Patrick Reusse has been covering sports in the Twin Cities since 1968. He has been a Star Tribune sports columnist since 1988. His sportswriting credo is twofold: 1. God will provide an angle; 2. The smaller the ball, the better the writing.


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Twins, M's caught in inevitable down cycles

Posted by: Patrick Reusse Updated: June 1, 2013 - 1:03 AM

Saturday's early column lost its print status to Pedro Florimon and has landed in Blog City:

The baseball season of 2001 was dramatic in Seattle and in the Twin Cities for different reasons. The Mariners went 116-46 to set an American League record and tie a major league record for most wins. The Twins went 85-77 to end a streak of eight consecutive losing years.

That great Seattle club wound up losing in the ALCS (4-1) to the Yankees for the second straight year. The Mariners were 93-69 in both 2002 and 2003, but missed the playoffs.

And then came the collapse.

The Twins’ 2001 team of promise won the AL Central in 2002, losing the ALCS (4-1) to the Angels. The Twins would win five more division titles in the eight seasons that followed, never getting out of the first round.

And then came the collapse.

Those collapses came years apart for the M’s and the Twins, yet there was an interesting similarity.

After a mostly winning run from 1995 through 2003, the Mariners went 63-99 in 2004 and 69-93 in 2005. After a run of nine of 10 winning seasons from 2001 through 2010, the Twins went 63-99 in 2011 and 66-96 in 2012.

The Mariners opened Safeco Field on July 15, 1999, with a huge contribution from the taxpayers of King County. In many ways, including the retractable roof, it remains the best ballpark in the big leagues.

There was huge attendance in the early years at Safeco, through the combination of a high-class facility and high-class ballclubs. The Mariners lost Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Randy Johnson, and won 116 games with none of them.

The Twins’ major losses were Johan Santana and Torii Hunter after the 2007 season, and they won two more division titles without them in 2009 and 2010.

The last of those division titles came in Target Field, where the Twins played their first official game on April 12, 2010. The Twins sold 3,223,640 tickets that season, through the combination of a high-class facility and a dynamic, 94-win team.

The Mariners have fallen on hard times over the past decade. They have had two winning seasons among the last nine. They are 24-31 after beating the Twins 3-0 on Friday night.

The Baseball Club of Seattle has owned the Mariners since 1992. Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Yamauchi is the head of the group.

Lou Piniella managed the M’s for the decade from 1993 through 2002. Bob Melvin won 93 games in 2003, lost 99 in 2004, and was fired. Since then, the Mariners have gone through Mike Hargrove, John McLaren, Jim Riggleman (interim), Don Wakamatsu, Daren Brown (interim) and now Eric Wedge, in his third season.

Hall of Famer Pat Gillick left as the general manager after 2003. Bill Bavasi had the job from 2004 through 2008, and then the M’s went with Jack Zduriencik, once a hero to the modern-stats crowd as the scouting guru for Milwaukee.

Bavasi’s downfall was trading Adam Jones, a prospect of huge promise, to Baltimore for starting pitcher Erik Bedard. The M’s had won 88 games in 2007 and decided to offer their fans the instant gratification of a playoff berth, rather than waiting for Jones to become a star.

Bedard had a shoulder injury in 2008 and made only 15 starts. The M’s went 61-101. Bavasi was fired, and the builder, Zduriencik, was brought to Seattle.

I’m not sure how much time the Seattle baseball fans spend screaming, “The owners got their ballpark from us and now they don’t care about winning.’’

For sure, that’s the clichéd outcry in Minnesota: “The Pohlads got their ballpark. They don’t care about winning. They don’t want to pay for an ace starter; that’s why they don’t go get one.’’

You don’t have to guess how much Seattle’s management wished it had not gone for an ace pitcher in February 2008, at the cost of Adam Jones.

The Mariners tried to rush the rebuilding with trades and a couple of expensive signings that didn’t work – and they still pay for that impatience today.

The markets in which the Twins and the Mariners play are close to identical. And so is the reality that success is cyclical. Both are in a down cycle, and the Twins only can hope they aren’t stuck in it as long as the M’s are stuck at this moment.

 

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