Every so often, someone asks where I got my start. My first online conversations about baseball took place on the ESPN message boards, and I’m a Mariners fan, and that was back when the Mariners mattered. Around the turn of the millennium, the Mariners were entering the best era in franchise history. Between 2000 – 2003, the Mariners racked up more regular-season wins than anybody else. They ultimately crashed, and crashed hard, but four strong teams were built. Four competitive teams were built. It was terrific, except for the thing that was missing. In 2003, the Marlins of all teams won that thing. There was much debate over what a fan really wants. Say what you will about the Marlins, but they’ve brought home a couple trophies.
Here, I ask you what some might consider a fundamental question. There’s a poll at the end of this, and I want you to try to answer honestly, as a fan who’s presumably something more than just a casual observer. I’m going to go ahead and update my Mariners and Marlins examples. There are current(ish) teams who can fill the same roles. We’re all more familiar with what’s current!
The question is going to be: which four-year window would you prefer? There’ll be two options, and I want you to pick which one you’d find more enjoyable, or more satisfying, or more whatever. More whatever it is you like about being a fan. For the sake of this post, try to ignore other variables. Try to ignore, say, the state of the organization. Just focus on the four years.
One of the options: the 2012 – 2015 Boston Red Sox. Just in case you habitually tune the Red Sox out, and just in case you’re really good at it, allow me to be the first to tell you this year’s Red Sox have sucked! They haven’t been mathematically eliminated from anything, but they’re not going to win the World Series, and they’re not going to make the playoffs. They’re not a good team, and even worse than that, they were supposed to be a good team. And this isn’t a first.
This year’s Red Sox are on pace to fall 15 wins short of our official preseason projection. If you aren’t much for on-pace statistics, which is fine, we’ve currently got the Sox expected to fall 11 wins short of said projection. That’s a lot, but it’s not unprecedented, and here’s why! Last year, the Red Sox fell 18 wins short of preseason projections. Back in 2012, they fell 22 wins short of preseason projections. The 2012 Red Sox were supposed to be pretty good. Same with the 2013, 2014, and 2015 Red Sox. Three of the teams have been colossal disappointments. It goes beyond just being underachievers; I’m not sure another team has more greatly underachieved. If, that is, you just focus on the three years.
But, as you know, there’s the matter of the fourth year. The year that everything clicked, and the year that’s keeping Ben Cherington employed. The 2013 Red Sox actually had a worse preseason projection than the 2012, 2014, and 2015 versions, but the 2013 Red Sox exceeded their win projection by an incredible 15. Then they won a bunch more games in the playoffs, including the four they needed in the World Series. The Red Sox have gone last place — first place — last place — last place, but they made the most of that first-place finish, and that’s something that can never be taken away. In one of the last four seasons, Sox fans got to be the only fans to end a season happy.
The other option: the 2011 – 2014 Detroit Tigers. I wanted to choose a window that’s still open, but we don’t know how this year is going to end, yet. So this’ll work. The Tigers are an excellent peer of the turn-of-the-millennium Mariners. Between 2011 – 2014, the Tigers gathered more regular-season wins than any other club. They wound up with four straight first-place finishes in the AL Central, which meant four consecutive playoff berths. The Tigers have had their flaws, but they featured one of baseball’s best roster cores, and stardom brought them ever so close.
One year finished with a six-game ALCS loss. Then there was a World Series sweep. Another six-game ALCS loss. Finally, a first-round sweep. Each year, the Tigers were recognized as one of baseball’s best teams. Each year, the fans got to experience following one of baseball’s best teams. Just about every game mattered, and if it didn’t, it was only because the Tigers were already assured of moving on. They won the Central in 2011 by 15 games. The next three years were closer, but the Tigers always won.
Until they lost. The only thing the Tigers couldn’t deliver was that one final smile, the happy ending for a hell of a book. Everything else, the Tigers accomplished. They took perfect care of their fans, except for the one missing element, and those are tough defeats to get over. The disappointment lingers, and it can color everything that took place before. Having watched the Seahawks in the Super Bowl, I know what that did to my impression of the season before it.
You know what’s happened. You probably didn’t need those summaries. So it’s time for the poll, which essentially asks about the value of a championship. Obviously, a title is the most desirable outcome. How desirable is it, relative to just being in the hunt? Can the thrill of a title be greater than the satisfaction of consistent winning, if the winning always ends with losses, and if the title is surrounded by disappointment and defeat? I’m not actually sure of my own answer, but then the Mariners have never won the World Series so I don’t know what that’s like. Many of you have witnessed championships. I’m very interested in how this ends up.
Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.