COMMENTARY | Over the past decade, the Seattle Mariners have signed a number of free agents that have been massively disliked in the Pacific Northwest by a frustrated fan base.
Some, like Chone Figgins, received scorn and were routinely booed for their performance. Other players, like Milton Bradley, were hated because of off-the-field problems.
If we're talking about the most universally despised figure in Mariners history, it would be hard to argue against former general manager Bill Bavasi. Bavasi ran the organization into the ground between 2004 and 2008, and he was responsible for the aforementioned two players, along with many others. Seattle is still recovering from his reign five years later.
However, as far as players go, there is one Mariner who received more scrutiny than any in the Bavasi era. Bobby Ayala, a relief pitcher in Seattle from 1994-1998, is the most hated player in team history.
Ayala may not have been the worst player to ever put on a Mariners uniform -- Figgins racked up a -1.1 WAR in three seasons, after all. In 1997, Ayala even put together a decent regular season, with a 3.82 ERA and nearly a strikeout an inning. His other years were really bad, but not as awful as others seen in Seattle.
The problem was Ayala almost always folded in key situations. He gave up far too many home runs to be successful, and he never topped 19 saves in a season despite manager Lou Piniella often using him in the closing role. Even with a potent Mariners offense, Seattle fans could never shake the feeling that absolutely no lead could be considered safe. Time after time, it seemed like the Mariners could not possibly stick with Ayala. But for five years Piniella kept calling on him, often to bad results.
One look at Ayala's limited playoff statistics will show just how clutch he was. In Game 1 of the 1995 ALDS, considered the greatest series in Mariners history, he gave up three runs in a loss. Game 2 of the 1997 ALDS is the quintessential Ayala performance, as he gave up six runs in an inning and a third.
Ultimately, the reason why Ayala is the most hated Mariner is because of the era in which he played for the team. The 1994-1998 stretch was one of the best stretches for Seattle baseball, and certainly the first time fans had a reason to be excited about the Mariners. Saying that the Mariners would have won the World Series without Ayala one of those years is too far, but they certainly would have had a better chance.
It's hard to imagine that a team with Randy Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez and plenty of other good players couldn't even reach the World Series, let alone win it. As a result, the perception in Seattle was that all the blame was on Ayala and all the games he blew. Hence, the scrutiny level has been since unmatched.
Figgins came close, but Ayala remains the most despised player in Mariners history. Another player with such a perception may come along, but the Mariners will have to be a little closer to contending for a pennant first.
Nathaniel Reeves is a lifelong Seattle sports follower who is studying journalism at the University of Washington. He currently covers sports for The UW Daily.
- Sports & Recreation
- Seattle Mariners
- Bobby Ayala
- Chone Figgins