BASEBALL IS A GAME of statistics: winning percentages, batting averages, pitching records, and the like. Excepting all those residents who still hold a grudge about one stat—Safeco Field's $500 million price tag—Seattleites are exceedingly happy about the numbers their hometown team put up in April, when the Mariners finished the month with 20 wins (and only five losses)— more than any other Major League team in history. Put a gargantuan asterisk next to that number; the season usually doesn't begin until mid-April, meaning teams don't even play 20 games in the first month.
But winning isn't everything. There's gloating, for instance. And Seattle can do that, too. The three superstars who left the M's in successive years have come upon tough times, and the hard-to-shake term "curse" is being heard in sentences around the once-hallowed names of Johnson, Junior, and A-Rod.
One of baseball's most dominant pitchers, Randy Johnson has experienced unqualified success since leaving town in 1998, winning two National League Cy Young Awards and leading his Arizona Diamondbacks to the play-offs in 1999. But that team lost to the Mets in the first round, and didn't return to the postseason last year. The D-backs finished April at 13-12, with Johnson going 3-3, and attendance sinking faster than one of their star pitcher's curveballs. Now the talk around the D-backs isn't their playoff hopes, but whether the team will remain solvent.
Then there's Ken Griffey Jr., who injured his hamstring in spring training and was placed on the 15-day disabled list last week after going 0-for-April in limited pinch hitting duties. His Cincinnati Reds surged to a 14-10 start—albeit without him—and this week promoted Deion Sanders from the minor leagues as a replacement superstar. Junior's old mentor Alex Rodriguez is suffering the opposite fate: His stats are exemplary and he's healthy, but his Texas Rangers team may have a better chance of winning Lotto to pay off his $252 million 10-year contract than it does of overcoming the Mariners' nine game lead in the American League West.
Richard A. Martin