Mariners players, front office, share the blame with Wakamatsu
Don Wakamatsu, who was fired Monday as manager of the Mariners, didn't get any help this season from this players or from the team's front office.
Seattle Times staff columnist
They got him fired.
The players in the clubhouse who quit on him night after night. The veterans who instead of leading, grumbled behind his back. The hitters who hacked impatiently and were retired meekly inning after inning.
They fired Don Wakamatsu.
The misguided base runners who almost nightly turned a simple station-to-station exercise into musical chairs. The undependable bullpen that couldn't hold leads.
They fired him.
The front office that made him take Ken Griffey Jr. for one more season, then watched as the feud between Griffey and his manager simmered until Junior unceremoniously left the team and left the town.
The decision-makers who believed the Mariners didn't need a big stick and hamstrung the manager with a lightweight lineup guaranteed to fail. They fired him.
His bosses who never adequately replaced free-agent third baseman Adrian Beltre, or believed a broken-down Milton Bradley could play Safeco's yawning left field, or thought it was a good idea to trade a young starting pitcher, Brandon Morrow, for a seventh-inning set-up man, Brandon League — they got the manager fired.
Those same bosses who cut off spending in November before the team was properly put together.
This tragedy of errors led to Monday afternoon's news conference announcing the firing of Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu. This season, he never had a chance.
Chone Figgins got him fired after Figgins was nonchalant on an errant throw from left field by Michael Saunders in a game against Boston last month.
In the dugout, when the inning was over, after Wakamatsu pulled Figgins, in front of 40,000 people and what turned out to be every sports-crazy cable subscriber in the country, Figgins chose that moment to challenge the manager. The dugout scuffle was headline news, and certainly that moment hastened Wakamatsu's exit.
But Jose (or is it Jo-hum?) Lopez also got Wakamatsu fired, playing most of the season in some inexplicable fog. And Casey Kotchman got Wakamatsu fired, barely keeping his batting average above .200.
Wakamatsu was asked to manage a team that had a paper-thin bench. He was asked to manage for the first month of the season without Cliff Lee, who right now with Texas is one of the best pitchers in baseball.
He has had to manage without Bradley for most of the season and with Figgins struggling around .200 for the first half of the year.
He has been asked to win even though shortstop Jack Wilson continues to be injury-prone. For long periods this season, his roster was bloated with too many first basemen and designated hitters, and still he was supposed to find ways to win.
Who did Wakamatsu have to pinch-hit late in a close game? Ryan Langerhans? Ken Griffey Jr.?
Still, losing breeds disharmony, and Wakamatsu didn't handle the disharmony. After Griffey left, Wak seemed to lose control of the team.
The losses mounted. The ennui spread. And the team now seems on a forced march toward the fifth 100-loss season in franchise history.
This firing was as inevitable as the seventh-inning stretch. As good as Wakamatsu was last season, he was equally bad and much less communicative this one.
Even Wakamatsu seemed to lose his fire this year. Remember early last season when he challenged Felix Hernandez and Hernandez responded positively? Where was that this season?
Wak didn't need to turn over a buffet table, but he needed to be more assertive.
In May, for instance, after the Mariners were swept at home in a sloppy three-game series with Texas, the team had a day off before a series with Tampa Bay.
That Monday, Wakamatsu should have called a team workout. Made it feel like spring training for a day. Let the players know he wasn't going to put up with lazy baseball. Instead the team enjoyed a one-day break, then lost five more in a row.
And when Figgins challenged his authority last month, Wakamatsu should have suspended him for at least one game. He should have been a stronger boss.
Still, I don't think anyone from John McGraw to Tony La Russa could have won with this team.
From the day the M's broke camp in Peoria until the night Figgins went all MMA in the dugout, this season was as doomed as the Titanic.
And now, the spotlight turns to general manager Jack Zduriencik, who made all the right moves before 2009 and all the wrong ones before this season. Talk about a sophomore jinx.
Can Zduriencik fix this mess he helped create? Can he recapture the magic of his first season on the job? Can he find a manager who will lead and veteran players who will follow? Is the farm system as rich as he implied?
"We've got a way to go," Zduriencik said.
On Monday, he fired the guy he once thought would get them there.
Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or email@example.com
About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation.
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