Mariners trying to attract bats, fans with Safeco changes

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Let’s face it, there’s one very big reason the Mariners are pulling in the fences at Safeco Field next year:

Attendance/game
2007: 32,588
2008: 28,762
2009: 27,105
2010: 25,749
2011: 23,411
2012: 21,417

The Mariners peaked at more than 43,000 fans per game while leading the AL in attendance in 2001 and ’02. They ranked sixth-to-eighth each year from 2006-11 before plummeting to 11th this season.  That’s despite the fact that they’ve gone from 61 and 67 wins the last two years to 73 with two games remaining this season.

From a performance standpoint, there’s good reason to think the Mariners are better off playing in an extreme pitcher’s park. They have one of the game’s five-best pitchers in Felix Hernandez, they’ve gotten quality results out of journeyman arms and they possess two of the game’s top 10 (and three of the top 20) pitching prospects in the minors. To put it kindly, more of their talent is concentrated in pitching than in hitting.

But it’s also true that the Mariners aren’t winning anyway, and 80 percent of the time, they’re just not very interesting. The truth is that more people would rather watch the Mariners lose 7-5 than 2-0.

Now, that possibility alone won’t bring fans streaming through the turnstiles. But adding a couple of quality hitters might, and it’s going to be easier to sign free agent bats in the new Safeco than it was in the old Safeco. As it was, no big-time power-hitter with a bunch of suitors was going to choose Seattle.

That has to be part of the thinking here. It doesn’t seem at all likely that Josh Hamilton will make the move to the Pacific Northwest this winter, but the Mariners will try to add two hitters, one likely an outfielder.

I’m still not at all convinced this is the right move, at least not to the extent to which they’ve gone. They’re bringing in the left-center power alley by 12 feet and as much as 17 feet in one spot. It’s only going to be a four-foot difference down the left field line and in center (right field is staying the same), but combine the power alley difference and the lower wall in left and it looks like Safeco is in for quite the significant change. Something more mild that would have guaranteed Safeco remained at least a modest pitcher’s park would have been a better idea in my mind. But this is more about money than winning ballgames and it shows.

No, New York players do not get an unfair bump in Hall of Fame voting

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Angels owner Arte Moreno said something interesting yesterday. He was talking about the retired former Angel, Garret Anderson, and said “If he would have played in New York, he’d be in the Hall of Fame.”

The initial — and, I would add, the most on-point — response to this is to note that, for however good a player Anderson was at times, no definition of the term “Hall of Famer” really encompasses his legacy. He was OK. Pretty good on occasion. Nowhere near a Hall of Famer, and I don’t think you need me to go over the math to establish that. The only way Anderson would ever sniff the Hall of Fame one day is if we sent Tony La Russa back in time to manage him for several years and then brought him back from the past to strong-arme the Veterans Committee.

The more interesting question to me is the matter implied in Moreno’s comment: that players in New York get an unfair boost when it comes to the Hall of Fame.

I get why he might say that and I get why people might believe it. New York gets all the press. If you can make it there you can make it anywhere and, my God, people in New York will not let you forget it for a second. East Coast Bias™ and all of that.

Except it’s baloney, at least as far as the Hall of Fame goes.

I think it’s fair to say that, yes, if you play in New York, your reputation gets elevated more than if you played elsewhere, but I think there are limits to that what that elevation gets you. You’re more famous if you knock in 100 as the third-best guy on a Yankees team or if you are involved in a notable game or series or controversy as a Met, but it doesn’t mean you get some extra helping hand from the BBWAA five years after you retire.

At least one guy I know, Adam Darowski, has taken a rough look at this on the numbers. He has determined that, by at least his measure, Yankees players are the fourth most underrepresented contingent in Hall of Fame voting. Red Sox are fifth. Mets are in the middle of the pack. It may be more useful to think of this without reference to any numbers, though, and look at it in terms of who is and who isn’t getting some sort of unfair bump.

If there was a New York Premium to Hall of Fame consideration, wouldn’t Bernie Williams, Willie Randolph, Ron Guidry, Elston Howard, Don Mattingly, Roger Maris, Jorge Posada, David Cone, John Franco, Keith Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and a bunch of other guys of that caliber get more support than they’ve historically gotten? I’m not saying all of those guys deserve to be in the Hall, but they all have better cases than Garret Anderson and none of them got in or appear to be getting in any time soon. They are close enough on the merits that, one would think anyway, an aura of New Yorkness surrounding them would have carried them over the line, but it never did.

Meanwhile, almost all of the most borderline Hall of Famers are old, old, old timers who were either poorly assessed by the Veterans Committee or who had the good fortune of being good friends with Frankie Frisch. Again, not a ton of Yankees make that cut. A whole lot of Giants do, but I suppose that’s another conversation. The questionable Hall of Famers of more recent vintage represent guys from all over the big league map. The only Yankee I can think of in relatively recent years who raised eyebrows was Catfish Hunter, and I suspect more of that was based on his legacy with the A’s than with the Yankees, where he really only had one great season.

Here’s what I think happens, practically, with New York players: If you play in New York, merely good and notable performance makes you huge in the moment and in casual remembrance, but your historical legacy is often written down a bit as a function of overall team success. Also — or, maybe, alternatively — it’s a matter of every good Yankees era being defined by such a big meagstar — Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle, Reggie, Jeter — that the really good, even Hall of Fame-worthy guys who played with them are overlooked to some degree. Which, when you think about it, kinda sucks even worse for them because their megastar teammate is, thanks to the rings, in some ways getting elevated by team success while the lesser stars are denigrated because of it.

Which is not to say that we should cry for New York players. Paul O’Neill will never have to pay for a steak dinner in Manhattan for the rest of his life and, thanks to all of his friends in the press, Andy Pettitte’s obituary won’t mention his PED use at all while Barry Bonds’ obit will mention it in the first graf. It’s getting to the point where if you can simply avoid infamy and not suck for a five-year stretch you can get your number retired and a place in Monument Park.

But New York players aren’t getting unfair consideration in Hall of Fame voting. Indeed, I think they’re probably getting graded a bit too harshly.