There is no doubt in my mind (or anyone else who follows Seattle sports) that Geoff Baker has been waiting years to write this total evisceration of the Seattle Mariners. Baker worked the Mariners beat for the Seattle Times for seven years, and, save for a few random late-night musings (which I’m convinced were aided by a handle of Jack), he mostly bit his tongue when it came to sharing his true thoughts on the abysmal on-field product. Baker finally quit the beat this fall, and embarked on a new role as an investigative reporter for the Times. His first piece is already his magnum opus. In fact, if he never writes another piece of investigative journalism, I’d be fine with that.
Most people in Seattle are aware of the dysfunction of the Seattle Mariners: an absentee owner, an inept front office led by two old farts who weren’t losing their jobs unless they died or retired (one, president Chuck Armstrong, is retiring Jan. 31st), a revolving door of managers (seven since 2007), and a general manager (Jack Zduriencik) who everyone thought could turn the perpetually sinking ship around. I’d call it a shit sandwich, but that would be giving them too much credit. Reading Baker’s piece is basically the equivalent of witnessing a car accident, but because the cars collided at a railroad crossing, a train slams into the cars, after which a 747 crashes into it. I don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll just provide highlights (the entire piece is worth reading though):
Wedge left at season’s end, fleeing what he describes as “total dysfunction and a lack of leadership.”
The sentiment is echoed by current and past Mariners baseball operations employees beyond Wedge, who has remained silent since leaving and only reluctantly agreed to talk. More than two dozen people who spoke to The Times say any manager — and the players under him — will fall short of success without a halt to ongoing interference from Lincoln and whomever succeeds Armstrong, who will retire Jan. 31.
The sources also raised serious doubts about the GM tasked with reversing years of futility in one offseason, saying Zduriencik has kept his job only because Lincoln and Armstrong won’t admit another critical hiring mistake. The sources question Zduriencik’s credentials to properly build a roster, saying he sold Lincoln and Armstrong on hiring him five years ago with a job application package prepared not by him, but by recently dismissed Mariners special assistant Tony Blengino.
Thankfully, someone like Baker built up enough good relationships that he got the full scoop from Blengino:
Blengino, who was working for the Milwaukee Brewers with Zduriencik at the time, said he authored virtually the entire job application package Zduriencik gave the Mariners in 2008, depicting a dual-threat candidate melding traditional scouting with advanced statistical analysis.
Blengino said he prepared the package because he was versed in the hot trend of using advanced stats for team decisions.
“Jack portrayed himself as a scouting/stats hybrid because that’s what he needed to get the job,” Blengino said. “But Jack never has understood one iota about statistical analysis. To this day, he evaluates hitters by homers, RBI and batting average and pitchers by wins and ERA. Statistical analysis was foreign to him. But he knew he needed it to get in the door.”
Wait, it gets worse…
Blengino said Zduriencik became obsessed with power hitters, ignoring defense, baserunning and roster construction. He said the GM also dismissed the importance of evaluating players within the context of their contract values.
Zduriencik then made him “look like an ass” in front of baseball operations brass in spring training 2012 after Blengino gave a presentation on possible benefits from advances in computerized hitting data.
“He nitpicked about font sizes and column widths,” Blengino said. “He did what he always does and made fun of something he couldn’t understand.”
Another original Zduriencik front-office member, former professional scouting director Carmen Fusco, was fired in September 2010 after the Josh Lueke controversy. Zduriencik claimed he hadn’t known that Lueke, one of four players acquired from Texas in that summer’s blockbuster trade of pitcher Cliff Lee, had previously pleaded no contest to a charge of false imprisonment with violence in a rape case.
Lincoln and Armstrong initially said they accepted Zduriencik’s explanation of incomplete research by staffers. But former Mariners pitching coach Rick Adair later said he’d warned Zduriencik about Lueke beforehand.
The Mariners stuck to their story and Fusco was fired by phone as he scouted in Tennessee.
A current team scout, speaking anonymously, offered his view of the situation:
“They’ve humiliated people they’ve let go,” a current scout said. “And the ones still here hate it. They hate the way they’re treated.”
In the end, Baker’s greatest get here is Eric Wedge, who quit as manager this fall, rather than come back for another season (he forfeited $2 million in salary):
The sources say Wedge implored Zduriencik to stand up to unreasonable demands, like Lincoln and Armstrong wanting Felix Hernandez and other pitchers to throw live batting practice between starts so position players could work on bunting and situational hitting.
Wedge described how, starting in 2011, Armstrong would visit his office and gravely say things like: “Howard sent me down here and … we’ve got to win.”
Wedge would shrug in agreement, telling him he wanted to win every night. “But he’s like, ‘No, we’ve really got to win. We’ve got to go 5-2 on this trip. We’ve got to win tonight.’ ”
Wedge reminded Lincoln and Armstrong they could ease struggles by adding payroll and proven players.
“They’re not going to take a chance of operating at a loss,” Wedge said. “Which is fine. But come on. There’s going to be a learning curve with guys right out of college.”
Okay, now it’s just fucking insulting.
Wedge sensed Zduriencik aligning himself with Lincoln and Armstrong after the 2012 season-ending blowout, leaving him in a position of having to ignore orders with no support from his GM.
“If I did what they wanted,” Wedge said, “it would be a joke of an organization.”
Too late. It’s already a joke. But wait, there’s more:
Wedge met Zduriencik in his private suite Thursday before the season’s final series. He wanted his status resolved before players left for the winter, but says Zduriencik began a point-by-point recitation of coaching staff issues.
“He kept saying more and more stuff about early work, about bullpen (sessions), about our starting pitchers,” Wedge said. “You can pick anything to death if you want to. But I’m not going to sit there and let him crush our coaches. I said ‘I can’t believe you’re doing this. Shame on you.’ ”
Wedge told Zduriencik he’d honor his contract through season’s end, then walked out.
“I’m not going to stand by and let them treat other human beings the way they treat human beings,” he said. “I’m not going to stand by and let them disrespect the game.”
Wedge then signs off:
“I’m no great person, but I do care about the right things,” he said. “I work hard to do the right thing. And what’s happened here is wrong. What’s happened to the players and coaches here is wrong. What’s happened to this organization is wrong. It’s so wrong. I can’t put it any better than that. At some point in time, somebody’s got to stand up to them.”
Sounds like Wedge is the first person (on record) to do exactly that.