To Lloyd McClendon, the Mariners’ seventh manager since 2005:
Welcome back to the managerial fraternity. But excuse the cynics for already grieving over your job security.
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The Mariners don’t just devour managers. They swallow them whole. Counting interim skippers, McClendon becomes the Mariners’ 19th manager since their 1977 inception. Lou Piniella remains the only one to last more than four years. Since Piniella left 11 years ago, the franchise has experienced especially disturbing transience; McClendon is skipper No. 8 post-Lou.
There’s nothing wrong with this hire. The Mariners chose a good person for their situation. McClendon is a well-respected baseball mind. He has a good history as a hitting coach, which is the Mariners’ weakness. He did a decent job in his first managing gig with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was fired after posting a .430 winning percentage in five seasons with the previously befuddling Pirates, which is hardly cause for concern. In Joe Torre’s first managing job, he had a .405 winning percentage in five seasons with the New York Mets. Casey Stengel? A .453 winning percentage at his first stop.
That’s not to say McClendon will be Torre or Stengel — in fact, it took them several opportunities to become big-time winners — but losing at Pittsburgh doesn’t make McClendon some tired retread incapable of success. He will be a better manager this time.
But here’s the hard part about the Mariners’ job: He doesn’t control his own destiny, not as much as other managers or head coaches. Even though the Mariners have a lot of good young talent, they’re still in such an ill state that you’d fear for the job security of anyone they hired.
The Mariners could’ve reincarnated Connie Mack, and the reaction would be, “You sure you’re not better off staying dead?” Until the franchise proves otherwise, it will have a manager-killing reputation. If there weren’t just 30 of these jobs in Major League Baseball, the Mariners would have a much more difficult time finding quality candidates.
Recently, the Mariners have made plenty of good hires. It’s clear now that Bob Melvin is a good manager. Mike Hargrove arrived with a great resume. Don Wakamatsu was a rising star before he crashed in Seattle. And Eric Wedge seemed the perfect match: A strong-willed man who demanded respect and had experience turning raw, young talent into a playoff team.
But they all wound up leaving the Mariners in frustrating or bizarre fashion. Melvin and Wakamatsu were fired. Hargrove resigned in the middle of an eight-game winning streak. Wedge quit at the end of last season, saying the Mariners had left him “hanging out there” while the Mariners contend they were prepared to extend his contract.
McClendon steps into a mercurial situation. It’s conceivable, if you think hard enough, for the Mariners to make three significant free-agent acquisitions, a couple of minor moves and finish developing their young core just enough to become a winning baseball team. But it’s easier to imagine McClendon getting swept into the uncertainty of having a boss, general manager Jack Zduriencik, who is working with one year remaining on his contract.
Zduriencik is on Manager No. 3 as he enters his sixth season. At some point, the Mariners must understand that it’s not about the manager. They need to give McClendon a real major-league roster, something they haven’t had since 2009, when they finished 85-77.
They need to take a chance on a big-name free agent such as Jacoby Ellsbury and do what it takes, within good reason, to finish first in a bidding war. They need to build a complete starting rotation around Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma and not hope to get by with young pitchers or reclamation-project veterans. They need to prove emphatically that any organizational drama caused by Wedge’s departure is more perception than reality.
McClendon can be good for this franchise, but not if he doesn’t receive an exceptional level of support. They shouldn’t look at themselves as rebuilding anymore. They should be seeking ways to build a versatile roster.
Otherwise, the Mariners are just treading water.
And the manager will drown, again.
So, yes, for McClendon we offer congratulations and condolences at the same time. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get to enjoy the unabashed enthusiasm that most new hires receive. Reality has been too harsh for Mariners skippers.
But, hey, at least McClendon will have the element of surprise at his disposal.
And if he lasts more than four years, he’ll be the second-most successful Mariners manager ever.
Jerry Brewer: 206-464-2277 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @JerryBrewer