Firing manager Don Wakamatsu is the wrong move for Mariners
In the absence of common sense, patience and astute evaluation, the Mariners reach for the blame button a lot, too much, to take the easy way out and deflect criticism. They did it again Monday, firing manager Don Wakamatsu.
Seattle Times staff columnist
If the Mariners ever decide this baseball thing really isn't their forte, they've already established their aptitude in a new field.
The franchise might be the best herder available. In the absence of common sense, patience and astute evaluation, the Mariners reach for the blame button a lot, too much, to take the easy way out and deflect criticism. They did it again Monday and fired manager Don Wakamatsu, as well as pitching coach Rick Adair and bench coach Ty Van Burkleo.
It means the ballclub is on its seventh manager this decade, and there's still a year left to reach 10 skippers in 10 years. Since Lou Piniella left in 2002 and ended a decade of stability, the Mariners have run through Bob Melvin, Mike Hargrove, John McLaren, Jim Riggleman and Wakamatsu. Now, for the rest of this season, Daren Brown of the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers will serve as a bridge to the eighth manager of this volatile stretch.
None lasted even three seasons. Hargrove probably would have, but in 2007, he quit amid an eight-game winning streak in his third year. The Mariners have suffered from both an inability to make the right hire and, especially in Wakamatsu's case, disinterest in going through the inevitable growing pains of rebuilding.
It must be easier to manage a scapegoat farm than develop a farm system.
They seem more infatuated with proving they want to win through cosmetic changes than actually getting the job done. You thought the hiring of general manager Jack Zduriencik two years ago changed that mentality. It didn't. Either Jack Z learned it, or he covered for his bosses — specifically, team president Chuck Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln — by saying that canning his hand-picked manager after only 1-2/3 seasons was "solely my decision."
"Sometimes when you get from A to Z, there's not always a straight line," Zduriencik said. "To take an organization from here to there, sometimes you're going to have those bumps in the road, have rocky waves, things that interfere. There were some things that needed to be changed, and today, I made the decision to change them."
Trouble getting from A to Z? Story of the M's decade. They keep reaching F in the alphabet and turning around.
Wakamatsu had his faults, but they shouldn't have been terminal. They weren't bad enough to wipe out all the equity he'd banked in improving the Mariners from 61-101 to 85-77 in his first season.
He's not the first manager to lose significant momentum after a solid first season. The same thing happened to Tony La Russa, Sparky Anderson and Dusty Baker during their first jobs. But their clubs stuck with them and wound up enjoying successful runs.
It happened to current San Diego manager Bud Black. In fact, after winning 89 games as a rook, Black finished 63-99 in 2008 and 75-87 in 2009. He could've been fired after either of those seasons, but he wasn't, and the Padres are leading the National League West right now.
Wakamatsu deserves plenty of blame for leading a squad that's hitting a major league-worst .236 this season, for watching the defensive-minded Mariners slip to second-to-last in the American League in fielding percentage, for some of the bullpen's issues and for the team's many baserunning blunders.
But he didn't put this roster together. Zduriencik did. It would be asinine to fire Jack Z this early. Why wasn't Wakamatsu afforded the same patience?
Zduriencik hired his manager knowing that Wakamatsu was green and required some learning on the job. But he figured Wakamatsu's strengths, particularly in player development, outweighed his inexperience. He wanted a manager who could grow with the franchise he was remodeling.
Now, at trouble's first sight, Wakamatsu is gone. He leaves before the Mariners could determine who he truly was, and that's the biggest reason this move stinks.
The Mariners wouldn't give up on a young prospect this soon. But they sacrificed a young manager to provide false hope that better coaching will cure them. They let a group of terrible players whine, disobey and fight with Wakamatsu until this season collapsed. Most of these players won't be around if this team ever builds a winner, but they won this battle.
Whether they did it for Ken Griffey Jr., who retired in June at odds with Wakamatsu, remains unclear. But they did it, and they know this organization has become an abyss for managers.
As Zduriencik spoke nervously about the firing, my mind shifted to the season finale last October, when Griffey exited atop his teammates' shoulders and Wakamatsu received an ice-cream pie to the face and a beer bath. It felt like the beginning of glory. Instead, it was merely the undercard of a catastrophic collapse.
Zduriencik mangled a cliché in denying the Mariners are back at "square zero." But they are with their coaching staff.
No worries, though. For the Scapegoat Herders, business is good.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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