Thiel and Lincoln

Dave · October 6, 2004 at 10:10 am · Filed Under Mariners 

Art Thiel of the PI has a pretty long interview with Howard Lincoln from yesterday. Thiel asked some pretty tough questions, so let’s give him a good amount of credit. Lincoln avoided most of them, but there are some enlightening answers. Here’s a few snippets, though you really should read the whole thing.

Q: If you were a major shareholder of a company whose main rival for three years running put out better products at half the price, do you think the CEO of that company might be vulnerable?

A: I certainly think that CEO would be subject to legitimate criticism. In any organization, the CEO is ultimately responsible for everything that goes on. I’m cognizant that our fans — and I’m one — are very, very disappointed with what happened in 2004 and, while we had winning records in 2002 and 2003, we didn’t go to the playoffs.

I’d also point out that in the five years I’ve been doing this, we’ve been to the American League Championship Series twice, and we had four years of good baseball. I think overall its fair to say we’ve brought great joy to the community and we’ve turned on an entire region to Mariners baseball.

I would hope that 2004 would be viewed as an aberration (that no one) in the organization felt was acceptable.

Nice jab there by Thiel, even though Lincoln entirely avoids the question about whether the organization has considered that perhaps the A’s have figured out some things that the M’s simply have not.

Q: There is no consensus among them to change the club’s approach?

A: The most important thing we can do is maintain a very high major league player payroll, at least in the top 10. If we can do that, that’s the most significant contribution the ownership group can make to the Mariners.

That’s precisely what we intend to do in 2005, even though in doing so we will budget for a loss. We are prepared to accept that loss in order to provide maximum financial flexibility to (general manager) Bill Bavasi and the baseball people, to give them the full opportunity to get things done right.

Thiel continues to fire upon the organizational philosophy, and Lincoln continues to doge the question. You have to love that Lincoln believes he can actually get us to believe the M’s are going to operate at a loss in 2005, don’t you? The payroll would have to be in the $130 million range for the M’s to actually lose money next year.

Q: Turning to the Bob Melvin firing, Bavasi was reluctant to share with media and fans the reasons. Even though he said it was a private, confidential conversation, the reluctance to explain came off to me and others as arrogant. Along with several other decisions, the organization has come off as arrogant or dismissive of fans’ concerns.

A: Quite frankly, I’m shocked that anyone would think we were arrogant. Confidential communications are important to the Mariners. We treat our manager, or any other employee, with dignity and respect. The point that Bill was making is that there are things NOT to be shared with anyone on the outside, fans or anyone else.

I’m with Lincoln here. I don’t understand people who think it was arrogant of Bavasi to not tell the media why he fired Bob Melvin. There is no moral obligation for him to deride Melvin publically. To claim that it was arrogant is just odd. Make no mistake, the Mariners front office contains some of the most arrogant people in the game, but this is not an example of that.

Q: How does the ownership agree to take on a loss?

A: We meet monthly. The budget for the new year (starting Nov. 1) has not been finalized. I have already advised our group that we are going to have a significant loss to accomplish the objective. I anticipate the budget will be approved.

Just so we’re clear, the organization is absolutely not going to operate at a loss next year. They will make a smaller profit, and they’ll use nifty accounting tricks to say that they’re losing money, but the team will be profitable next year, just like every other year.

Good interview, though.


14 Responses to “Thiel and Lincoln”

  1. dmc on October 6th, 2004 10:52 am

    Lincoln’s unwillingness to consider (for the record) the possibility that the A’s have figured a few things out that the M’s have yet to take to heart is certainly disturbing, but I found the following passage from the interview as disconcerting as anything.

    “I feel really good about the first four years, and really bad about this year.”

    Looking at it from the CEO’s perspective, if one considers wins and losses, or the fact that the Mariners have (over the last five years) appeared in the ALCS in consecutive years, and took the division race into the final weeks in both of the following two years, then a genuine sense of accomplishment is understandable. The problem here, and it’s one that virtually every observer is well aware of, is that the Mariners were so close to taking the next step, had the resources to do so, but didn’t. Not in ‘01, when the potential threat to “team chemistry” seemed prohibitive, not in ‘02, and not in ‘03. And they went into the 2004 season without doing anything to address their most glaring weakness, a significant lack of power in the heart of their aging line-up. For those reasons, the last three years should be collectively viewed as a colossal failure. And the front office’s inclination to link ‘02 and ‘03 to the success of the previous two years suggests that they are as far behind the learning curve as many of us fear they are.

  2. DMZ on October 6th, 2004 11:02 am

    My favorite was when Lincoln claims that there was no way to forsee out of spring training that these “heroes of 2000 and 2001” would decline.

  3. Evan on October 6th, 2004 11:08 am

    The team took advice from Bud Selig on who they should hire to manage the club. And based partly on Bud’s advice, they hired Melvin.

  4. Tod on October 6th, 2004 11:24 am

    Very nice job by Art.

    To broaden the topic to PI articles generally, I was impressed with David Andriesen’s ideas for the off season. They were more thoughtful than I’ve seen from the print media. (Although where signing Derek Lowe came from eluded me.) The contrast to John Hickey’s lineup was striking. Here’s hoping David has better sources than John.

  5. Nintendo Marios on October 6th, 2004 11:55 am

    Howard Lincoln: “Baseball is more than wins and losses. It’s the joy of coming to Safeco Field and watching extraordinary performances by world-class athletes…My job is to get that joy back to the fans as quickly as possible.”

    No Howard, it is not.

    Maybe minor league baseball is about “more than wins and losses” but major league baseball in Seattle’s Safeco Field today is about one thing and one thing only. Bring home a World Series Howard, or get out of the way.

    We don’t want to “be competitive” anymore. We want a ring.

  6. Coach on October 6th, 2004 12:17 pm

    To give credit where credit is due, Art conducted a very reponsible interview and deserves our praise.

    Lincoln was Lincoln. I thought it was interesting that he remembered enough about the Melvin screening to cite Mike Scioscia as an untried entity that worked out. Subsequently, when asked about the Garcia discussion, he made his quickest dodge (I’m not the baseball man on that). What a weasel, kudos to Art for his follow-up question, which Lincoln also side-stepped.

    The other telling response was when Art prompted him for what he had learned from the screening process on Melvin. He might as well have said, “this time I am making sure that the choice is tied directly to Bill Bavasi”. Seems clear to me that the 2005 scapegoat is already being prepared for market.

  7. Adam B. on October 6th, 2004 12:21 pm

    Since Lincoln stated that the 2005 M’s would probably have to operate at a loss, and since they’d have to have a payroll of approximately $130,000,000
    to do so, we must draw the conclusion that the roster is going to look something like this:

    LINE UP:

    RF – Ichiro Suzuki
    SS – Nomar Garciaparra
    CF – Carlos Beltran
    3B – Adrian Beltre
    LF – J.D. Drew
    2B – Bret Boone
    1B – Raul Ibanez
    DH – Bucky Jacobson
    C – Miguel Olivo


    RSP – Carl Pavano
    LSP – Jamie Moyer
    RSP – Joel Piniero
    LSP – Bobby Madritsch
    RSP – Gil Meche


    CL – Troy Perceival
    SU – Julio Mateo
    SU – George Sherrill
    MR – Shigetoshi Hasegawa
    MR – Matt Thornton
    LR – Ryan Franklin


    OF – Jeremy Reed
    INF – Scott Speizio
    BC – Dan Wilson
    INF – Jose Lopez
    OF – Randy Winn

    Yeah, I can see it happening…. *snicker*

  8. PositivePaul on October 6th, 2004 12:25 pm

    Art Thiel for M’s CEO!!!!

  9. Jim Thomsen on October 6th, 2004 12:43 pm

    If I was Thiel, I would have asked Lincoln flat-out: “What lessons should the Mariners have learned from the small-budget successes of the Oakland A’s?” Hard to dodge that direct dart to the heart.

  10. Howard Lincoln on October 6th, 2004 12:43 pm

    We’ll sign lots of crappy, overpaid $2-3M/year players that will suck.

  11. Pete Livengood on October 6th, 2004 5:48 pm

    I also posted on this interview over at The Power Valley this morning:

    I won’t re-has that, but my take is very similar to Dave’s and many comments here, except I *did* think Bavasi’s failure to discuss the reasons why Melvin was fired added to the litany of reasons why the Mariners (and Lincoln, particularly) are viewed as arrogant by many. This isn’t about slagging Melving publicly: it is about accoutability and allowing fans to judge whether the Mariners have figured out how to learn from and correct their mistakes.

    I’ll let the Power Valley post say the rest . . . .

  12. LB on October 6th, 2004 6:29 pm

    Howard Lincoln said: Baseball is more than wins and losses. It’s the joy of coming to Safeco Field and watching extraordinary performances by world-class athletes…. Unlike other teams and other places, in the past five seasons, particularly after the 2000 and 2001 seasons, we not only turned a region on to baseball, we created stakeholders; people whose lives were focused on the Mariners, whether they’re coming to the park or watching or listening to the broadcasts.

    Theo Epstein said: The goal of the Boston Red Sox is to build a team every year that can compete for, and win, a World Series. These are our core values: team over individual, a World Series over everything else.

    Which organization, the Red Sox or the Mariners, will be likely to better serve its “stakeholders,” Mr. Lincoln?

  13. ChrisK on October 6th, 2004 8:25 pm

    Lincoln: “The most important thing we can do is maintain a very high major league player payroll, at least in the top 10.”

    That’s very noble of you Howard, esp. considering that most outside studies report that the Mariners trail only NY and Boston in team revenue, and that the M’s are more profitable than all but 4-5 franchises (among ALL pro sports teams). Way to keep the bar raised, there with that Top 10 payroll.

  14. Bela Txadux on October 6th, 2004 9:25 pm

    At this point, I trust virtually nothing that comes out of Howard Lincoln’s mouth. And that’s sad, I hate to think ill of someone. But Howie buddy has a track record of smugness, disingenuousness, $-over-Ws, and generally being behind the curve on the nature of the sport within which he has executive responsility to operate a franchise, and I take no pleasure in any of his remarks.

    There is the potential major positive in all this, though: Lincoln seems to be distancing _himself_ from player by player roster decisions and looking to go back to a ‘GM decides, ownership funds/de-funds’ approach, if for no other reason than to keep the backwash from tarnishing his own wingtips. THIS IS GOOD! Even if Bavasi isn’t particularly. Just who forced the decision to dump Guillen and Cameron and other ‘soft players’ for some ‘guys with grit’ last year?? Not Gillick, he was on his way out. Not Bavasi, he wasn’t there yet. This _had_ to be Lincoln’s buttinsky, I-know-how-to-play-this-game decision. And it flopped. And he seems to have wised up mid-season that he doesn’t know beans about talent assessment, even if he knows beaucoups re: bean-counting. If Lincoln steps back, Bavasi may flop, but the next guy for GM may be enough better and have enough responsibility to actually improve things. Teams can succeed with weasel-mouthed, dust-in-the-soul owners if said owners hire competent professionals to actually make the talent decisions. The farther back in the picture Lincoln steps, the better I like him (or the less I actively _dis_like him).