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June 12, 2012
A Brief History of the Vedder Cup
When Major League Baseball introduced interleague play in 1997, Bud Selig decreed that certain teams would be “natural rivals.” One such “rivalry” pits the San Diego Padres against the Seattle Mariners, presumably because they share a spring training facility in Peoria, Ariz.
Pearl Jam lead singer Eddie Vedder has called San Diego and Seattle home at various points in his life, ergo the series is played for a “Vedder Cup” that doesn't actually exist, which is fine because Vedder is a Cubs fan. Much like the “rivalry” itself, none of this makes any sense.
Intrigued? As we brace for another meeting between these bitter enemies, let's take a closer look.
Before the Beginning
Seattle started earlier, in 1890, with the Hustlers of the Pacific Northwest League. Stars from that franchise included Billy Earle, a catcher and hypnotist of ladies; San Francisco native Bill Lange; and Portland's Tom Parrott. Several other Seattle teams (with charming names such as the Yannigans, Clamdiggers, Siwashes, Chinooks, and Turks) flitted into and out of existence in different leagues until 1919, when the Rainiers joined the Pacific Coast League.
The Rainiers would exist until 1969 (called the Indians from 1922 to 1937, and the Angels from 1965 to 1968), when the expansion Pilots joined the American League. San Diego, meanwhile, welcomed the Padres to the PCL in 1936. Featuring future Hall of Famers Bobby Doerr and Ted Williams (a product of San Diego's Hoover High School), the Padres established themselves as an immediate force.
San Diego won 95 games in its inaugural season, with Seattle winning 93. Alas, both teams lost in the first round of the playoffs, the first of many near-misses that doubtless contributed to the enmity between the two cities concocted by Selig 60 years later... but we are getting ahead of ourselves.
In 1955, Fred Hutchinson's Rainiers and Bob Elliott's Padres finished first and second in the PCL. This was the season the league stopped having playoffs (through 1962), so fans in both cities again were denied the opportunity to see what these two rivals could do against each other.
Seattle's Elmer Singleton no-hit the Padres on July 24, 1955. Thirteen years earlier, on April 12, 1942, Seattle's Harold Turpa did the same. The Padres have never no-hit a team from Seattle.
Since joining the National League in 1969, they haven't no-hit a team from anywhere.
A Rivalry is Born
*A note on distances: Car was determined by plugging stadium addresses into Google Maps and finding the shortest route. Crow was determined by plugging latitude and longitude (from Wikipedia) into a handy online tool that is like magic, only cooler. How accurate are these? Accurate enough.
A particularly bad punster might see the savings in distance for a crow in traveling from San Diego to Seattle and note that the series—with all due respect to the Cardinals and the Orioles—is for the birds. But we won’t do that because it is a particularly bad pun.
Of course, both teams train at the Peoria Sports Complex in Arizona, so you can imagine the animosity that must arise between players and fans alike. Spring training is crazy like that. With the lease on PSC running through 2034, things could get nasty.
Even still, with the Padres and Mariners, the issue is less one of geography and more one of culture. Some may disagree with the specifics, but here is how I see the two cities:
As we see, each place has its advantages and disadvantages. Both share I-5, which surely must be another sore point. And Eddie Vedder, but again, we are getting ahead of ourselves.
This trend of the past six years has been as much a source of embarrassment to San Diegans as it has been one of pride to Seattleites, which is to say none whatsoever. That being said, last season’s performance by the Padres was miserable, as they were outscored in six games, 23 to 4.
There have been notable games in the rivalry. Arguably the most exciting (well, the one with the highest WPA for either team—0.864 for the Padres) came on the afternoon of Sunday, June 17, 2001, at Qualcomm Stadium. This is the year the Mariners won 116 games and were so good that Paul Abbott of the 43 career wins notched 17 all by himself.
This contest pitted Seattle’s Aaron Sele against San Diego’s Woody Williams. Trailing 1-0, the Mariners scored two runs in the top of the third on an Ichiro Suzuki single and a Mark McLemore groundout. The Padres answered with two runs of their own on singles by Phil Nevin and the late Mike Darr.
A three-run homer to right-center by Ryan Klesko in the fourth extended the home team’s lead to 6-2. But again the visitors had an answer in Mike Cameron, who launched a three-run blast off Williams in the sixth.
Home runs by Nevin and Bubba Trammell against reliever Ryan Franklin in the home half gave the Padres another four-run lead, but it would be short-lived. After retiring Dan Wilson to start the seventh inning, Williams walked pinch-hitter Stan Javier. Enter Jay Witasick, who allowed a single to Suzuki and walked McLemore to load the bases. A Bret Boone groundout plated Javier, making the score 9-6. The next batter was John Olerud—a Padres killer, as we will see later (he hit for the cycle the night before, including a mammoth 464-foot homer to right)—who turned a full-count pitch from Witasick into a game-tying three-run homer.
An inning later, with righty slayer Jeff Nelson on the mound (they hit .119/.284/.189 against him that year and .203/.306/.291 for his career), Trammell slammed a two-out, two-run homer to give the Padres an 11-9 lead. After squandering an opportunity to score additional runs, the Padres summoned Trevor Hoffman to preserve the victory.
Seattle wasn’t prepared to go quietly, however. With runners at the corners and one out, Hoffman got Olerud to pop to third base and fanned Edgar Martinez to end the game. The win improved the Padres’ record to 31-38, while the loss dropped the Mariners to 52-15.
At a career level, Ichiro Suzuki has amassed more than twice as many plate appearances as the next two participants combined, while Olerud’s bat has dominated the series. The list of top 10 hitters for each team against the other, in terms of plate appearances, illuminates the problems San Diego has had against Seattle:
Top 10 Padres vs. Mariners by PA
And the flip side:
Top 10 Mariners vs. Padres by PA
If we juxtapose the totals of hitters from each team who have batted most against the other, the issue becomes clear:
This is roughly the difference between Willie Montañez and Jay Buhner.
On the pitching side, the performance gap has been less severe.
Top 10 Padres vs Mariners by IP
And the flip side:
Top 10 Mariners vs. Padres by IP
The Padres have a slightly better ERA but a slightly worse WHIP and K/9. Also, as with the hitters, there is a large discrepancy in playing time among the top 10 for each team. The Padres' top 10 average about 23 innings against their rivals, while the Mariners' average about 35. In other words, the Mariners have enjoyed greater stability than the Padres during the Vedder Cup era. Note also that, like everything else about this rivalry, the innings cutoffs are arbitrary.
How about turncoats? Which players spent time with both the Padres and the Mariners? There have been 76 such players in history, from Eliezer Alfonzo to Josh Wilson. If we limit ourselves to hitters who have played at least 80 games for each team and pitchers who have played at least 30, we get two lists of 10 (with apologies to Andy Sheets and Brian Sweeney, who miss by one game):
Hitters with At Least 80 Games Each for Padres and Mariners
Pitchers with At Least 30 Games Each for Padres and Mariners
Is this knowledge worth having? Well, if you're going to ask that, you might as well ask whether this is a rivalry worth having. Eliminate such thoughts from your mind; they help no one.
Can’t Find a Vedder, Man
Why the Vedder Cup? Let's hear it from the man who coined the term:
It was in San Diego that Eddie Vedder formed Bad Radio and it was in San Diego that Eddie Vedder was approached by Jack Irons to write songs for a three song instrumental demo for a band in Seattle, then known as Mookie Blaylock.
Sure, why not.
Dan Hayes of the North County Times offers additional details:
So which aspect of Vedder's life was more important? His upbringing in San Diego or the move to Seattle?
Why we get a certain reputation on the West Coast remains beyond my comprehension. This all seems perfectly reasonable to me, but I've lived here all my life, so my frame of reference is skewed.
Vedder, as I previously mentioned, is a Cubs fan. He has written a song about them and thrown out the first pitch at Wrigley Field. Vedder's indifference to both teams and the non-existent trophy named in his honor is as good an endorsement of the Padres/Mariners rivalry as any.
Now you know what Bud Selig and a few sad souls in San Diego and Seattle know. And as a reminder that knowledge doesn't always equal power, like the rest of us, you probably don't care. Which is cool, because Eddie wouldn't want it any other way.