A word of advice for the Mariners’ new manager
by Art Thiel
New Mariners' manager Lloyd McClendon Credit: Photo: Tom Hagerty
Unqualified for the sports world's worst occupation — public relations counsel for Alex Rodriguez — Lloyd McClendon had to settle for second-worst: He's the new manager of the Seattle Mariners. I'm sure he knows what he's doing, which puts him one-up on his new bosses, but either he didn't have Eric Wedge's phone number, or Wedge signed a confidentiality agreement to stay mum.
Wedge was about as good a manager as the Mariners were entitled to have — a knowledgeable, passionate, no-nonsense baseball lifer who was so committed he agreed to move his family to Seattle (something rarely done) and adopt the party line of ownership's Politburo, on and off the record. He was even an experienced MLB manager who had success in his previous gig in Cleveland.
The man was sufficiently intense that, at 45, he took a stroke for the club. A month later, his health improved enought to return to work, but just five weeks later, he ran screaming, citing, bitterly, disagreement on direction.
We still don't know his reasons for saying, "I wouldn't take a five-year deal if they offered it," but if given a chance to read complete depositions from both sides on the separation, I'm inclined to accept Wedge's view sight unseen. Just wish he'd talked to McClendon.
With all due respect to McClendon's baseball acumen, I don't much care about the successor to Wedge.
I have a professional commitment to share thoughts with readers, but a coaching change in any sport offers at least some intrigue. Not happening here.
Since the same people who hired McClendon — CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong — were also the people who hired and (all but) fired Wedge, Don Wakamatsu, John McLaren, Mike Hargrove and Bob Melvin, futility shouts from the mountaintops.
That doesn't necessarily mean the roster for 2013-14, still subject to much change, will be hopeless. Just that McClendon will be helpless to influence the seasonal outcome. If the Mariners manager was granted influence, Wedge would still be here.
McClendon joins a franchise whose ownership is in infinite and remorseless dither; one that believes the run-around-the-bases event for fans post-game is as important as the attempts by employees in the previous nine innings to run around the bases. Because baseball managers are concerned with winning sooner than later, they are in perpetual conflict with the bosses. The churn is debilitating.
USA Today ran an infographic recently, linked here, that looked at managerial longevity in MLB. It compiled the length of service of each franchise's past five managers. The paper under-reported Wedge's term of service (three years, not one), but adding in the correct number makes for an average managerial term of 2.04 years, second-shortest to the Miami Marlins' 1.88. (Owner Jeffrey Loria is a Marge Schott-grade loon.)
In contrast, the average tenure of St. Louis managers is an MLB-record 6.7 years. No coincidence that the Cardinals are the best-run franchise in the business.
A more subjective measure was a ranking by Sports on Earth of MLB's most tortured fan bases by Will Leitch, who put the Mariners third behind No. 2 Indians and No. 1 Cubs. The Indians most recently won the Series in 1948, the Cubs in 1908, and the Mariners, of course, never.
Leitch's conclusion: "For my money, the Mariners are the great, under-appreciated, tortured fan base in sports. And that World Series rarely has looked further away than it does now."
That observation is a damning indictment. Other than a splendid ballpark that was produced out of six weeks of good baseball at the end of 1995, the Mariners are barely ahead of where they were as an expansion team in 1977. Only the introduction of the wretched Houston Astros (season series: Mariners 10, Astros 9) kept Seattle's 71-91 finish from being worst in the division again (for the record, the Mariners in their first season were 64-98).
Mariners managers are a symptom of the malaise, not a cause. Except for a fortunate series of circumstances and the persuasive powers of former club CEO, John Ellis, which brought Lou Piniella here for 10 years, Mariners managers are victims. Victims of an ownership led by Lincoln and the late Hiroshi Yamauchi, which has not made successful baseball the No. 1 priority.
The baseball axiom is that all managers know they are hired to be fired. But in Seattle, they are also hired to be scapegoated. Every couple of years. Sorry you didn't hear, Lloyd McClendon.
Don't buy. Rent.