GM Jack Zduriencik did his homework — and received positive feedback on "Wak"
Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik talked to general managers that had worked with Wakamatsu — men like Billy Beane (A's), Jon Daniels (Rangers) and Bill Stoneman (Angels) — but also scouting personnel, traveling secretaries, old college teammates, even clubhouse attendants.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Buck Showalter said he shared some of the greatest belly laughs of his career while working with Don Wakamatsu.
"He's got an electric smile, a great personality," said the former manager of the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers. "You'll see that in Seattle."
Ah, but don't underestimate the toughness of the new Mariners skipper, cautions Showalter, for whom Wakamatsu served four seasons as Texas' bench coach, from 2003 to 2006.
"If you see his left eye quivering, he's about to snap," Showalter said. "It's a beautiful thing. When Wak starts to twitch in his left eye, get out of the way."
Showalter was one of the last people that Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik talked to during a thorough vetting process that saw him inquiring to not only general managers that had worked with Wakamatsu — men like Billy Beane (A's), Jon Daniels (Rangers) and Bill Stoneman (Angels) — but also scouting personnel, traveling secretaries, old college teammates, even clubhouse attendants.
The feedback was almost universally positive, which is how Wakamatsu arrived at the podium Wednesday for his introductory news conference.
His hiring was hailed throughout the industry, even catching the eye of Charlie Hough, who was largely responsible for Wakamatsu's short-lived stint in the major leagues with the White Sox in 1991.
Wakamatusu did such a good job catching Hough's knuckleball during a spring-training game that the pitcher requested he be called up to replace an injured Ron Karkovice. Each of Wakamatsu's starts that year — the sum of his major-league career — was as Hough's personal catcher.
"He did a heck of a job," said Hough, laughing. "He was a little scared. When you're in the big leagues to catch someone like me, it's not easy. But let me put it this way — he caught better than I pitched.
"All I can say is, I'm happy for him. He's a wonderful young man, devoted to baseball. He gave it all he had as a player. If that effort continues, and I'm sure it will, he'll be a heck of a manager."
Showalter has a tremendous affinity for Wakamatsu, who first caught his eye as a minor-league manager in the Diamondbacks' farm system. But it wasn't until they worked together in Texas that Showalter fully realized what a strong baseball man Wakamatsu was.
"He's driven," Showalter said. "Wak's very personable, but he's got a tough side to him. He can be blunt. He won't just tell people what they want to hear.
"When you ask his opinion, he doesn't Eddie Haskell it. I love guys like that. I'd ask at a staff meeting if there were any questions, and he'd throw his hand up. I'd say, 'Oh boy, this will be a good one.' I enjoyed our banter."
Showalter said of the Mariners job, "I think it's the right fit for Wak. I'm excited he got the job."
His one concern?
"This is so important to him, and he's worked so hard — this sounds crazy, but I hope he doesn't try too hard," Showalter said.
"He's not going to over-manage, but he wants to do well so bad. When someone doesn't share the 'want-to' like he does, he's going to have an issue. Some guy trotting down the line, or not putting in the time, Wak's not going to have much patience with him. He can love them and he can kick them."
To the question of whether Wakamatsu will be a good manager, Showalter said, "All indications are that he should be. He's going to have to have good players. There's no question about the chicken and egg in managing. The players have to be there. But he has all the qualifications and characteristics of an outstanding manager."
Wakamatsu also received raves from Stoneman, who was GM in Anaheim when the new Mariners manager spent two seasons (2001-02) as the Angels' minor-league field coordinator and roving catching instructor. Wakamatsu earned a World Series ring in 2002.
"He's the kind of guy that really understands the big picture," Stoneman said. "While he's managing the major-league team, he'll also be involved beyond, I'll bet you. I told Jack this is a guy that understands that a lot of people have to do well in the organization for the organization to succeed.
"I think Jack made a hell of a choice. I told him, if I were GM in Seattle — and I was in his shoes once, hired late and having to throw together an organization — Wak would be near the top of my list. I think he'll do a great job."
Daniels called it an outstanding hire.
"Wak's got a lot of things you like — great person, good family man, can relate to players, on-field guys and front-office types equally well, and he gets the big picture. The division got a little tougher."
Contacted at his New Jersey home, former A's and Mets pitching coach Rick Peterson predicted great things of Wakamatsu, whom he befriended during his minor-league career.
"Donny's always been a great student of the game," he said. "We had a great connection several years ago when we were together. He's a very special individual."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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