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Daily coverage of the Mariners during the season and all year long.

March 5, 2007 at 8:26 AM

When losing matters

There is an accepted reality within baseball that a team does not fire its manager in spring training. Well, almost never. The Toronto Blue Jays axed Tim Johnson back in March 1999 after his 88-win rookie managerial season the previous year. So, the old ball truism should be amended to say that “a team does not fire its manager in spring training unless he is caught lying about having served in Vietnam and then loses too many pre-season games.”
The point of bringing this up is that wins and losses this time of year really do take a back seat to getting a team ready for the regular season. So, the fact that the Mariners are now 0-5 in Cactus League, split-squad and charity games should not be setting off alarm bells just yet. If this was the final week of the spring and Jeff Weaver was still missing the strike zone, Richie Sexson still wasn’t hitting, Jose Lopez was on-the-shelf, Chris Reitsma was getting bombed and the team was still averaging less than three runs per game, then it would be time to get the panic button ready.
Now, all of that said, it would be foolish to think the team is not getting just a teeny bit antsy with the inability to log that first win. I’ve seen far longer losing stretches during my previous eight springs covering camps, but let’s face it, the Mariners do have something to prove here. They may deny it, but come on. Three consecutive last-place finishes, an impatient fan base that forgets it was only four short years ago this was a 93-win team, and an underwhelming off-season of player acquisitions have folks wanting to be shown something before they regain any optimism.
Manager Mike Hargrove understands that folks will get panicky with each passing day until a victory is notched. Hargrove was not his usual, light-hearted self during today’s morning chat with reporters. He blew off a harmless question about whether, as a baseball fan, he was curious about seeing both Mark Prior and Kerry Wood in today’s pitching rotation the Chicago Cubs will be sedning out against his squad.
Later on, after silence engulfed the room, he seemed to realize he’d been a little too dismissive on a question most managers get asked this time of year in one form or another. After all, if spring training records really don’t matter, then what better time to expand upon issues dealing with the game in general?
“I hope they throw everything about 40 miles per hour right down the middle of the plate and then they’re dynamite tomorrow,” he said, regaining some humor. Hargrove even went so far as to say he “wasn’t trying to be a smartass” in his initial blow-off, but repeated that he doesn’t care about opposing pitchers. Good on him for the olive branch. The question, by the way, was asked just after Hargrove had spent several moments dealing with queries about his winless squad.
“I’m going to tell you the truth,” he said. “I’ve been in camps where we’ve had great records coming out of spring training. The four years I was in Baltimore, we were either at or tied the Grapefruit League lead. And then we went out and we scuffled not to lose 100 games.”
So, should we conclude that spring training wins and losses don’t matter? Not exactly.
“I don’t want to go 0-for-32,” Hargrove quickly added.
He then went on to say: “We don’t go out there to lose. We don’t go out there just to play, to get our game in shape. We play to win. It just hasn’t happened so far.”
So, what to draw from all of this? My take is that Hargrove doesn’t care about the won-lost record this spring. His prime objective is to get the team ready, to make sure they take good at-bats, stop running into outs on the basepaths and can have their pitchers throw strikes that don’t get whacked over the fence.
That said, he’d probably like a win or two right about now. Two straight wins and nobody will be asking about the spring record for at least another week. Until then, this whole winless thing becomes an unwanted pain. Just a little, nagging distraction in the back of his mind that he knows will keep growing and growing until it’s inevitably resolved.
By the way, Jay Buhner and Dan Wilson arrived in camp today to begin their guest coaching stints. They won’t be giving any speeches the way Edgar Martinez did. As Hargrove said, “they are here to work” on the field, during drills, and that’s it. Probably the best thing, since there is only one Edgar and too many talks start to get dull after a while.
The players are in the clubhouse right now having their annual spring players’ association meeting with union head Donald Fehr and sidekick Bobby Bonilla (yes, that Bobby Bo). I’m sure they’ll have plenty to talk about with that new pharmaceutical scandal going on not too far away in Angels camp.



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