Conventional wisdom says that the Mariners most significant task this off-season is the need to rebuild a once-proud franchise that is coming off its second 101-loss season in the last three years.
While its best not to minimize the job facing Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik, in this case his job may well rank second in difficulty as the Mariners move forward.
And it may not be a close second.
The Mariners are also faced with the task of replacing the man who to fans was the face, and certainly the voice, of the franchise. Dave Niehaus died on Nov. 10, and the loss of the Hall of Fame announcer, unexpected as it was, shook the organization from top to bottom.
Replacing him, especially in the short term, is impossible. There is a pool of free agents to fill whatever positions are needed on the field. There is no such pool of talent for radio and TV personnel. Most major names are tied up for 2011.
Even if they werent, there is no Dave Niehaus available.
“Dave Niehaus can never be replaced, club president Chuck Armstrong told Sportspress Northwest. “We could bring in Vin Scully in his prime and our fans wouldnt like him. It would be like trying to replace John Wooden at UCLA. Its an impossible job.
So what will the Mariners do For the moment they will draw a few deep breaths and improvise while they gather names, test concepts and consider exactly what it is they want their broadcasts to be.
Veterans Rick Rizzs, Dave Sims and Mike Blowers all were told along with Niehaus at the end of last season that they would be brought back. And Niehaus death isnt altering the clubs commitment to them. All will return.
But will Sims do what hes done for the past couple of years and spend part of the game on television and part on radio? Thats yet to be determined.
Randy Adamack, the clubs vice president of communications, is leading the way. He met with representatives of the teams flagship radio station (ESPN Seattle 710) and television network (Root Sports, the renamed FSN) to get their ideas and input.
The announcers are hired by the club. Ultimately Adamack, Armstrong and CEO Howard Lincoln will have the strongest voices in making the call.
“Our challenge has been with the process, Adamack said. “We have met with our radio and TV partners. Weve talked among ourselves. We have to decide which way we want to go.
“Were talking about announcers and how they relate now to TV and radio. Weve had a couple of meetings deciding just how we want to be structured internally.”
There is one major issue out of the Mariners control. Although the Seattle market is considered a plum assignment, most television and radio candidates are locked up elsewhere. The last time the Mariners had a broadcasting opening, the one that went to Sims, Adamack and Armstrong fielded hundreds of calls, some from applicants and others from associates of wannabe announcers pushing their guys.
This time, there is considerable interest from voices outside of the Seattle area but for 2012, not for 2011.
For that reason, one idea the Mariners is to use the 2011 season as a transition year, to experiment a little to inform what the clubs broadcasts should be like in the future.
The idea is to bring bringing back former Mariner announcers such as Ron Fairly, Ken Levine and Ken Wilson for two or three weeks at a time, having them work with the crew already on hand. That plan would include Dave Valle, Jay Buhner, Dave Henderson, Dan Wilson and other former Mariners who have done work in the booth to be more involved with the broadcasts.
“We have a couple of different ways to go, Adamack said. “One that would be the least dramatic and most comfortable for listeners and fans would be to do something like that, rotate former announcers for the year as we decide how we want to be structured and how we want to look.
Another idea would be to have someone the area isnt familiar with come in for a two- or three-week tryout, something Armstrong likened to the way the Seattle Symphony brought in guest conductors to see how things went as the organization sought a replacement for Gerard Schwarz after his quarter century at the helm.
One possibility would be that Tacoma Rainiers, the Triple A club, announcer Mike Curto would get a chance to show his stuff.
But none of the option includes a full-time replacement in 2011as the voice of the franchise since inception. Can’t be done.
John Hickey is also Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)