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Originally published Monday, August 9, 2010 at 12:25 PM

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Mariners give manager the boot one week after vote of confidence

Don Wakamatsu, in his second year as manager of the Mariners, was fired by the team on Monday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

As the season began, his Mariners were the chic pick to win the American League West. Just one week ago, his boss gave him a vote of confidence.

But on Monday, manager Don Wakamatsu was the latest casualty in a disastrous Mariners season marked by too much drama and too many defeats.

Wakamatsu, his team mired deep in last place, was fired by general manager Jack Zduriencik, the man who voiced support for him last week.

Zduriencik said at a Safeco Field news conference that he had "lost confidence" in Wakamatsu, whose hiring on Nov. 19, 2008, was Zduriencik's first major move after being named GM.

"I do not take this decision lightly," Zduriencik said. "I have wrestled with this. I have thought through it long and hard. However, at the end of the day, a decision had to be made. And my decision, my recommendation, was that we make a change at the top of our on-field personnel. We did that today."

Daren Brown, who has been the manager of the Mariners' top minor-league affiliate, the Class AAA Tacoma Rainiers, for the past four seasons, was named interim manager.

Also fired were Wakamatsu's top two lieutenants, pitching coach Rick Adair and bench coach Ty Van Burkleo, as well as performance coach Steve Hecht.

The four firings were the latest chapter in a Mariners season that quickly spun out of control, on and off the field.

• Wakamatsu, credited in 2009 with improving what had been a toxic clubhouse, had a much stormier time this year. The revelation in May that Ken Griffey Jr. was sleeping in the clubhouse during a game created national news. Wakamatsu had to bench a struggling Griffey, and the two reportedly didn't talk for about a week before Griffey's abrupt retirement June 2.

• Griffey's departure followed the May 9 firing of hitting coach Alan Cockrell. He was replaced with Alonzo Powell, who will remain on the coaching staff, as will three others.

• On July 23, Wakamatsu benched Chone Figgins for not hustling after an overthrow, leading to a heated dugout argument in which several teammates had to intervene. That led to an uneasy truce in which Figgins, an offseason signing who was supposed to bolster the roster, has declined to talk about what happened.

Asked if those incidents were indicative of Wakamatsu losing the team, Zduriencik said, "I did not use that term. ... I would not pick any individual specific instance that happened that led to the decision I made today. It's the big-picture view of where we're at as a team, where I want this team to go, and I just thought the change at the top was necessary."

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On the field, a Mariners team considered a playoff contender fell hard and fast.

The Mariners started play Monday with a 42-70 record, 22 ½ games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West. The offense was particularly troublesome, with the Mariners ranking last in the league in virtually every category.

The season began with considerable promise after Wakamatsu, in his first season, guided the Mariners to an 85-77 record in 2009. Their 24-game improvement from 101 losses in 2008 was the best in the major leagues. Yet, they are on pace to match their dismal 2008 record this season.

"I don't think we are back to 'square zero,' " Zduriencik said. "However, this season presented an opportunity for us. In that opportunity, a lot of things had to fall into place — with the acquisition of Cliff Lee, with the addition of Chone Figgins, and players I thought had to have good seasons.

"To look around and see so many players having subpar seasons is very disturbing."

Asked what had happened since Aug. 2, when he declared several times, "Don is our manager," Zduriencik said: "I wasn't prepared to make a decision at that time. There was a lot written and a lot said, but I hadn't settled that myself. You get to a point where it's time to make a call, and I thought it was necessary to make a call today."

Zduriencik said it was his decision, and in an e-mail to The Seattle Times, Mariners President Chuck Armstrong said he and CEO Howard Lincoln supported the move.

"This was Jack's recommendation to Howard and me," Armstrong said. "We had long and thoughtful discussions about this over a period of time because we all think so highly of Don. In the end, Howard and I supported Jack's recommendation and we acted on it."

Wakamatsu, quoted in a statement by the Mariners, thanked fans but expressed disappointment.

"My single biggest disappointment is that we were not able to finish what we wanted to finish here, bringing a championship club to the fans," he said.

While Brown, 43, will finish the season as Mariners manager, Zduriencik said he will start vetting potential full-time candidates immediately.

"There will be candidates we'll want to talk to sooner rather than later," he said.

Also named to the Mariners' staff Monday were Roger Hansen as bench coach and Carl Willis as pitching coach.

Wakamatsu, the first Asian-American manager in the major leagues, was informed of his firing in a morning meeting at Safeco Field with Zduriencik, who described Wakamatsu as "sad."

"It was tough," Zduriencik said. "It was fairly short and sweet. I've been through these things before, and sometimes the less said is better. You get to a point where a decision is made. Don respected the decision, thanked me for his time here. He thought it was great opportunity. There was an air of disappointment. We shook hands, and that was the end of it."

Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or lstone@seattletimes.com

Mariners' free fall
The Mariners plummeted to the bottom of the American League this season in nearly every offensive statistic, and dropped in some pitching stats. A comparison between 2009 and 2010 through Sunday (with AL rankings):
2009 (Rank) Statistics 2010 (Rank)
.525 (7th) Win-loss percentage .375 (13th)
.258 (tie, 13th) Batting average .236 (14th)
160 (tie, 11th) Home runs 97* (14th)
3.87 (1st) Earned-run average 4.02 (7th)
* Projected for 2010 season

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