Big, predictable news out of the Mariners today. The organization fired coach Don Wakamatsu, along with a few other coaches.
I think this was a terrible call on the Mariners’ part. It’s not all Wak’s fault that the team is doing so poorly this season. In fact, I argue that it’s really the front office that got Wak into the situation he was in. True, the front office could not have predicted that Figgins and others would have horrible years. But let’s look at some of the major incidents of this year before assigning all the blame on Wakamatsu.
1. Front Office passes on Branyan. Team decides to rely on aging veterans (Sweeney and Griffey) and Milton Bradley for power.
This, to me, was the #1 problem with this year’s Mariners. True, Sweeney did well enough in Spring Training to earn a spot on the team. But Griffey only hit one home run. Which ended up being his final home run. (I happened to be there for that — big moment.) And Milton Bradley brought a powder keg of issues to this year’s team. Neither Sweeney nor Griffey could stay healthy long enough to make an impact, and Griffey’s slump was so bad that Wak couldn’t play him and expect to win games. There’s nothing sadder than a veteran who keeps playing longer than he should have. In my opinion, Junior should have retired on a high note, at the end of last year. Wak had to manage a no-win situation regarding Griffey, ’95 nostalgia, and the Mariners.
2. Milton Bradley blows up and leaves the team to get counseling.
I thought Wakamatsu handled this situation very well. Clearly Bradley needed to get his head on straight. But he’s not hitting at all.
3. Two catchers, neither of whom can actually catch. Or hit.
This turns the #9 spot into a black hole. We started telling RoJo to keep his bat on his shoulder so he could at least get on base.
#4 Starting rotation (save Rowland-Smith) pretty solid. But bullpen keeps blowing games.
Didn’t USS Mariner call it last year? Aardsma got lucky. Plain and simple. He has no pitches other than a fastball, and just throws as hard as he can when he gets in trouble. This is why he keeps getting lit up this year.
#5 Junior suddenly calls it quits mid-season.
OK. I’m a big Mariners fan, so I love the guy. But this put Wak in a bad spot. He couldn’t play Junior because Junior, well, couldn’t play. So he sat Junior. And Junior wasn’t happy with it, stopped talking to Wak, and abruptly retired. Wak is now “the guy who ran Junior out of town.” See the great USS Mariner post for more on this. Wak lost the respect of the clubhouse after this, and took the fall for something he really shouldn’t have.
#6 Chone Figgins blows up
Wak thought Figgins was dogging it on a play and pulled him from a game. Figgy didn’t like this, and threw punches. At the manager. You never, ever throw punches at the manager. Branyan got involved and calmed everybody down. And what did the Front Office do? It refused to comment until days later, when Jack Z publicly said “Don Wakamatsu is our manager.” But Figgins never really talked to the media about this. He never apologized publicly. The club tried to keep it all inside — giving the impression (despite Jack Z’s words) that it really wasn’t supporting Wak.
You can place most of these problems squarely on the front office. Here’s the main thing about the Mariners — they don’t have good baseball people where it counts. They’ve got the payroll to compete with the Yankees and Red Sox, but don’t go out and sign the players to do so. It’s disappointing and frustrating to fans. We’ve been “rebuilding” for far too many seasons. This is worse than a “bad year.” The culture of the franchise accepts losing. And where do you get the culture to change? It has to start at the top.
There will be no continuity or stability in this franchise until they can keep a manager longer than a season and a half. Since Piniella, the Mariners have gone through at least five managers. And it has to stop. They need to get somebody in there who can turn it around, and whom they can stick with through the down years. The Ms stuck with Piniella when the team was bad. Why wouldn’t they stick with Wak?
Wak will manage somewhere else. I wish him luck and success. He’s a good manager. It’s just that the Mariners are toxic.