The Seattle Mariners are my spirit animal

British baseball fans are rarely born into ordained fandom. On these shores, sustained interest in the sport spans two generations at a push, and geographical proximity is rendered moot when the closest MLB franchise rests 3,100 miles away. It is somewhat ironic, then, that I feel a strong visceral connection to one of the ballclubs furthest from my humble English abode. The Seattle Mariners are my spirit animal, and I want to decode that unlikely synergy, which has congealed into something akin to passion in recent years.

I was born, raised and currently reside in the north west of England, on the craggy Wirral peninsula betwixt Liverpool and Chester, cities that cast a long shadow. Seattle is similarly marooned, of course, cast far adrift in the Pacific Northwest, flanked by Lake Washington and Puget Sound. There is an underdog essence to these overlooked enclaves – earthly isolation affirming philosophical rebellion. Literal outsiders, there is an unknown kinship between the remote dreamers of Seattle and Wirral. I feel that, and it is definitely worth exploring.

In Seattle, as in Wirral, life is accompanied by a constant, murky drizzle. Seattle is known colloquially as America’s rainiest city, and the same damp ennui that birthed grunge and Starbucks afflicts the local baseball team with a dreary disposition. Call it poetic symbolism. Call it life imitating art. Call it osmosis flooding the field. Whatever you call it, there is no escaping the Mariners’ remarkable futility. When it truly matters, this team simply never wins, despite waves of generational talent. I can relate to that as a lifelong fan of Tranmere Rovers, Wirral’s hapless fourth division football club. Our kindred struggles are interchangeable, and that is oddly comforting.

The last time Tranmere finished first in any league, Adolf Hitler was Time magazine’s Man of the Year. Since 1938, Rovers have failed to win a single championship. Sure, there have been playoff promotions and incongruous cup runs in that span, but my team has failed in its primary objective – to win the league title – for 85 consecutive years. That takes an emotional toll on an exhausted fanbase, and we are now conditioned to expect mediocrity. Meagre resources quash true hope of genuine success, and head-shaking incompetence has become the norm.

That may sound familiar to Mariners fans, of course. After all, Seattle is the only active MLB team never to reach the World Series, let alone win it. The Mariners have been to the playoffs twice this century, thanks to a 20-season postseason drought during which every other team in the big four North American sports (except the embryonic Seattle Kraken, naturally) managed the feat. The Mariners are continually underwhelming, and there is something so reassuringly personable about their trademark melancholy.

In baseball terms, only the Guardians, Rangers, Brewers and Padres have currently waited longer than Seattle to win the World Series. However, of that quarter, Cleveland has been to the Fall Classic six times and won it twice; Texas has won two pennants and finished above Seattle 29 times in 47 seasons; San Diego has been to the big dance twice; and Milwaukee even made it to the World Series in 1982. Meanwhile, the Mariners have become synonymous with inglorious irrelevance, finishing above third in the AL West just thrice since 2007. By June, Seahawks OTAs are typically the focus of Cascadia sports fans. Baseball is rarely of concern past Independence Day.

The sheer deviation of Seattle’s baseball hardship is more perplexing than its durability, though. Between 2002 and 2022, for instance, during the Mariners’ October hiatus, the aforementioned quartet of hard-luck losers combined to play 143 playoff games – 19 in the World Series. Moreover, during the Mariners’ playoff absence, three of baseball’s most perplexing championship droughts were nixed, as the Red Sox, White Sox and Cubs ended 282 combined years of waiting. Therefore, even among baseball’s most famished organisations, the Mariners are an outlier. They are an alien among aliens, and I kinda like that. That sense of otherness jives with my default introverted dejection.

“The Seattle Mariners are eminently lovable, profoundly human, and stunningly, outrageously weird,” conclude Alex Rubenstein and Jon Bois in their definitive Dorktown documentary on Emerald City baseball. “There is no more fascinating team over the entire history of American sports.”

Indeed, you can reasonably argue that no sports franchise has ever had more generationally-talented, Hall of Fame-calibre players than the Seattle Mariners without winning a single championship. Just name them: Ken Griffey Jr., Álex Rodríguez, Edgar Martínez, Tino Martinez, Randy Johnson, Ichiro Suzuki, Félix Hernández, Robinson Canó, Adrián Beltré. Heck, the Mariners even had a young David Ortiz, for crying out loud. Throw in a robust cast of All-Stars – Harold Reynolds, Jamie Moyer, Jay Buhner, Bret Boone, Mike Cameron, John Olerud, Raúl Ibañez, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager – and it is astounding that Seattle has never moved the postseason needle. 

The chart below collates the best individual seasons in history from players on organisations that have never won the World Series – an exclusive group comprised of Seattle, Texas, Milwaukee, San Diego, Colorado and Tampa Bay:

Year

Player

Team

fWAR

2002

Álex Rodríguez

Rangers

10.0

1982

Robin Yount

Brewers

9.8

1996

Ken Griffey Jr.

Mariners

9.7

1998

Kevin Brown

Padres

9.6

2000

Álex Rodríguez

Mariners

9.5

1995

Randy Johnson

Mariners

9.5

2003

Álex Rodríguez

Rangers

9.2

1996

Álex Rodríguez

Mariners

9.2

1997

Larry Walker

Rockies

9.1

1997

Ken Griffey Jr.

Mariners

9.0

2009

Ben Zobrist

Rays

8.7

2010

Josh Hamilton

Rangers

8.4

1993

Ken Griffey Jr.

Mariners

8.4

2000

Todd Helton

Rockies

8.3

2014

Jonathan Lucroy

Brewers

8.2

2004

Ben Sheets

Brewers

8.0

1998

Álex Rodríguez

Mariners

7.9

2001

Bret Boone

Mariners

7.8

2001

Álex Rodríguez

Rangers

7.8

1979

Dave Winfield

Padres

7.8

2010

Carl Crawford

Rays

7.7

2018

Christian Yelich

Brewers

7.7

2001

Larry Walker

Rockies

7.6

2021

Corbin Burnes

Brewers

7.5

2010

Evan Longoria

Rays

7.5

1996

Ken Caminiti

Padres

7.5

2022

Manny Machado

Padres

7.4

2003

Bret Boone

Mariners

7.4

1987

Tony Gwynn

Padres

7.4

2011

Ian Kinsler

Rangers

7.3

2021

Fernando Tatís Jr.

Padres

7.2

2019

Christian Yelich

Brewers

7.2

2012

Chase Headley

Padres

7.2

2009

Evan Longoria

Rays

7.2

1996

Ellis Burks

Rockies

7.2

2011

Ryan Braun

Brewers

7.1

2004

Ichiro Suzuki

Mariners

7.1

2001

Todd Helton

Rockies

7.1

2013

Jonathan Lucroy

Brewers

7.0

2004

Todd Helton

Rockies

7.0

1997

Randy Johnson

Mariners

7.0

1995

Edgar Martínez

Mariners

7.0

1993

Randy Johnson

Mariners

7.0

1989

Nolan Ryan

Rangers

7.0


No team in baseball history has received more 9+ WAR seasons from individual players than Seattle without winning the World Series. The same is true of 8+ WAR seasons and 7+ WAR seasons. Quite frankly, there is no match in the baseball annals for the Mariners’ mix of elite talent and chronic futility. The Mariners are the Achilles of professional sports – immensely talented, yet fatally flawed – and that makes them appealing to me. That makes them charming.

Right now, Seattle is the hottest team in baseball – winners of seven straight and nine of ten. The Mariners have seemingly emerged from a season-long malaise to seriously contend for back-to-back playoff appearances – something they have not achieved since 2000-2001. Seattle currently sits five-and-a-half games back in the AL West and one-and-a-half games adrift of the third wildcard. A captivating stretch run is all but guaranteed, and a seemingly lost season may yet be salvaged.

I will be an active participant in that onward journey, watching with intrigue as Julio Rodríguez, Luis Castillo, Jarred Kelenic and friends carry the ageing quest for World Series baseball in Seattle. Part of me will be rooting for the Mariners, who are so reassuringly mortal, but part of me will be rooting for the story, the strangeness of which is too compelling to ignore.

“Sometimes, they let you believe all the way to September, and then October leaves you ashamed by the gullibility that you tell yourself is loyalty,” Mike Bookey once wrote for Inlander. “But you know it's not. It's just Seattle Mariners fandom, and it's weird, and sad, and strangely alluring. It's not like you watch the World Series each year hot with jealousy. That's because we Mariner fans don't see our team as existing in the same universe as the teams that win the World Series. We're like an orphan in some Victorian novel who isn't jealous of the rich kids because our brains can't imagine any life other than the one we've been dealt.”

Maybe the Mariners will shock the world in a few short weeks by romping to a storybook title. Maybe the orphan will find a home. More likely, they will find ever-ingenious ways to raise expectations before collapsing ingloriously during the final week. That has long been the credo of Mariners baseball, and it is strangely okay. It is weirdly affirming, in fact. Life is enriched by hope, but hope is the lifeblood of pain. The Seattle Mariners teach us that, each and every day. And I, for one, admire them regardless.


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