When the citizens of King County, Wash., voted in 1967 to build the Kingdome, they may have envisioned the future home of the Seattle Mariners as a sort of Xanadu, the stately pleasure dome in Coleridge's poem Kubla Khan. As it has turned out, the story of the franchise seems more a playing out of another Coleridge poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, in which an icebound ship is cursed with bad luck and an old sailor is doomed to wander from place to place, recounting the woeful tale of his voyage.
Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle on a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
Heat lapped over the visitors' dugout at Toronto's Exhibition Stadium on the afternoon of May 12. Within, the Mariners looked inert and stolid, as if they were moored to the bench. They had loaded the bases with only one down in the eighth, but they trailed the Blue Jays 8-2. Nobody moved when Rey Quinones lined out to short. Or when Harold Reynolds struck out, taking what little wind was left out of Seattle's sails. The Mariners, who would be 10 games behind the first-place Oakland Athletics in the American League West at the conclusion of the day's action, were going nowhere slow.
"We've got a dull deal going now," acknowledges Dick Balderson, the Seattle general manager. This dull deal has been going now for 12 seasons. The Mariners started playing in 1977, the same year as the Blue Jays. Toronto is a perennial contender and won the American League East title in 1985; Seattle has never had a winning record or even a .500 one. Perhaps they should be called the subMariners.
But swift as dreams, myself I found
Within the Pilot's boat.
The Mariners' predecessors, the Seattle Pilots, set sail in 1969, but bankruptcy scuttled them after one season. When they broke camp in Arizona the next spring, nobody knew if they would be playing their home games in Seattle or in Milwaukee. Just before the season started, the team's front office told the guy who drove the equipment truck to start heading north.
"Where am I going?" he asked.
"Call when you get to Provo, Utah," he was instructed.
He did. Milwaukee was the answer he got, and lo, the Brewers were born.
Seattle still wanted a team, but the American League gave it a second chance only after the city, county and state filed a lawsuit against the league for breach of contract. The Mariners drew 1.3 million people their first season. But while the six original owners, whose number included the entertainer Danny Kaye, waited for the young team to develop, the fans lost interest. When George Argyros bought a controlling interest in the team before the 1981 season, attendance had fallen to 836,204.