HOUSTON — Just as he had at the All-Star Game three years ago in Seattle, Alex Rodriguez gushed over the success of his old team.
"They've been phenomenal," he said yesterday at a news conference. "I think they're the story of the year. They really are. They're the team of the year."
He was talking, of course, about the Texas Rangers, who reached the break in totally unexpected possession of first place in the American League West.
As for A-Rod's other old team? To Rodriguez and other departed Seattle stars, the Mariners' collapse has been even more unexpected.
"You have a team that won 116 games, and now they're going to fight to even be .500 this year," Rodriguez said. "It really makes you feel how special the Yankees are, because they've been so good for so long. Obviously, their resources are very similar to Seattle — but not Texas."
All three of the Mariners' iconic players from the 1990s — Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Rodriguez — are at the All-Star Game for the first time since Seattle's exodus of superstars ended with Rodriguez signing with Texas in 2001. (Griffey was voted to the National League squad but will sit out because of a hamstring injury.)
Their presence, juxtaposed against the Mariners' decline, naturally caused another round of musing about Seattle's misfortunes, and why its superstars always seem to leave.
"It's definitely not resources," Rodriguez said. "A couple of years ago, I know they were second to the Yankees (in revenues). I mean, they were printing money up in the Northwest. I know we all enjoyed it there. But sometimes, you get pushed out the door."
That was certainly the perception of Rodriguez's replacement, Carlos Guillen, whose winter trade to Detroit has symbolized Seattle's misfortunes. While the M's new shortstop, Rich Aurilia, performed so poorly he was designated for assignment last week, Guillen has blossomed into stardom with a .324 average, 13 homers and 65 runs batted in.
"I know he loved Seattle, and Seattle liked him," Rodriguez said. "To me, it was surprising when Seattle made that trade because Carlos is such a phenomenal young player. He was part of the 116-win team, and he was only 27 years old. Why would you ever get rid of a guy like Carlos? I have no idea."
Guillen himself scarcely bothers to disguise his disgust with the Mariners' organization, questioning both their handling of him and his close friend, Freddy Garcia.
Yesterday, Guillen complained about how they "always talked behind my back. When you play this game, you want to feel comfortable and know you have support."
He spoke of his frustration over the team's lack of moves at the trade deadline.
"Those are little things you put in your heart," he said. "You go out and play 100 percent, and they never make any moves in July. That was tough."
He spoke about his perception that Garcia was never appreciated by management.
"I think they never treated Freddy like a No. 1 starter. They were so mad when he won his arbitration case (before the 2003 season). I always ask myself, 'Why don't they sign Freddy long term?' That would be better for both. I don't know why. They signed Joel (Pineiro), but not Freddy."
"I was very glad when they traded me to Cleveland (a deal voided when Omar Vizquel didn't pass his physical), and I was happy when they traded me to Detroit, because they didn't think I was an everyday player. Maybe it was because I was hurt a lot. But if they didn't want me there, I didn't want to be there."
Johnson, whose trade to Houston in July of 1998 brought Seattle both Guillen and Garcia, has his own issues to deal with, namely the Diamondbacks' decline and raging trade rumors surrounding him.
It was just three years ago, of course, that Johnson's Diamondbacks' usurped Seattle's 116-win season by winning the World Series over the Yankees — with Bob Melvin as bench coach.
"It's baseball," shrugged Johnson. "Bob Melvin is in the same boat as Bob Brenly (fired Diamondbacks manager) was in Arizona. They are teams that have underachieved in certain areas, just things, for whatever reason, not going your way. It's not one particular person or one particular thing. ...
"After winning 116 games — what, a couple of years ago? — I guess it shouldn't be too surprising, because that's how fast this game can turn around. Three years ago, we win a World Series, and now we're at the bottom of our division as well."
Evaluating the Mariners' predicament, Johnson said, "Seattle has had some real good ballplayers that have come through. They have some real good ballplayers right now. But it's hard for any team to stay on top always. Only a few teams seem to be able to do that. Seattle has talented players, they have an ownership that goes out and spends some money, occasionally, on free agents. But that's not for me to say. I'm not even in the same league anymore."
Nor is Griffey, who nevertheless said that he is lamenting the Mariners' nosedive along with their fans.
"That was my first team, and to see the team struggle is upsetting," said Griffey. "I look at Edgar (Martinez), Jay (Buhner), Dan Wilson. You always want to see those guys do well. When you see where they are now, it's frustrating for me, and I know it's really frustrating for them, because they're the ones going through it."
Ichiro, the lone Mariners All-Star, is living out the frustration, and is devoid of explanations.
"I really don't know, but there's been a lot of ways we've lost games this year, " he said through interpreter Allen Turner. "Like in Toronto ... we've had some terrible bad luck and been in bad situations.
"Maybe we could get someone to pray for the field or something, and get it cleaned up, get it pure."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org