Ask yourself a simple question: Do you feel like the Mariners are headed in the right direction?
Put down that shoe. Let’s try to be civil here.
Don’t look at the standings, at least not solely, because the cold, hard numbers found there will scream back an answer, loudly and clearly: Are you out of your mind?
The Mariners are on a collision course with yet another 90-loss season, already assured of their eighth season under .500 (most of them waaaaay under) in the past 10. For Seattle fans, meaningful September baseball has become the stuff of nostalgia, like rotary phones and dollar beers.
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But as the Mariners have slipped and slid through these dark years — now a dark decade — I’ve tried to look deeper than wins and losses when pondering that essential question at the end of another dreary season.
I’ve tried to take the emotion out of it, and look at such things as direction, potential, vision. Deep ruts such as the Mariners have fallen into don’t occur in a vacuum, and you don’t climb out of them overnight (though the periodic rise of teams like the Indians, who lost 94 games last year and are in hot playoff contention this year, shows that the breakthrough can indeed be sudden).
So in this annual exercise, I’ve looked at minor-league talent, at young major-leaguers on the rise, at the validity of the plan in place. And in the previous years since Jack Zduriencik inherited the wreckage of a 101-loss disaster in October 2008, I’ve always been able to answer affirmatively.
Granted, that judgment was not always reached with much conviction, especially after Zduriencik’s first-year turnaround (a totally unexpected 85-77 record) was proved to be more mirage than harbinger.
But I was mindful of how bleak was the organizational talent base he inherited, and was willing to exhibit some patience in the team-building process, even as the last-place finishes mounted.
Now, however, for the first time in the Zduriencik regime, I can’t with a clear conscience reach that conclusion. The once-promising blueprint has gone off track, leaving the Mariners with far too many question marks and unresolved problems for the fifth year of a rebuilding plan.
As another season unravels, it seems increasingly inevitable that Zduriencik will pay with his job. And this time, there’s no defense I can muster, except for one: The root problems with this organization reach much higher.
The news came out recently that Zduriencik was not in the last year of his contract, as had been previously thought; it turns out he had received a contract extension through 2014, reportedly handed out last offseason.
But don’t read that as job security for Zduriencik, particularly in light of the fact that the Mariners never publicly acknowledged the extension, despite a golden opportunity to do so. All the new deal means, as I see it, is that Zduriencik will be guaranteed a year’s salary if he’s let go.
I know from experience what Mariners fans are screaming at their newspaper or computer screens right now: Never mind those guys, what about Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong?
It’s a completely valid question, in light of the indisputable fact that there exists, among much of the fan base, a total lack of confidence in this organization.
Whatever goodwill existed during the glory years (four playoff berths in a seven-season span from 1995 to 2001) has been almost totally squandered, to the point that disillusionment is pervasive. Frustration is rampant. Anger is being replaced by apathy, the most damning emotion of all for a sports franchise.
One needs only to look at the attendance figures — virtually cut in half since fans filled Safeco Field nearly to capacity in 2001 and 2002 — to see the sad downfall of the Mariners. And in most organizations, the buck would have stopped at the top a long time ago. In an article published Sept. 29, 2008, Lincoln, the team’s CEO, told Art Thiel of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “I remain on the hot seat, and I don’t plan to get off it until I get this thing turned around.”
The Mariners are a collective 90 games under .500, and 111 games out of first place, since that story was published. The Lincoln seat has by now presumably reached temperatures that are unprecedented in the annals of thermodynamics.
But under the Mariners’ system of absentee ownership, with head man Hiroshi Yamauchi in Japan seemingly oblivious to the struggles of his baseball team (which, significantly, don’t extend to its profitability), Lincoln and Armstrong appear to have jobs for life.
The time for change at the top has obviously arrived (and some would say is long past).
But is anyone listening?
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @StoneLarry