Art Thiel takes on the notion that the Mariner fan base is still made up of more casual than normal fans and challenges management to change their organizational philosophy this offseason. It’s a good column, one that I’d expect most of you guys to nod and agree with. USSM readers have shown themselves to be in the 99th percentile of Mariner fans in dedication, knowledge, and interest. Linking to this column is essentially preaching to the choir.
But I’m not totally sure Thiel is right. Certainly, there are more fans invested in the teams success now than there were a few years ago and the explosion of the internet has allowed us all to congregate and unify, rather than seeming like outcasts in a sea of soccer moms. But I’m not sure we have the correct perspective to analyze the overall tenor of the fan base. Despite the team’s miserable collapse, they’re still drawing well enough to be the envy of most teams in baseball. I don’t think the M’s fanbase has sent the strong message to the M’s this year that Thiel’s column implies. There are certainly some disgruntled rebels in the mix, but they are far from the majority, or even a strong minority.
The M’s are one big free agent signing away from being back in the good graces of this city and they know it. Seattle wants to root for the Mariners. They want to believe. The organizaiton knows that bringing in Adrian Beltre or Carlos Beltran will give them the chip they need to sell hope to those sitting on the fence. They’re going to make a big splash in free agency, as much for the positive public relations as the ability to improve the club. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the M’s were this year’s Angels, buying several all-star players by simply outbidding the market.
But I don’t think the insuing assumption that there’s been an organizational shift will be correct. The M’s organizational philosophy has always been to cultivate a permanent hope in the casual fan, and those fans have not needed a big ticket acquisition to have that hope the past years. Now that it’s required to avoid alienating a part of that fanbase, the M’s will respond in turn. But the underlying organizational philosophies of fiscal responsibility and competitiveness every year aren’t changing (and I’m one of the few who feel this is a good thing). The M’s aren’t going to become the Baltimore Orioles, trying to spend their way to a pennant. But they will do what it takes to keep the majority of fans interested in the team, and that will entail a big free agent signing this winter.
If you’re in the “ownership will never spend what it takes” camp, expect to be pleasantly surprised, probably several times, the next few months. This is going to be the most fun offseason a Mariner fan has had in a decade.