Yogi Berra once said, “It’s déjà vu all over again.” For the Seattle Mariners, it is.
You see, the Mariners fired their manager yesterday after Don Wakamatsu went 42-70. The offense has struggled all year, ranking dead last in BA (.236), HRs (67), RBIs (347), OBP (.302), and OPS (.641).
The last time the M’s fired a manager was just two years ago in 2008 with John McLaren (25-47 at the time). For that, we must first look at 2007, when the M’s had a breakout season (88-74) and finished second in the AL West to the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim. That marked the first time since 2003 that the M’s had a winning season and actually competed for a playoff spot.
The 2008 season (61-101) was marked by a team that spent over $100 million in payroll, yet had the second-worst record in baseball. They had made terrible decisions by signing Carlos Silva and trading for Erik Bedard, just two of the factors that eventually led to McLaren’s firing. In addition, reports indicated that the clubhouse atmosphere was so bad that Ryan Rowland-Smith even blogged about it.
The 2009 season marked a change from the previous regime as Jack Zduriencik was hired as general manager and Don Wakamatsu was brought aboard to change the product on the field as well as inside the clubhouse. Ken Griffey, Jr. also made his triumphant return to the Emerald City along with Mike Sweeney. Both Griffey and Sweeney went on to provide the veteran leadership that the club needed as the team went 85-77, a 24-win improvement from 2008.
The season also illustrated the genius of Zduriencik as he traded All-Star closer J.J. Putz for Franklin Gutiérrez in a three-team, 10-player trade, signed Russell Branyan, and acquired David Aardsma. Gutiérrez went on to have a breakout year (offensively and defensively), Branyan provided much needed power as he hit 31 HRs by the end of August before back problems ended his season, and Aardsma turned in a stellar campaign as he recorded 38 saves in 42 chances.
This year, the Mariners had high hopes as they acquired Cliff Lee from the Phillies for Phillippe Aumont, Tyson Gillies, and J.C. Ramirez in a lopsided trade favoring Seattle. In addition, they signed Chone Figgins from the Angels, traded Silva for Milton Bradley, and re-signed Griffey and Sweeney.
Unfortunately, Griffey couldn’t hit (.184/.250 OBP/.454 OPS, 0 HRs, 7 RBIs) and was accused of sleeping in the clubhouse, Figgins is experiencing the worst year of his career, Milton Bradley missed two weeks for anger management counseling, and Cliff Lee was traded to the Texas Rangers for four prospects, most notably power-hitting first baseman Justin Smoak. Smoak has since been sent to Triple-A.
Wakamatsu was dealt a tough hand as he was forced to make do with the worst hitting lineup in baseball this year, but other problems most likely led to his firing. Jim Moore of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer believes that many players were not happy with the way the Griffey situation was handled, leading to Griffey’s retirement in early June. Specifically, Griffey felt that Wakamatsu didn’t give him enough at-bats. But when someone has zero homers and seven RBIs in 100 at-bats, it’s tough to argue that more at-bats are needed.
The final straw that did Wakamatsu in was the heated argument with Chone Figgins that led to a Major League 2 movie-like brawl between players and coaches on July 23. Wakamatsu accused Figgins of being lazy and not backing up a play that led to a runner advancing to third base. Figgins, inexplicably, was not suspended for insubordination and was only removed from the game after the altercation.
The firing represented the frustration felt by the entire organization. Zduriencik said, “Don, Ty, and Rick are all good baseball men, and they have done their very best. But we are where we are. I no longer have confidence that Don, Ty, and Rick are the right long-term fit for our organization. New leadership is needed and it is needed now.” Ty and Rick refer to bench coach Ty Van Burkleo and pitching coach Rick Adair.
Zduriencik’s words are tough for Wakamatsu to swallow. Just a week earlier, Zduriencik voiced his support for Wakamatsu: “Don and I and his son went out to dinner last night. We had a very nice evening, spent like three or four hours together, and talked about a lot of things. We talked where we’re headed with the club, about Don, and Don is our manager.”
Clearly, the 3-3 record since the meeting wasn’t good enough to save Wakamatsu’s job. Jason Vargas, the starting pitcher and one of the peacemakers during the Figgins-Wakamatsu brawl, put it best: “Eventually, that’s going to happen with how frustrated we’ve been. But we’ve all got to get along these last couple of months.”
Unfortunately for Wakamatsu, his firing was inevitable. At least he doesn’t have to worry about his players trying to hurt him now.
As for Seattle, it’s time for new management to take over once again.
Follow Yoshito Tsuji on Twitter @YoshitoTsuji.