A morale-boosting attempt at humor.
That is how Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln summarized Wednesday his intent with his semi-notorious e-mail to staff, leaked recently to the Seattle Times, that claimed local media were attacking his club and inferred that media members were always the “the dumbest guys in the room.”
Feeling as well-qualified as any of the dumbest, I e-mailed Lincoln and asked if he wouldn’t mind explaining his claims. Hopefully, with small words, spoken slowly.
He kindly agreed.
In a conference room at Safeco Field before the afternoon’s game against the Red Sox, Lincoln apologized for the unintended insult and insisted he was trying only to pick up the spirits of his more than 250 employees aghast at the turn of seasonal events as well as the criticism.
“I’m very sorry if my friends in the media misunderstood what I was trying to get at,” he said. “I have high regard for what they do. It’s a tough job and I have great respect for them. I’m sorry my humorous attempt to bolster our front office morale inadvertently hurt some people. That’s not me.”
Here’s Lincoln’s e-mail to staff:
If it seems to you like the local media is going out of its way to trash the Mariners, well, you’re right, they are! And you can expect this to continue as the season winds down. We’re getting hit like never before–or at least never before in recent memory! Indeed, if you read between the lines, you get the clear impression that at least one beat reporter would love nothing better than to step right in and run the Mariners. (Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen!)
None of us likes to read about our organization being “dysfunctional” or in “panic” or that we fire employees without good cause or that we’d be much better off if a few heads at the top were lopped off. All of us know that this is a fine organization with dedicated and hard working employees and that we’re doing everything we can to win on the field and to provide our fans with a first class entertainment experience at Safeco Field.
I want you to know that Chuck, Jack and I have very thick skins and that nothing said by the folks in the media or, for that matter, the bloggers, is going to distract us from continuing to do our jobs to the best of our ability, with the goal of giving our fans a championship team. In due course, we will let our fans know of our plans for the future and of our commitment to them. And we look forward to working with you as we put these plans together.
I recently read a blog from Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks in which he explained his reasons for attempting to acquire the Texas Rangers. He had something to say about the media that for me, really rang true. Here is what he said:
“What I have learned in 11 years in the sports business is that the dumbest guys in the room are always the media guys. Some do a decent job of reporting, most just spew opinions. And those opinions change more often than they brush their teeth. So what the media was saying (about his effort to acquire the Rangers) was of zero impact or influence on what I was doing. Listening to the media only increases your odds of failing at whatever you are doing. So I ignore them.”
I hope each of you take Mark Cuban’s remarks to heart. Don’t pay attention to what the local media is saying. Keep doing your job. And keep your heads up. You have every right to be very proud of this organization and for what it stands for.
I believe Lincoln had no intent to hurt, but that isn’t the point. We journalism hacks have been called worse by more important. The point is that it was Lincoln in the e-mail who sounded hurt — as well as petulant and insecure, not funny.
Even though it was not intended for public consumption — “I wasn’t writing a legal brief; it was more like a clubhouse conversation,” he said — it can’t have gone down well among some in its intended audience, either.
“If it seems to you like the local media is going out of its way to trash the Mariners, well, you’re right, they are!” Lincoln wrote. “And you can expect this to continue as the season winds down. We’re getting hit like never before — or at least never before in recent memory!”
Maybe the overuse of exclamation points was the signal for humor. I guess it used to work for the late comedian Sam Kinison. But Kinison never lost 100 games twice in three seasons despite changing general managers, managers, coaches and players at a personnel rate unseen since the last days of the Confederacy in the Civil War.
I think most Mariners employees can see with their own eyes, without any media commentary, the degree of travail.
The loyal workers endured the colossal embarrassment of the Griffey denouement, another puzzling garroting of a manager and his staff, the mortifying acquisition — and continued retention — of a minor league player who faced charges in a rape and sodomy case in which he later pleaded no contest to a lesser charge, and the performance failure of nearly every new-player acquisition while jettisoned players go on to be quality contributors elsewhere (see Adrian Beltre, with more extra-base hits than any third basemen in Red Sox single-season history, adding his 28th homer Wednesday, completing a sweep with a 5-1 win).
And we haven’t mentioned baserunning that would shame Little Leaguers.
Even if Lincoln were to impose a media blackout except for the relentless cheeriness of Rick Rizzs, all those debacles would still be evident to employees. And I imagine employees would feel little different about a season and a franchise that once again self-doused the competitive ember around Memorial Day.
Lincoln contended that employee feedback after the leak has been overwhelmingly positive. Which I don’t doubt — what employee is going to write, “Howard — don’t tell us how to feel, get us a stick with an .800 OPS, fergawdsake!”
Unsurprisingly, my feedback from readers is a little different. Lincoln has been compared to former President Richard Nixon, Capt. Queeg of “The Caine Mutiny,” the great and powerful Oz, as well as less flattering despots and tyrants.
“I’m not Capt. Queeg, and you can print that,” said Lincoln, with no detectable amusement. I agree. Lincoln is a smart guy nowhere near crazy.
But he doesn’t seem to understand that with all the things that have gone haywire this season and in seasons past, and with no one in senior franchise leadership stepping up to accept responsibility, some employees, and most fans, are not reassured when told to simply ignore criticism from “the dumbest guys in the room,” who in fact are extensions of the fans.
Even if the instruction was meant as a joke.
This has been the most unfunny of all Mariners seasons. Yes, it’s only baseball, but all of us, regardless of subject, want our sadness taken seriously.
Lincoln knew his aim was off, and seemed a little chagrined.
“Sometimes using a sense of humor gets ahead of sense,” he said. “I wanted them to know exactly how I felt and make sure their focus stays on the job. I had no intent to blame the media for anything that has happened.”
Lincoln reminded me sternly that I have been among those who have called for regime change. After nine seasons, including this one, without playoffs, and disasters in two of the last three seasons, the call is hardly unwarranted.
But the call was pointless, then and now. Until Japanese owner Hiroshi Yamauchi sells or releases his majority control to Nintendo of America, change is unlikely. Lincoln is Yamauchi’s guy, and Yamauchi is Lincoln’s guy, as is team president Chuck Armstrong.
What might be useful instead is for ownership to examine the profound nature of this failure of a season and figure out whether the franchise’s fundamental problems can be worked around: Absentee ownership, a priority of “ballpark experience” over championships, an overwrought need for message control and an absence of public accountability.
Even if I accept Lincoln’s assurance that I’m not the dumbest guy in the room, and I do, I’m not the smartest guy either. I don’t know whether those problems can be worked around.
Someone must have a clue, however.
If it’s true, as Lincoln’s e-mail quoted Mavericks owner Mark Cuban as saying, “Listening to media only increases your odds of failing at what you’re doing,” then the Mariners have failed entirely on their own, because Lincoln by his nature, proven by the e-mail, does not listen to media — and by extension, many fans.
Well, good for him.
As the proprietor of one of three MLB franchises never to have made the World Series, which, despite a luscious ballpark and lavish revenues, again finds itself at barrel’s bottom, to whom does he listen?