Under former Mariners GM Jack Zduriencik, a flood of firings and resignations continued throughout his seven-year reign. On Friday, Zduriencik himself was forced out.
“I expect a better brand of baseball accountability, acceptance of young players, raised expectations for all of our players and coaching staff and a sense of urgency … Don: I am not in the mood to accept less than excellence. You can deliver this message to your staff in any way you see fit.”
– Jack Zduriencik email to manager Don Wakamatsu during 2010 All-Star break, one month before firing him
Outgoing Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik had no qualms about demanding excellence and accountability.
But through seven years of Zduriencik’s tenure, that same accountability eluded the general manager’s chair. Instead, the team plowed through two full-time managers, an interim manager, five hitting coaches, nine other coaches and more than two dozen front-office staffers and scouts who lost jobs or resigned while Zduriencik went 505-595 overall with five losing campaigns out of seven.
Those firings continued the past two weeks, when the team quietly dismissed Alex Smith and Jeremy Booth, its East and West Coast “crosschecker” supervisory scouts. Earlier this summer, Edgar Martinez became the sixth hitting coach of the Zduriencik era, replacing Howard Johnson, though what happens now to manager Lloyd McClendon’s staff remains unclear.
Zduriencik’s first managerial casualty was Don Wakamatsu, who went 85-77 his inaugural 2009 season, but by 2010 was running a team in turmoil that eventually lost 101 games. By the All-Star break, Wakamatsu was reeling from an incident two weeks prior in which Chone Figgins openly confronted the manager during a game with television cameras rolling.
The Figgins outburst occurred only weeks after Ken Griffey Jr. abruptly quit the team and Milton Bradley went on leave to undergo psychological counseling.
Zduriencik chose not to discipline Figgins, a move that left Wakamatsu and coaches feeling abandoned and undermined. They felt even more demoralized after Zduriencik sent Wakamatsu a 1,400-word email during that All-Star break outlining future expectations.
Rather than accept responsibility for his underperforming player acquisitions from that winter — Figgins, Bradley, Griffey, Casey Kotchman, Ryan Garko, Eric Byrnes — Zduriencik pointed a finger at Wakamatsu and his staff.
“When putting this club together throughout the winter, everyone was involved,’’ Zduriencik wrote in the email, a copy of which was sent to The Seattle Times by a former member of the organization. “I included the scouts, minor league staff, front office staff and the major league coaches. There was not a single move that was made that a ‘say’ was not granted.’’
Zduriencik also wrote: “I asked many questions about the acquired players this offseason and in all cases moved forward to acquire or refrain from acquiring a player based on received recommendations.’’
Zduriencik’s email rhetorically questioned whether the 2010 season’s disappointment was really due to a lack of talent he’d assembled. Or, he added, in a broadside aimed at Wakamatsu’s staff, “was it a lack of urgency and preparation out of spring training, poor fundamental play both on offense and defense? Did we expect things to happen as opposed to making them happen?
“Did we demand enough from our players right out of the chute and hold them accountable? Did we set a tone for excellence and not accept mistakes and poor play?’’
Wakamatsu, now the Kansas City Royals bench coach, declined to comment Friday.
But one former staffer, who asked not to be quoted, said the email was crushing for Wakamatsu and coaches, especially given Zduriencik’s demand that players be held accountable. The Figgins blowup occurred moments after Wakamatsu pulled him from a game for not backing up a throw.
And yet, Zduriencik, who had signed Figgins to a four-year, $36 million deal, did not discipline the infielder.
“There is a fine line in dealing with the veteran players and developing our young players and that is the challenge to you,’’ Zduriencik wrote in the email. “Our assets are our youth and long term signed players who have committed to this organization. They clearly get the nod when decisions are being considered.’’
Wakamatsu was fired a month later. But others claimed that the GM kept making others take the fall while sidestepping responsibility for his regime’s missteps.
Former Mariners professional scouting director Carmen Fusco says he was made a “scapegoat” and fired in September 2010 because of fallout over the GM’s controversial trade for pitcher Josh Lueke — who had pleaded no contest to a charge of false imprisonment with violence against a woman and served 42 days in jail.
In a Seattle Times story in December 2013, Tony Blengino, former Zduriencik special assistant and confidant, said the GM “tried to destroy” him, blaming him for the 101 losses in 2010 and gradually marginalizing him until he was fired in 2013.
That same story quoted former manager Eric Wedge as saying he resigned in 2013 largely because Zduriencik seemed more interested in covering for himself than supporting him with president Chuck Armstrong or CEO Howard Lincoln.
In both cases, within a year of Wakamatsu’s firing and Wedge’s resignation, Lincoln rewarded Zduriencik with a multiyear contract. On Friday, the second and third chances given Zduriencik to win with a new manager finally ran out.