It’s on Jack Zduriencik to make it work with Lloyd McClendon
The Mariners GM’s future is clearly tied to making his latest managerial hire work.
Times staff columnist
Seahawks @ Atlanta, 10 a.m., Ch. 13
And for the third time in five years, Jack Zduriencik announced the hiring of a Mariners field manager Thursday, complete with handshake, jersey presentation and back slap.
The introduction of Lloyd McClendon was as genuinely enthusiastic as Don Wakamatsu’s welcome five years ago. It was as impassioned as Eric Wedge’s boisterous hello press conference three years ago. And if McClendon’s predecessors hadn’t exited the franchise faster than a Kardashian marriage, this day would’ve been as uplifting as the others because McClendon is a laudable concoction of charisma, determination and likability.
Zduriencik sure knows how to pick ’em.
Making it work with ’em, though, that’s another matter.
When you’re rebuilding a baseball team, your résumé never looks good in the beginning. But of all the disappointments of Zduriencik’s five years as the Mariners general manager, the least understandable and most concerning is his inability to keep a skipper.
Jack Z fired Wakamatsu in 2010 after less than two years, even though Wak had finished 85-77 in his first season. But that managerial debacle pales in comparison to the miscommunication that led Wedge to quit, even though the Mariners say they wanted to extend his contract.
Both situations were complicated, but in a bottom-line business, Zduriencik is left to take the most blame for those failures. His track record suggests that he tosses aside managers like candy wrappers after Halloween.
Can you trust that Jack Z got this one right?
“Fair question,” Zduriencik acknowledged. “On a personal standpoint, I’ve been through this one too many times.”
Zduriencik, always composed and pleasant, admitted that he tweaked his approach in this search. He said the vetting process was “deeper” this time. In his background checks, he called players for insight into the candidates. He believes in McClendon, who was a candidate for the job three years ago when the Mariners hired Wedge.
“I have a lot of confidence in this decision,” Zduriencik said.
Jack Z’s future is tied to McClendon. Many speculated Zduriencik couldn’t keep his job if he had to find Skipper No. 3 in five years. He survived, but there’s no way he will be around for a fourth try if McClendon doesn’t pan out.
This is even bigger than Jack Z’s job security, however. He needs to erase the notion that he’s a difficult boss. For someone as engaging as he can be — I’ve never had an unfriendly encounter with him despite some strong criticisms — he should be able to make it work with his manager.
It speaks ill of the Mariners that managers can be discarded so quickly, and that’s even after factoring in the instability of coaches these days. It speaks ill of Zduriencik that he would hinder the development of a young team by replacing their leader so often.
Zduriencik has made a career out of being able to predict the future. He sees young talent and projects it as accurately as anyone. That’s his gift, and it needs to transfer to managers.
“Does it bother me?” Zduriencik said, repeating my question about the stigma attached to firing three managers in five years. “Things happen. I would say it’s unfortunate. But that hasn’t been my focus.
“I understand the circumstances. People around me understand the circumstances. I try to put it in the rearview mirror. But did I learn from it? Of course I learned from it.”
Zduriencik was defiant, at least by his mellow standards, when asked about Wedge. Once, he told the media that Wedge’s bitter exit didn’t affect the quality of candidates, saying, “I can tell you this: There wasn’t anybody shy about taking this job.”
Then, in a smaller gathering with reporters, Zduriencik declined to compare McClendon to Wedge, saying, “I don’t care to talk about what was here before.”
The general manager told us not to read anything into his refusal, but Jack Z definitely has an edge about Wedge.
But can he redeem himself with McClendon?
Obviously, McClendon has to perform, and for all the defense of Wakamatsu and Wedge in this column, they combined for a .447 winning percentage in Seattle. The rebuilding dictated they wouldn’t win much, but still, there’s too much gray area to paint Zduriencik as the only problem. But if Jack is making bad hires, that’s his fault.
On Thursday, McClendon touted the Mariners as close to entering “a golden era.” Beside him was Zduriencik, referring to his new manager as “sincere” on seven different occasions.
Mac and Jack, the new Mariners duo.
Till death — or discord — do they part.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JerryBrewer
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