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Mariners’ Jerry Dipoto apologizes, says ‘goal isn’t to be mediocre’

Mariners president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto looks on March 30 before Seattle’s season opener against Cleveland at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.  (Getty Images)
By Ryan Divish Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Almost 48 hours after the end-of-season news conference that went awry with comments that enraged an already angry fan base, furious about how and why the Seattle Mariners weren’t participating in the postseason, Jerry Dipoto, Mariners president of baseball operations, spoke publicly for the first time.

Appearing on his weekly radio show on Seattle Sports 710-AM, Dipoto offered up an apology for regrettable answers to several questions that left the fan base questioning the motives of the organization and its commitment to winning a World Series.

“First, I’d like to say I’m generally embarrassed by the way, at least, that comment and especially one other was received,” Dipoto said.

“I’ve been doing this job, or roles like this, for a long time now and I’ve made mistakes. I’ve made my fair share, like most do. This was kind of one of those times. I just did a poor job of illustrating the points that I was trying to make.”

“That comment” Dipoto was referencing to came from an answer to a lengthy question about justifying the Mariners’ lack of postseason appearances following their “step-back” rebuild after the 2018 season.

“Our job is to think more broadly,” he said Tuesday. “We’re looking at a six- to 10-year window. When I talk about sustainability, I can’t tell you that you’re going to win the World Series. I can tell you that if we win 54% of our games over the course of a decade, you’re going to play in a World Series. Teams that do those things get in the World Series. Now and that is true in the wild-card era. It is true in the divisional format dating back to 1969. You’ve got I think an 85 or 90% chance of reaching a World Series if you make that your goal, if we make winning the World Series your goal, we will do insane things that will cut the sustainability part of the project short. That’s not how we think.”

On Thursday, Dipoto said he “completely whiffed in my attempt to paint a picture baseline of what makes sense to me than our fans and media. Our goal isn’t to be mediocre. Our goal is to win championships and then to play a high level for a long time, that’s what I was trying to convey. Obviously, it didn’t help. I wish I could hit reset and try it again. But that moment’s gone.”

In a more nuanced analysis or a pragmatic view, Dipoto’s 54% philosophy does have some relevance and legitimacy. Essentially, the thinking is that if you are consistently win more games than you lose each season to varying levels and it totals 54% or higher, it should produce a World Series appearance and multiple postseason appearances. But fans weren’t looking for nuance in that setting.

It was in that same answer where Dipoto supplied the sound byte that went viral on social media, filled local sports radio airwaves and even made its way on to national platforms such as MLB Network.

“But the reality is if what you’re doing is focusing year to year on what we have to do to win the World Series this year, you might be one of the teams that’s laying in the mud and can’t get up for another decade,” Dipoto said. “So we’re actually doing the fan base a favor (awkward chuckle) in asking for their patience to win the World Series while we continue to build a sustainably good roster.”

You don’t get to hang banners for a sustainably good roster. And as the only MLB franchise to never appear in a World Series, fans’ patience, which has grown thin, hasn’t been rewarded with any favors.

“I was trying to use a little bit of humor,” Dipoto said. “I tried to use humor to defuse the situation, and I whiffed.

“Clearly, I’m not a very funny person, and I shouldn’t have gone there, but that’s what I did. And I can only apologize and again tell you that I’m embarrassed by it.”

Really, Tuesday’s news conference, which couldn’t be live streamed because the first of four wild-card games was being played, started off poorly and got worse.

Dipoto made an opening statement that set an awkward tone.

“We didn’t reach the heights we anticipated reaching and hate that we’re sitting here as wrapping the season without being in October playing baseball,” Dipoto said in that opening statement. “But here we are after an 88-win season, I’ll first start by saying, I think in many ways, this season, as much as it was disappointing in the end, it was a step forward for us organizationally.”

Asked about how fans might not see it as a step forward, Dipoto talked at length about on-field improvement.

“I hope that given a moment to step away from the emotion, and when I say that we made improvement in a lot of ways we got better at everything short of two things – we struck out too much and we didn’t win as many games as we won last year,” he said. “But the components of everything that we did on the field, putting the ball in play, creating traffic, pitching, everything that we did year over year was a step forward in how we executed the fundamentals of baseball … that’s what I was trying to say.”

Asked about Mariners catcher Cal Raleigh’s postgame comments of doing what it takes to win and a report from former MLB catcher and current Fox baseball analyst A.J. Pierzynski – that the Mariners forced Raleigh to apologize – Dipoto was adamant that it was not true.

“No, never happened, and I don’t speak with A.J. Pierzynski,” he said. “I did speak to Cal after he spoke to the media. No one spoke to Cal. Cal has his opinions, and he is free to share them. And that is true of all of our players, and we don’t begrudge them that. I said it to Cal, ‘Hey, I appreciate the fact that you that you feel that way. We all want to win,’ and that was the conversation. There was no forcible scolding. It’s an emotional thing. The games that we play and at the end of emotional runs, you’ll say emotional things. That’s the way you can wrap all of this, including my comments on Tuesday.”

Multiple sources inside the Mariners and outside the organization have repeatedly said Raleigh chose to apologize Sunday out of concern that he alienated some teammates.

Dipoto ended the 30-minute interview by trying to assure fans that his intentions and those of the organizations are to win a World Series, but their strategy in how to get there might be different.

“Believe me when I tell you I don’t take it lightly,” he said. “I’m a lifelong baseball fan, I get it. And we’re doing the best that we can to deliver it as quickly as we can. But we’re just not going to take shortcuts. And that’s been our goal throughout, and we will continue to try to address all of our needs in a way that we think gives us a chance to win World Series over and over, and that’s the goal. And I hope the fans hear that.”