There are 175 million more reasons that Felix Hernandez is a Seattle Mariner as of this afternoon. The deal is official, and was even signed at a public press conference, so there can be no doubt - Felix Hernandez is Mariners property for the next seven years.
To quote some local independent artists who just went triple platinum, this is (blank)ing awesome.
Jack Zduriencik simply said about Felix, "he's ours," and there isn't a better title for this post. Z's quote is literally true, but more importantly speaks to the heart of what was at stake until today, and why this deal was historic and inevitable at the same time.
When I watched the replay of King Felix's press conference, I saw a young man who knows he has it good, and has no interest in finding out if the grass is greener anywhere else. I was struck by how Felix talked about the Mariners, Safeco Field, and the city of Seattle. He described how supportive the fans are of him, how awesome the King's Court is, and how exciting it is to pitch in Safeco Field - as if his physics-bending change-up wouldn't play well anywhere else. Felix would be loved wherever he pitches, but that doesn't seem to be the way Felix thinks. Felix knows that Seattle loves him, and he knows that he loves Seattle. Maybe he would like it elsewhere, but why tempt fate?
Wouldn't we all like to believe we know when we have it good, and we cherish good things when we have them?
Today is about loving on Felix, but for a moment here I want to stiffen up. Felix Hernandez just became the highest-paid pitcher in MLB history. Say what you want about the M's free agent spent spending habits, but they didn't play hardball with King Felix. He's got a few $20s in his pocket.
King Felix said this deal isn't about the money, and Felix has never done anything to suggest negotiations were about cash, but the reality is that we'll never know for sure what that means. There is way too much cash in this deal for money to be an issue. This doesn't diminish Felix's decision today, but it's a factor very easy to overlook with the emotion and excitement around today's deal.
Money aside, what transpired in the press room at Safeco Field today was nothing short of seismic. Felix Hernandez was already the face of the Mariners, and as of today he has a chance to become the greatest Mariner of all-time. I'm dead serious about this. In fact, I'd say the odds are in favor of him dethroning everyone in the Mariners past.
Let's start with the hardware. King Felix and Randy Johnson are the only two M's pitchers to win Cy Young awards. Randy Johnson is beloved, but he left (arguably against his will) in an uncomfortable dispute around a supposedly ailing back. The Mariners leadership at the time was clearly wrong, given all that Johnson accomplished once he left Seattle.
There are no storm clouds about injuries gathering around Felix. Goodwill remains for the foreseeable future, which now extends into Felix's early to mid 30s.
The only Mariners with higher individual honors than Felix are Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro, both former MVP award-winners. Ichiro is among the greatest Mariners ever, but will be remembered more for the way he made singles mesmerizing while exhibiting an aloof yet alluring personality. Ichiro respects his job, the game, and the fans, but I wouldn't say he embraces these things like Felix does. There is a reason Felix has a whole court with loud yellow t-shirts, yet the most ostentatious thing Ichiro had was a devoted lady with the Ichi-meter. Ichiro had enough pressure with all of Japan watching his every move; he didn't need another city.
Griffey has to be the M's gold standard at the moment. He was baseball in the 1990s, not just in Seattle, but across the nation. He will always be the Mariners first true superstar, and his homecoming to finish out his career wrapped a real nice bow on his relationship with Mariners baseball fans. However, Griffey once demanded a trade and became the highest paid MLB player in history (at the time) when he departed for Cincinnati. Griffey claimed he wanted to be closer to his family, and he seemed sincere with his request, but the fact remains that he demanded a trade and got it.
There are no trade demands coming from Felix anytime soon, and he's not about to move for family reasons. Today he stated that Seattle is his family.
There are folks like me extremely partial to Edgar Martinez who would argue he is the greatest Mariner of all time, all things considered. I know I'm not the only one, because part of the left field transformation involves creating an open-air restaurant called "Edgar's." Edgar Martinez Drive is also a real street thanks to fund-raising from devoted fans. There is a compelling case that 'Gar is the greatest Mariner of all time.
But really, the fact that there is an argument for Edgar says something about the heart and soul of the Mariners fanbase, and makes the case for why Felix will be the King of all Mariners when his career is over. Edgar was an amazing hitter, but even more important than that, he stayed in Seattle. And he stayed without drama or fanfare. He simply kept signing contracts with the Mariners and beating the crap out of baseballs.
Seattle cares about more than winning, maybe in part because Seattle sports history involves so few championships. This is an area that rejected funding for Safeco Field, and had to have a privately financed election to consider funding for Century Link Field (a vote that barely passed, by the way). When the Sonics and the NBA complained about Key Arena, the city told them they could fix it with their money. The city didn't budge even when relocation was threatened - and ultimately executed.*
*And the city/state government also bungled away guaranteed cash if they simply talked about fixing up Key Arena, but that's a whole different story.
There aren't many, if any, other professional sports cities that send such clear messages that sports must fit in a bigger cultural landscape. Many places cave and do whatever is asked to appease pro sports teams because...well, I'm not sure why, but I'm guessing because it is pro sports, dang it! How can you not support pro sports?
Seattle is a place that doesn't drink the pro sports Kool Aid like other places, and the effects ripple all the way out to the individual athletes who become beloved icons. Love isn't just about how good a player is in Seattle, it's also about how a player goes about being good. Really, is there any other explanation for why Edgar Martinez is on the same level or above Ken Griffey Jr. in the all-time Mariners heirarchy?
Modern pro athletes simply do not do what Felix Hernandez did today. LeBron James had a shot at immortality in Cleveland, but instead went and won (at least) one title in Miami. Some thought Albert Pujols had a chance to become the next Stan Musial in St. Louis, and then Pujols signed his megadeal with the Angels. Even the venerable Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter have hit the open market at points in their storied careers before re-signing with the Yankees. I am not trying to make villains of any of these players or decisions - just pointing out that Felix is not following a path well-traveled by elite athletes.
King Felix affirmed his commitment to the Seattle Mariners today as much as the Seattle Mariners affirmed their commitment to him. He is an amazing pitcher, and that would earn him adoration from any fanbase. However, the way he loves on the community around Safeco Field is something that resonates with the Mariners fanbase in a way that I don't think is all that normal. Not to say other people in other cities don't care about these things, but this area is a little different. Felix seems to understand what makes Seattle unique, and he loves it so much that it will have to be ripped away from him if that day ever comes. However, it just so happens that people would much rather hand Felix the key to the city than rip anything away right now, which is why today feels so warm and fuzzy.
Consider this: if the Mariners do not make the playoffs in the next 7 years, during the life of Felix's new contract, that would make 18 straight years for the Mariners without a playoff appearance. The Mariners, right now, have the fourth longest active playoff drought with only the Royals (27 years), Pirates (20 years), and Blue Jays (19 years) ahead of them. I would argue that only the Blue Jays (with both Rogers Clemens and Roy Halladay) have had pitchers as good as Felix for an extended period of time** during their drought.
**The Royals had Zack Greinke, but like so many talented Royals, he was traded away a couple years after he busted out. They didn't have him for a long run like the Mariners have/will have King Felix.
The odds are that the Mariners will make the playoffs at some point in the next seven years. There is no promise, but the overwhelming majority of MLB teams find a way to make the playoffs in an 18-year span. Also, Seattle is one of only two MLB franchises yet to reach the World Series, and the other team with them (the Nationals) threatens to make the M's a party of one in the near future. The longer arc of baseball history suggests that the Mariners should bend towards the playoffs more than they bend away sooner rather than later, and perhaps even make a deep run in the playoffs.
Could you imagine what a playoff game with King Felix on the mound would be like?
How about a World Series game started by the King, possibly the first World Series game ever played in Seattle?
Felix Hernandez, as of today, has a shot at sports immortality in Seattle. With any luck there will be no question that Felix is the greatest Mariner of all-time. Even with no luck, looking at how he talks about Seattle and how Seattle has embraced him, he likely will end up on top.
So today was a good day for the Mariners, pretty much.