SEATTLE – Just how desperate for a hero is the baseball community here?
This much: By default, civic sentiment awarded the gold star for character this weekend to a manager who lost 91 games, hitched up his principles and quit.
So much for Eric Wedge’s John Wayne fixation.
It was in “Stagecoach” where The Duke could be heard to say, “There are some things a man just can’t run away from.”
Apparently, the Seattle Mariners are not such a thing.
Best to get on a horse and ride – into the sunset, into the high hills, into a Cascade crevasse. By tendering his resignation in the minutes before the season’s final series, Wedge achieved something akin to worst-to-first cult status.
From guilt-by-association to nobility-by-disassociation.
Left behind are the two amigos of the apocalypse, Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong, and their current Smee, general manager Jack Zduriencik, who is off to hire his third manager in five years in between pronouncements about “trusting the process.”
The 2013 Mariners season ground to a halt in pitch-perfect fashion Sunday afternoon, with a 9-0 drubbing at the hands of the playoff-bound Oakland A’s – managed by one Bob Melvin, dispatched years ago as unworthy by a previous Lincstrong henchman.
The Safeco finale was just a formality, of course – a hearse finally dispatched for the corpse that was cold months ago.
And though there have been worse Mariners seasons, few have ground to a halt with such naked dysfunction heaped upon the cumulative haplessness.
A brief recap: Wedge, feeling he’d been left to twist in the wind by his bosses, barked about that affront on Wednesday and then quit pre-emptively on Friday. Zduriencik professed surprise, saying he’d always intended to have his manager return, and suggested Wedge’s desire for a multiyear extension was the breaking point. That angered Wedge again.
“Let me be clear here,” he said Saturday. “The contract is not the reason I’m not coming back here. If they’d offered me a five-year contract, I wouldn’t have come back here.”
Really? So why was he adamantly advocating for a multiyear bump in the offseason? And why did his pre-resignation bleat stress, “I’d like to see this thing through”?
In any case, after pretty much calling his GM a liar and saying his “vision” didn’t square with the suits – and citing them by name – the strangest thing happened.
He was still allowed to suit up.
Here’s the thing in sports: When you quit, you quit – unless it’s a retirement farewell tour a la Mariano Rivera. When you announce that you can’t live with your employer’s way of doing business, you need to be gone. Football coaches shouldn’t get to bask at bowl games when they’ve agreed to a gig at another school, and baseball managers who call out their bosses and quit don’t get to make out another lineup card.
But no one in this feckless organization had the sand to tell Duke Wedge to hit the lonesome trail.
Possibly they sensed Wedge had seized the public relations high ground. Perhaps it was guilt over not being forthright about his retention earlier, but not likely. The executive lumps probably didn’t peek out of their offices even to see what the hubbub was about, and Zduriencik seems to have a rehearsed indifference to managerial churn, as Don Wakamatsu can attest.
“Managers are managers,” he said. “There are some excellent managers out there, but players play. Talent ultimately wins.”
Ah, yes, the talent. All this young talent. And make no mistake, there is legitimate promise in several of Seattle’s youngsters. But not a smidgen of hard evidence – yet – than any of them are truly special. Kyle Seager, the club’s 25-year-old MVP, did slug 22 home runs. He also hit .260. The MVP.
In the other dugout Sunday was 27-year-old Josh Donaldson, who’s getting a little MVP run, too – not for his team, but for the league. Likewise, there were three starting pitchers, all 26 or younger, with 38 wins and 550 innings among them. Seattle has some dynamite young arms, but we’ve seen those blow up before.
But if anything, Wedge had shilled for Zduriencik’s vision even louder than the GM himself, which made the unraveling of their relationship that much more surprising. And he still is.
“All these kids are going to be there from the outset (next year),” Wedge said Sunday, “with all the experience from this year. That’s pretty exciting.”
Yes, the line for 2014 season tickets after the game extended from knuckle to knuckle.
Maybe he meant for the next guy. With Zduriencik a lame duck himself, there’s unlikely to be a name candidate who generates much buzz, but a fallback like Triple-A manager Daren Brown who can’t turn down a chance, comes cheap and won’t gripe about the dubious commitment of having one-year rent-a-vets supplementing all the kids.
But Zduriencik is right. The issue here isn’t the manager.
It’s the culture. And until it changes from the top, it’s as likely to suck these kids down as it is to lift them up.