I'm not going to sit here and break down the dominant win by the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Sunday night – they decimated the Broncos. Besides – this is a baseball blog. If you want a detailed game analysis, head on over to our sister site This Given Sunday. But anyway, the Seahawks' win was just the second big four championship for the city of Seattle, and first since the dearly departed Sonics beat the Bullets for the NBA Championship 35 years ago.
A year after the Seahawks began play in Seattle, a baseball team arrived back in town. The Pilots played just one year in Seattle before heading to Milwaukee, and it took nearly a decade for hardball to return to the Pacific Northwest. Enter the Mariners, who joined the Seahawks as tenants in the sterile Kingdome. While the Seahawks bounced between mediocrity and respectability during their early years, the Mariners more closely resembled the former than the latter. It took until 1991, their 15th season of existence, for the Mariners to clear the .500 mark.
But after that 1991 season, something changed in the city of Seattle. The Seahawks fell into mediocrity, making just one playoff appearance from 1998 to 2002. Meanwhile, the Mariners were being led by future Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr., Randy Johnson, and Edgar Martinez, who spurred the club to AL West championships in 1995 and 1997. Johnson was traded in 1998, and Griffey forced a trade following the 1999 season, but Martinez and all-world superstar Alex Rodriguez remained, leading the Mariners to another division title in 2000. Rodriguez signed with the Rangers after that 2000 season for what was then the richest contract in baseball history, but Ichiro Suzuki came across the Pacific to replace him as the face of the franchise. The 2001 Mariners won the AL West with an MLB-record 116 wins, but were dispatched by the Yankees in five games in the ALCS.
Since that disappointing end to a historic season, the Mariners' fortunes have shifted. They haven't reached the Postseason in a dozen seasons since. After 93-win seasons in each of 2002 and 2003, they've cleared .500 only twice in the last decade – and each of those seasons was followed up with a 101-loss campaign. Furthermore, outside of ace Felix Hernandez, Seattle has been painfully inept at developing young talent. The most famous prospect disaster for the Mariners was "Little Unit" Ryan Anderson, who was the team's top prospect in each year from 1997-2002 and a top 25 prospect in all of baseball over those five years. He never thew a pitch in the major leagues due to numerous shoulder injuries.
The team had a hilarious habit of cutting bait on great young talent too soon over the last 20 years. Their first round pick in '94 was a catcher from Georgia Tech named Jason Varitek, who was traded to Boston at the 1997 trade deadline for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. Varitek eventually became a Red Sox icon, and won two World Championships in Boston. They traded 1995 third overall pick Jose Cruz Jr. to the Blue Jays in his rookie year of 1997 for a pair of relievers. Adam Jones, the 37th overall pick in 2003, was their top prospect in 2007 and was traded to Baltimore in 2008 (along with #3 prospect Chris Tillman and several others) for Erik Bedard, who made just 46 starts with Seattle from 2008-2011. Two-time top ten prospect Shin-Shoo Choo was dealt to the Indians at the 2006 trade deadline for Ben Broussard, who had a .734 OPS as a Mariner and hasn't played in the big leagues since 2008. Once Johnson, Griffey, and Rodriguez left town and Martinez retired, the cupboard was bare aside from Suzuki and, a few years later, Hernandez.
That brings me to the state of sports in Seattle, and the Mariners' place in the Emerald City. Since the Mariners' last playoff berth in 2001, the Seahawks have made the playoffs eight times, winning six NFC West championships, two NFC Championships and Super Bowl XLVIII. Their new home of CenturyLink Field has brought all of the good that the Kingdome did (specifically, an extreme amount of noise) and none of the bad. Meanwhile, the Mariners have slogged since moving to Safeco Field in the middle of 1999. They broke the three million fan mark in each year from 2000 to 2002, but have steadily gone downhill since. In fact, their 2012 and 2013 attendance of 1.7 million was the lowest in a full season for the team since way back in 1992. They've fallen from the top of the American League in attendance to the bottom third.
The Mariners' attendance situation has really started to go downhill since the Sounders game to town in 2009. The MLS club has topped the Mariners in average attendance in each of their five years of existence, and their numbers have gone up every year. Meanwhile, the Mariners attendance is in a free fall (minus a 500 fan uptick from 2012 to 2013), and the Sounders' 2013 average crowd of 44,000 doubled the average Mariners crowd of fewer than 22,000 this past season. I'm not saying this as a slight against the tremendously popular MLS club, but could you have ever imagined that an MLB team would be third in average attendance in a two-team town?
I think the Mariners know that they're falling behind the curve in Seattle – after all, they did just give Robinson Cano $240 million this winter to make a splash. But we've seen this game before – Adrian Beltre got a five year, $64 million contract heading into 2005, and Beltre didn't move the dial too much on or off the field (due to no major fault of his own). After Beltre departed, Chone Figgins was given $36 million and was a disaster. Carlos Silva's signing was a farce, and him being dealt for Milton Bradley didn't help anything either.
Over the last 12 years, the Mariners have never failed to field a payroll of at least $80 million. They haven't made the playoffs. They've gone from the top-drawing team in baseball, ahead of even the mighty Yankees, to third in their own city and ahead of only a handful of teams in the league. So Seattle, enjoy your Super Bowl Championship – the Mariners will keep doing what they've been doing, and fewer and fewer people will notice.