December 15, 2013 in Sports

Stone: Winning heals, but wound is big

Larry Stone Seattle Times
 
Associated Press photo

Will the smiles last? Robinson Cano, right, and Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik share a laugh during Cano’s press conference on Thursday.
(Full-size photo)

SEATTLE – The Mariners are suddenly the most scrutinized team in baseball, a rare circumstance and one that is definitely a mixed blessing. Kind of like Brendan Ryan’s glove and bat. On the one hand is the signing of Robinson Cano, which electrified the industry last week. On the other was the Seattle Times’ investigative report of the ballclub, which floored the same industry.

Rarely do high-ranking people go on the record to excoriate a team in such a blunt fashion. Rather than write them off merely as disgruntled former employees, it would be wiser to focus on what made them so disgruntled they were willing to speak out publicly. To do so meant placing their future employment in potential jeopardy. Major League Baseball is an incestuous business that doesn’t take kindly to rabble-rousers.

It was a revealing, and damning, window into the internal problems that plague the Mariners and no doubt played a role in their continuing downturn. Many of these problems – meddling from upper management, a general manager portrayed as being in over his head, the conveyance of mixed messages, low morale – have been hinted at or suspected, but never illuminated in such a comprehensive fashion by those in the line of fire.

Today’s burning question: How does an organization recover when its reputation has been hit with the equivalent force of Pete Rose bowling over Ray Fosse?

The best method for the Mariners to rise above, or at least move beyond, the questions raised in Geoff Baker’s article is elementary on the surface, but incredibly complex in execution.

Just win, baby.

The stench of internal turmoil disappears quickly in a pennant race. The Yankees in the heart of the George Steinbrenner era were often a human-resources circus, but that just became part of their zany charm as they racked up titles. The 2011 Red Sox were ridiculed when the story broke of chicken and beer in the clubhouse, followed by the 2012 dysfunction of Bobby Valentine’s brief tenure. Then they won the World Series, and it was all ancient history.

The Mariners, by all accounts, are going all-in this winter to improve their team. After committing $240 million to Cano, they are aggressively pursuing other expensive players, acquiring first baseman Corey Hart and outfielder Logan Morrison. If they land impact guys, and some young players step forward, you never know what could happen. Every year, it seems, a 90-loss team becomes a playoff contender, a jump Cleveland and Boston both made last year.

But winning, in the vast majority of cases, takes a cohesive organization with all its members buying into in a well-communicated vision for success. The Times’ article portrays a Mariners organization that has been anything but that during GM Jack Zduriencik’s regime.

On Monday, Zduriencik released a lengthy statement in response to the article, defending CEO Howard Lincoln and outgoing team president Chuck Armstrong against meddling accusations, and praising their statistical analytics.

Here’s the sort of statement I think Mariners fans would like to have seen from Lincoln (short of the announcement of a sale):

“I know many of you were shocked and upset by the portrayal of our organization in the Seattle Times. It doesn’t serve any of us to get into a he-said, she-said response to specific incidents. What we ask is to judge us by what we do from this point forward. We understand we have to work to regain the trust of our fans, and we vow to make that our overriding focus. We will work ceaselessly to bring a World Series championship to Seattle, with an investment of all the resources at our disposal.

“It’s also clear that we need to repair the morale of some employees, and that will also be a priority. Jack is committed to fully supporting his new manager, Lloyd McClendon, in every way, and we – myself and the new president – will leave baseball matters to our baseball staff. Certainly, we will have input on financial decisions and overall philosophy, as every team’s CEOs and presidents do, but we are businessmen, not coaches. We’ll leave that to the experts.

“The investment in Cano is evidence that things are going to change. You’ll find out soon that we’re not stopping there when it comes to acquiring top-level talent. And we pledge to use the grievances aired by some of our former employees as impetus to re-examine how we operate, and do some soul-searching to see how we can do it better.

“We owe it to you, our fans, who deserve better baseball than we’ve provided. The re-invention of the Mariners starts now.”

Since those words went unspoken, let’s at least hope some of the spirit of that sentiment infiltrates their operations.


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