The Missing Links in Marinerland

If you are at all like me, you're sitting at home every evening, or at the local pub, sports bar or a buddy's house watching the league division series' in both leagues. Baseball fans wait for this time of year, just like spring training and the trade deadline. This postseason should be no different than the past two years.

Compelling match-ups between perennial playoff teams, the defending World Series Champions, a red-hot wildcard winner, the worst playoff team ever by win-loss record, and two upstart AL teams looking for respect are all under way in a sure-to-be exciting October of baseball.

In New York, Yankees fans are itching for revenge, not only from last October's history-making events against the hated rival Boston Red Sox, but against first-round opponent Los Angeles. The Angels defeated the Bronx Bombers in the LDS in 2002 on their way to their first ever World Series title.

Can Randy Johnson carry the Yankees through round one and into the Fall Classic? Will Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Derek Jeter lead the offensive charge that nets the Yankees their 40th American League title and their 27th World Series Championship? Compelling.

In Beantown, the Sox are all about repeating, but it's not the same club that did the unthinkable last season – twice. Erasing 86 years of agony and becoming the first team in history to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series may have been too much for Boston to duplicate – or is it inevitable?

Can Curt Schilling re-capture his '04 form in time for the Sox to come back on Chicago? Is the run over with the current group of "idiots?" Are the Sox one and done? Compelling.

In Atlanta and Houston, the two clubs are banking on veteran pitching and clutch hitting to get them through to the next round. Atlanta's diaper dandies are holding their own – will it be enough to get the Braves their second title during their unbelievable 14-year run in the National League's East? Can the Astros score enough runs to support the trio of Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Roy Oswalt? Is John Smoltz still as good as his career postseason numbers say he is? Compelling.

The Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels are simply looking to earn respect by defeating the legendary Yankees and defending champion Red Sox. The Pale Hose nearly blew a double-digit lead in the central division while the Halos ran away with the west down the stretch.

Both teams seem to have the pitching depth, both in the bullpen and the rotation, but can either team score enough runs to put away their feared opponents? Will the lore come back and bite them both in the proverbial rear end? Can the Angels win their second title in four years? Will the White Sox finally break their own curse, against the second most cursed club in baseball history? Compelling.

In San Diego, all they want is a competitive series versus the game's best team, the St. Louis Cardinals. Winning just 82 games this season made the Padres the losingest team in playoff history and they are out to prove they are worthy.

The Cards cruised to the division title, slumping a bit down the stretch but with improved starting pitching and Albert Pujols leading the offense, will the best team on paper get back to the series to avenge last year's four-game sweep against the AL's best? Compelling.

Sounds like an exciting month of the nations favorite pastime, right? Of course. But not here in Seattle, not for the hometown nine, anyways. There is nothing compelling about losing 192 games in two seasons. The Mariners didn't lose 192 games the previous three seasons, but have managed to do so in two forgettable years, back-to-back.

Another downer season has fans wondering when – and if – the M's can get back to the postseason. Ah, to remember the glory days of… 2001. Now that was compelling. That was fun. That was baseball.

What is missing in Seattle?

It's as clear as a Roy Hobbs steroid test – talent is the void in the Emerald City. The club lacks the necessary overall talent to compete. But there's more to winning ballgames – and championships – than pure talent. What elements, within the natural baseball talent that every single fan of baseball realizes is the most necessary component of a baseball club's makeup, are missing from the 25-man roster?

Boy, where does one begin?

The M's lack a lot of key elements, beginning, and maybe ending with leadership. The clubhouse lacks a true leader. Someone who keeps the team loose, gets vocal when necessary, and maybe even when it isn't needed. Safeco Field is absent of a character and personality that transcends a winning attitude onto his teammates. A player who leads by example, and "shows" the young guys how its done – on the field, as well as off.

Not since the veteran-laden clubs in 2000 and 2001 have the Mariners had any leaders in the clubhouse. Edgar Martinez lead by example, but has never been known as a vocal human being, between the lines or not. Still, Edgar had some value as a leader. Dan Wilson is always Mr. Nice Guy, Bret Boone had a knack for keeping things loose, but his leadership skills were never that of a winner's, not for lack of trying, but for a lack of winning.

Lou Piniella was a leader. Rich Amaral and Mark McLemore were leaders. Jay Buhner was a leader. Even Norm Charlton had leadership skills that aided the club when things weren't looking so great. And Chris Bosio was there, too, as Rick Rizzs will remind you every April 22 of every season.

Today, there is very little leadership in that locker room. The team is too young, too new, too unfinished to have the kind of leaders that push a team over the top. There is no Derek Jeter. There isn't a Jason Varitek. There is no Darin Erstad or Paul Konerko. There isn't even a Reggie Sanders or Luis Gonzalez around.

Other than the sore lack in leadership, from manager Mike Hargrove on down through each member of the current roster, the Mariners are missing another vital ingredient that winnings teams, such as the eight clubs still playing this time of year, boast up and down the clubhouse benches.


What's the first thing you think about, other than the Cy Young Award, when you hear the names Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson? Exuberance? Passion? Maybe even arrogance?

Bingo. Even the cocky nature of both athletes is a positive to their club's successes.

Seattle hasn't a soul that fits that bill. Not one single player has any of those qualities, positive or negative as they may be seen. At least nobody wearing Mariner blue has shown anything of the like.

The organization's seeming unwillingness to step outside the "good boy" image to collect the best talent that money can buy has severed the club's ties with some of the best talents in baseball – many of whom have moved on to become key component's on postseason winners.

This is the only reason I miss David Bell. That and his defense at third base, not that Adrian Beltre isn't a gold glover in his own right. But Bell had something that no other current Mariner seems to have - an undying passion for the game, from beginning to end, without exception.

Bell once was ejected from a game versus Cleveland when he was thrown out at second base attempting to stretch a bloop single into a two-base hit, and argued the call until he was blue in the face – and the umpire got tired of seeing Bell's face turn colors, and sent him to the showers.

What's so special about that? I'll tell you. It was 2001 and the M's were trailing the Indians 9 to 1 in the eighth inning and Bell and his teammates were leading the West by 18 games. Bell didn't care that his team had won 14 of 15 games or that they were up in their division by nearly 20 games with less than 40 to go. He was trying to win, trying to add on runs and somehow win a game that was supposedly out of hand in favor of Cleveland. He played every out, every pitch like it was the seventh game of the World Series.

The 2006 Mariners, if they plan on winning when it counts and winning far more often than the previous two versions have won, need this type of play, day-in and day-out.

To get that type of play, they desperately need that type of player.

Of course the club needs to add talent first and foremost, both on the mound and in the lineup. But breeding fire in the hearts of fans is impossible when it is not displayed on the field.

There are a few other glaring holes in the organization, some that have yet to be determined within the front office and the field manager, but they, too, must show the creativity, the leadership, the passion for the game that champions always have.

It's not that nice guys always finish last. That's not true at all. Cal Ripken won a world title and he is thought of as the choir boy that the game loves to sell itself around. Ripken had the fire, deep inside of his love for the game and his teammates.

Joe Montana won four Super Bowls and is truly a gentleman with nothing but great things said about him, and great things to say about his fellow man. Montana had passion. Just watch old video of his reaction when he threw any of his 11 Super Bowl touchdown passes.

Heck, Derek Jeter has a reputation of being a pretty solid human being, and he's the Yankees' captain with four world series rings and the known leader of the Big Apple's pride and joy.

Good guys can win in sports. The nicest of humans can, and have, donned the M's uniform and played with passion every single day of their baseball lives.

It's up to Bill Bavasi and Howard Lincoln to be willing to step outside the "Mariner Way" and go get the most talented players they can find that have the grit to go the distance. When was the last time you watched a Mariners game and said, "man, that guys is gutty, gritty and I'm so glad he's on our side, what a gamer!?"

Not recently, I can guarantee that.

Maybe Richie Sexson or Adrian Beltre will show that kind of moxie next season, as they accustom themselves to the city and the ballclub.

Maybe Jeremy Reed does the same in his second year in the big leagues. Or Raul Ibanez steps up as the veteran leader he's capable of being.

But none of the above have shown any of it yet. And that isn't good news.

So before you flip through the web pages of free agents and trade rumors looking for the next great Seattle Mariners star that will help aim the club back to the promise land in October, ask yourself what this guy brings to the table, other than the numbers under his name on the back of a baseball card.

Does he have a track record of winning wherever he goes? Does he have experience playing on winning teams? Is he considered a leader? Do his teammates rally around him during the trying times of the season? If not, jot his name down in pencil, and move on to the next star player and ask the same questions.

Weigh the talent along with the intangibles and set your heart on that player. It's what you should do as a fan.

It's also what the Mariners front office should be doing as an organization.

Imagine the M's being thought of as a team with fire, passion and great leadership.

Now THAT is compelling.

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