Nobody does absurdity better than the Mariners.
On the evening of yet another management debacle — another walk-off loss; this time, it was the manager quitting — the club held fan appreciation night that finished with the low-rent but nevertheless two-time defending division champion Oakland A’s applying an 8-2 beat-down to their $175 million pitcher, who finished the season just 12-10 because he plays on such a compostable franchise.
So how did the club respond to the double black eyes of another 90-loss season and another manager failure? A post-game fireworks show!
Breathtaking. If the Mariners were planning a funeral, they’d hire a stripper. Distraction, y’know?
I realize Wedge’s unscripted exit Friday and the long-planned appreciation night were coincidences. So what? The club’s operations for a decade have been entirely random. So having a fireworks show on yet another dark day in club history is another bleak, yet ironically pitch-perfect, example of terminal tone deafness.
Wedge’s stated reason Wednesday for walking away was the failure to get a contract extension last winter that would take him beyond the apparent one-year offer made by the club for 2014 season. He wanted it for the same reason GM Jack Zduriencik wanted, and received, his one-year extension: Credibility.
Managers and general managers need to be backed by their organizations so that their words and deeds regarding direction are heeded. It’s the same with any organization: Leaders asking their employees for sacrifice need to be able to point credibly to what success will look like, then share in the long-term effort to get there.
CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong attach no value to what was described in that last sentence. And I wonder whether Zduriencik, who otherwise appears to be a sentinent being, is similarly bereft of a grasp.
During an interview Friday night on KJR-AM with host Dave Mahler, Zduriencik had the audacity to suggest that the one-year extension was fine for Wedge, then invoked the names of Los Angeles Dodgers managerial legends Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda as examples of managers who worked just fine with one-year annual rollover contracts.
Jack! Listen to yourself. Alston and Lasorda were the Dodgers’ only managers from 1954 to 1996 because the organization was among the soundest in professional sports, partly due to the fact that it looked upon stability and continuity as valued assets, as long as people were delivering.
You work for the Mariners, who have deteriorated from a position of respect to one of the lousiest organizations in sports. Lincoln and Armstrong — and now let’s throw in the inheritors of baseball’s woebegones, Nintendo of America — have as principal values the avoidance of responsibility and the blaming of others. Hence the constant churn in the jobs of GM and manager.
Wedge was the sixth full-time manager since Lou Piniella was himself a walk-off loss in 2002, but at least the Mariners received a serviceable outfielder, Randy Wynn, in a trade with Tampa. The departure of Wedge, who was loyal to “the plan” for rebuilding to the point of embarrassment, returns only toxicity.
Quibble as you will about Wedge’s use of the bullpen or his lineup changes, he was no better or worse than any proven manager. And he was hired under the condition that he would stick to the party line and never utter a word of the stoogery in team operations. As far as I know, on or off the record, Wedge kept to his word until his pre-game vent Wednesday, when he knew he was leaving. Even the overvalued virtue of house man did nothing to secure him.
Zduriencik’s daft defense of the club’s lameness in offering Wedge only a one-year extension moves him from the category of victim to perp. For awhile, the absence of the club’s acknowledgement that he had been extended one year in the previous off-season made him look a bit like a fall guy too.
But all along he knew the extra year in his pocket. In the interview, Zduriencik claimed that working on a one-year deal was no bother to him, although the club apparently was too ashamed to admit it until last week. And it’s possible that he didn’t have to care financially, according to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal.
He reported Friday that Mariners executives “have ‘evergreen’ contracts that include significant termination pay to protect them as long as they do not violate the deal, a source said.
“In other words, Zduriencik has security beyond his final year. In addition, the Mariners plan to ‘revisit’ Zduriencik’s situation after they hire their new manager and possibly sign him to a more formal extension, the source said.”
So Zduriencik had the security to press ownership to extend Wedge, which is what the manager wanted. But he declined, then feigned surprise that Wedge would walk away from such a fine circumstance.
For his sake, I hope the termination package is a dandy. Because he will take no reward in fan and media circles for cuddling up to Lincoln and Armstrong. Nor will the GM be credible in the clubhouse, judging by the post-game reaction from Felix Hernandez to the departure of Wedge.
“It’s hard,” he said Friday night. “It’s a sad day for everybody. He’s a great guy and a great leader. I don’t know what to say.
“He’s a tough guy, a tough man. I have a lot of respect for him.”
In defending the indefensible, Zduriencik lost a lot of respect in the clubhouse and beyond. He’s trying hard to pin the decision on Wedge. But by Saturday morning, after he read what Zduriencik said, Wedge fired back from the dugout before the A’s game.
“Let me be clear here: the contract is not the reason I’m not coming back here,” Wedge told reporters in what his becoming the daily diatribe. “If they’d offered me a five-year contract, I wouldn’t have come back here. It’s where they see the club. They being Howard, Chuck and Jack. And where I see the club and my vision for the future . . . it’s just different. And that’s about as plain as I can make it.
“And having consistency. You have to have consistency with personnel. Every time you turn over, you start over again, to a certain extent.”
The Mariners are consistent in one aspect: For most of a decade, ownership has been falling down stairs without end. Just when the basement approaches, another door opens, and they bang from rail to wall, an endless somersault.
Earlier in the week I began a column saying the bashing of Lincoln and Armstrong, while accurate, had become wearisome. Yet here I am again, drawn into a vortex of endless futility.
So here’s an appeal, to the board of directors of Nintendo of America, of which Lincoln is a member: Please stop the haplessness. Sell the team soon to a Seattle man/enterprise who cares more about baseball success, before any more careers and reputations are squandered.