This is the 40-Something Files!
A weekly take on the state of Seattle Sports through the lens of a guy whose four decades of fandom has earned too many scars, and seen too few celebrations.
The Seattle Mariners are heading home after their brief road trip down the California coast. They are 3-6 so far this season, and playing a brand of ball, that, as cliché as it is hard to fathom, rivals The Bad News Bears (The Original 1970’s Version – in case there was any doubt).
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Even the early season managing style of an asleep-on-the-bench Morris Buttermaker seems preferable at this point to McClendon’s inconsistent, hard-headed defiance. As M’s fans try to cope with the team’s frustrating, little-league-style early season play, two camps are forming:
There is a popular refrain the talking heads like to put forth, while counting down the list of failed acquisitions perpetrated on his watch: “Anyone in Jack’s position would have done the same thing…”
1) The “Same Old Mariners” camp that seems all too ready to jump ship, even though these same fans just two weeks ago, were clearing their October schedules.
2) The “It’s Still Early” camp, who are the louder voice, and angrily in-game tweeting their disdain for the other camp, while Cano jogs towards home plate on a bases loaded walk. Oh. Wait. Wow.
I don’t fall into either camp. In fact, there’s a third camp here that belongs to those willing to look at this thing from both an historical perspective and in the here and now.
It is indeed still way early in the season, but this team, while improved on paper, looks horribly unprepared to play up to their potential anytime soon. And, it’s not the “Same Old Mariners” because you can’t find more than five regular or platooning members who were even on the opening day roster two seasons ago, and that includes starting pitchers and, of course, the manager.
No… These M’s, my friends, are an ALL NEW entity.
A team so full of itself, so inflated by off-season national recognition and 2015 playoff anointment, that they wasted their entire month-plus in the Arizona sun fanning themselves.
The players that make up this team, in a vacuum, are good enough to compete and possibly make the playoffs. However, versus teams who play with heart, and that are A) led on the field by players who gut it out day in and day out, B) led by a manager willing to (and showing the capability to) adjust on the fly, and C) led in the front office by smart baseball minds who are charged with more than just serving the business and marketing interests of the franchise… these ALL NEW M’s are beatable.
There’s plenty of angst for a Seattle sports fan who has to ignore deep seeded frustration with the leadership of the M’s, in order to root for the guys on the field. For example, there’s the obtuse way in which, three years ago, the team’s front office opposed Chris Hanson and his SoDo Arena efforts, potentially alienating a peer, and a majority of the team’s fan-base with one swift stroke – just one gaff in a long history of front office missteps that contribute to the short rope afforded this year’s team.
But look, I don’t want to blow an entire lifetime worth of M’s rants on the first two weeks of this season.
So, for now, here are just a few more recent observations that lead me to conclude that this entire organization needs some major self-awareness counseling if they are ever going to approach the kind of world-series bound season many 2015 pundits have predicted:
For one thing, Jack Z. is no genius GM. In fact, he’s not even a good one. But don’t tell him that.
He is corporate middle management in it’s worst form. Look no further than how Wedge left the team, and the bridges he was all too happy to torch on his way out, to understand that Zduriencik is a “me first” guy at the expense of his employees. AKA: Middle Management in it’s worst form.
I’m not sure that the middle management mentality is well suited to achieve success as measured by the performance of teams in the W-L column. But sadly, it seems to work fine for a front office that cares more about producing goofy commercials starring it’s players than producing winning baseball starring it’s players.
As for the personnel aspect of Z’s duties, there is a popular refrain the talking heads like to put forth, while counting down the list of failed acquisitions perpetrated on his watch:
“Anyone in Jack’s position would have done the same thing…”
Primarily, this sentiment gets bandied about in reference to players like Ackley (who has taken much longer to become even serviceable than promised), or Justin Smoak (who was given far too many chances to fail), or Jesus Montero (who’s personal issues should have been better vetted). Ironically, the same could be said for his blockbuster signings of Felix, Cano, and now Cruz – ultra-expensive “sure things, that anyone else would have paid for,” if you will.
But I have to ask those who subscribe to the “anyone else” defense, how many times would you say that about the roster moves of Zduriencik’s contemporary and home stadium neighbor, John Schneider? Or, in a more apples to apples sense, his contemporary and AL West neighbor, Billy Beane?
The answer is never, because those guys are one step ahead of the pundits and the fans. And yet somehow, as their formula for success moves further and further from sports talk and twitter’s projections, their teams just continue to win.
And then, there are the moves that even his greatest supporters have to call head scratchers (see: Doug Fister).
In spite of all of Jack Z’s shortcomings presented here, one of the more unpredictable, yet successful moves he has made – at least in terms of immediate impact – was last year’s hiring of the no-nonsense Lloyd McClendon to manage the team.
If 2014 proved anything, it’s that Lloyd has within him the ability to fire up fans and players alike. Unfortunately, if 2015 has proven anything so far, it’s that he also has the ability to confound them.
This team seems unprepared. Situational mishaps have cost this team games. Pitchers arms are still in pre-season form, and their pitches are getting “regular-season-roped.”
The same early regular season line-up tinkering that was excusable last year, as a first-year manager got to know his new team, this year comes off as decisions that should have been sorted out in Peoria.
Laying down a bunt? Situational strategy? Going with the pitch? On-field communication? Base coaching? Keeping pitches down? These are the basics, folks. And as this season’s unfolding has shown so far, all the Cruz home runs in the world won’t make up for a lack of fundamentals… Peoria. Wasted.
Zduriencik is a company man. Lloyd is defiant. The team has a decent amount of proven talent, but seems caught off guard that the regular season has actually started.
Is there any hope that this front office, this manager, and these promising players who all together make up the NOT-THE-SAME-OLD M’s can get back to basics and right the ship before it strays too far off the 2015 course?
It’s hard to tell for sure, but at least there’s this… even Buttermaker’s 1976 Bears eventually turned things around.