Counting up M's strengths
Jack Zduriencik needs a talented staff to help him rebuild the M's. His first move: bringing in statistical maven Tony Blengino.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
One encouraging factor about Jack Zduriencik, the Mariners' new general manager, is an apparent open-mindedness to considering a variety of ways to evaluate a player. And, by extension, to build a baseball team.
His first outside hire with the Mariners, Tony Blengino, is testimony to that. Blengino, a former certified public accountant and a member of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), has a strong background in statistical analysis.
Zduriencik hired Blengino as an area scout for the Brewers in 2003, and promoted him to assistant scouting director three years later. Now he joins the Mariners' baseball operations department in an as-yet unannounced role. He will be part of the Mariners' four-person contingent at the general managers' meetings in Dana Point, Calif., which begin in earnest Monday.
Tom Allison, the scouting director for the Arizona Diamondbacks after years of working under Zduriencik in Milwaukee, points to the Blengino hiring with the Brewers as symbolic of his former boss' thoroughness.
"Jack has a relentless pursuit of being right," Allison said. "He understands the whole aspect of a player, and that there are many different lenses through which to view a player.
"One of his first hires [in Milwaukee] was bringing in Tony Blengino, a complete Bill James disciple. Jack brought him into the office not only to educate all the staff, but himself. To him, it's just part of the different brushes that complete a player."
Blengino, 44, had caught Zduriencik's attention as an author of a series of books on minor-league prospects, a project that required him to scout and evaluate young players. But Blengino says he learned far more from Zduriencik than the other way around.
"When it comes to evaluation, no one's better," Blengino said. "Just the fact he took a chance on a guy like me with an unconventional background shows he's always trying to learn more. ... Jack has never surrounded himself with one-size-fits-all people."
Added Blengino: "Jack's the best at what he does. To me, he's been deserving to have this opportunity as a GM for a long time. He's a great teacher and has incredible passion. His burning passion for the game is readily apparent to everyone who knows Jack."
And required of everyone who works for him.
"People who work for Jack and are successful are 24-7 type people, for whom it's a passion, not a job. Jack keeps that fire burning."
And a hometown
hero, to boot
After last week's profile of Zduriencik and his background in New Castle, Pa., was published, I received this e-mail from John Yerage of New Castle:
I really enjoyed reading your piece. Jack Zduriencik is a tremendous person, and not just because his mother and a few other baseball people said so. In June of this year, Jack took the time to drive from Milwaukee back to New Castle, about a 10-hour drive. He came home to help myself and a few others with a benefit golf outing.
I called Jack on a weekday morning in early June. I told him that I and a few others were putting together a golf outing to raise money for a friend that underwent a double lung transplant. Jack told me that he was really busy with the draft and that he would call me in about a week. I figured he was putting me off and that would be the end of it.
How wrong I was.
Jack called me two days after the draft and asked how he could help. I asked him if he could round up a few T-shirts or baseballs and get some of the Brewers to sign them, send them to me, and allow us to auction them off. Jack said that he would get back to me the next day. Sure enough, the next day I get a call from Jack. The list of items he read off to me would have choked a horse. Jack said that rather than ship the items, he would load them in his SUV and drive them to me (in New Castle, Pa.) from Milwaukee.
Jack arrived in New Castle three days before our golf event. He spent time with us and helped us visit businesses to help our fundraising effort. He golfed in our event, spoke to the audience at the after-party, explained the items that he brought for our auction, shook everyone's hand and spent time talking with anyone who wanted to talk with him. As Jack was driving back to Milwaukee, he called me and thanked me for letting him be a part of our event. He was almost in tears as he spoke to me about our friend with the transplant and how wonderful of an event we put on.
What other baseball executive would do that? Probably some, but I'd bet very few. The Seattle Mariners organization and the Pacific Northwest should be proud to have Jack Zduriencik as one of their own. Of course, he was and always will be one of New Castle's finest people.
In a follow-up e-mail, Yerage told me that the golf outing helped raise $15,000 for Fred Ryan, a 58-year-old lifelong resident of New Castle and a former professional softball player. Zduriencik brought Brewers items signed by Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Jason Kendall, announcer Bob Uecker and Hall of Famer Robin Yount.
No telling how Zduriencik will do as GM, but it sounds like they hired a good man.
A Classic to forget
I vaguely recall predicting that the Phillies-Rays matchup shaped up as a compelling, potentially riveting World Series.
Missed it by that much.
It was pretty much a disaster, one of the least artistic I've ever seen. For one thing, it was another too-brief affair — the fifth straight World Series to go four or five games. It's hard to build any sort of drama if it's a cumulative wipeout, even if individual games have tension.
Beyond that, the umpiring was spotty, the Rays played uncharacteristically sloppy baseball, and the weather conditions and long, late, interrupted games sucked away any sense of continuity.
The idea of moving the World Series to a neutral site is ludicrous. Yeah, baseball really needs 15,000 fans in San Diego watching the Rays play the Phillies in their showcase event. No way you can cheat fans out of a chance to see their team in the World Series. Mariners fans, imagine how you'd feel if the M's finally made it, and the games were played in, say, Miami?
No, everyone knows the answer — the World Series itself needs to start at least a week earlier, and games need to start earlier in the evening.
Whacking a week or more off spring training would solve the first problem. No one would miss it, and the spring-weather issues could be circumvented by playing early-season games in warm-weather and dome cities.
As for earlier starts, it's going to require MLB taking a deep breath and deciding to stop letting network television dictate its decisions. It might even find that ratings go up.
• After the Phillies won the World Series, Pat Gillick was asked a couple of times about his retirement. Each time, he avoided the question and said, "You never know." My interpretation: He'll be working for someone next year.
• A dark-horse name to think about in the Mariners' managerial search is Oakland bench coach Don Wakamatsu, who managed four years in the minors, worked in the Angels' minor-league system, and was bench coach in Texas before Oakland.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom describes some of the factors that may have led to the collapse of the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River in Mount Vernon on Thursday, May 23.