Woke up this morning to an interesting column by colleague Larry Stone, which I feel cuts to the very heart of how a team like the Mariners could stay so mediocre for so long. Simply put, Stone concludes that the Mariners have once again become irrelevant after Labor Day.
I’d set the Fourth of July as my point of no return, mind you, and I know some of you would like Memorial Day to be the crossover date, but that’s quibbling. The overall point is that no one is minding the store. Folks in Seattle are now focused on college and NFL football and will be until the frigid weeks of January when spring training is right around the corner.
And unfortunately, by then, it will be too late to alter the course of the Mariners in 2014.
This is how it has gone just about every year since I arrived in 2006. No one really knows who is running the Mariners these days, whether it’s Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo of America, Howard Lincoln, silent-as-a-mouse minority owners John Stanton and Chris Larson, Chuck Armstrong, Jack Zduriencik or all of the above. And none of the folks who should be minding the store and making sure there isn’t some three-card-monte game being run out the back entrance are really paying attention any more.
It’s been two weeks since Zduriencik was first reported to have received a contract extension for 2014 and yet none of the alleged “leaders” of the Mariners have come out in public to explain the rationale for that. Nor have they explained why, if they truly have confidence in the “plan” of a GM headed for another 90-loss season, they’d allow him to enter 2014 on a lame-duck one-year deal rather than fully commit to a real extension. And if the Mariners really have not decided on a course of action, why not just admit they are doing what any well-run organization would do and still evaluating Zduriencik before making a final decision?
Instead, the Mariners do what they always have done. They continue to duck and hide, hoping the scrutiny all goes away. They cite club policy as preventing them from disclosing Zduriencik’s contract status, ignoring the fact they put out a detailed press release two years ago in August when Zduriencik was last extended.
But again, they can get away with this when no one is minding the store. When bigger-voice media pundits drop in on the Mariners every so often between NFL exhibition games or bye-weeks. When radio talk show hosts wake up from another week out at the VMAC to proclaim how “interesting” they find the team’s latest batch of young players before returning to a debate about the merits of a third-string cornerback. When national media online or on MLB Network keep touting the Mariners as “up and comers” a few years down the road, ignoring that they did the exact same thing a few years ago. When fans and bloggers, with one eye on the halftime beer commercials, keep repeating the same “stay the course” mantra over and over, comparing the Mariners to teams like the Pirates, Rays and A’s without actually asking whether Seattle really has anything remotely in common with those franchises.
Do I blame all of those folks for turning away from the Mariners to sports that Seattle really cares about? Not at all. The media isn’t about giving free advertising to teams. Fans are tuning in to sports to be entertained, not bored beyond belief by a team that still can’t hit straight five years into a supposed rebuilding plan.
But the Mariners count on this. They count on the lack of scrutiny. They know that if they shut up about Zduriencik now, nobody in Seattle is really going to call them on it. There won’t be a daily feeding frenzy to force their hand in our quiet little town like there would be in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Dallas, Detroit, Los Angeles, or anyplace else where the store is being minded by somebody. Like there would be in most places where a team that headed into 2013 counting on a .500 season is now headed for 90 losses yet again.
And the Mariners will keep counting on this disinterest through the winter, when the real decisions are made that will impact the team in 2014 and ultimately decide how they’re going to finish.
I found it interesting yesterday when Eric Wedge made the comments about his players needing to learn what it takes to win games like the one his Mariners lost to the Royals. Interesting because Wedge, his bosses and his players have been saying the same thing in one form or another since 2010 and perhaps earlier.
Here’s a story from one year ago last August in which the Mariners won a fourth straight game in an eventual eight-game streak, and Brendan Ryan had this to say afterwards.
“It’s nice to win a close game,” Ryan said. “As a young team, we should be learning how to win these games.”More