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Q. Obviously, waiting for this opportunity for a few years. What’s it feel like to be coming back and back in the saddle? How has it been the last month?
LLOYD McCLENDON: Well, obviously we’ve had a few things going on the last two or three weeks. It was really good. I saw Andre Dawson, an old teammate of mine, who said, well, you’re back in the fire again. I said, yeah, I’m extremely happy.
Obviously this is an opportunity that I’ve waited on for quite some time. I didn’t think it was going to take quite this long to do it again, but I’m really excited.
Q. The team has been mentioned prominently in a lot of things. How important is it to get Cano or an impact player to really solidify that lineup?
McCLENDON: Well, the one thing when I went through the interview process, jack and I talked about the direction of this club and what were some of the things that we were going to try to do. Obviously, for the most part, the pitching is in place. We have some quality young arms and we have Felix and Iwakuma at the top of the rotation. But we’ve struggled from an offensive standpoint for quite some time. We wanted to be able to go out and make a‑‑ I don’t know if make a statement is the word, but obviously get better from an offensive standpoint.
When it opportunity came along, I would say we got better, and I got smarter really quick.
Q. How much of the team have you been able to talk to? I know that’s something you wanted to do was talk to certain players?
McCLENDON: I’ve talked to most of my players. Obviously trying to connect Latin American countries, it’s a little difficult to get in touch with those guys. But most of the guys in the States I’ve either visited with or talked with. Whenever I can get out of here, I plan on doing a little bit more.
Q. But what are you hearing from the guys about the thoughts coming into the season?
McCLENDON: They love their new Skipper, obviously (laughing). You know, I think our guys are excited. Obviously with the commitment that we’ve just made, I think it shows them that we’re serious about what we’re trying to accomplish. I think they understand that for the most part the maturation process is just about over with. Now it’s time to step up and start getting it done. I think we have some pieces in place that can hopefully get that done for us in the near future.
Q. Are you different as a manager this time than you were in Pittsburgh?
LLOYD McCLENDON: Yeah, you know, I was asked that earlier. I believe that your past prepared you for your future. I’d be foolish if I said no, I’m no different. I would hope that I’m better. I know I’m older, I’m a little more grayer, and hopefully a little smarter. I would say, yes. I’m going to be much different, yeah.
Q. Did you do a lot of thinking of what you would do differently if you got another chance here?
McCLENDON: Get better players (laughing). A guy like Robinson Cano makes you really smart, really quick. Hopefully we can get a couple more pieces like that.
Q. What else does this team need?
McCLENDON: I’ve been listening to, obviously, all the news outlets and we have to do more than just Robinson Cano. Look, no one player is going to win a championship for you. But I would remind people that we have some pieces in place. We have a team that we lost 18 to 20 games last year in the 8th and 9th inning, so they were really close. I think that maturation process should help them going into next year. We’ve got a pretty good third baseman. We’ve got a pretty good shortstop. We’ve got a first baseman that hit 21 home runs last year. We’ve got some young outfielders that have talent. So there are a few pieces in place.
Do we need to add? Yeah. I can’t be specific as to what those pieces are going to be right now, but I can assure you that Jack is doing everything he can to provide some pieces.
I will say this, we’re awfully left‑handed. When you talk about balance and trying to balance out a lineup from an offensive standpoint, we need some more right‑handed presence in our lineup. That is one of those things that we’re trying to accomplish right now.
Q. What kind of conversations have you had with Cano?
McCLENDON: Robbie and I have talked several times since our initial meeting last Thursday. He’s extremely happy to be a Mariner. He’s excited about the up and coming year and things that he can provide and will provide. Like I told him, we’ll talk more on Thursday or Friday of this coming week and try to put our heads together on a couple of things.
Q. Is it a given that he bats three for you and anchors the lineup?
McCLENDON: He can bat wherever he wants to bat. I told him, I said in the office, I said that couch over there is mine and that one’s yours. But if you’d like to have that one, you can have that one too.
He’s a special talent. Look, there is no sense in fooling ourselves. But he’s also a team player. He’s a very special and unique person. I think he’s willing to do whatever needs to be done to help us get better really fast.
Q. Most times a new manager is given some sort of rebuilding project. What kind of a luxury is it to know that you were given $240 million player right away too?
McCLENDON: Obviously that is important talent. You can have all the managerial skills in the world, if you don’t have talent, it really doesn’t make a difference. The players make the manager, the manager doesn’t make the player. I can obviously complement them and try to bring the best out of them.
But Chuck Tanner told me a long time ago donkeys don’t win the Kentucky Derby. Thoroughbreds do. You’ve got to have thoroughbreds out there.
Q. How much does a guy like that help the younger guys take pressure off them or maybe somebody they can watch or look up to?
McCLENDON: I think his presence alone is going to inspire the younger players that we have. I’ve always said this about great players, guys like Barry Bonds, Andre Dawson, the guy that just sat here that I used to protect in that Cubs lineup, they make other players around them better. I think Robinson has that unique talent to make other guys around him better. I think you’ll see that.
Q. Robbie has played on a team his whole career where he’s not been the biggest star with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and these other stars there. Do you worry about a guy signing this kind of contract and coming in and have pressure to be more than what he’s been?
McCLENDON: No, my conversation with Robbie is I wanted him to be Robbie. Robbie is pretty damn good. He doesn’t have to be more than that. I can tell you this. When we went in to play the Yankees, the guy that we were most concerned about was Robinson Cano. So I don’t know about star power, but I do know about player power, and he was the best on that team.
Q. It’s hard for a younger player in the Yankees to come up and express themselves as a leader as Robbie even to this point in his career has been one of the younger players on the team. Did you get the sense he wants to be a leader on your team?
McCLENDON: I hear that all the time. Who is going to be your leader? I hope he leads on the field. I’ll do the cheerleading and leading in the clubhouse. But I want guys on the field that can hit three‑run homers. Drive in a run from second base with two outs and two strikes in the ninth inning. Those to me are the guys that lead by example on the field. I don’t need guys to lead in the clubhouse. I’ll do that. I need the guys to do it on the field.
Q. Having just spent eight years with Jim on his staff, what is maybe something from that experience?
McCLENDON: You know he’s probably going to get pissed at me, but I joked about this at my news conference. I’ve learned how to smoke cigars in my underwear. But seriously, I mean, Jim‑‑ I think it’s important no matter who you are or what you’re trying to accomplish in life, I think it’s important that you do have mentors. Certainly I’ve been very fortunate to have Jim as a mentor for me and a friend. A lot of who I am and what I’m all about is certainly some responsibility of Jim’s in a lot of ways.
Guys like Don Zimmer, they’ve certainly shaped who I am and what I’ve become. For the most part, I’m pretty damn proud of it. Jim certainly has taught me a lot about the game and a lot about life.
One of the things that I think is really important when you talk about being a baseball manager is to be able to step back and enjoy the moment. I’m not sure if I was capable of doing that as a young man danger in Pittsburgh but this time around I’m certainly going to be able to step back and enjoy the moments and watch my players perform.
Q. Have you seen similarities between this team that you took over and when you guys arrived to Detroit?
McCLENDON: I do. I see a lot of similarities. I spoke about that earlier. I think this is what I would call an innocent climb for this club. Certainly it’s a golden era for the Seattle Mariners. We have an opportunity to do some special things and we have some special things in place.
Obviously, with Felix and Iwakuma, we’ve got a couple of young men that have tremendous arms. I’m sure all of you guys have known and everybody is talking about him and everybody wants those players. So that tells you what type of players you have. From a pitching standpoint, I see a lot of similarities. The signing of Robinson Cano kind of relates to Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez coming into Detroit, a team that lost 119 games, certainly was going nowhere fast. So I certainly see a lot of similarities. I think we have probably a better foundation than they did in Detroit at that time. There is probably a little bit more talent on the pitching side of things. So, yeah, I think it’s a lot like that.
Q. When you took the job, did you anticipate something like that big name?
McCLENDON: I anticipated something happening. It’s one of the things Jack and I talked about quite a bit about what commitments we had moving forward. We knew we had pitching in place, are we committed to trying to get the offense to help things along. I think this shows ownership’s commitment to winning in Seattle and trying to make us a competitive ballclub on the field.
Q. Have you been able to talk to Felix at all about his thoughts in that organization? He’s one of the oldest guys on the team.
McCLENDON: Yeah, yeah. Felix pulled a Jim Leyland on me. He called me late one night. He forgot he was three hours behind me. I said that’s okay, you can call me any time. So we proceeded to talk for about an hour on a lot of different subjects. I know Felix is very committed to the Seattle Mariners and committed to winning. He’s extremely happy about the direction which we’re going. We look forward to getting it on real soon.
Q. You mentioned right‑handed at‑bats. Jesus Montero kind of lost his place last year. Have you talked to him?
McCLENDON: Yeah, he’s one of the guys I have not had a chance to reach out to yet. He’s certainly a part of this organization and part of the future. He struggled a little bit, but he’s a tremendous talent. He came highly publicized, as of yet has not lived up to what he’s capable of doing. But I see good things in this young man in the near future.
Q. How much will you‑‑ you have a lot of guys on the team, you have (inaudible), will you jump in and lend a hand in that regard or will you just stick to the managing the staff?
McCLENDON: I will not micromanage. I will suggest things on a lot of different fronts, not just hitting. I’ve been in this game for quite some time. I think I know pretty much every facet of the game for the most part. I was a bullpen coach in ’06, and the bullpen was pretty darn good. I have some thoughts. I have some ideals that I will try to interject. But I hired, I believe, a very competent and qualified coaching staff, and I’ll let them do their jobs.
Q. How do you evaluate Zunino’s overall game?
McCLENDON: I think he’s young. He’s quite a talent. This young man got to the big leagues very, very fast‑paced. Quite poised. I think he’s going to come fast at this level. He has the ability to adapt to anything that’s thrown at him. We had a wonderful conversation when I was here for the general manager’s meetings. I’m very excited about him. I think he’s going to be a very fine catcher for a long, long time.
Q. There are so many measurables in the game today. The idea of the intangibles and the things that are taking a base, not taking a base, there is a fine line. 88 to 94 wins is one game a month. It could be what maybe doesn’t show up on a piece of paper gets you to those six games. The stress point now for managers as much as anything else is you don’t know where those six are going to come from so go get them?
McCLENDON: Did you read my speech?
McCLENDON: That was part of my speech come this spring training. I think you’re absolutely right. There are so many little things that can win or lose a ballgame. You know, when you talk about trying to close the gap, we have to be on top of our game particularly when it comes to base running throwing to the right bases. Moving runners. Even when you make a strikeout. Even when you strikeout, is it a tough out? Is it a productive out? There are so many things that we need to shore up, and we’re going to try to address not only in spring training, but throughout the year.
I think one of the dangers, particularly when you have a young club, even when you win games, not to address the things that you did wrong can carry over and cause you to lose a game the next game. So we have to be careful how we go about our business, understand that we’re going to have constructive criticism to make us better and to close the gap on those teams that are “maybe a little bit more talented than we are.”
Q. Talent and experience. Are you then an honest believer that smarter, harder can, on a given night, give a moment and close that gap and make it nonexistent?
McCLENDON: I believe knowledge is power. When you have knowledge about your opponents, what they’re capable of doing, what their tendencies are, what they’ll do in certain situations gives you the upper hand on it.
So I believe in scouting. I believe in preparation. Making sure that you’re not only physically ready to go out and play that game, but also mentally ready for every situation that may arise.
Q. Of the five managers that were hired this off‑season, you’re the only one who managed before. I think that’s more than half of the managers out there are in their first managerial job. Has there almost been a trend against guys who have managed before? Did you see that when you were looking for another job, maybe a biased against older, more experienced?
McCLENDON: I can’t answer that question for the people who were doing the hiring, that is probably a question for them.
Q. Did you ever worry that it could actually hurt you? Because I think more than half of them are guys that hadn’t managed before and the trend has been that way.
McCLENDON: I think when you’ve been in the game as long as I have‑‑ I was unemployed for about ten days, so, yeah, you worry about it a little bit. I’d never been unemployed before for that amount of time. So obviously you worry about where you’re going and what direction you’re going in. I think it makes you appreciate the opportunity even more because of what was out there and what you were faced with.
But the trend itself, I don’t have an answer for that. I’m proud of my career, my history and my career, and how I’ve gone about my business and where I started from and where I am now. I’ll put my resume up against anybody.
Q. You said Iwakuma has a tremendous arm. Have you seen another tremendous arm such as Tanaka play?
McCLENDON: I’ve seen film. I’ve seen film, yeah.
Q. What was your impression?
McCLENDON: Pretty good.
Q. His splitter? Or what was good about it?
McCLENDON: Well, you know, he can go 91 to 93, and then he can go 97 to 98 with touch and feel. Obviously, his off‑speed pitches are second to none. He’s pretty darn good. He’s pretty impressive.
Q. So you think a lot of teams will bid on him?
McCLENDON: I hope not.
Q. Bottom line, baseball is expected to put in expanded replay that includes a challenge for managers. How much does that add to the difficulty of being a manager that you have to add that to your plate too?
McCLENDON: I don’t know. It will probably save me a lot of money. I don’t think there are any bases in my future. I think it’s probably good for the game. The game is so fast, the players are so fast and so strong that things happen so quick. I wish it had been in play a few years ago and maybe we’d have a guy in Detroit with a perfect game.
That’s just part of the game. We move on with technology to the point where I think it can make baseball better. I think we need to be careful with how much we bring in and how fast we bring that stuff in. Certainly things that will alter a game win or lose I think is important.
Q. Are you happy seeing your former ballclub make a big impact and make it into the playoffs?
McCLENDON: I thought it was great. I thought it was great for baseball. Clint did a tremendous job with that club. From a talent standpoint they were certainly one of the elite teams in the National League and they performed well. I knew it had to be tremendous for the city.
Q. There’s not a bunch of outfielders coming back from last year. Is Bloomquist going to be in the mix?
McCLENDON: He’s played some outfield. I think Willie’s a very valuable piece for us, obviously with some our young position players. The traveling, the stresses of the traveling that we do, I think is very important to have a quality utility guy that could play a lot of different positions. Ideally a veteran guy that knows what he’s doing. I think he’s going to be a valuable piece for us.
Is there a chance that you’ll see him in the outfield? Probably, yeah.
Q. What is your feeling on early work during the season? It seemed to be an issue around the club last year.
McCLENDON: I don’t know whether or not it was an issue with this club. I do know my background and how I go about my business I think is a valuable tool for you. I believe players are creatures of habit. When you can go out and work on your craft and work in a quality manner, not so much quantity, but certainly quality, I think it’s going to help you as far as in‑game preparation, in‑game reactions, and in‑game results.
In Detroit, we had what we call our 4 o’clock hour where we go out and do things, whether it was infielders or guys doing some soft tossing on the field or outfielders throwing the bases.
I think the game has evolved to the point now where people talk about well you don’t take infield. I think infield is to a point now where because of the demands on the players and because of the scheduling that it may be a detriment because you go out and do your early work. You heat up, you throw, you take batting practice and you come back in for an hour, hour 15 minutes and you cool off. Then to go back out and try to get loose again, take infield, go back in and cool off again, I think it can be a little dangerous.
For me, that 4 o’clock hour is very important to get a lot of things done as far as preparation is concerned for the game.
Q. So you’re going to institute a similar system like they had in Detroit?
McCLENDON: I will, yeah.
Q. I think one of the easier answers has been it’s an executive thing. But I’m wondering why managers when you think about the DH in one league and not in the other. But I would think the managers at some point might approach baseball and say this isn’t smart. It’s not fair to try to play two different games as many times in a row now.
McCLENDON: I think that’s been somewhat of a controversy. I’ve been fortunate enough to be in both leagues. I tend to favor the American League style of play. I think it’s a safer game for pitchers because they don’t have to hit. You don’t have to worry about trying to bunt and break a finger. I think somebody in the National League broke a finger last year. I’m not sure who it was.
Q. Is there an unfairness to it though as the season goes along when you’re trying to put together a 25‑man roster?
McCLENDON: I don’t know if it has anything to do with putting together the roster. I know it’s kind of tough. We got through it pretty good in Detroit last year. But we finished up in a National League ballpark where we couldn’t use our DH. We were trying to get ready for the playoffs.
So that is a concern. When you have a club that is a playoff club and you’re finishing in a National League ballpark. One of your better hitters has to sit getting ready for the playoffs. That is a concern.
Q. Philosophically are there ways in which you differ from Jim Leyland? Were there specific areas where you would think if this was my team I would do things differently than Jimmy normally does?
McCLENDON: Well, I think that’s just natural. Him and I are not the same person. I believe in a lot of things that Jim does, and we argue about some things that I would have done and things that he would have done. That’s just the nature of this business.
I can’t sit here and tell you that I’m a clone of Jim Leyland. No, I’m not. I’m my own man, and I’ll do some things different than what Jim would do. But there are also things I wouldn’t have done in the past that I will do because of the way he did it.
Q. Can you give examples of ways you do things differently?
McCLENDON: Not really. I can, but I won’t.
Q. We’ll learn this summer?
Q. What do you expect from (inaudible)? Last year he had injuries. Will you slow him down in spring training?
McCLENDON: That’s something I’ll sit down with the trainers and we’ll figure out just how we want to go about his throwing program to move him and build him towards the start of the season. I know one of the things that I have talked to trainers about is how impressed they are with the amount of strength that he gained particularly last year with his conditioning program particularly with his arm. I think we’ll continue that. But that is something that we’ll sit down and develop a program coming out of spring training and getting him ready for the start of the season.
Q. So just need to wait to talk to him?
McCLENDON: Yeah, we’ll talk to the trainers. We’ll talk to him.
Q. He’s in Japan, so not much?
McCLENDON: Yeah, that’s an expensive phone call, yeah.