In Defense Of Wak
In a season of disappointments and struggles, no one has taken more of a beating than second year manager Don Wakamatsu. The manager is always an easy target to blame when a team starts losing, so its no surprise that the reactionary fans who call into sports radio are calling for Wak’s head. That’s just the nature of the beast.
But it doesn’t stop there. We try to be a bit more measured around here, but we’ve criticized a lot of the things Wak has done this year. His bullpen management has been curious at best, disastrous at worst. His line-ups have generally not been anything close to ideal. He’s shown questionable talent evaluation skills, including a far-too-strong emphasis on spring training performance – his infatuation with guys like Matt Tuiasosopo can be easily understood when you realize how much stock the manager has put in March performances the last two years.
However, most managers are going to make curious to bad decisions from time to time. In general, all you can hope for from a field general is that he’s more good than bad and that his players respect him and work hard for him.
It’s that last point that offers potential to be the biggest problem. In the last few weeks, the team has seen Griffey retire with something less than grace after Wak benched him, Ian Snell speak with frustration about his manager’s comments about his tempo, and Chone Figgins publicly push back against the line-up changes that saw him moved down in the order. On their own, none of these things might be all that big of a deal, but there is certainly a growing feeling among those around the team that the clubhouse is anything but the unified fun house we saw a year ago, with a good amount of blame being shoveled Wak’s way in the process.
I’m not saying he’s handled everything perfectly, but I’d like to suggest that it’s highly unfair to lay the perceived ills of the clubhouse at Wak’s feet. He didn’t sign Ken Griffey Jr, who made a lot of statements about being perfectly content playing “any role” on the team but showed that to simply not be true once he was finally removed from a regular job. He didn’t anoint Junior as some kind of sacred cow, a hero to the boys in the locker room who could not be treated as the player that he was – not one worthy of a big league job. And he didn’t cause Milton Bradley, Chone Figgins, Jose Lopez, and Casey Kotchman to hit like Double-A rejects, sinking the offense and the team’s chances at winning in the process.
This entire situation reinforces a point we’ve been making for years; chemistry is a byproduct of winning, not the other way around. The team is losing, so frustrations that would have been washed away in victory celebrations are now coming to the surface. Griffey’s lifeless bat was okay when his teammates were covering for him – once they fell down on the job, his inability to perform became the elephant in the room, and Wak was left with the decision of putting the best team on the field or angering those who worshiped a guy who shouldn’t have had a job in the first place. It took him too long, but he finally made the correct decision, and now he’s taking heat for it.
Wak’s not perfect. I’d probably argue that he’s had as bad of a start to the 2010 season as some of the underperformers in the line-up, and he’s made mistakes that he needs to learn from. But just like we’re not abandoning Michael Saunders as he struggles in his second year on the job, neither should we bail on Don Wakamatsu just because he’s had a rough few months. Instead, the organization needs to learn from yet another failed attempt at winning by chemistry, rather than focusing on putting the best major league roster on the field.
Last year’s leader is this year’s petulant divider. Last year’s joy is this year’s frustration. Rather than trying to fix the clubhouse, the Mariners should focus on fixing the team, and once they’ve done that, the off field stuff will work itself out. The only thing predictable about clubhouse chemistry is that it follows winning around. If you want harmony in the clubhouse, win games.
Wak shares in the blame for why the team hasn’t won games. The clubhouse stuff, though – there’s not much he can do to ease the frustration causing the problems. That will get taken care of when they start playing well again. Or, maybe at this point, if they start playing well again.