A Moment In Time
Fewer things in this world are certain than you think. At least, I think so, but I’m not certain of that. Right now, though, at this writing, I can tell you with certainty one thing that’s certain: we’re into the last third of June. And I can tell you another thing that’s certain: at this writing, Munenori Kawasaki owns a higher wOBA than the Seattle Mariners.
Some people might read that and think, yep, that says it all. It doesn’t say it all — it doesn’t say close to it all — but it says a lot more than your average sentence. The Mariners are in a bad situation these days, and it’s unclear what’s going to happen to the people in charge, meaning it’s consequentially unclear what’s going to happen to the roster. How bad is the Mariners’ situation? The priority, last winter, was to beef up the team offense. The team offense isn’t beefed up. The team offense is being out-wOBA’d by Munenori Kawasaki, who we all thought of as a mascot.
This is two stories. This is the story of Kawasaki, and this is the story of the 2013 Mariners, and this is where they come together. I don’t know where things are going to go henceforth. Kawasaki might lose all his playing time to the returning Jose Reyes, and the Mariners might do, I don’t know, anything. But this is what’s true after almost three months. It’s laughably inconceivable, we thought. Funny thing about certainties.
Kawasaki just hit his first big-league home run. It could easily be his last big-league home run, and it wasn’t by any means a moonshot, being measured as the shortest home run of the day. But what matters isn’t that Kawasaki didn’t hit the ball 450 feet; I didn’t know if he could hit the ball 350 feet, and in Toronto, Kawasaki has become a different sort of icon. He was beloved in Seattle for his antics. His personality was unlike anything we’d ever seen. They love his personality in Toronto, too, and that part of Kawasaki hasn’t changed, but he’s also produced as a real-life ballplayer. The Jays could’ve been devastated when Reyes got hurt. Kawasaki hasn’t been Reyes, but he hasn’t been last year’s Kawasaki. Last year’s Kawasaki was so bad Eric Wedge couldn’t bench Brendan Ryan even when he wanted to, because he felt like he didn’t have a backup.
Going deep at home gave Kawasaki an opportunity for a curtain call. It gave him an opportunity to feel appreciated as a player, and not just as a sideshow. They love him there, they love him to death. There are a lot of comparisons made between fandom and relationships. Lose a superstar and it can be hard to watch him succeed somewhere else, because that was your partner, and now he’s happy on greener pastures. I don’t find it at all weird with Kawasaki. I’m thrilled for him and I’m thrilled for Toronto, because it was never a serious thing between us. Kawasaki was a one-summer fling, and there wasn’t long-term potential. You don’t miss that without long-term potential, and it’s great that he’s delighting a new audience. It’s great and it’s great in part because of the improbability.
There were people who wanted the Mariners to hang on to Kawasaki, but almost none of those people cited actual, legitimate baseball reasons. He seemed, to me and to so many, like a simply inadequate baseball player. There was nothing in his bat and his glove wasn’t special, so he had an 80 personality and a 20 skillset. No part of me figured to miss Kawasaki’s on-field ability, and I was pretty surprised when he wound up with a major-league job. Then he wound up starting. Then he wound up being fine, mostly because he stopped swinging, but also because the swings were better. This is another case where I don’t know why we even bother. Last year I evaluated Kawasaki as one of the worst players in baseball. I was so sure of myself, and I loved the guy anyway. It was meaningful to me, that I could love him despite the complete lack of anything valuable. He’s out-hit the Mariners. He’s out-hit some presumed core Mariners. When Kawasaki left, I knew at least he wasn’t good. Turns out he’s less not good than I thought.
Early last year, somebody dropped by Lookout Landing and claimed that Kawasaki would surprise everybody and bat something like .300. It was laughable, and it became even more laughable in retrospect over the course of the season. The idea of Kawasaki batting .300 was like the idea of Jesus Montero batting .400. Kawasaki now is nowhere in the vicinity of .300, but the more general point is that someone saw skills. Skills exist in there, to the extent that he could be out-hitting the Mariners.
So it’s sweet, to see Kawasaki deliver. It’s sweet to know he’s thought of highly, because he deserves it and because baseball is better with Munenori Kawasaki playing a part. It’s bitter when you drag in the Mariners comparison. You want to feel good about the baseball toy that came to life, but you can’t help but notice your assortment of broken machines.
It gets said every year
that the Mariners underwhelm, but this team is approaching unwatchable, if it’s not there already. There are, of course, bright spots, and this isn’t, of course, as dreary as 2008, but baseball games are an investment and there are so many of them and the Mariners are bad in so many of them, too many of them. I know I personally don’t remember the last time I wanted to watch the Mariners, and any viewings have been out of some sick sense of obligation. You can tell yourself you’re watching for the prospects, and there’s a lot of youth going around, but that gets tired. You can tell yourself you’re watching for entertainment, for simple good baseball, but that gets tired. There’s no substitute for baseball that matters. The Mariners don’t matter, again, and teams that don’t matter are hard to watch for the season’s last months. At least on a regular basis.
I used to wonder how people graduated to the point of no longer having a one favorite team. How people just tracked all of baseball, picking a bunch of rooting interests, instead of focusing on one club. I focused on the Mariners, primarily and almost exclusively. But it’s a funny thing that happens when your team sucks. Teams that suck are dreadfully off-putting almost all of the time. So you’re left having to make a decision: either you step away from baseball, or you search everywhere for what might be rewarding. It becomes less about getting something out of your investment in a team, and more about getting something out of your investment in a sport.
This is what leads people to bandwagon. They don’t want to say goodbye to baseball — they just want to distract themselves from a team that’s not good. And it’s not always about cheering for other teams. It can be about cheering for other specific players, players you might find curious or interesting or delightful. I’m searching for reasons to give a hoot. Munenori Kawasaki has been one of them. Kawasaki hasn’t made me feel good about the Mariners, but at least he’s made me feel good about baseball, which is the next-best thing. The Mariners, this season, have drained my interest. Kawasaki has busily poured water into the bucket. Or probably energy drink. Or perpetual-motion cocaine. It’s cocaine, except instead of the come-down, more cocaine.
At this moment in time, Munenori Kawasaki has a higher wOBA than the Seattle Mariners. That sentence is why I hate baseball. That sentence is why baseball’s all right.