New York Mets, which is a shame given both his career and the Mariners as a franchise were never quite the same afterwards.
Which leads us back to the present day.
Are there any Mariners on the current roster that may go under-appreciated over the course of time? My vote would probably be for Kyle Seager given his ability to hit no matter what the circumstances are around him.
Curious to hear your thoughts on whether I missed anyone on your personal list of under-appreciated Mariners both past and present.