Make no mistake, this Mariners season has been a disaster in every way, but making Don Wakamatsu the fall guy is the kind of shortsighted thinking left to the dregs of baseball, not a supposedly forward-thinking franchise like the M’s.
Apparently it only takes a year to go from genius to doofus if you believe the Seattle brass, who suddenly have no faith in Wakamatsu’s ability to lead the Mariners out of the morass—this despite doing that very same thing during the 2009 campaign.
Yes, this season has been a bitter disappointment considering the expectations the Mariners and their fans had coming in, but can you really lay the blame on Wakamatsu? The M’s stink in many, many ways, but managerial acumen was not one of them.
With Seattle at 42-70, Wakamatsu can’t be absolved of all blame, but there’s a plethora of evidence suggesting there are other places to look for reasons why things have spiraled out of control.
The second-year manager had to deal with several flammable situations, including the Milton Bradley Meltdown and Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Naptime; the unassailable fact that every player in the lineup suddenly couldn’t hit a grapefruit; the Cliff Lee Conundrum, in that everyone knew the team’s best player wasn’t going to be around in August; and now the Chone Figgins Chowdown, where a .220 hitter suddenly thinks he’s above criticism.
In my mind, Wakamatsu has handled this situations to the best of his ability, never putting down his players in front of the media (even, I think, “selectively remembering” in the Griffey situation). Did the players bail on him? Possibly, but that only goes to underscore that when players go in the tank, they often don’t turn on each other.
Did management hang him out to dry? Certainly. When Figgins got off the hook for his churlish behavior, most people knew the writing was on the wall, even with Wakamatsu earning the dreaded “vote of confidence.”
Remember last year, how everyone praised Wakamatsu’s demeanor in helping to turn around the fractious Mariners clubhouse? Did he all of sudden become some hard-ass who never listened? Of course not, but the easy answer is the players tuned him out.
This move now turns the spotlight on GM Jack Zduriencik. Wakamatsu was his hand-picked guy, and many of these players who are stinking up Safeco were brought in by Jackie Z to put this team over the top. Instead, they’ve fallen far, far behind the pack, and guys like Brandon Morrow, Carlos Silva (!) and J.J. Putz are all doing big things on other teams.
In a lot of ways, this reminds me of Bob Melvin’s tenure, where a low-key manager was given the boot after one good season and one bad one. Melvin wasn’t a great skipper, but he also wasn’t given enough of a chance to show what he could do. When he moved on to Arizona, he put together some decent years. I expect the same thing to happen with Wakamatsu, who is well-regarded around MLB.
Lou Piniella is not walking through that door, no matter how much Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln want it to happen. The Mariners are on their seventh manager since Lou left, and the franchise continues to drift along, with occasional spikes that do just enough to ensure ownership that they won’t ever relive, from an attendance standpoint, the dark days of the Kingdome.
Don Wakamatsu deserved better, but he fell victim to one of the oldest rules in the baseball book: The axe always falls on the manager first.