When players reach their peak at a younger age than is conventional, it can be the case that it is forgotten the extent of their ability when they reach the age of retirement. An example in the case of English football would be Michael Owen, who burst onto the scene as a teenager for Liverpool and England before, for whatever reason, his career petered out dramatically as he failed to reach anything close to those heights he achieved early on.
Tonight, on the evening of September 26th, Seattle will witness the probable end of a Mariners career which fits that description perhaps better than anyone. Felix Hernandez will forever be an idol in the eyes of Mariners fans, yet perhaps it is common that people forget the extent of his dominance early in his career as a consequence of his struggles over recent seasons.
Breaking the Major League roster in 2005 at the age of 19, Felix quickly became the face of the Mariners franchise, pitching at least 190 innings in 10 straight seasons between 2006 and 2015. He finished in the top 8 in the Cy Young Award voting in 6 out of 7 seasons between 2009 and 2015, including one win in 2010, while also becoming a six-time All-Star and accumulating 38.2 WAR throughout this period. He also famously threw Major League Baseball’s last Perfect Game in 2012 against the Tampa Bay Rays in a 1-0 victory in the Pacific Northwest for the Mariners.
Yes, he has never pitched in the postseason. Yes, these last few years his output and success have declined with his velocity and strikeout rate. And yes, he ends his career as barely a back-of-the-rotation starter in a rebuilding Mariners team in which there is clearly no long-term future for him.
However, it can be easy to forget his dominance and can be easy to forget his successes. When Felix Hernandez takes to the mound Thursday for the final time, let discussions not be about his failings, or his decline. Let them be about Felix Hernandez the stud, the ace, the face of a franchise deprived of success for so long. During the years of mediocrity, of struggles, of Chone Figgins as a utility man, Mariners fans had Felix, anchoring the rotation every 5th night, putting his team in positions to win. The fact that he had a god-awful team around him for much of his career should never be forgotten. With the most wins, most IP, most strikeouts and the lowest ERA (minimum 1000 IP) in team history, there can be no doubt as to the strength of his legacy.
To conclude, Felix Hernandez has been paid a lot of money over the last few years as his output has become mediocre to put it mildly. But my god did he earn it over the years prior. As he makes what could be his final start in a Mariners uniform, this should be used as a chance for Mariners fans to, at last, have a chance to say thank you. He did good.