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NFL Open Thread: All Hail the King

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I am trying to talk myself into thinking the Bills can beat Team Trump this weekend — top 3 defense! Josh Allen surprisingly better than terrible! Edelman and Hightower banged up! Although I know how it will turn out:

Patriots at Bills: I already know how this game will end, but I may as well join Bills fans in dreaming big, like I just bought a Powerball ticket. The fun is in the buildup. The drawing? Not so much.

Anyway, as the MLB season concludes let’s talk about the King. Felix Hernandez’s last start was Thursday. My wife had booked us for a cooking class we couldn’t change, and to be frank I thought it was a mixed blessing; I wanted to be there for one last start, but on the other hand watching “Felix” throw slop against an outstanding offense that needed the game and getting shelled would have been pretty depressing. (I will return to this later, but we should also note that Billy Beane’s A’s, working with a lower payroll than the Royals, have now won at least 96 games after winning 95, and — get this — without strip-mining the team of talent and getting their brains beat out for a multi-year stretch. I know Beane is last decade’s news but so, so, so much more impressive than Sam Hinkie and Sashi Brown and the other SUPERGENIUSES getting more press.) Anyway, Felix did what he needed to do, grinding out 5 1/3 giving up only 3 runs, with a lot of help from Dylan Moore, without whom it could easily have been 6 or 7 in 4 2/3:

And he got the send off he deserved:

Moore did something the Mariners did far too little of over the years: give him some support. Seattle is now in the midst of the largest postseason drought among the Big 4 American leagues, and Felix played through all of it. During Felix’s run as a good-to-elite pitcher from 2007-2105, the first year was the only time the team finished within 10 games of first place in the division. And that year was one of the most disastrous in franchise history. Thinking a team that had won 88 games despite being outscored and with an old roster, the legendarily inept Bill Bavasi pulled off some panicky win-now moves that were disastrous on any time horizon. Despite another fluke winning season two years later with a weak, old roster that was outscored by 52 runs, this put the franchise in a hole from which it has never really recovered. Felix wasted his great years on a team that was never worthy of his talents.

Was he a Hall of Famer? Unfortunately, I’d say no. During his seven years of elite performance he was very good to outstanding, as good as any pitcher in baseball more than once and deserving of his Cy Young award, but it wasn’t a Sandy Koufax period of dominance. (Johan Santana, for example, was more dominant as his peak, and is short of Cooperstown even so.) It could have been the basis of a Hall of Fame career, but he was never able to pull off the transition of being a quality-if-not-elite-pitcher. When he lost it, he lost it: he was ordinary at age 30 and replacement level or worse after that.

But that’s not really the point. There are Hall of Famers who never became franchise icons. Felix was a genuine franchise icon. He was a great pitcher, incredibly fun to watch, he made Murray Chass cry, and he was one of the few things worth watching during another lost decade+ of Seattle baseball. Farewell.

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