Don Wakamatsu has been hired as M's manager over a group of seven candidates, including former Mariner Joey Cora. Wakamatsu, the bench coach at Oakland, will become the first Asian-American manager in the major leagues.

The disappointment was evident in the voice of a crushed Joey Cora as he came to terms with the fact that somebody else had been given the job of managing his once-beloved Mariners.

Cora had just learned Tuesday afternoon that Oakland Athletics bench coach Don Wakamatsu had beaten him out for what he’d considered his dream job. Wakamatsu, 45, the first Asian-American to manage in the major leagues, is to be introduced in Seattle at a news conference at 1:30 p.m. today.

“I was very disappointed, obviously,” said Cora, the former Mariners infielder who played a key role on the 1995 team that lost to the Cleveland Indians in the American League Championship Series. “I thought I would have been a great fit to help restore the Mariners with pride and reenergize the fan base. It seemed like it was all falling into place. But it is what it is. There’s nothing I can do about it now.”

Cora and five other finalist candidates were told of the decision in telephone calls from Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik on Tuesday.

Wakamatsu is a former big-league catcher who played in the Mariners organization as a minor-leaguer in 1995 and 1996. He was a bench coach with the Texas Rangers two years ago and a finalist to replace the fired Buck Showalter as manager before the job was given to Ron Washington.

Before that, Wakamatsu was a minor-league catching coordinator and roving instructor with the Angels, who gave him a World Series ring after winning the 2002 championship. Wakamatsu still wears the ring daily.

Some team officials were highly supportive of bringing Cora back to replace Jim Riggleman, who was not interviewed for the job he took over on an interim basis after John McLaren was fired June 19. But Zduriencik was given total control over his first managerial hire and allowed to move forward with Wakamatsu, who becomes the team’s fourth manager in just more than 16 months.

Cora wished Wakamatsu well and said he accepts Zduriencik’s decision.

“He’s the GM,” Cora said. “He’s trying to restore the franchise to where it was and he thinks that he has a better chance of doing it with the other guy. It is what it is.”

Cora, who had been turned down twice previously for manager jobs, said he’ll put the Mariners out of his mind and focus on “a great situation” he has in Chicago as White Sox bench coach under manager Ozzie Guillen.

As for whether he anticipates managing any time soon, Cora was blunt: “I thought this was it, to be honest with you. It couldn’t be any more fitting. I don’t know what the future holds.”

Red Sox third-base coach DeMarlo Hale, like Cora, has been down this road of rejection before on the managerial front and says it won’t be tough to move on.

“You understand the process and you understand that there was only one person they could pick,” Hale said. “It’s not difficult at all. You’ve got to look at it as an opportunity. They’ve chosen another candidate, gone in another direction.”

Arizona Diamondbacks third-base coach Chip Hale said it was tough waiting for the final word.

“To be honest, I’m extremely disappointed,” Hale said. “But I learned a long time ago, especially playing baseball in college and professionally, to be disappointed but not discouraged. There’s a big difference in those two words. There will be other opportunities. This was a great learning experience. The Mariners are a great organization. That’s why I was so excited.”

Hale has crossed paths with Wakamatsu throughout his baseball career and feels he’ll do well in his new job.

“Don and I played against each other in high school,” he said. “He was at Arizona State when I was at Arizona. I also managed against him in the minors. He’s a wonderful baseball guy, and has done a lot of different things, which is great when you become a big-league manager. He’s a very class act. I’m sure he’ll do a good job.”

The other finalists were Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills; Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo; and San Diego Class AAA manager Randy Ready.

Mills told The Boston Globe on Tuesday night: “I’d be lying to you if I told you I wasn’t disappointed because I think it’s going to be a good situation up there. They’ve got a lot of good things in store to happen.”

Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or gbaker@seattletimes.com.

Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners

Mariners managers
Manager Years Record Pct. Comment
Darrell Johnson 1977-80 226-362 .384 Didn’t have a chance with expansion team; fired during fourth season.
Maury Wills 1980-81 26-56 .317 Maybe worst manager in baseball history, let alone Mariners history.
Rene Lachemann 1981-83 140-180 .438 M’s made progress in ’82, he was fired when they regressed in ’83.
Del Crandall 1983-84 93-131 .415 Legacy: New Haven, Conn., punk band named themselves the Del Crandalls.
Chuck Cottier 1984-86 98-119 .452 Fired just 28 games into the 1986 season.
*Marty Martinez 1986 0-1 .000 Kept seat warm until Dick Williams could join the ballclub.
Dick Williams 1986-88 159-192 .453 Mariners were his sixth, and final, major-league managing job.
*Jim Snyder 1988 45-60 .429 Wanted job full-time; M’s said no, hired Jim Lefebvre.
Jim Lefebvre 1989-91 233-253 .479 First Mariners manager not fired in midseason.
Bill Plummer 1992 64-98 .395 Johnny Bench’s backup as a player failed in first try as a manager.
Lou Piniella 1993-2002 840-711 .542 Piniella’s Mariners get to postseason four times in 10 years.
Bob Melvin 2003-04 156-168 .481 BoMel goes from 93 wins, to 63, to Arizona.
Mike Hargrove 2005-07 192-210 .478 Hargrove walked away in middle of 2007 season.
John McLaren 2007-08 68-88 .436 Fired after 25-47 start to 2008 season.
Jim Riggleman 2008 36-54 .400 Riggleman has been hired as Washington Nationals coach.
*Interim manager