Lloyd McClendon wears a baseball cap as if it’s a responsibility, not an accessory. He tips the hat forward, barely on his head, shielding his eyes. You could knock it off just by walking briskly past him.
The look mirrors McClendon’s casual charisma. Everything about the new Mariners manager seems comfortable, unforced, genuine, even if it’s a little different. He’s a leader without trying to be a leader. He has a strong voice without raising it. The Mariners have had a bushel of managers since their 1977 inception, but if you think this frightens McClendon, then you’re unaware of the audacity residing within this quiet man.
McClendon often talks as if words are an endangered species, but he’s the one who said the Mariners are about to enter a “golden time” during his introductory news conference four months ago.
He’s not one for bluster and breathless comments. He’s as real as the franchise’s 13-year playoff drought. And as he begins both his Mariners tenure and a second chance at managing when the regular season opens Monday, he has one bit of advice.
“If you want to be able to cross the ocean, you’ve got to take your eye off the shore,” McClendon says. “If you keep looking back, you’re never going to cross that ocean. We’ve been beaten down, but we’ve got to get up off the mat and start fighting back.”
When it comes to the Mariners, cynicism is our vice. But there’s something about McClendon that’s endearing even to the unabashedly negative.
It’s not the funny way he wears his hat. It’s the trustworthy manner in which he does this job, daunting as it may be.
“You’re going to be excited about Lloyd,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “He understands what it’s all about. He’s a perfect fit.”
Benny Dorsey was the first to give McClendon a leadership role in baseball. He’s the well-respected former baseball coach of Roosevelt High School in Gary, Ind. When McClendon was a freshman, Dorsey named him the team captain. There McClendon was, as a 15-year-old, charged with leading some players who were three years older.
The young captain’s message to the team was direct and succinct.
“If you’re not interested in playing hard, in giving 100 percent, you can quit,” McClendon said. “I’m going to demand this.”
Dorsey knew McClendon had it in him. He grew up as Legendary Lloyd, the kid who hit five home runs in five at-bats during the Little League World Series 42 years ago. And before high school baseball, Dorsey had coached McClendon’s summer basketball team and recognized his leadership qualities.
“I noticed how guys gravitated to whatever he said,” said Dorsey, who is now 77 and retired. “It was, ‘When I speak, you listen.’
“He was not a loud person. He was a nice, soft-spoken individual. But what he said, he said with sincerity and firmness. Whatever he said, they took it as gospel.”
McClendon grew up in a family with 13 children. He was the ninth and final boy in that group. When his father left for work, he would tell McClendon, “You’re in charge of the house. Take care of your mom until I get back.”
Ask McClendon why the youngest boy had such a responsibility, and he says that the others were old enough to work.
“I had to take care of the girls and take care of mom,” McClendon said.
“I took that job seriously.”
The fundamentals of McClendon’s leadership style haven’t changed much.
He leads the Mariners in the same way that he substituted for his father daily. To him, it’s all about creating a family atmosphere and protecting the house.