After two separate stints, totaling 28 years of service, Chuck Armstrong stepped down as Seattle Mariners president and chief operating officer in a somewhat surprising announcement from the organization Monday afternoon.
“After much thought and reflection, it is now time for me to retire and enjoy as much time as possible with my wife, Susan, and our family,” Armstrong, 71, said in a statement. “The recent deaths of several good friends have really had an impact on me and helped crystallize my decision. This was a very difficult, very personal decision, but I know in my heart that it’s time to turn the page and move to the next chapter of my life.”
Armstrong’s retirement will go into effect Jan. 31. The organization will begin the search for his replacement and a transition plan immediately.
“On behalf of ownership and everyone who has worked here for the past 30 years, I thank Chuck for his tremendous contributions,” said Mariners Chief Executive Howard Lincoln. “We wish him all the best in retirement with Susan and his family.”
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Armstrong’s tenure as team president featured highs and lows.
The Mariners made four playoff appearances (1995, 1997, 2000 and 2001), including a major-league record 116 wins in 2001.
He was also instrumental in the construction of Safeco Field.
But the memories of that golden era of Mariners success have faded in the recent run of on-field disappointment and losing seasons, which has led to dwindling attendance, a slew of different field managers and increasing criticism from fans.
The organization has never made an appearance in the World Series.
Only two current organizations in Major League Baseball — the Mariners and Washington Nationals (formerly the Montreal Expos) — have never participated in the Fall Classic.
Ken Griffey Jr., whom the Mariners drafted in 1987 at Armstrong’s insistence, said in a telephone interview that “it’s a sad day, but an exciting one for Chuck.
“It’s tough. He’s taken a lot of hits from the fans and the media. I don’t think people know what a good man Chuck Armstrong is. His heart was always in the right place, and he wanted to win with this organization.”
Armstrong acknowledged that his biggest disappointment was not winning a World Series.
“Through all the good times and the not-so-good times on the field since 1984, the goal always has been to win the World Series,” Armstrong said. “My only regret is that the entire region wasn’t able to enjoy a parade through the city to celebrate a world championship together.”
Armstrong came to the Mariners in 1983, hired by George Argyros, a wealthy California real-estate mogul who had purchased the team. Armstrong had previously served as Argyros’ general counsel.
The Mariners had the first pick of the 1987 amateur draft and Argyros was adamant they select right-handed pitcher Mike Harkey of Cal State Fullerton.
But Roger Jongewaard, then director of amateur scouting, told Armstrong to select Griffey, a young outfielder from Cincinnati.
Armstrong, with the help of Jongewaard, ultimately convinced the owner that selecting Griffey was the proper move.
“We wouldn’t have baseball in Seattle today” if that hadn’t happened, Armstrong said at Griffey’s induction into the Mariners Hall of Fame last summer.
Griffey’s agent Bryan Goldberg commended Armstrong’s personality and patience in the process.
“A lot of it goes to his ability to build personal relationships. Chuck worked up a level of trust with Ken Griffey Sr.,” Goldberg said. “That level of trust has been there ever since.”
Goldberg worked closely with Armstrong on all of Griffey’s contracts and Mariners responsibilities.
“Beyond any business negotiations, Chuck has been a great friend,” Goldberg said. “He’s one of most honest and decent and caring people I’ve ever met.”
Armstrong was dismissed when Argyros sold the team to Indiana businessman Jeff Smulyan in 1989.
He worked as a consultant for local businesses and served as interim athletic director of the University of Washington in 1991.
With the Mariners up for sale and possible relocation to Tampa Bay looming in 1991, Armstrong was asked by U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton to work with a group of local investors led by Seattle businessman John Ellis to keep the team in Seattle.
With the additional backing of Nintendo, the Baseball Club of Seattle purchased the team in 1992. Armstrong was immediately brought back to serve as team president.
“When the Baseball Club of Seattle purchased the franchise in 1992, it was clear that Chuck Armstrong was uniquely qualified to lead the organization,” Lincoln said. “Since day one, he has given his heart and soul to Mariners baseball. He sincerely cares about the game of baseball, this organization, this city and this region.”
Commissioner Bud Selig also trumpeted Armstrong’s efforts to keep baseball in Seattle.
“Chuck was one of the key leaders who secured the national pastime’s future in the Pacific Northwest, guiding the Mariners as they became a model franchise in a wonderful ballpark,” Selig said in a statement.
Said Armstrong, “The team is in good hands and positioned for future success. I am thankful for this important part in my life and I will always bleed Mariners Blue.”
Ryan Divish: email@example.com; on Twitter @RyanDivish