Report On The Wreckage From A Bomb Long Exploded
I’ve seen comments from a number of people that they can’t wait to read what certain writers have to say about the Geoff Baker piece. Overnight, Seattle Mariners organizational dysfunction has become national news, with the obligatory Deadspin link and everything. From those most closely linked to the team, though, the response has been…not non-existent, but perhaps underwhelming, relative to what outsiders might expect. Everyone has acknowledged the piece and talked at least a little about it. It’s well-sourced, well-crafted, and extremely thorough. It’s a big deal. But we simply didn’t learn a whole lot. Those paying attention have hardly been caught by surprise.
Last night, I said that Geoff Baker dropped the bomb. The more I’ve thought about it, the more I’d like to back away from that phrasing. Nothing has been destroyed by Baker’s outstanding article. Rather, the article details what was destroyed many moons back, gradually over the course of months and years. For many, most certainly, the information is eye-opening, but from here, what’s new are some of the details and anecdotes. What’s not new is the substance of the message. The organization’s not in great shape, in so many ways lacking the right kind of leadership.
Don’t focus too much on the timing of the article, right on the heels of the Robinson Cano acquisition. This article has been in the works for longer than the Mariners and Cano were negotiating, and so in that sense the timing is a coincidence. It benefits the Times that people are paying attention to the Mariners again all of a sudden, but this was getting published regardless once Baker had completed all the legwork. Things like this take a while. Baker, for as much as we’ve picked on him, is a qualified investigative journalist who did his job to address what had become a hurricane of whispers. This was all going to come out.
Similarly, don’t over-analyze the timing of the Cano signing. The Mariners knew that this article was coming, but they didn’t drop a quarter of a billion dollars just to make people feel better about the state of things. The Mariners aren’t changing their plans in response to this. Teams don’t respond to the media like that, and the surest cure is winning. They’re trying to win, as soon as they can. Also, don’t over-analyze the fact that the Mariners declined to issue much in the way of a rebuttal. They’re not automatically conceding that everything’s true. They just don’t see any point in getting caught up in a war of words. What could they possibly gain? There’s nothing, really, to be done when a piece like this is hitting the papers. They, rightly, are electing to focus on the baseball.
A perfectly valid observation is that the bulk of the sourcing comes from ex-employees. Many of them were forced out or marginalized against their will. So there’s a bit of a revenge angle, and there’s certain bias, and, probably, some details have been exaggerated. But it’s not like Baker talked to one or two people. Read the article again. It’s not that we’re getting one side out of two; it’s that we’re getting X out of X + 1 or X + 2, where X is a pretty big number as these things go. Lots of people have bad things to say about how this organization is run.
And it’s not limited to ex-employees. Very little of this should come as a shock to the industry, because, people know, or have at least had a sense. There’s long been talk that the Mariners are mismanaged, that Jack Zduriencik is awful to work for, that the GM is in over his head, that the team is run by a small number of big egos. Dave has remarked that Zduriencik has burned an awful lot of bridges, and while that doesn’t automatically make him a disaster, it suggests he doesn’t quite have the people skills you usually look for in a GM candidate. They said Paul DePodesta was under-qualified because he didn’t know how to lead. Zduriencik is an opposite sort of general manager, but he’s got a very similar flaw, and things have gotten worse over time.
It’s not like Blengino was the team’s only analyst. A specific angle is that Blengino was pushed out. A more general angle is that the organization shifted its philosophies away from what we might refer to as the cutting edge. At least, away from the contemporary. That much has been pretty obvious, and while Blengino presumably exaggerated the extent to which Zduriencik is personally ignorant, this is not a forward-thinking team. It does have a staff of analysts, paid little, making little difference. The call is always made by Jack, and Jack isn’t how he was presented toward the beginning.
Regarding some of the alleged personality traits, do remember that people don’t get to elevated positions of power in America by being sweethearts. A lot of well-to-do people can come off like dicks because a lot of the time you have to be a dick to become a well-to-do person. Baseball executives are going to have egos just like how baseball players are going to have egos. They have to think primarily about themselves, and all their lives they’ve been successful. There’s a limit beyond which an ego is unacceptable, if it’s affecting the way things work, but lots of people running things in baseball could be portrayed poorly.
And that’s a critical point — we’ve seen this article written about the Mariners. How do other organizations work? This makes the Mariners appear not unlike the Marlins in a way, but of course there have been ugly incidents everywhere. Overall, you have to think the Mariners are below average, but we don’t know where the average is. There was an awful lot of stuff written about the dysfunctional Red Sox there for a bit, and now look at them. They were a model franchise, then they sucked, now they’re almost a model franchise again. I don’t know if things there are righted behind the scenes, but on stage, the team just won the championship.
All this is important because it speaks to how the Mariners are run. We think it could mean a lot going forward, with regard to how the rosters shape up. The Mariners, today, are on the brink of signing Robinson Cano, and there is plenty of young talent, and winning right away isn’t impossible. Ultimately, what matters is just the team, and if the Mariners are good it doesn’t matter if Howard Lincoln is baseball-ignorant. It didn’t really matter when the Mariners were awesome between 2000 and 2003. This reads ugly because the Mariners have been ugly, and it suggests the Mariners are destined to make some more ugly decisions, but the bottom line is that it’s about the roster, as far as any of us are concerned. If they target good players, or if they get lucky, then they win, and who cares about a soap opera? 95 wins and a berth in the playoffs makes all this a hell of a lot easier to shrug off. Egos being egos.
But what are the chances of achieving those 95 wins? What are the chances of achieving sustainable success, like Jack always used to talk about? Maybe he truly, deeply believed in his old words, and maybe the people above him did, too, but they all changed course, perhaps irreversibly. Maybe Jack was influenced by Armstrong and Lincoln, and that’s how he wound up butting heads with Eric Wedge, but Jack is what he is now and the root cause is not important. The rebuild, as it was, is over, perhaps prematurely. Now they’ve got a whole new blueprint.
For all of us, this was a difficult article to read. It was powerful and worrying and it’s come at almost the worst possible time. It was difficult for me not because it’s going to change anything. The Mariners didn’t suddenly develop worse leadership. They’re not going to suddenly have a more negative perception around baseball. It was difficult for me because it supports the worst feelings I’ve had about the organization for what feels like a handful of years. The message is that the way things are is about as bad as people have feared. People around the Mariners already knew that. People elsewhere in baseball already knew that. Now the people in Seattle can know that. The team’s going to bring in a lot of new talent, but are these the people we trust to make that happen in a responsible, intelligent way? For a while, we’ve been cynical. Now it’s been laid out for us why we’re not wrong.
Some time ago, the Mariners exploded. They’ve since been in the process of reconstruction, but the architects might be drunk. The hope we get to cling to is that the mission’s not impossible. For the Seattle Mariners, winning is not impossible. That’s the very most that I’m honestly able to say.