The year was 1995. I was 12-years old. And I fell in love for the first time.
And anybody who was living in Seattle in the time can tell you who I fell for, because 1995 is perhaps the fondest year remembered in the modern Seattle era.
The Seattle Mariners were going to the playoffs for the first time and it wasn't easy. They came back from a 13-game, mid-August deficit (many of those wins coming through late-inning heroics) to force a 1-game playoff with the California Angels.
They were facing Mark Langston, the ace that they traded away to acquire Randy Johnson.
Then in the ALDS they faced the winningest franchise in the history of popular American sports, the New York Yankees, a team that had not made the playoffs since 1981.
They were down two games to none before forcing a game five and finding themselves down 5-4 in the bottom of the eleventh.
Though it seemed to be a season of destiny, the Mariners would lose in the ALCS to the Cleveland Indians. Realistically, the closest they've ever come to making the World Series.
But Mariner fans don't look back on that season with disgust. Just mention "Edgar double down the left field line" and a true Mariners fan will get tingles down his or her spine.
Say "Joey Cora" and an M's fan might shed a tear. The city of Seattle embodied the motto of '95, "Refuse to Lose." It's what we lived for. These were our boys, these were our players, and we'd jump into the fire for them because that's what they did for us.
Some cities seem to fight against their players, we fought with ours. And even in defeat, we cheered for how far we had come.
This is why I LOVE the Seattle Mariners. And it's also why I HATE the New York Yankees.
As a 12-year-old, I didn't know how great of a victory it was to beat the Yankees and how sweet it was to take it in such dramatic fashion. When I think back on it now, I'm so happy that they could taste the ALCS after two games and again after the top of the 11th inning of game 5, only to have it all come crashing down.
It's how I want the Yankees to lose every year.
I knew I disliked them after '95. And I just plain grew tired of them after their fourth championship in five years in 2000 (some people call it the Subway Series. I call it the Who Gives a S#@% Series").
But I didn't hate them. What could I do? They built their team up and had scrappy players in a perfect evolution of teamwork.
They were also littered with some former Mariners that I couldn't help but love. Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson, and Luis Sojo. These guys weren't legends, they were just good, old-fashioned baseball players.
They didn't have $100 million contracts, they just loved to play the game.
By the turn of the century, that had started to change. The Yankees were ready and willing to start throwing their money around again.
After their final world championship, the Yankees signed Derek Jeter to a 10-year, $189 million contract and also signed free agent ace Mike Mussina to a six-year, $88.5 million deal.
Nothing outrageous. They wanted to hang onto their captain and the icon of the team and were willing to pay him a lot of money. They also decided to add a very good top of the rotation starter. I can't blame them for that.
While the 2001 season was very painful for Mariners fans, having watched our team be one of the most dominant regular season team of all-time before falling in the ALCS to the hated Yankees, I still take solace in the fact that it most likely was the hardest series loss in the history of that franchise.
The Yankees led the series three games to two before a rare Mariano Rivera blown save in game seven sealed the series for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Surely this could have pushed George Steinbrenner over the edge. The Yankees had won 12 of their last 13 games in the World Series before 2001.
This loss stung Steinbrenner as bad as anything could. He wasn't used to this and he wasn't willing to get used to it.
The Yankees, who had one year earlier gotten a good taste of spending large amounts of money, were ready to open the floodgates for good.
But apparently Steinbrenner doesn't listen to Brooklyn native Biggie Smalls.
That offseason they would sign Jason Giambi for seven years and $120 million.
They won 103 games the next year, but lost the ALDS in four games to the Angels.
Mo Money, Mo Problems.
They signed Japanese player Hideki Matsui in a bidding war to a three-year contract (and then later for four years and $52,000,000)
They won 101 games before losing to the Marlins in the World Series in six games.
Mo Money, Mo Problems.
They traded for Alex Rodriguez (and $113 million of his $250 million contract,) signed Gary Sheffield for three years and nearly $40 million, traded for Javier Vazquez and signed him to a four year, $44.5 million deal, signed Jose Contreras to a four-year, $32 million deal, and traded for Kevin Brown and the two years, $30,000,000 remaining on his contract.
They won 101 games and then blew a 3-0 lead in the ALCS to the Boston Red Sox.
Even Mo Money, Mo Problems
They traded for Randy Johnson (roughly $30 million remaining on his deal) and signed Carl Pavano to four years and $40 million.
95 wins, five-game loss in the ALDS to the Angels.
Can't Stop, Won't Stop—duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh (Oh wait, that's Puffy, but you get the idea).
Sign Johnny Damon to four years and 52 million. Trade for Bobby Abreu and his $15 million salary. Sign Kyle Farnsworth, a setup man, to three years and $17 million.
97 wins, four-game loss in the LDS to the Tigers.
Sign Andy Pettitte for one year and $16 million. Sign Roger Clemens to a pro-rated deal of one year and $28 million.
94 wins, four-game loss in the LDS to the Indians.
Sorry if that got repetitive. But it just puts a smile on my face. Because none of those seasons ended with a victory. However none of that ever hit home with the Steinbrenner family. They never got the point.
You can't buy championships. You earn them.
Before and during the 2008 season the Yankees made no significant free agent moves other than to re-sign some of their own players and make a few small deals here and there.
Though it did include them signing Alex Rodriguez to a 10-year, $275,000,000 deal, they were basically still the same team from the year before minus Clemens and minus manager Joe Torre who got fired because he didn't win the World Series since 2000.
More on that later.
But the 2008 season finally saw the Yankees miss the playoffs for the first time since 1993.
Thus we saw the most ridiculous offseason in the history of baseball, and the reason it's okay to hate the Yankees.
The reason that if you are a fan of baseball and you aren't a fan of the Yankees, you should be rooting for the Phillies with every fiber of your soul.
Maybe we can save this game after all.
They signed Mark Teixeira to eight years and $180,000,000.
They signed CC Sabathia to seven years and $161,000,000.
They signed AJ Burnett to five years and $82,500,000.
They spent more money on those players than the rest of the AL spent combined.
And if they lose three more games in the World Series, the fans and ownership will appreciate none of it.
You know that friend you had as a kid whose parents bought him every toy he wanted and he always said it wasn't good enough because he was a spoiled brat?
Of course you don't, because nobody is friends with a kid like that.
Screw that kid.
This is a franchise where you can win 90+ games and make the playoffs in 11 of your 12 seasons as manager, win six pennants, and four championships and still get fired because you hadn't done enough.
Ask Bobby Cox and Atlanta if its okay to appreciate a manager for the things he does and not just belittle him for the things he doesn't do. Do you think Braves fans would have ever supported the firing of Cox?
A win for Philadelphia is a win for homegrown players.
The Phillies biggest talents are Ryan Howard (fifth round, 2001,) Chase Utley (first round, 2000,) Jimmy Rollins (second round, 1996,) and Cole Hamels (first round, 2002).
Not Johnny Damon ($) CC Sabathia ($$) Mark Teixiera ($$$) and Alex Rodriguez ($$$$$$$)
A win for Philly is a win for teams that don't have it so easy. Teams like Tampa Bay who have to be successful through great scouting, great drafting, smart signings and trades. Teams that don't have it so easy.
Sure, if every team brought in a billion dollars they could compete with the Yankees on the free agent market. But they don't and they can't.
And unfortunately there is no governing body stopping the Yankees from turning a sport into a joke.
This isn't baseball, this is moneyball. And not the Billy Beane kind.
It's David telling Goliath "You shall not pass!"
Buying the best and being the best are two very different things.
When the Yankees won those championships in the late nineties, you couldn't do anything but applaud them. They won because they were filled with winners, not hall of famers.
There's a difference between the two.
Now they have tried to stock there rosters with whatever money can buy. And if they win that way, it will shame the sport.
It's a black eye on a sports that's taken nothing but beating after beating the last decade. One more blow and the house could eventually blow down.
I'm not saying that the MLB will ever fail. But at some point will the fans ever have enough? When will the owners have enough? Is this sport ever going to be fair?
What are the fans of those other three teams in the AL East not named Boston supposed to think? That maybe once a decade we will get our shot again?
How long can you wait for a perfect storm?
In the 14 seasons since the Mariners made that historic run in 1995, they have made the playoffs three times. We lost the ALCS twice (to the Yankees of course) and once in the ALDS to the Orioles.
Mariners fans have seen 116 wins, and we've seen 101 losses.
We waved goodbye to Alex Rodriguez over money. Said adios to Randy Johnson and Ken Griffey Jr.
We've been in last place in four of the last six seasons and haven't been to the playoffs in eight years.
Nothing in sports has felt as good as that run in '95. And each time we made the playoffs since then, it felt like we were floating in an air of soft, fluffy goodness.
We'll cry when we lose, we'll cheer when we win. But we'll be there for our team no matter what.
Each time we make the playoffs we appreciate it and hold onto it for dear life. We'll play hookie from work and school. Call friends and family we haven't talked to in years, just to say "I love this game," and "My Oh My."
We won't leave game one of the World Series early because we're down five runs.
We won't give up on our players and coaches because they didn't win it all.
If it's expected that you should win a championship in New York, then that's what wrong with the game right there. Because if it's expected, then it's only because of the money you spent. It's certainly not for the players you drafted or traded for.
And if a games outcome is dependent on money, then it's not a game. And if we know the end result, then why watch?
I know why I'll be watching this series. To see if the Phils can give hope to a sport. To see if they can smack the Yankees in the face and say "That's not how its done."
I'll be watching to see if I'll ever watch again.
I'll always be a Mariners fan, its just who I am. It's in my blood. I can't help but be any other way. But will I always be a baseball fan?
Not if you can buy a championship.
Take your business elsewhere. This is sports.
This is ball and bat, not pen and paper.
Where the green is for grass, not for money.
Let’s keep some sort of pride in this sport. Let’s keep it a sport. Philly, win this for us. Win it for baseball.
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