Howard Lincoln’s search for a new team president of the Seattle Mariners has already begun. Really, the initial steps of the process had started even before Monday’s announcement that longtime president Chuck Armstrong would step down from that role on Jan. 31, 2014, after 28 years of service.
While it caught some by surprise, Lincoln knew about the decision a week before and about the possibility well before that.
“I was aware that Chuck was considering it,” Lincoln said in a phone interview. “We certainly talked about it on more than one occasion, so I can’t say I was stunned.”
Because of those conversations and logical prudence, Lincoln, chairman and CEO of the team, started thinking about Armstrong’s successor.
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“I think as a businessman you always have to anticipate personnel changes within an organization, certainly at the top and in other areas,” he said. “But I go into this with a completely open mind.”
And it’s his mind that will make the decision for the best candidate. He will handle the search for Armstrong’s replacement. It won’t be a search by committee.
“I will take care of that,” he said.
Names of possible and qualified candidates have already been rumored. The easy assumption would be former Mariners general manager Pat Gillick, who works as a special assistant for the Phillies and still lives in Magnolia. Another logical candidate would be Larry Beinfest, who was recently fired as Miami Marlins president of baseball operations and worked as an assistant director of player development for the Mariners in the early ’90s. Former St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who has expressed an interest in working in a front-office role, might be a candidate.
Lincoln said he’s still in the early stages of the process. He’s receiving dozens of calls with recommendations daily.
“I haven’t made any decisions and really don’t plan on making decisions I would bring to our board of directors before the holiday,” he said. “Ultimately, I will come up with a plan and share that with our board, seek their advice, guidance and approval and move on. I think that’s probably some weeks away.”
Could the search and decision-making process extend beyond Armstrong’s departure date?
“If we don’t think that we are ready to make the decision, we certainly could do that,” he said. “But I think it’s much more likely and better for the organization if we have finalized this before Jan. 31.”
There is no defined outline for a candidate or what his résumé should have on it, but there are a few expectations.
“I’m certainly prepared to look at all possibilities,” he said. “But I have a very good idea of what we need because I have a very good idea of what Chuck does. Quite frankly, it’s going to be very difficult to replace him and that’s not only because he knows the business of the Mariners, but he knows the business of baseball. This guy knows everybody in baseball from the commissioner on down. He even knows the umpires. He knows all the owners, the club presidents, the CEOs, the general managers, the field managers. He literally knows everyone in baseball.”
Armstrong’s relationships within the game extend over a career that spanned three decades. Few candidates will have that type of experience. But Lincoln believes some level of it is necessary.
“I think anybody that steps in is going to have to have a lot of these attributes,” he said. “I don’t think that it would make any sense to bring in somebody that had no experience in baseball.”
That assertion might quell a growing rumor that former Seahawks and Sounders chief executive officer and current Tampa Bay Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke is a candidate. Leiweke recently bought a house in Mercer Island, which has led to some speculation. It could also rule out rumors that John Stanton, a Mariners minority owner and the CEO of Clearwire, might be up for the job.
“Anybody who takes this job is going to have to have an understanding of what a cash flow statement is and have to know about accounting, finance, sales and marketing. Those are skills that you can have that don’t have anything to do with baseball,” Lincoln said. “But when it comes to the business of baseball, that’s different and the person who succeeds Chuck is going to have to have the knowledge of the business of baseball.”
To Lincoln, that knowledge isn’t just the business rules and regulations, the collective-bargaining agreement and mind-numbing minutiae of the day-to-day business.
“He has to know his way around the game,” Lincoln said. “He has to know the players. I’m not talking about baseball players, but the players in the game. He has to know the people that run major-league baseball — the people that we compete with and are partners with — other owners, other CEOs, other presidents and general managers. This person has to have those kinds of contacts or he can’t perform his job.”
That person might even work for the Mariners.
Lincoln wouldn’t rule out promotion from within. Kevin Mather, the Mariners’ executive vice president of ballpark finance and operations, is well thought of by upper management.
“Oh yes, we certainly have qualified internal candidates,” he said. “But I’m going into this thing with a wide-open view and I’m not limiting it to outside or inside candidates.”
Lincoln won’t change the structure of the front office. Teams like the Arizona Diamondbacks have split up the responsibilities of the president position between two people — giving one person control of the business aspect and the other as director of baseball operations.
“I know that some clubs have done that,” he said. “I’m not at the point where I can say it’s a good idea or a bad idea. Most clubs I think operate the same way the Mariners operated under Chuck’s leadership. There are clubs that have tried to separate the baseball operations from the rest of the business. I’m aware of that. I really haven’t started thinking that way yet.”
Ryan Divish: 206-464-2373 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @RyanDivish