People are crazy about base ten. It allows us to compartmentalize, to put things into order and compare them. If it doesn’t always work, at least it gives us permission to round up or down: the thirties started a year early; the seventies went a year late. If these demarcations are arbitrary, they at least provide value through the reflection they inspire.
For the Seattle Mariners, however, 1990 was a decisive year. If baseball were popular culture, the Mariners of the early nineties were a provincial backwater, nouveau riche without the riche. For the first thirteen years of their mediocre existence, the Mariners had managed their roster the way a clerk shuffles through papers at their desk. Then, at the turn of the decade, the impetus had arrived.
Their first baseman and franchise face, Alvin Davis, was a shambling, smiling corpse. Their future, Tino Martinez, was too young; or at least he looked too young, boasting that straggly mustache and those chubby cheeks. It was time for the team to experiment with a dangerous new idea running around baseball. They called it free agency.
It sounded risky. Worse, it sounded expensive, but the team was going to have to buy new uniforms for someone anyway. And fortune, as Cicero notes, favors the bold.
In this case, it favored the Mariners with Pete O’Brien.
Pete O’Brien was a human anachronism. He was the Mariners first baseman for a third of the nineties, but everything about him was 1986: The Howie Mandel curls, the Ron Kittle glasses, the Von Hayes helpless eyes. His statistics are terrible without having the benefit of being interesting, much like many of the teams he played for. He was, if anything, J.T. Snow’s flawed earthly facsimile. Once the true Snow surfaced, O’Brien was banished to the realm of trivia: yet another good man for whom the game had passed by.