There was a time when the Mariners used to be good. Used to be a lot of fun to watch on a day-in, day-out basis because the playoffs and success weren’t that far off. Some of those years included a backup catcher with a funky last name: Tom Lampkin.
On my desk in my room at home in Seattle I have a Tommy Lampkin autographed baseball, from the year 2001, inscribed with 116 wins. (If you were unfamiliar, the Mariners set the AL, and tied the NL, record for most wins in a season with 116 in 2001. It was a good time for baseball in Seattle). That ball has always been one of my prized possessions since my mom got it for me at the middle school auction. Yes, they sold Tom Lampkin signed baseballs at my middle school silent auctions.
The real reason it was cool, though, is because Tom Lampkin is the cousin of one of my most dear family friends. His last name is, you guessed it, also Lampkin. And ever since I was gifted with that information, Tommy has been one of my favorite baseball players ever.
From 1999-2001 Tom backed up Mariner great Dan Wilson, and did a serviceable job. In 1999 his triple slash was .291/.345/.495. In 2000 it was .252/.325/.534. And his last year, arguably the best year in Mariners history, he batted .225/.309/.348. Those numbers looked at altogether make you wonder about the heyday of Mariners catching. Dan was The Man for a reason. And his backup was equally awesome because he was separated from me by only 2 degrees. Irrational I know but still, it meant something.
Let’s look at his 2001 stat line though: .225/.309/.348 with 5 home runs, 22 RBIs, 18 walks and 41 strikeouts. For 231 plate appearances those numbers aren’t god awful.
I wonder how his numbers would compare to the Mariners catchers this season….
In 193 plate appearances, Mariners catcher-of-the-future Mike Zunino batted .214/.290/.320 with 5 home runs, 14 RBIs, 16 walks and 49 strikeouts. Hey! His numbers look strikingly similar to an old Mariners catcher. Just not the starter, or the Mariners hall of famer.
The fact that Lamkin’s and Zunino’s numbers are similar really means next to nothing. Except that Zunino is young and Lampkin was getting old. If in the next few season Zunino can muster a .291/.345/.495 slash while still managing a great game, Jack Z will look like a genius drafting him and starting him in the bigs so quickly. But if that triple slash continues to look like Tommy’s in 2001, there will be debts to pay in the Mariners organization.
What I am getting at here is that Mariners catchers were really bad offensively this season. Bad even by catcher standards, the only guys besides the short stops who can be a consistent starter without much offensive prowess (Brendan Ryan anyone?). So there is nowhere to go but up for the M’s at catcher. Zunino will start figuring it out. But still, it will be important to find a defensively competent backup for him; preferably a guy who is ready and willing to mentor as well.
I miss watching the Mariners in 2001. I miss Tom Lampkin playing baseball. And though the latter will never happen again, it isn’t absurd to hope that we can get back to those winning ways.
But if not, at least I will always have the ’116 wins’ inscribed baseball to hang my hat on.