Scott Servais is no fun. He has zero track record as a manager. We can’t pick apart his errors. At least the Mariners’ new general manager, Jerry Dipoto, had the decency to have been a GM with the Angels, where in the winter of 2012 he actually bid $125 million and won the services of free agent OF Josh Hamilton, whose history with addiction offered up a red flag the size of Vermont.
That hire was the call of team owner Arte Moreno, said Dipoto at his introductory press conference in Seattle. Hamilton as an Angel was the worst value since Argentina in 1982 took the Falkland Islands. Dipoto traded Hamilton back to Texas in April for a bag of Halloween candy while paying $60 million of his remaining salary.
But the episode told us two things about Dipoto. He has experience with wacky ownerships, and he understands the business principle of the sunk cost, two assets that will come in handy for his Seattle tenure.
But Servais, hired Friday as the Mariners’ 17th full-time manager? Nada. No tracks in the snow. No fingerprints on safe’s combination lock. Can’t even find his Amazon shopping history.
However, we can know four things:
- He is not of the Mike Scioscia/Lloyd McClendon School of Baseball As It Was.
- He is a ball-bro of Dipoto’s, as a player and as a front-office executive;
- He was a major league catcher;
- Lou Piniella had no experience when owner George Steinbrenner hired him to manage the Yankees in 1986. In three seasons, he won 90, 89 and 85 games. But because he didn’t make the playoffs (back when making the postseason was a feat), he was ushered out. Lloyd, meet Lou.
Since Servais (pronounced service, as in, “Two olives or three with your martini, Mr. Lincoln?”) is the sixth man since 2002 deliberately assigned the task of measuring up to the greatest manager in Mariners history, we’ll take that final fact as the most relevant.
In recent years, managers free of previous trials have shown themselves capable; two in particular, the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny and the Yankees’ Joe Girardi, both ex-MLB catchers who had a combined 28 years in the bigs.
Also hired without having choked back fumes from a six-hour ride in an old bus between games in the minors were Robin Ventura (White Sox), Walt Weiss (Rockies), Brad Ausmus (Tigers) and Craig Counsell (Brewers). Others such as Bryan Price (Reds), Paul Molitor (Twins) and recent casualties Don Mattingly of the Dodgers and Bud Black of the Padres had only MLB coaching experience.
Back in the day, Gil Hodges had no experience, but by his second year managing the Mets, the Amazin’s won the 1969 World Series. Billy Martin had a half-year’s experience before he ascended, Tony LaRussa one year. They did all right.
Previous managerial experience may be worth something for some guy, on some teams. Or not. Since Servais has been on ballclubs from youth to age 48, including nine years catching in the bigs, there’s a good chance he can tap his forearm for the righthander in the bullpen with the best of them.
These days, a lack of experience can be seen as something of an asset, explained in two words: Blank slate.
While every new manager is an amalgam of teachings from managers under whom they played, they don’t have a system yet that has proven to work. In Anaheim, Scioscia, another ex-catcher, had a system in place for 11 years before Dipoto was hired to be his boss in 2011, and it worked well enough to win a World Series.
So when Dipoto came up with an idea to share information from advanced metrics with Scioscia and the players, Scioscia fixed him with a stink-eye worthy of the one the Nazis received opening the Ark of the Covenant.
The relationship was not going to end well. Once Moreno, that oracle of baseball wisdom, sided with Scioscia, Dipoto abruptly resigned in July. So when the free agent signed to be the Mariners GM, he vowed to not let anyone again open on him another ark from the past.
Dipoto apparently knows Servais well enough to count on him to understand the game has changed, and any team that fails to change with it is doomed to, say, miss the playoffs 14 years in a row.
What happens in baseball when the opponent knows habits and tendencies of Seattle players a little better than Seattle knows its own players, is that a lot of games get lost 3-2, 2-1 and in extra innings. Mariners fans may recognize the pattern from the 2015 season.
As was mentioned here before, baseball’s wide adoption of advanced metrics is simply a way to find an edge in a sport that is riven with parity, dominated by powerhouse pitchers capable of shutting off half the game on a regular basis. If shading an infielder a step in one direction, or anticipating a breaking pitch on a 3-2 count, or passing on a bunt can get or save a run, that’s a bigger deal than it has ever been.
Sure, it’s not traditional. But the Mariners are not exactly steeped in tradition. Unless you consider tradition two outs and nobody on.