Larry Stone here. I just got off the phone with Lee Pelekoudas, who got emotional when he talked about leaving the organization that has been his professional home since 1979, when he joined the Mariners as director of team travel. Here’s a feature I did about Pelekoudas’s career and his life as the son of a major-league umpire when he took over as interim general manager after Bill Bavasi was fired last year.
“It was just time,” Pelekoudas said. “After 30 years in one place, it’s just time to move on, and I think this time of year is probably the best time. It gives both sides flexibility. A lot of clubs are thinking of re-organizing if they’re going to make changes in the front office. It gives me the opportunity to start making some calls early, and it gives the Mariners a chance to start looking around early. I made up my mind it was just time to try something different.”
Pelekoudas, who is 58, is not retiring, as those remarks indicate. He said he will consider a job outside of baseball, but wants to stay in the game. He’s willing to re-locate, which is surprising considering the roots he and his wife, Terri, have put in Seattle.
“The kids are grown, gone. We’re open to options,” he said. “It would be strange. We love Seattle. It’s a great city. When the kids were growing up, we were pretty steadfast in staying here because of the city. It’s a great place to raise kids. And we wanted the Mariner organization to succed, to get to the World Series. We never quite made it. Thirty years is a long time. I don’t know if too many people have stayed in any organization that long.”
Pelekoudas said “everything was fine” with Jack Zduriencik, the fifth general manager under whom Pelekoudas worked, following Dick Balderson, Woody Woodward, Pat Gillick and Bavasi. I asked him if his role changed as he took the title “associate general manager” for this season after failing to get the permanent GM job.
“I think every time a new general manager came in, it was natural for roles to change to some degree. It changed a little bit when Woody was here. It was a little different with Pat, a little different with Bill, and it’s different under Jack. My role kind of evolved. It’s easy to say, yeah, it changed, which is sometimes healthy.”
In his current incarnation, Pelekoudas’s job was heavy on administrative duties and navigating the complicated rules that govern baseball’s transactions.
“I think I’m capable of other things than just rules and administration and things like that,” he said. “I’ve never been a scout, never had that title officially, but after watching 30 years of baseball, and I don’t know how many thousands of games, I feel I have a knack for recognizing ability. I have some talents in that area and could be a benefit in that area. I’m really open to various roles in an organization, and I’m willing to do things other than administration.”
Asked to name the highlights of his three-decade tenure in Seattle, Pelekoudas quickly mentioned 1995 and 2001.
“We were talking the other day about the Yankees, the team with the best record this year. They had 46 losses. I said, ‘Do you realize in 2001 we lost 46 games all year?’ It was mid-August and they already had 46.
“Between our record, how we played the game, the All-Star Game, 9-11 thrown in there — it should have been our year, and could have been our year. Obviously, events more important than baseball interrupted that. It’s a shame it ended the way it did. It could have been what we were striving for and all worked for.
“Anything to do with Lou Piniella sticks out in my mind, being around Lou day to day, his one liners, his knack for getting the most out of players in his own way. Just being around him on a day to day basis was a treasure.
“On a personal level, going to Japan and being part of the process of signing Ichiro in November of 2000 — watching the Ichiro phenomenon over there, realizing what a cult hero he was over there. The whole media frenzy really stunned me, and it stunned Howard (Lincoln) and Chuck (Armstrong). We traveled there together. That’s something that stuck with me quite a bit.”
“Of course, Junior, having the pleasure of watching him play, growing up as a little kid, then watching him develop and having the pleasure of seeing what I think was the best player in that era. If he hadn’t gotten hurt, we’d still be talking about him as the best player of our time. I think everyone should sit back and think about what a privilege it was to watch this guy play in the 90s. Not many people can say they were a part of him growing up from day one. What a privilege, and having him back now and seeing how much he’s matured and how much he appreciates being back in Seattle. I’m just glad I was still here to watch him come back.
“Two things I’m most proud of are two structures — the Peoria spring training facility, and Safeco. I think I had a big part of both. Peoria, I was heavily involved getting that off the ground and in the design, It was the first two-team facility, and a lot of the ones that followed were modeled after it. For a year and a half, I spent more time in Arizona than Seattle helping design and overseeing connstruction. It was kind of my baby. It’s getting old, but it’s still one of the better facilities for functionality. And Safeco, the design of the clubhouse, it’s something that will last. To say I was a part of that, I’m proud of that.
“Those are some of the things that will last a long time. But just being part of the growth of the franchise for 30 years is something that will hang with me a long time. It’s hard to forget. It was not an easy decision to leave, but once I made it, i was comfortable with it. I know I have to move on. The hardest part is the people. You get emotional.”
It’s going to be hard to imagine the Mariners without Lee Pelekoudas. I’ve never known them without him, and he’s always been very professional, cordial and helpful with me. I wish him the best.
(Seattle Times staff photo)