Perhaps it's not the end of the world, because the last time the fans had a favorite it was for bench coach Joey Cora of the Chicago White Sox. Not exactly a household name known for multiple pennants, and not someone other teams have jumped to hire. Cora is known more for cute pins on his baseball cap than his management prowess.
Long-suffering Seattle fans have been very patient with their sports teams, but that patience seems to be wearing thin if initial reactions to the hiring of Eric Wedge is any indication. Most are aghast with worry over this hire, with some older fans still gnashing teeth at the bad-luck loss of the beloved and cherished Lou Piniella nearly a decade ago. Nobody seemed to be in a mood for parades or celebrations on this one.
Yes, we all giggled at the press conference yesterday, with all the witty comments made by kiss-up pundits.
Yes, we patted Chuck and Howard on the back and thanked them for saving baseball in Seattle and their wonderful two decades of stellar leadership.
Yes, we acknowledged the seven years of Cleveland bliss under Eric Wedge.
Yes, we heard all of the futuristic comments of what winning will be like.
But nevertheless, fans clearly are not buying the sales pitch like they have in years past.
Now I gotta admit, neither was I, which is very odd because normally I’m such a positive guy budding with optimism. When a used car salesman tells me “this car was driven by an old lady to church” in spite of the clearly tampered-with odometer on the dented 1973 Dodge Dart, I celebrate!
Why? Because I am an optimist. That’s just how I am. I believe what most people tell me.
But with this new managerial change for the Mariners, like most fans, I’m finding myself just a tad bit skeptical. Perhaps it's because I’ve heard this so many times before? Half a dozen times since Lou, we Seattle fans have been told the same thing: that the losing days of old are gone, that the culture will be changed, that this is the guy who will lead us out of the wilderness and into the promised land of milk and honey and World Series rings.
Yesterday, the mystified Mariner management seemed dumbfounded over public skepticism. “Why would they not trust us, we of incredible baseball wisdom long since demonstrated?” And as radio hosts and newspaper columnists danced on tables and were downright giddy over the Eric Wedge hiring, we fans…not so much. There was a muted suspicion of being conned once again, with most fans saying they would wait to pop the corks until they saw what this guy actually did. No, they were not pronouncing judgment of impending doom, but they weren’t caught up in yesterday’s hoopla either.
Now why would fans be skeptical? Well, let’s take a look at the press conferences of the managers hired since Lou, and you might see a pattern:
On November 16, 2002, the Mariners hired 41-year-old Bob Melvin, saying "We think we've got a real gem in Bob, as you'll all learn when you get to know and respect him. He's going to bring us a winning team and a championship."
The local press speculated that Melvin was more even-tempered than the fiery Piniella. Mariners chairman Howard Lincoln said, "He brings to this position not only baseball expertise but high energy, good judgment, intelligence, leadership and communication skills." Others noted that since he was a catcher and was so much younger than Lou, he would communicate better with the players.
Less than two years later they fired him.
On October 20, 2004, the Mariners announced the signing of Mike Hargrove, who had led the Cleveland Indians past the Mariners in the 1995 ALCS.
Mariner management said, “We went for an impact manager, one who can have immediate success on the field.” Others wrote that Hargrove “is saltier, a more savvy figure than Melvin, more along the lines of Lou Piniella, who will be the gold standard for all subsequent Mariners managers.” Still others penned, “As with Piniella, he sees season-long clubhouse management as his top priority.”
Turns out Hargrove shared one other trait with Piniella. He was burned out, tired of managing, and thus drove out of town in a red pickup during an eight-game winning streak on July 1, 2007.
Hargrove was succeeded by 55-year-old John McLaren, who the Mariners were again very optimistic about. Upon accepting the job, McLaren said, "I am really looking forward to the challenge of taking over this club and continuing to build on what Mike has established here. When I came back I said I wanted to be a part of taking this team to the postseason, and back to what our fans expect and deserve. That's still the case. My focus, and the focus of every one of my coaches is to help these players achieve what they are capable of, and that's getting this team back to the postseason."
McLaren had managed in the Toronto minor league system for eight years prior to working as a major league coach. He made his managerial debut with Medicine Hat in the Pioneer League in 1978. He guided Kinston to the first half title in 1981 and managed Southern League Championship clubs in 1984 and 1985. He was named Co-Manager of the Year in the Southern League in 1985.
But on June 19, 2008, he too was fired by the Seattle Mariners, replaced by Jim Riggleman.
What did the Mariners say about Riggleman when he got the job? "Jim's going to bring what we think is a different style than Mac had. Just the depth and breadth of his experience and how he presents himself. We're happy to have Jim!" Others in the community wrote, “He’s a pretty standard-issue manager. It’ll be a huge improvement in terms of consistent lineups and bullpen usage.”
But apparently experienced standard-issue managers were also not what the Mariners wanted, and he too was fired at the end of the same season, replaced by then 45-year-old and relative unknown Don Wakamatsu.
Wak had no major league experience as a manager. He had spent five years as a bench coach and third-base coach in Texas, then one year as bench coach for the A's before Seattle called. He had never managed above Double-A prior to the Mariners hiring him. In fact, none of the six candidates interviewed by the Mariners had big league experience as managers.
Nevertheless, pundits exclaimed how Wakamatsu was the first Asian-American manager in major league history, and how he was the first significant hire in the new era of new general manager Jack Zduriencik. The New York Times wrote a special article celebrating how his family had overcome unjust internment during World War II and noted his heritage.
Wakamatsu himself said, “I welcome the challenge here to bring a world championship to Seattle and the fans of the Mariners” and added that “communication and leadership will be key and this will carry over to the team.”
Observers, mostly quite pleased with the hire, noted that the Mariners had a league-worst offense in 2008 and that Wak “had a daunting task to reverse the culture and performance of a team that last season became the first to lose 100 games with a $100 million payroll.”
In his first year as Mariners manager, the team put up 85 victories, of which a MLB season-high 35 were one-run triumphs, as well as 13 walk-off wins. Everyone was optimistic and giddy.
During the spring of this past year, general manager Jack Zduriencik gushed about his own confidence in the Mariners’ clubhouse culture. “Don Wakamatsu lets players be themselves, and the veteran Ken Griffey Jr. keeps teammates loose with biting humor and nearly nonstop commentary on everything that crosses his line of vision.”
Don Wakamatsu was fired this past August 9th because of the clubhouse culture.
This month team philosophy apparently reversed once again, and now is focused only on experienced managers with a depth of big league experience, according to the same yet unhired Joey Cora. The Seattle Mariners have settled on Eric Wedge in spite of wailing from the fans yearning for the four decades of experience offered by the more sexy choice of Bobby Valentine.
Yesterday at the press conference, questions were fired off by hundreds from writers and TV personalities, all skippy and happy (or at least putting on a good act). Optimism was flowing. We fans should be jumping for joy over this wonderful new hire for the Seattle Mariners. Things will change. You’ll see. This time it will be different!
Yes, and perhaps that flat-white, dented Dodge Dart did actually only have 10,000 miles on it.
But with a league-worst offense and a spotty pitching staff, surrounded by bad-attitude underperforming free agents with multi-year contracts, this team again looks to be in trouble, and no manager is going to change that without serious help from the front office. Like years past, it's not a manager issue! It's a player issue!
Perhaps the team is cursed by a field built over an ancient burial site?
Whatever the problem is with baseball in this city, I wouldn’t bet your house on the Seattle Mariners going to the World Series with Eric Wedge at the helm if recent history is any indication. And I'm sorry if that sounds negative and pessimistic, but we've been down this road six times since Lou.