2008 was the biggest failure of my prognosticating career. I predicted the Seahawks to finish 13-3. The 2008 Seahawks finished 4-12. A neighbor, someone that lives literally feet away from me, posted on Field Gulls how deeply disappointed they were. And I knew, they were disappointed in the season, but they were more disappointed that I lied to them.
There was a little bit of backlash, but not a ton. There was a significant drop in readership, but that happens when a team tanks. I have made some enemies, but not a ton. Some readers have been so angry at me that they created screen name after screen name to harass me. For the most part, I'm not someone that lashes out at people. I have a temper, but I have tact. Tact is no mean quality when writing on the internet, and it's not nearly as common as one might think.
I started reading USS Mariner many years ago. It was a revelation. Dave, Derek and Jason provided not just smart analysis, but smart writing that respected its readership. It was what a blog used to be: a place for passionate writing, written against the market, written for the joy of sharing ideas, creating community and fighting complacence. But there was a problem, and it was a big problem and probably still is: the comment section was ugly.
It wasn't ugly like ESPN boards are ugly. It was not overrun by commenters with the most time, the least to say and the greatest need for attention. It was ugly because it was hostile. Dave and Derek suffered no fools. And the frequency and bluntness of their rebukes was enough to unsettle about anyone. Worse, it made me angry. What is often playfully referred to as snark seemed like little more than rudeness and intolerance.
I would venture that Dave and Derek made quite a few enemies.
After years of languishing under the good-natured but incompetent management of Bill Bavasi, the Seattle Mariners hired Jack Zduriencik. Zduriencik wasn't a stathead's ideal general manager, but he was a major step forward. He hired Tony Blengino as a special assistant, and Blengino increased the franchise's emphasis on statistical analysis. He hired Tom Tango as a consultant, and Tango is perhaps the most respected statistical analyst working in baseball. Zduriencik changed the future of the Seattle Mariners.
And, as a happy coincidence, good things started happening right away. Signings were lauded. Trades proved lopsided. The 2009 Seattle Mariners became surprise playoff contenders. The following off-season was even more successful. Seattle acquired Cliff Lee for scraps. The Mariners keyed an undervalued resource, defense, and attempted to turn an overachieving 2009 team into a true contender.
The plan seemed solid. The Mariners had the right mix of good press, recent success, cutting edge player analysis and a fresh angle. Not since the hallowed days of Griffey and Gar can I remember a Mariners team that was such a pre-season darling. There was a buzz in Seattle. That buzz permeated the national media, the local media, the fans, and, for once, the blogosphere, and especially USS Mariner.
Derek had retired and Jason long since moved on, but Dave, as ever, was working furiously, and for the first time I can remember, was totally on board with the direction of the franchise. One of, if not the most respected names in baseball analysis, FanGraphs, posted pre-season organizational rankings, and the writers of FanGraphs ranked Seattle sixth overall. Dave wrote the piece. It was the genesis of the now infamous "#6 org."
Infamous, of course, because the Mariners tanked. The offense shriveled and died. The bullpen threw anti-gravity fastballs. The defense was good, and parts of the starting pitching excellent, but, on balance, the 2010 Mariners are one the worst teams in Major League Baseball.
It happens, right? Sometimes good plans go awry. If 2009 and 2010 were flipped, Seattle would be thought of as an ascending team and all that lost sheen would be reapplied in thick, glossy coats. But that's not how it happened. 2010 is a total failure, and Seattle's failure has inspired a major backlash.
The truly baffling development is not that the Mariners have underperformed, it is how so many have seized on this season and twisted it into an indictment of Zduriencik, defense, and most of all, Dave Cameron. All the waiting animosity, all the resentment, the bad reputation, built over years, caught fire, and rather than rational analysis, or an acceptance that even the best laid plans sometimes go awry, the 2010 Seattle Mariners have become a referendum on one person. It's not baffling that Dave has enemies. It's not baffling that a prominent person has become a lightning rod for criticism. It's baffling that seemingly rational people are savoring a team losing because they do not like one of its fans.
For the all the breadth and scope of the internet, the online community can sometimes feel frustratingly small. Ideas make the rounds, being rewritten ad infinitum until someone stumbles on something fresh for everyone to copy. Favoritism abounds. Petty personality conflicts spill out from one blog and erupt on another. Enemies can follow a writer more loyally than friends.
Being a fan is not a rational pursuit. Whatever the reason one likes a team, it is irrational, indefensible and completely and totally honest and true. Most of us simply love the team we live by. Love is good and so the reasons are almost immaterial. Hating a team, or deriding a roster construction strategy, or, most shamefully, savoring another's failure, because someone was rude to you, or because that person has a bad reputation, or because that person is successful, is the pursuit of cowards. Love your team, root against your rivals, and let petty differences lie. Don't drag sports into the morass of mob vengeance. And may those of us that have never been wrong be the first to troll.