Pressure's on Jack Z to make the right managerial hire
Don Wakamatsu was fired by the Mariners on Monday. Daren Brown will manage through the end of the season. Shortly thereafter, Jack Zduriencik will name the full-time manager. Considerable pressure will be on the general manager to get it right. Of course, he thought he got it right last time.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
Already, the phone calls are coming in — people feeling out Jack Zduriencik about the Mariners' still-fresh managerial vacancy.
"Certainly, there have been people who have touched base," Zduriencik said Friday from Cleveland. "Agents have called, and that will continue to happen. It's a natural thing."
Don Wakamatsu was fired on Monday. Daren Brown will manage through the end of the season. Shortly thereafter, Zduriencik will name the full-time manager. Considerable pressure will be on the general manager to get it right.
He thought he got it right last time, of course. After naming Wakamatsu in November 2008, Zduriencik told reporters about his thorough investigation of the new skipper that included talking not only to executives and on-field personnel who had worked with Wakamatsu, but scouts, traveling secretaries, old college teammates and even clubhouse attendants.
And Zduriencik still wound up with a manager he could trust for not even two seasons before, in his pointed words, losing confidence in Wakamatsu.
Zduriencik has had enough false steps this season that he himself must regain the confidence of fans and, presumably, the people above him in the front office who will ultimately decide his fate.
Ultimately, that will be determined by the product on the field. It can be argued that the manager, despite all the focus put on his selection, is really not all that influential in determining a team's success.
I don't quite buy that. True, the greatest manager in the world can't turn an inadequate team into a champion. But I do believe that, all things being equal, there are some managers who can, in Bum Phillips' famous phrase describing Don Shula, "take his'n and beat your'n, and take your'n and beat his'n."
In baseball, it's not about firing a team up for one game. It's about nurturing it through the marathon of a season, finding a way to keep players motivated, keeping the clubhouse from turning bitter, keeping players more or less content — even (or especially) the ones who aren't playing as much as they'd like. The best managers succeed as much through the power of their personality as by strategic brilliance, though that certainly helps.
I truly believe that some managers, through their intensity, charisma and even a touch of intimidation — a La Russa, a Herzog, an Anderson, a Piniella in his prime, a Cox — can make a difference.
Yes, all those examples were blessed, at various times, with insanely talented teams. But I would maintain they helped greatly to maximize those teams, and they won when the talent was not so insane. The point is, I believe managers can matter.
By the time-honored tenets of baseball — what I call the Pendulum Premise — the Mariners figure to lean toward a manager who is the polar opposite of the one they just dismissed. Wakamatsu was a laid-back neophyte, which means the next man will probably be an edgy veteran.
And that sounds about right. Since Piniella departed after the 2002 season, the Mariners have favored newbies, with the exception of Mike Hargrove. But even he had lost some of his cachet after four straight losing seasons in Baltimore.
They need someone with stature — a Bobby Valentine type, to use one name that's already been brought up. What's wrong with a field leader who might make some waves, or raise some hackles? A little constructive cognitive dissonance might be a good thing at this stage.
I asked Zduriencik about his comments this week on KJR-AM that he might favor a manager with major-league experience. That differs markedly from his last search, which wound up with seven finalists — none of whom had ever managed a day in the majors.
"Even though Don had not had managerial experience," Zduriencik said told KJR, "I thought that was fine at the time. No problem at all. ... I do think you look for experience now. The club is in a different situation than it was two years ago."
He told me, "I'm going to keep all options open. I'm still formulating my thoughts and ideas right now. My goal is to hire the guy we feel is the right fit for where we're at. Experience will probably be a factor, but I think I have to leave my options wide open."
Zduriencik said he is currently "letting things settle in ... this just happened last week. There probably will be a degree of momentum toward the end of the season. That would be a natural occurrence on how things will happen. I might touch base here and there with different general managers about possible candidates. Right now, it's more important to step away, just think about a lot of things, put some things down on paper. There will be a lot of people calling me to offer their recommendations and advice."
Right now, Zduriencik doesn't even know for certain who might be available. Someone under contract with another team today might not be at the end of the season. Surprise candidates could emerge. This search could take numerous twists and turns before it is over.
The result will be vital for the Mariners. And Zduriencik.
About Larry Stone
Larry Stone gives an inside look at the national baseball scene every Sunday. Look for his weekly power rankings during the season.
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