Wakama-Who? Seattle Mariners' New Hire Raises Questions

Sam JonesContributor INovember 20, 2008

The Japanification of the Seattle Mariners went a step further this week when Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik made Don Wakamatsu the first Asian-American manager in Major League Baseball history.

This was the first I've heard of the former Texas Rangers bench coach, before making his historic headlines on Tuesday. While I like this hire by the new regime, I also don't hesitate to say Wakamatsu will also be the first Asian-American manager to be fired.

Don't interpret this as a crack on Seattle's bench boss, it's simply a reality of the sport. I remember having a conversation a couple years ago with a verteran scout who told me the sooner you realize that one day you'll be fired, the easier you'll find this job.

But I also say he'll be a first-to-be-fired because the prospect of another Asian-American manager occupying one of baseball's 30 managerial jobs is unlikely anytime soon.

It's refreshing to see Zduriencik defy baseball convection and make a bold hire in his first move as GM. You can bet it made the Nintendo ownership happy. Which leads to my ultimate question, how much of baseball decisions are influenced by marketing?

Wakamatsu was the beneficiary of circumstances with the managerial opening in the heavily asian-influenced Mariners organization. And I I'm not saying he's undeserving but I just don't see this happening anywhere else within the MLB ol' boys club. So good for him.

It's also a good move for the Mariners. If nothing else it renews interest in a 100-loss team, and is something positive in a city suffering through a horrible year of sports. With the Sonics departed it may sway some fans to Safeco, and create further intrigue amongst the city's large asian population.

Media-wise the Mariners couldn't have asked for a bigger splash. This could very well be MLB's biggest international headline of the off-season. I somehow doubt one billion people in China will care where Mark Teixeira signs, yet the Wakamatsu signing made headlines China Daily News. As beloved as Joey Cora is, he never had a chance.

It's the same thing with talks of the Mariners pursuing Ken Griffey, Jr. The fans would love to have Junior back. That much was evident when Griffey and his Cincinnati Reds made a Safeco pitstop this summer. But at the end of the day, would he be a useful addition to this team? Probably not, from a baseball sense.

I think I read in one of the Seattle newspapers that signing Griffey would be nothing more than a distraction for the fans. A former great doing a victory lap, while his team is mired in a losing record and the long rebuilding process. But at the same time how many "24" jerseys sold could be parlayed into that extra couple of million in the free agent market?

How much of Seattle's marginally baseball-intersted asian population will be more interested in the Wakamatsu-led team? I guess these questions will be answered once the season begins, but it's interesting to ponder.

Baseball has evolved to much more a business than a game. I just cannot help but be curious as to where business wins out over baseball.