Posted by: dodgrblu | August 9, 2010

“Wak” Off Into The Sunset

Today, as most everybody already knows by now, the Seattle Mariners fired manager, Don Wakamatsu; hitting coach, Ty Van Burkleo; and pitching coach, Rick Adair. (They also fired “mental” coach, Steve Hecht. I don’t know what a mental coach is, but of all the coaches who were shown the door, he probably deserved it most.) I learned the news on Twitter: thanks, Rob Neyer! (Mr. Vamp thanks you, too. My quick turnaround question to him—Wak got fired??—gave his posse a few minutes’ head start on tracking down the story.)

The firing itself didn’t come as a surprise, though the timing was. Why August 9, 2010, the day after the Mariners actually won a series? Did GM Jack Zduriencik look at his iPhone this morning, see the date 8-9-10, and take the sequential date as a sign that today was the day?

Eh, who knows? But it was pretty obvious the firing was coming. The final sign was the dugout fight between (the withered husk that used to be) Chone Figgins and Wakamatsu a couple of weeks ago. It wasn’t the fight itself. It was the fact that a player got in a fight with the manager, and the team took no disciplinary action toward Figgins. The GM can pay all the lip service in the world to supporting the manager, but not disciplining a player who gets into a physical confrontation with the manager speaks louder than words.

Did Wak deserve to be fired? Probably not. He’s one of those managers who is talked about as a candidate for Manager of the Year when the team exceeds expectations, but who is vilified as the Worst Manager Ever in the History of Baseball the very next year when the team struggles. The same thing happened to Clint Hurdle in Colorado and Bob Melvin both in Seattle and Arizona. (I’ll go out on a limb and predict this same thing is going to happen to Bud Black in the next couple of years, when the Padres come back to Earth. Leading the division with a sub .250 batting average–really???)

Then again, based on media reports and various player comments (going back to before Griffey retired), it sure looked like Wakamatsu lost the team somewhere along the line, so maybe he wasn’t completely undeserving of being fired.

Whatever. The bottom line is this: managers who get fired are usually scapegoats. The manager gets fired because you can’t fire all 25 players on the team.

The real question is was there ever really any hope for Wakamatsu to keep his job? Can a manager survive when a team underperforms as severely as the Mariners have in 2010?

Well, some managers survive pretty big failures. The one that comes to mind in recent years is Jerry Manuel of the New York Mets.

Actually, I’ve never figured out how Manuel ever progressed beyond “interim manager” in New York. Manuel took over in the middle of 2008 when Willie Randolph got fired when the Mets underperformed (the nice way of saying “stunk up the joint” or “sucked ass”) during the first half. With Manuel at the helm as “interim manager,” for the second year in a row, the Mets suffered an epic collapse at the end of the 2008 season. The Amazin’s were less than amazing down the stretch and couldn’t hold the NL East division lead against the Phillies. Then they managed to lose even the NL Wild Card on the last day of 2008—in what became the final game at Shea Stadium (sniff).

Yet, in spite of the 2008 collapse, the Mets went on to take away the “interim” and hire Manuel as manager. Manuel survived the hugely disappointing 2009 campaign, when the Mets finished with a record of 70-92, 4th in the NL East, 22 games out of first place, and ahead of only the Washington Nationals. (Thank God for teams like the Nationals and the Pirates, so your team doesn’t have to finish dead last, eh? Somewhere, some blogger is writing the same damn thing about the Mariners–*sigh*.) The Mets are again stumbling through the 2010 season, with little hope of making the post-season. Yet, Jerry Manuel still has a job. In a media market like New York City, I’m not sure how that’s possible. But there it is.

Maybe a better question is how the HELL Mets GM Omar Minaya still has a job after the epic collapses of 2007 and 2008, a thoroughly disappointing 2009, and a weakly mediocre 2010. It would seem like you can’t flaunt a payroll like the Mets have the last few years (2007: $120 million, 2008: $137 million, 2009: $149 million, 2010: $134 million), underperform (we’ve already gone over what that means) like the Mets have over that same period, and expect to retain your job. Well, you can’t, I can’t, but Omar Minaya apparently can.

So, clearly it does happen that managers and GMs survive lousy seasons—even in cities like New York where the members of the media are as vicious and omnivorous as a school of piranha. So, certainly it could happen in someplace like Seattle where the media treats sports figures and franchises with kid gloves.

But not this time, not in 2010.

So, how does Don Wakamatsu get fired while guys like Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya still have jobs?

Well, Mr. Vamp and I have a long-running joke about various players on the Mariners having photos of the manager/GM/Chuck Armstrong/Howard Lincoln in compromising positions with the Mariner Moose. (Our joke is so long-running that the legendary pictures have now passed through the hands of several players, at least one manager, and a couple of GMs.) Apparently Wak never got the pictures. Maybe Willie Bloomquist kept them.

Mets COO, Jeff Wilpon,...

on top of Mr. Met!

But perhaps something similar is going on in New York. Maybe Jerry Manuel and Omar Minaya have pictures of Jeff Wilpon and … Mr. Met! (Don’t think about it. I mean it. Don’t! Just…don’t.)

You’re thinking about it, aren’t you?

Awful, isn’t it?

Yeah, I know….

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