Report On The Wreckage From A Bomb Long Exploded

Jeff Sullivan · December 8, 2013 at 4:15 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

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.


72 Responses to “Report On The Wreckage From A Bomb Long Exploded”

  1. Pete Livengood on December 9th, 2013 12:01 pm

    Just an FYI…Blengino was interviewed on Sirius. He stands by everything he says, and even says this is “just the tip of the iceberg.” Definitely sounds spurned and angry though.

    [Edited to respond @Westside guy: LOL, no shit….]

  2. GarForever on December 9th, 2013 12:41 pm

    Westside Guy: HA!

    I still contend — unexpected result notwithstanding — that everyone has failed to appreciate the deep analytics that led to Ibanez being signed last year, and why he won’t be back this year. To wit:

    2000: Raul Ibanez plays final season in his first stint with M’s; team wins 91 games.
    2001: In first post-Ibanez season, M’s improve by 25 wins, tie all-time record with 116.

    2008: Raul Ibanez plays final season in his second stint with M’s; team wins 61 games
    2009: In first season after Ibanez’s second departure, M’s improve by 24 games, win 85 and are on fringe of contention into September.

    So here we are: the departure of Raul Ibanez is worth immediately an average of +24.5 wins to the M’s, so next season the M’s should expect to win 95-96 games, surely good enough for a Wild Card spot if not the AL West title in 2014!

    If that isn’t statistical analysis that’s “light years ahead” of where the M’s were, I don’t know what is. The trick now is that Z has to listen to his cutting edge analytics team and not screw this up by re-signing Ibanez for next season.

  3. Westside guy on December 9th, 2013 1:35 pm

    GarForever, that was simply brilliant.

  4. dantheman on December 9th, 2013 1:37 pm

    Mr. ZDevotee said: “Don’t mistake my questions about a Baker article as defending the front office.”

    Right. What exactly does your name tell us?

  5. dantheman on December 9th, 2013 1:42 pm

    “It basically puts them on notice that it’s coming, and dares them to respond and go on the record.”

    Sometimes people have “no comment” or issue the kind of vague grumblings the Mariners have issued because the accusation is true and they can’t credibly deny it.

  6. MrZDevotee on December 9th, 2013 1:46 pm

    Forgive the length, but here is Z’s official response released today:

    ” Over the years, we have chosen to take the high road in talking about former Mariners personnel. It hasn’t always been easy but we always felt it was important to do so, not just for the club but also for the individual. And in every case, it proved to be the right way to handle things. However, we believe the comments made by former members of our organization that appeared in the Sunday Seattle Times require a brief response.

    Eric Wedge, our former manager, criticized our organization, accusing (club chairman and CEO) Howard Lincoln, Chuck Armstrong and me of meddling.

    Everyone in our organization, including Howard and Chuck, is focused on putting a championship team on the field. We all care very deeply about this team, just like the fans do. We all see when the team is playing well, and when it isn’t.

    I’ve worked for several Major League organizations. Our upper management has suggestions and asks questions, just like CEOs and presidents in other organization do, all to be helpful and contribute to the goal of winning. We all want to win as soon as possible.

    When there are areas that need improvement, it’s my job to ask questions, suggest ideas and give direction to the field staff. When our upper management has questions or suggestions, it’s my job to respond to them. I don’t believe meddling is a fair portrayal.

    One good example is the issue of the Mariners doing extra work last September. That suggestion was mine. Everyone in the baseball department thought this would be a good teaching time to help us improve our fundamentals with a young team, and help set the tone for spring training.

    Howard, Chuck, Eric and I met every five to six weeks the past couple of seasons to make sure we were all on the same page. Never once did Eric complain about our communications during those meetings. In fact, we all agreed that this was a good time to offer and share ideas. Eric approached me numerous times throughout the year expressing his desire for a long-term contract. Even the day before he quit, Eric called a meeting with me and demanded a contract extension.

    I can also say that our current statistical analysis group is doing excellent work. Our dedicated staff and the tools they are using are a key component in our decision making process, and are light years ahead of where we have been. I am engaged with their work on a daily basis and very excited in the improvements made.

    We have never deviated from our rebuilding plan. We have stayed the course, and we now have a talented group of young players. We are hard at work looking into every option to add to this core group, as we said we would, and we are looking forward to 2014 and beyond.”

  7. MrZDevotee on December 9th, 2013 1:48 pm

    Dan wrote:
    “Right. What exactly does your name tell us?”

    That I was naively optimistic 6 years ago. You obviously missed long debates about what my moniker should be changed to during last season, usually along the lines of themes like “er, not so much” “Mr.Whoops” etc… Me being the one who said I needed a new name.

  8. MrZDevotee on December 9th, 2013 1:49 pm

    I am now OFFICIALLY to be known as “GarForeverDevotee” because I want those 24.5 wins this year!

    Consider me a devout follower of that sort of analysis.

  9. MrZDevotee on December 9th, 2013 1:59 pm

    Z’s official statement says: “Even the day before he quit, Eric called a meeting with me and demanded a contract extension.”

    I pointed this out yesterday as something skimmed over by Baker (skimmed meaning “ignored”)…

    Wedge asked for a meeting with Z to ask for an extension. Z told him to wait till after the season. Wedge took it as a sign he was being fired and quit (my assumption, admittedly), saying he wouldn’t have stayed if they offered him 5 years.

    So to recap this reliable source for Baker’s story:

    “Can I have an extension?”
    “Oh yeah, well I wouldn’t work here another day if you offered me 5 years!”

    (hilarious head scratching ensues)

    Along with Blengino’s: “He was a sham, knew nothing of analytics, he misled the team… Lied on his application…” blah, blah.

    Which Baker handily, in his journalistic integrity, doesn’t bother to ask: “So Blengino, if he was such a sham and so awful, and devoid of ethics… Why did YOU actually write all the misleading stuff he submitted for him, AND follow him out here to be his assistant… Just curious?”

    THESE are the things that bothered me about the article…

    And for the (40th?) time, I too want to see new ownership and a new GM. It’s time.

  10. dantheman on December 9th, 2013 2:09 pm

    “Forgive the length, but here is Z’s official response released today:”

    This is a non-denial denial. So what specific facts in the article does he claim are untrue? The closest he comes is saying it was his idea to require “extra work” (thereby admitting the claim about the extra work). I’m sure it warms the hearts of Chuck and Howard to see Jack Z fall on his sword for them and take the blame for that particular piece of meddling.

  11. MrZDevotee on December 9th, 2013 2:17 pm

    Yay, you have an interpretation of Z’s statement. Like I had an interpretation of Baker’s story.

    Congrats. That’s the point of dialogue. That’s what I wish the article had cared about.

    If you want to continue, that’s great. We can go back and forth about semantics. Or we could just agree that “man it would be great to have new ownership and a more experienced GM!”

    Argue? Agree?

    Other ideas?

  12. vj on December 9th, 2013 2:19 pm

    What strikes me as odd is Blengino saying that Zduriencik tried to “destroy” him. That is a strange thing to say and makes me worry a little bit about Blengino, who seems to be a good guy.
    And if I recall correctly, Fusco and Blengino were the stars of a USSM-gathering after the 2009 season. Kind of telling that both of them are gone.

  13. dantheman on December 9th, 2013 2:35 pm

    “Or we could just agree that “man it would be great to have new ownership and a more experienced GM!””

    On this we can most certainly agree.

  14. killeverything on December 9th, 2013 2:43 pm

    What I’m curious about is why Z didn’t address (the painfully obvious) accusations that he knows nothing of analysis and statistics, and the statements that Blengino helped him lie to get his position.

    That’s what I want to know about not a manager that I think we all wanted gone anyway having his feelings hurt. Looking at Z’s complete and total failures as a GM, I would assume that matter would be more pressing.

    I’m terrified he’s about to trade away Walker now.

    “You never go full retard. Everyone knows that.”

  15. Pete Livengood on December 9th, 2013 3:01 pm

    Kill, I think he *did* address the accusation that he doesn’t know or use statistical analysis with his none-so-subtle dig at Blengino about how the are now “light years ahead” of where they were, they are part of every decision, etc. There was pretty clearly a real, serious falling out between these two guys. I definitely thought Jack’s only veiled dig in that statement was at Blengino, and Blengino is definitely over-the-top angry with Jack for how his exit was handled (“he tried to destroy me”).

    The thing about the fraudulent misrepresentation of his abilities as a scouting/stats hybrid GM is that it only gets viewed that way in retrospect, in the wake of their falling out. Presumably Tony thought of himself as a more-or-less co-equal, joined at the hip kind of assistant who Jack needed because he so painfully lacked the qualities he assured Lincoln and Armstrong he had. Blengino’s mistake was in assuming that Howard and Chuck themselves knew enough to be monitoring Jack to know whether he was what he represented himself to be in the first place. And/or that they wouldn’t change their minds and demand a course change at the first sign of trouble. Howard and Chuck’s own lack of understanding, and their impatience with any kind of plan that takes too long or has any bumps in the road, enabled Jack to jettison Tony, IMO.

  16. Pete Livengood on December 9th, 2013 3:08 pm

    PS – Mr. Z, I think we all definitely agree on what we want. We’re just discussing whether the story was fair or not, whether it can be trusted at all, a little, or some (don’t really think anybody is saying it is Gospel truth; at best it is a true depiction of the perceptions of jettisoned employees).

  17. vj on December 9th, 2013 3:09 pm

    I disagree with the description that Zduriencik misrepresented his plans to Armstrong and Lincoln. We do not know what precisely was said but most likely, Zduriencik’s plan at the time was to bring along advisers who have the know-how and make use of it. And in the first two offseasons, he did stick with that plan. Only, when this did not work out as expected, he started doing things his way.

  18. Pete Livengood on December 9th, 2013 3:44 pm

    “I disagree with the description that Zduriencik misrepresented his plans to Armstrong and Lincoln.”

    I agree – that’s what I meant when I said it only can be viewed that way in retrospect, after the Jack Z. / Tony B. falling out. At the time, I have to think both men intended to fulfill the promise as a two-headed combination. That they had issues, and Jack decided (and was enabled to so decide by Howard and Chuck, through either being unable to monitor whether he continued to be what they said they wanted when they hired him, or they demanded a course change at the first sign of trouble) to marginalize and then get rid of Blengino, probably came as a surprise to Blengino.

  19. pgreyy on December 9th, 2013 4:36 pm

    At the end of the day…

    1) I’m not any more inclined to miss Eric Wedge now than I was before this article. I didn’t think he was the right guy to be hired, didn’t like how he managed the team, didn’t feel bad when he decided to quit.

    2) I’m not any more inclined to be hopeful about Lloyd McClendon. Nothing about him suggests that he’s the right fit–but I assume big changes are coming, so he’s at best a temporary concern and probably a lame duck headed into this year.

    3) I apologize for giving voice in these comments the idea that it was Wedge conspiring with Lincoln and Armstrong to keep Jack Z from doing things the way he wanted to do them. I thought that Jack Z was more stats-oriented and that he was weakened from pursuing a more forward thinking strategy by bad luck (causing him to lose confidence/power) and a bit of a weak backbone (to stand up against the wrong-headed thoughts of his manager and his bosses). Turns out, he’s just as wrong-headed as they were. (Nope. Still not giving Wedge the benefit of the doubt on this one.)

    4) I will root for the Mariners, because they’re my adopted hometown team. But I can already tell that I won’t love them for awhile. (And I’m still predicting–no, I’m guaranteeing–a sub .500 team this year.) Gotta Love These Guys? Not now, no. Is that because of this article? No. Doesn’t help knowing that the front office and not just fickle fate is to blame. I’ll stay in love with a losing team with hope and the smarts to build towards a brighter future…but I’ll be damned to give my heart to a team this stupid.

    5) My wife’s favorite player is still Raul Ibanez. If they re-sign him, we’ll probably go see a couple of games this year. If not, I’ll be watching this season on ROOT or SportsCenter. (HA! As if SportsCenter would be showing M’s highlights…other than on the night that Cano comes back to Yankee Stadium…where he’ll go 3-4 with 2HRs, Felix pitches eight innings of shut out baseball and we lose 7-6.)

    6) Nobody is getting M’s-based presents from me this Christmas. Bah humbug, indeed!

  20. qwerty on December 9th, 2013 5:24 pm

    So I think I know how Chuck/Howard interviewed the GM’s.
    C/H: We’re in charge. You’ll do what we say. You okay with that?
    Candidate Z: yep.
    C/H; You’re hired!!!

  21. killeverything on December 9th, 2013 10:53 pm

    Pete you brought up a good point in a context I haven’t considered. I just….that guy scares the hell out of me, and maybe it was Howard and Lincoln all along, etc. Like Mr. Z Devotee I was drinkin’ the Kool-Aid

  22. greenwood ave on December 9th, 2013 11:38 pm

    What I find most disturbing from the Baker article is really the treatment of a Bob Engle. He didn’t even go on the attack, but he didn’t have to. And sure, businesses do not have to be led by likable people, but you do not succeed in business without synergy, and the on field results and ill conceived roster of your Seattle Mariners would seem to support some of the flaws in leadership. Also, thanks for the article Jeff!

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