Why Wak Was Fired
As we go forward, people are going to do a lot of speculating about why Don Wakamatsu and his staff were replaced today. In reality, though, it boils down to two very simple things:
1. The team has played terrible baseball and have shown few signs of improvement as the year went on.
2. Ken Griffey Jr became unhappy with Wakamatsu and actively spread his discontent around the clubhouse.
You can talk about bullpen usage, line-ups, or whatever other things you personally didn’t like about Wak, but those things didn’t matter all that much. Every manager has his idiosyncrasies, and as we saw last year, the things that Wak did that might have annoyed you don’t prevent the Mariners from being a winning ballclub. They’re minor issues that had little impact on today’s decision.
The first issue is the big one, obviously. If the team was winning, things would be very different. The frustration that has surfaced has been magnified as the losses pile up, and what should be small problems have turned into big ones as people stew after another loss. However, the second issue is almost certainly the root of why Wak was dismissed.
Pretty much anyone that has access to how the players feel about their former manager will report that it’s not good, and it hasn’t been good since May. When Wak made the (correct) decision that Ken Griffey Jr just shouldn’t play anymore, it caused some serious friction between the guys on the field and the coaching staff. The guys loved Junior, and they’re not rational about his abilities to help the team win. They just saw an icon in the game being shoved out the door. Griffey did absolutely nothing to discourage these feelings, offering no support for Wak or acknowledging the fact that he was no longer cut out to play Major League Baseball. Even after he took his meager bat and went home, he helped fuel the belief that it was Wakamatsu that was to blame for the entire situation.
At that point, most of the club turned on their manager. There was nothing Wak could do to get them back on his side. He was now the guy responsible for running Griffey out of Seattle. And he should have never been put in that position.
Plain and simple – the front office screwed up when they brought Griffey back for 2010. Everyone involved with that decision made a mistake, and they perpetuated that mistake by not having a plan in place to remove Griffey from the roster once it was clear that he could no longer function as a Major League player and would not be happy with a reduced role, as he had publicly claimed. The Mariners were more than willing to make up injuries for Mike Sweeney and Ryan Rowland-Smith when they wanted to get those guys off the roster – they should have been willing to do the same with Griffey at the end of April.
Instead, the organization left it up to Wak to play the bad guy, and the situation poisoned his relationship with the rest of the guys on the team. It devolved into a point where the relationships probably couldn’t be saved, and because the Mariners can’t get rid of the entire roster, Wak is the one to leave.
I’m pretty confident that he’ll get another gig, and be a pretty successful major league manager once he gets that second chance. More likely than not, his next team won’t stick him with a broken down former star who will become disgruntled once he stops getting his name penciled into the line-up. That will help.