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

July 22, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Is there a manager alive out there good enough for Mariners baseball fans?

We’re at that time of year again. The annual point when Mariners fans across a global spectrum begin to debate whether or not the manager of that year’s team has what it takes to make it in our hotbed of the baseball universe.
Doesn’t matter how successful the manager has been. How revered he was at one point in time. Since the day of my arrival, there has been this turning point where M’s fans seem to abandon a manager mentally and find it tough to return.
Which begs the question: is there a manager alive out there good enough for Mariners baseball fans?
After all, we’ve all seen how a percentage of the online fanbase already considers itself brighter than the average player, journalist, team owner, general manager, batboy…etc., etc. when it comes to baseball and what it takes to win, be it lineup decisions, pitching changes, team chemistry and other stuff. That’s nothing new. It’s not meant to be condescending, just an opinion based on stuff I’ve read over the years. Stuff like “(Insert name here) is an idiot!” Since they first began serving beer alongside boxscores at the neighborhood tavern, every armchair jock or jock wannabe thinks they have the sport figured out better than the guys who live it. Part of human nature.
But where it’s become a problem here in Seattle — at least the way I see it — is that this team has employed six managers since my arrival on Sept. 6, 2006. Mike Hargrove, John McLaren, Jim Riggleman, Don Wakamatsu, Darren Brown and Eric Wedge have all taken their turns running the ballclub.
And after a bit of time, all of them have been generally proclaimed as dunces for X or Y reasons. And each time their replacement comes along, the fans (and yes, a few too many media commentators) generally embrace whoever the successor is for a period of a few weeks or months because the new guy’s strongest suit seems to be that they aren’t the manager who came before.
Then, the first time that new manager experiences some prolonged losing — a frequent occurence in Seattle — the fanbase tends to turn rather slowly at first, but then with a sense of rapid-fire permanence. And once that permanence is achieved, every single move that follows by said manager will be viewed through the same prism of failure, leaving no room for flexibility or “outside the box” thinking.
I suppose it’s the same type of thinking so prevalent in New York, or Boston, or Philadelphia, or other places that actually win from time to time. I’ve lost track of how many times a segment of the Red Sox fanbase has wanted to fire Terry Francona, even after two World Series titles. Hey, nobody is saying this type of short-sightedness and limited attention span is just a Seattle thing. It actually seems to be an unfortunate byproduct of the internet age, where everyone wants instant gratification on a night-to-night, inning-by-inning basis.
You can live with that, I suppose. And with the armchair GMs who think they can manage a team better than the professionals. That’s what sports are all about.
The problem in Seattle, to me, is that the folks running the Mariners have actually been turning over managers the way most folks recycle underwear. Six managers in fewer than four years is at least three too many.
And while I sure hope the fans aren’t the ones calling the shots in Seattle — doubtful, given the lack of results in other key areas of how the Mariners are run — I wonder if, on some level, all the fan angst towards the easiest part of the game to criticize (the guy making in-game decisions) isn’t carrying over to some extent with the guys paid to run the greater baseball team.
After all, if a team is losing 100 games and the fans conclude the field boss is an idiot and that’s all the GM or president reads every day, it makes it easier to pull the trigger on a manager than to admit your own mistakes in signing Free Agent A. Or in not doing something about GM Trade B, or maybe getting Owner C to up payroll and give a manager better players.
You can learn to live with the manager stuff in New York, where the Yankees are spending through the roof, have won all those titles, and have an accepted standard of excellence that is bought, paid for and expected to be maintained. But in Seattle? A place where few sports teams have ever won anything? A little tough for me to start deeming every manager an idiot just a few months after he walks through the door.


After all, in Seattle, we tolerate a whole lot of other stuff that wouldn’t pass the smell test in championship baseball towns. We line the streets for Bobblehead dolls hours before gametime in the midst of 100-loss seasons. We still fill Safeco Field in decent numbers for the fan experience more so than the on-field product (clearly, given the results). We have tolerated substandard or overpaid players for years based on perceived grittiness, past performance or “name” recognition.
Yes, I am aware that fans in Seattle can demand the heads of Howard Lincoln or Chuck Armstrong at a moment’s notice.
Those two have been around Seattle even longer than Starbucks, it seems.
But managers? What’s the shelf life of anyone after Saint Lou?
I mean, Lou Piniella was a fine manager for the Mariners and many other clubs. In Tampa Bay and Chicago, they don’t quite view him the same way, but he did a good job in the Emerald City. And unfortunately, I think, everyone that has come after is being judged on some impossible-to-reach scale. Again, based on a guy who didn’t actually win it all with the M’s.
What I’m trying to say, I suppose, is that it’s tough to keep a straight face as I see all of the inning-by-inning second guessing now taking place when it comes to manager Eric Wedge. There are folks on this very blog, who, after getting over their May-through-June infatuation with his mustache and love of John Wayne movies, are now using words like “fire” to describe what should be done about his in-game decisions.
And I guess I have a hard time with it.
I watched a similar love affair with bench coach John McLaren in the weeks before he took over from that year’s designated “idiot” Mike Hargrove. Then, when McLaren didn’t do what everyone wanted, which was replace a veteran like Raul Ibanez, Jose Vidro, or Richie Sexson with Adam Jones in a pennant race, he became the designated “idiot”.
Never mind that Jones floundered offensively for several months after becoming a full time major leaguer with the Orioles in 2008. Never mind that this was McLaren’s very logic behind not thrusting Jones into the heat of a playoff race in 2007 — the fear that he’d take too long to adjust. Never mind that McLaren probably made the right call. Or that he had two decades of MLB experience up close with players and their psyches.
Nope, he was an idiot. Everybody knew better. Nobody wanted to listen to explanations.
And after he left, Riggleman was great. Until the team lost some games. Then, he was an idiot too. And Don Wakamatsu was a genius. After all, look what he did in 2009 in winning 85 games. Until 2009, when he got fired and then — after Brown babysat for a while — Wedge came along. Look at how Wedge managed his clubhouse! Boy, that Wakamatsu was an idiot!
Until now. Because Wedge broke the cardinal rule yesterday which was not trying to win every single game of a 162-game schedule by playing Dustin Ackley. Never mind that Ackley was in the lineup throughout the 11 losses that came before yesterday. The fact that he wasn’t in yesterday’s lineup is enough for some to declare they’ve lost all faith in “idiot” Wedge.
Because we all know that Ackley would clearly have hit six home runs and given the M’s a 7-5 lead before Miguel Olivo’s slam, which would have made it 12-5 and thus probably would be enough for David Pauley to get out of the eighth…stop it!
The season is lost, folks.
Lost!
All those who didn’t want the M’s to go for it, you’ve gotten your wish. You were “right”. They aren’t going for it. They are showcasing veterans for trades. They are playing veterans so they can yell at them later and demand some accountability for all of those seven-figure contracts. This is what losing teams do in lost seasons. This is what rebuilding teams do in rebuilding years.
Contending teams don’t play a guy as struggling as Carlos Peguero for weeks on end in the heat of a race. Again, one of the reasons McLaren hesitated to use Adam Jones in 2007. He didn’t have 15 games to waste to find out whether Jones would be another Ackley or another Peguero. The season was on the line. His squad crashed and burned because of the pitching that year anyway.
So, this is where we’re at. No, i don’t think every decision made in-game by Wedge has been brilliant. And yeah, Ackley in the lineup yesterday gave him a better chance to win than Jack Wilson.
But again, like that June series in Detroit, where Wedge benched vets while facing Justin Verlander in order to set a “produce and you play” standard, there is more at stake here than just one game in a lost season.
And I don’t mind manager criticism. It’s part of sports. I do it all the time with my favorite teams when I’m not covering them for a living.
But actually firing Wedge? Believe me, there are plenty of folks in this organization to fire first before another manager is sacrificed. You can start with the guys who gave Wedge his players and work your way upstairs from there.
The last thing Seattle baseball needs is a seventh manager hired since I got here.
At least until next year, right?
Demanding accountability is tough, especially when there’s been so little of it before. Wedge is trying to do that with one hand tied behind his back by the team’s past decisions. Give him at least one season to find his footing.
If not, history is guaranteed to repeat itself.

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