(That’s former Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu, now Toronto’s bench coach, in a photo I shot today in Dunedin, Fla., after Wakamatsu had been working with the Blue Jays catchers. Jose Molina is on the right.)
If you’re waiting for Don Wakamatsu to rip Ken Griffey Jr., blast Chone Figgins, or charge Jack Zduriencik with scapegoating him last August, I’ve got bad news. Wakamatsu has nothing negative to say about his time in Seattle (or if he does, he’s keeping those thoughts to himself).
“I think it’s unhealthy to sit and say, woe is me, or whatever,” he said today. “I look at it, how many people get that opportunity? What I remember of Seattle, and I’ll always remember of Seattle, is the fans coming out and the fans being supportive. Hey, they’re owed winning. Whether it’s me or someone else, that’s irrelevant. How can anyone be bitter? I mean, really — how can you be bitter, one of the 30 in the world to get an opportunity to manage a club?
“That’s the way I look at it. I really do. It’s not worth the energy or the time to dwell on something that maybe didn’t go the way you wanted it. So get back on the horse and try hopefully to do it better the second time.”
(Here’s Wakamatsu working with Toronto’s catchers).
I caught up with Wakamatsu today in Dunedin after a Blue Jays practice. After interviewing for three managerial jobs last winter — with Toronto, the Mets and Brewers, in addition to having talks with the Cubs before they decided to make interim Mike Quade their full-time manager — he had several coaching offers. But Wakamatsu said the Blue Jays blew him away. He had nothing but praise for general manager Alex Anthropoulos, assistant Tony LaCava and the rest of the Toronto staff.
“I really like what’s going on here,” he said. “We got a lot of good players, young players, and a farm system they’re starting to build. ”
After the Blue Jays decided to go with John Farrell over Wakamatsu for manager, Anthopoulos and Farrell continued to woo Wakamatsu for the bench job. Even though Wakamatsu and Farrell didn’t have more than a passing relationship, Wakamatsu decided to take the offer. Many people had assumed he would link up with his old colleague Buck Showalter in Baltimore, the two having worked together in Texas. But the Blue Jays, Wakamatsu said, “made me an offer I really couldn’t refuse.”
“We (Farrell and Wakamatsu) didn’t have a relationship, but obviously I had a lot of respect for John,” Wakamatsu said. “We played against each other in college. We’ve known of each other for a long time, and worked across the field from each other. We have mutual friends, so I knew a lot about John. He’s always had such a strong reputation in the game. It was an easy one for me. The opportunity John gave me here, and the trust, is pretty special.”
Wakamatsu liked the idea of using his experience to help a first-time manager in Farrell, whose prior experience has all been as a pitching coach in Boston and in the front office in Cleveland.
“Now you get the pitching side of it and the catching side of it as a tandem,” he said. “It’s fun to be of use and some value to someone, and be used. Sometimes that bench coach is a difficult position if you’re with an established manager because he does so much. He needs you for other things but not so much for this. This is where I think it was healthy where I could come in and be the most value to somebody.”
Back to the Mariners — I asked Wakamatsu if the passage of time since his August firing by Seattle has given him new insights into what went wrong last year.
“I guess if I knew that, I could have fixed it at the time,” he said. “A lot of it now is, like I said, from my standpoint, I’m going to cherish the opportunity I got there. I think you learn things along the way. Certain things, no matter how good you are, it still comes down to wins and losses and accountability. You can go on paper and look at certain things didn’t work out the way you wanted, and eventually those cost you wins. I don’t sit here and dwell on what happened in the past.”
Wakamatsu also deflected my questions about the whole Ken Griffey Jr. mess that probably did as much to derail his managerial tenure than anything.
“I still think it comes down to wins and losses,” he said. “You can say this or that. It’s about production on the field. You can talk about off field, you can talk about things happening here. You’ve got to win games. We didn’t win games, and that’s the extent of it.
“I’m happy he’s able to go back. He built that franchise. He put them on the map. The fans love him there. For him to go back and do some of the stuff he’s going to do, I think it’s good. It’s healthy for the organization.”
The two have not talked since Griffey walked away from the team in June. Wakamatsu said he’d be happy to talk to Junior.
“It’s a difficult situation when a player of that magnitude has to step away from the game. I’d love to talk to him. I wish him well.”
I have more from Wakamatsu that will appear in my column in tomorrow’s paper. I have a feeling we’ll see him managing again one day in the not-too-distant future, and his experiences in Seattle, good and bad, should help Wakamatsu avoid some of the pitfalls that befell him with the Mariners.
“There’s a lot of good managers that managed in the day, and their first go-round didn’t go so well,” Wakamatsu said. “I just try to put everything in perspective.”