A 2004 Seattle Times profile of Howard Lincoln told of the Mariners’ CEO keeping a notebook with a list of every bad thing that had ever been written about him. I once attended an event where Lincoln was the keynote speaker, and in his speech he told of being called a “money-grubbing soulless leech” in a column by the Seattle Times. The point of the anecdote – one I’ve seen referenced by him in other stories and profiles, including the one linked to above — was that it’s lonely at the top, and you have to be prepared to take more hits running a baseball team than a video game company.
For the record, I did a search, and the Times column in question, which was written by Steve Kelley and ran Oct. 20, 1999, doesn’t exactly call Lincoln a money-grubbing soulless leech. Yes, that very term is used, but it’s more generally aimed at the Mariners ownership in general. The column regards a ticket-price hike for the 2000 season that had just been announced, and Kelley rages,
“The Mariners got their pleasure palace; now they want your disposable income.
What happens next year?
“Give us your firstborn and we’ll give you a closer.’
The nerve of these money-grubbing, soulless leaches.”
The point is, Lincoln might be thick-skinned, as he wrote in the inter-office e-mail that was leaked to Geoff Baker and reprinted on his blog, but he’s not impervious to feeling the sting of criticism. No one is. It’s no fun to read or hear on the radio how incompetent you are. I’d imagine the Mariners’ ownership not only feels they are under siege, but that everyone has forgotten how they swooped in to save the team when it was on the verge of moving to Tampa, and how they persevered against great odds to get built one of the grandest stadiums in all of sports.
Lincoln is the face of ownership, so he bears the brunt of the criticism. But that’s the price one must pay for being the leader of such a high-profile organization, as Lincoln himself has stated on many occasions. Particularly an organization that so many people care so passionately about. And when the team is performing as poorly as the Mariners have this season – and in so many recent seasons – there is going to be backlash in the form of criticism. The reserve of goodwill deservedly built up in the 1990s and through the 116-win season of 2001 is dwindling with each losing season – five of them now in the last seven years, and still no World Series appearances after 30-plus years.
Lincoln seems to think that the media “attacks”, as he put it in the subject line, are unfair. (Odd that in an e-mail decrying attacks, he would include a demeaning, personal and all-encompassing attack on the media; I’d maintain that most of the media criticism of Lincoln, Chuck Armstrong and Jack Zduriencik has been confined to his job performance rather than personal attacks on their intelligence or hygiene, like the one by Mark Cuban, heartily endorsed by Lincoln. Comments on the blogs are a different story, but blog commenters are not media; they’re, well, fans – paying customers, in many instances, and they tend to be much harsher than the media).
I’m not sure what sort of coverage Lincoln expected this year. The media doesn’t have to “go out of its way to trash the Mariners,” as he wrote. They’ve made it pretty easy, as Jerry Brewer points out with his (incomplete) litany of things that have gone wrong this season. Part of the media’s job is to analyze and commentate, and in seasons like this, the result is inevitably going to be negative. Their job is also to investigate, such as Geoff’s in-depth piece last week on the Josh Lueke trade. The Mariners don’t have to like it, but the watchdog duty of the media is one of its prime functions, and delving into a controversial topic like that is one way to shine a light on an important issue.
Actually, the criticism I hear and read most is that the Seattle media is not hard enough on the Mariners, that we give them a free ride. I don’t think that’s true, but I also don’t think anyone is “going out of their way” to rip the Mariners. The scrutiny is the flipside of running a business that touches so many people’s lives. Until the product starts performing better, the people at the top are going to have to keep using those thick skins.