Eric Wedge scoffed at another year.
Jack Zduriencik thrashed a good relationship for one more year.
When the absurdity ends, or rather the latest volume of the Mariners’ ongoing tomfoolery ends, you will be left to consider what two men — who once finished each other’s sentences and sold their rebuilding plan with admirable firmness — were willing to do to keep unstable jobs.
It’s the tale of the Dignified Exit vs. the Inelegant Stay.
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Wedge, who is John Wayne in a baseball cap, quit Friday because managing the Mariners isn’t as important to him as his self-respect, and he wasn’t going to beg for the Mariners to believe in him after all the believing he has done to endorse their youth movement.
Zduriencik, the general manager who has developed a disturbing five-year habit of abandoning those he works closest with, will accept his one-year extension and hire his third field manager since 2008, adding to the evidence that suggests he’s quite ruthless when it comes to self-preservation.
It’s no surprise that the Mariners, who will finish with their fourth 90-loss campaign in six seasons, are ending the year with awkward change. The ballclub has been indifferent the past two months. It was inevitable that jobs would be lost. But nothing illuminates the Mariners’ inextinguishable dumpster fire better than this mess. Even though you expected drama, the bizarre Wedge-Zduriencik breakup is another shocking credibility hit for a franchise that has dipped into negative numbers on the reliability scale.
The Mariners had two choices: 1. Get rid of everybody and try again. 2. Make a strong statement that, despite the losses and criticism, they believe in their current direction and commit to Wedge and Zduriencik with multiyear extensions. They chose neither. They chose to delay a decision for another year, and lame-duck years rarely work for leaders in sports because it erodes their power.
A one-year extension isn’t a commitment. It’s a slow, painful death. Even though Wedge said Saturday he wouldn’t have returned for a five-year deal, he knew, in reality, he was a short-timer. But Zduriencik, the 62-year-old baseball lifer who didn’t get a GM opportunity until the Mariners hired him five years ago, seems so intent on ensuring a reprieve that he’s damaging his reputation.
Wedge was the general manager’s greatest advocate. He extolled Zduriencik’s virtue nearly every chance he got. He asked the fans for blind faith, and he championed patience within the organization when most managers would push for irrational moves to win a few more games now. He made it seem like people were stupid if they couldn’t see what the Mariners were building.
But as Wedge exits, you feel the tension between the two former cohorts. Before Wedge announced he was leaving, he took his frustration public Wednesday, saying he felt the Mariners had left him “hanging out there.” When Wedge became the third Mariners manager to quit since 2002, Zduriencik expressed surprise and said he always intended to bring back Wedge.
If it’s true that Jack Z wanted Wedge back — and I’m not totally buying it because there have been whispers otherwise for weeks — then Jack Z is the worst communicator of all time. Zduriencik was so focused on saving himself that he lost his connection with Wedge somewhere along the way.
So Wedge joins a growing list of co-workers who have been ditched during the Zduriencik era. Most prominent: former manager Don Wakamatsu, former director of pro scouting Carmen Fusco (a longtime friend of Z) and special assistant Tony Blengino. For all his accessibility and charm with the media, Zduriencik has had some high-profile communication issues as a general manager, most notably his poor handling in informing his bosses of the criminal past of Josh Lueke, the former Mariner who was acquired in the 2010 Cliff Lee trade.
Zduriencik has an enormous task ahead now. He must hire a manager as a lame-duck GM who has failed to make it work with two managers in five seasons. It’s not necessarily Jack Z’s fault that Wedge wanted out. It is his fault that the manager felt the franchise had hung him out to dry in his final weeks. Wedge deserved better, and Jack Z can learn a valuable lesson from his handling of their relationship. He should have been more of an advocate for his manager.
It’s unfathomable to think the two could lose their connection within two months of Wedge suffering a stroke. The manager missed a month, and he and Zduriencik talked daily, and you would think a bond would be strengthened through a medical hardship.
Instead, the stroke wound up being a climactic moment in the dissolution of a relationship that started so well.
Wedge was Zduriencik’s perfect fit. After the Wakamatsu fiasco, Wedge was the manager picked with the ideal skill set for Zduriencik’s rebuilding project. Wedge’s success would show that Wakamatsu failed, not Zduriencik, during the mere 12
3 seasons they were together.
Now, another manager is gone, and Zduriencik is the one who will face intense scrutiny until his lame-duck status is resolved. You have to wonder if any job is worth the heat Zduriencik is about to face.
Clearly, Wedge saw otherwise. And he’s looking like the better man for quitting.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @JerryBrewer