A Belated Defense Of A Thing Howard Lincoln Said

Jeff Sullivan · December 20, 2013 at 7:59 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

This is something I’ve had stashed away in my mental freezer for a couple of months. Remember when Howard Lincoln did those sit-down interviews with various area media types? Once upon a time, those were a big deal, before the Eric Wedge drama, and before the Geoff Baker article drama, and before the Robinson Cano acquisition drama, and before the rest of the recent drama. I didn’t write anything about the interviews then, and as more time passed I realized I didn’t really want to, but then there’s one thing that just keeps coming up, one thing that keeps being quoted. And when people quote it, for purposes of being critical of Lincoln and the way the Mariners are run, it actually bothers me, because I don’t see what the problem is. I think people get upset because they just want to be upset, and what I’m referring to is a clip from Lincoln’s interview with Ryan Divish:

How do you sell this team to fans? If two fans were standing here right now and asked, ‘Why should we spend our money to go see your product?’ What do you tell them?

First I’d tell them that when you get to Safeco Field you are going to have a safe, friendly environment. You are going to be sitting in a first class ballpark. You are going to get great entertainment. It’s a great place to come whether it’s at the Pen or at Edgar’s or wherever. So there’s a lot of things going on at Safeco Field for the fans to enjoy besides watching major league baseball. And I would point that out to them. Many of our fans are thinking about things other than just what’s on the field, so we have to provide a really good entertainment experience across the board as well as getting that major league team to perform.

This has been cited over and over as evidence that the Mariners care more about the “Safeco experience” than they do about the baseball. This has been a belief among cynics for a long time. Nevermind that Lincoln mentioned the baseball product in the paragraph. Nevermind that his next paragraph was about the team’s developing young talent. Nevermind that his third paragraph was about Felix Hernandez, and about how Lincoln hears all the time that the team should be better. He led with “safe, friendly environment,” and a lot of people just can’t see past that. They figure Lincoln just doesn’t care.

Look at the question. How would you answer it? There was no good way for Lincoln to answer it. Honestly, there’s probably no good way for Lincoln to answer anything — people already hate him too much. They automatically roll their eyes, just like people automatically figure the Mariners are screwing up whenever they attempt a transaction. These feelings, certainly, have been earned. But the Mariners haven’t been to the playoffs since 2001. They haven’t won 90 games since 2003. They’ve been one of the worst teams in baseball for a decade, and when this interview was conducted, the team was fresh off a year in which it was outscored by 130.

And people think Lincoln should’ve highlighted the baseball? The baseball’s been the least entertaining part of the Safeco experience for years. Nobody wants it to be that way, but if Lincoln had answered by saying people should come out to watch the exciting Seattle Mariners, he’d look like an oblivious moron. The team has been borderline unsellable, on its merits. It’s often been unwatchable on TV, and TV doesn’t make you pay money to drive to a ballpark and sit down for three hours. Lincoln had to say something, and Safeco’s strength has undoubtedly been Safeco itself. There’s no sense in denying it.

Relatedly, think about the question “how do you sell this team?” People have been upset that Lincoln didn’t say something more basebally, more appealing to the die-hards. But as an intelligent businessman, here’s something Lincoln knows: the die-hards aren’t going anywhere. They don’t need to be sold on anything, because for the most part they’re already too invested. Look at us, for God’s sake — we’re all still here, like idiots. We’re also outnumbered. Fan bases aren’t groups of die-hards. They’re groups of casual bandwagoners surrounding a die-hardy core. The people that need to be sold on an experience are the people on the bubble. There are people who will keep paying attention to the Mariners, and there are people who’ll never give a damn. Everyone in the middle — those are the people the Mariners need to attract. Because, you know, the Mariners are a business, and there aren’t enough die-hard baseball fans in Seattle to support it on their own.

Safeco’s great. The Mariners have truly done a wonderful job, with Safeco. The baseball experience there has been shitty for years, and still people say that Safeco’s one of baseball’s real gems. They haven’t stopped improving, and while I’m not going to sit here and defend the hyper-conservative ushers, that’s a very small part of the experience, involving a small percentage of attendees. The Mariners would be worse off if Safeco were a worse place. Every baseball team needs to care about the non-baseball part of the show, because every baseball stadium gets filled with fans with varying levels of interest in the gameplay. So Safeco’s got its hydros. Miller Park has its sausage race. Nationals Park has its presidents race. Fenway has its Neil Diamond. Every ballpark has some kind of hat shuffle. The Mariners have made Safeco a priority, and they’ve excelled.

And it’s not like the Mariners have to choose between focusing on Safeco or the roster. Those are different people in different departments, so it’s not like any of Jack Zduriencik’s time was wasted by the installation of the massive new video board. The Mariners haven’t funneled way too much money to the ballpark at the expense of the team, either. The Mariners, like every team, can simultaneously prioritize the park and the roster. The problem, the real problem, has been that the rosters have sucked.

And that’s why everyone’s so upset. That’s essentially the heart of it. That’s why everyone groans whenever they hear Howard Lincoln or Chuck Armstrong’s name. They’ve been in charge while the team has lost a lot of baseball games. So to a large extent they’re thought to be responsible.

And, you know, I don’t know. I don’t know what kind of shape the Mariners would be in under different executive management. Under these guys, they’ve been one of the worst teams in the league. A little over a decade ago, under these guys, they were arguably the most successful team in the league. I don’t know the truths of their influence, but I do know a lot of people complain because Armstrong and Lincoln don’t allow for a high enough budget. People wish the Mariners would’ve been spending more money.

I’m sure they could’ve. I’m sure they could’ve, and still turned a bit of a profit. But every team in baseball has a budget, and just about every team in baseball turns a profit. The Mariners have been making less money as they’ve gotten worse, because attendance tends to drive revenue. Additionally, enough money has been spent to build winners. The payroll in 2008 was nearly $120 million. But, two things: the money’s been spent poorly, and people misunderstand the significance of things like free-agent additions.

You know where the worst money is spent? Free agency. Free agency is almost always a losing gamble, in terms of return on investment. And one player can never turn around an entire team, especially one player who makes it to the market. The Mariners have spent some money in free agency, and they’ve tried to spend more on bigger splashes while coming up short. Sometimes, they’ve made splashes, and they just made the very biggest kind of one. Other times, they’ve been relatively inactive, but they haven’t lost because they haven’t been able to sign good players. They’ve lost because they haven’t been able to develop good players, or spend on the right ones.

You know another use of money? Keeping good players around, through their would-be free-agency years. The Mariners haven’t lost a good young talent to free agency since, I don’t know, Alex Rodriguez? Because they haven’t had good young talents to invest in long-term. The one guy they have had is Felix Hernandez, and they gave him a contract that, at the time, was the biggest contract in baseball history for a pitcher. It was the second time the Mariners had signed Felix to a long-term extension. Money didn’t get in the way there.

The problem hasn’t been the payrolls. The problem hasn’t been falling short for Prince Fielder or Josh Hamilton or whatever. Sure, it’d be great if the team spent a little more, but the problem all along has been the people in charge of actually putting the roster together. And it’s been the people in charge of maximizing player talent within the organization. When you neither develop talent nor identify talent, a little more money isn’t going to make things all better. It’s probably just going to be wasted.

The easiest and most aggravating example is the last-second shift from drafting Troy Tulowitzki to drafting Jeff Clement. Who knows how Tulo would’ve done here, but he’s turned into one of the best position players in baseball. Who knows how Clement would’ve done elsewhere, but here, he totally busted. So much has gone wrong and blaming it on the executives is too easy. There’s also been some bad luck, sure. Chone Figgins went from a six-win player to a no-win player. Franklin Gutierrez developed a chronic untreatable illness I’d literally never heard of before. But the team has made more bad decisions than good decisions. Talented young prospects haven’t often turned into talented young players. Presto: the Mariners have been a lousy baseball team.

It’s on Lincoln and them to some extent. They influence decisions. They influence other things. They hire the general managers who hire the support staffs. I’m not sure what they saw in Bill Bavasi, but that was a long time ago and I don’t remember it very well. As for Zduriencik, well, we all loved him right away, to the point where we gave him a standing ovation at a USSM meet-up. That didn’t look like a screw-up until later. Absolutely, Howard Lincoln deserves some percentage of the blame for what the Mariners have become, but the Mariners have been bad because the Mariners’ players have been bad, and that just isn’t his fault. And bad decisions with more money would just be bigger bad decisions. Don’t over-estimate the impact that a few more million dollars can actually have. Right now a free-agent win costs like $6-7 million. Good teams don’t build themselves around free agency.

Howard Lincoln was facing certain no-win interviews. There is genuinely nothing that he could say to make people change their minds and like him. The only way people will come around on the Mariners is if the Mariners start to win baseball games, and for the most part that’s just out of Lincoln’s hands. Good decisions have to be made by other people. Good performances have to be turned in by still other people. Lincoln, I’m sure, is tired of being embarrassed. But ultimately he’ll spend his summer sitting back and watching. Watching and hoping the team doesn’t suck. In that way we’re kind of alike, us and him.


50 Responses to “A Belated Defense Of A Thing Howard Lincoln Said”

  1. MrZDevotee on December 20th, 2013 8:49 pm

    Standing ovation…

    (clap, clap, clap… looking around… slower clap… uh, “I’m the only one?”)

  2. PackBob on December 20th, 2013 9:27 pm

    The Mariners, in the space of a decade or so, have had one of the best teams in baseball history according to record, and some of the worst of the last decade. Under the same executive management.

    Winning 116 games came after losing 3 of the best players in baseball at the time in succession, 2 1/2 Hall of Famers. Who predicted that? We are all very good at assessing baseball in hindsight, not that hot in predicting the future.

    Teams succeed by all sorts of methods, and when a team succeeds management is lauded. Teams make really bad decisions and still win, like the Giants with Zito.

    I’m sure management plays a part and has an effect, but a lot of the time I think they are just grabbing the coattails and holding on for dear life. There is no sure winning formula, else every team would employ it.

    Demonizing Lincoln and Armstrong has always seemed to me the lazy way out.

  3. terryoftacoma on December 20th, 2013 9:42 pm

    The Mariners have been around 36 years of those only 9 have been above .500. The first in 1991 and the last in 2009. Four times they made it to the playoffs. That’s 27 years of suck to 9 years of good baseball. *sigh*

  4. Westside guy on December 20th, 2013 10:24 pm

    Absolutely, Howard Lincoln deserves some percentage of the blame for what the Mariners have become, but the Mariners have been bad because the Mariners’ players have been bad, and that just isn’t his fault.

    Problem is – we don’t really know if this is true or not… and we likely never will. The Lincoln described in Baker’s article definitely had his fingers firmly stuck in the pie. Lincoln might have had absolutely nothing to do with hiring 5 DHs last year… but meddling owners have driven personnel decisions on baseball teams, so it certainly could’ve happened here. We also don’t know how much, if any, of the decision making regarding the team’s major league management staff has been influenced by him. Does Jack Z have a free hand? We don’t know.

    For all we know, Lincoln might’ve been hands-off in the past, up until (and including) the Gillick years; but, afterward, as the team sucked for several years while Lincoln simultaneously saw himself getting older, he might’ve decided he was going to “get involved” because he saw his legacy going south fast. We just don’t know.

    But your fundamental point is obviously true. The basic reason we are upset is because the team has been so bad for so long, and nothing Lincoln can say will change that. The only thing that’ll fix that is if the team stops sucking. And, unfortunately, we still don’t know if that’s going to happen anytime soon or not.

  5. gwangung on December 20th, 2013 11:08 pm

    Agreed, Jeff.

    And I DON’T want to hear fans whining about the team providing a family-friendly venue, or about the team catering to non-hardcore fans—guys, that IS part of their jobs. You HAVE to appeal to non-hard core fans. You HAVE to concentrate effort on your place of business. And, arguably, it’s been the only parts of their job they’ve been successful at.

    Get on ’em for the parts of the job they aren’t doing well—which, as Jeff has pointed out, has been putting a good team on the field.

  6. smb on December 20th, 2013 11:37 pm

    On one hand it bothers me that he led off with that…like he was answering in an order of magnitude indicative of his priorities, but on the other I concur there was no right answer to be given…unless you were pulling for a hat-in-hand, well-let-me-start-off-with-an-apology-for-our-performance type of sales pitch. But I suppose that wasn’t exactly likely…because his professional reputation, going back many decades, is that of a petty, vengeful and vindictive dick. And going off what he said in that Q&A while looking directly at Brian Robinson in the gallery, I don’t think he’s changed at all. And I assume we all know how he feels about the blogosphere of Seattle sportsdom.

    The sooner he is not part of this organization, the better. Unfortunately, I fear the team has been Nintendo’s ballast for a long time and they will not part with it without legit cause. Sigh.



  7. Westside guy on December 21st, 2013 12:22 am

    I had missed that Lookout Landing story about Lincoln, the first time around – but it’s mistitled. Badass is not interchangeable with a**hole.

  8. diderot on December 21st, 2013 12:27 am

    So easy to hate. So hard to think rationally at the level Jeff does here.
    Well done.

  9. LongDistance on December 21st, 2013 1:52 am

    Safeco Field, for quite a while, has been a dead mall. The main stores have pulled out, and what’s left is the Food Court.

    “Nobody’s thinking nothing at all. Strangers in Paradise, down at the Mall” Iggy Pop

    Yes, maybe Howard shouldn’t be roasted in hell for trying to answer an unanswerable question. After all, he can’t just say, well, I dunno why they SHOULD come down, because we don’t have much of a core product to sell.

    One of the problems is not so much that he’s looking for anything at all he might say, even if it’s just scrambling around on defense — but that after a while, he gets to believing it, himself.

    But I’ve got to admit, Jeff. You made some very strong points.

    However, I still think Lincoln shouldn’t be anywhere near this team.

  10. maqman on December 21st, 2013 5:13 am

    I agree with Jeff, it’s far from all his fault. He has done very well with the business side of the team. The ROOT NW controlling interest purchase is going to still be paying dividends when Howie has left the planet. And he will leave one way or the other at some point. What’s to prevent somebody who is even worse from taking the reins when that happens? Armstrong and Z have to bear some of the blame. (Why does there always have to be blame assigned?) I still like the plan of building from within and filing holes by trade and free agents. Without Ackley, Miller, Zunino, Seager, Walker, Paxton, Franklin and such keeping payroll costs down there’s no room for the Canos of the world to be bribed to join the Mariner’s Happy Family.

  11. bermanator on December 21st, 2013 5:36 am

    Completely agree. The answer to “how do you sell this team to fans” is “give them an experience they’ll enjoy whether the team wins or loses.”

    Obviously it’s easier to sell a winning team than a losing one, and I think the Astros’ strategy this offseason reflects the fact that a total, complete and extended teardown makes it impossible to sell anything BUT the stadium experience to your fanbase. I’d hate to try and market a team that clearly has little interest in winning in the short term.

    But if you’re counting on the diehard, Fangraphs fanbase to serve as your core attendance, you’ll go broke.

  12. MrZDevotee on December 21st, 2013 9:26 am

    Your experience is different than mine, I guess. Everytime we go (with two small kids) there are tons of things to do (I barely get to watch the game) and the “kids zone” is always packed (sometimes you have to get a “pass” that designates a time you can go play).

    I’d rather have a great team to root for, and get a babysitter, to focus on the game– but when Lincoln said that stuff and everyone (including me) was lambasting him, I also knew he was right on a certain level, for the casual fan it really IS a good experience. Honestly, the few games I’ve been to the past two years (other than the “Griffey” induction game) we only decided to go because we know it’s fun for the family, whether the game is any good or not.

    I mean, like it or not, another of their genius moves was the field level “pickup bar” in centerfield. There are young people that view it as their regular hangout joint/bar– and probably don’t even know the game is going on by the 2nd inning. (Definitely not a kid friendly area midway through a game!)

    And for families “Fan Fest” is one of the best team promotions I’ve ever seen, as far as building goodwill amongst the fans.

    Bottomline, they’ve done a good job of marketing the team to the casual fan. That doesn’t do squat for the diehards who want to see a pennant in Seattle (that feels weird to even type with a straight face)… But his statement was true. And if it WASN’T true, there’s a good chance there wouldn’t still be baseball in Seattle.

  13. IllinoisMsFan on December 21st, 2013 10:16 am

    How about instead of blowing sunshine up our asses Howard simply states:

    “We need to put a competitive, winning product on the field, and we haven’t done that consistently. We feel we are moving in the right direction but I recognize many fans won’t be sold on this organization until we put a good product on the field.”

    Then he could have gone on with the rest of his answer, including his selling us the “Safeco Experience” – which is apparently centered around 15,000 fans watching crap baseball while getting ripped off on food and drink.

    The team packed Safeco and had huge TV ratings when they were winning. It’s not that complicated of a formula.

    It’s not that hard to answer that question in a way that doesn’t make you seem completely detached from reality. Sadly, Howard couldn’t accomplish the minimum.

  14. Johnny Slick on December 21st, 2013 11:50 am

    So, IllinoisMsFan, your response would have been to duck the question? And what would you have said if the interviewer repeated it, expecting you to actually respond in a non politician style manner?

  15. kinickers77 on December 21st, 2013 12:42 pm

    There goes Choo to the Rangers. Dang. I’m afraid this offseason is headed to failure.

  16. MrZDevotee on December 21st, 2013 3:31 pm

    Actually it REALLY IS a complicated formula… That’s why not very many teams are good at it. If you remember correctly, nobody expected the M’s to be “all that” in 2001 (we just lost A-Rod, and our leadoff guy was a Japanese league player with no precedents for success).

    The Red Sox in 2012 thought it was complicated. The Angels in 2013 thought so. The Blue Jays in 2013 thought so. The Yankees too.

    It’s complicated, or they would just win every year, pack the joint, and roll in the ensuing piles of cash. That’s kinda the ultimate point– to believe their strategy is NOT to do that makes no sense at all, unless we were spending 2013 Houston Astros dollars.

  17. Mekias on December 21st, 2013 4:04 pm

    Maqman brings up a great point. A few years ago the Rangers and Angels started spending mountains of money. The Mariners weren’t going to be able to compete financially any more. Lincoln and our executives figured out a way to make us competitive for years to come through ROOT NW. The result of that move can not be marginalized.

    The Mariners front office isn’t perfect. Far from it. They’ve made quite a few bad decisions over the years. They’ve also made a lot of good decisions. It’s almost unbelievable how many players have come to Seattle and completely fallen apart. I mean, at the time, the Figgins signing was lauded by nearly everyone. The horrible success rate we’ve had with young prospects has also been incredibly depressing. I’m completely at a loss to explain why so many high level prospects are failing for the M’s at the major league level.

    Do Lincoln and Armstrong have “some” influence over the on-field performance of this team? I’m sure they do. But, honestly, the Mariners are in a much better financial position now than they ever have been. And, for that, I’m thankful to those guys. I just hope the next group of front office personnel are better able to use this money to put together a championship team.

  18. Eastside Crank on December 21st, 2013 4:32 pm

    The best response was really very straightforward: “I am resigning along with Mr. Armstrong and Mr. Zduriencik. It will be up to a new front office to put a competitive team on the field. Clearly, a decade of failed decisions cannot be reversed overnight by the same people responsible for those decisions”.

    That would work for me!

  19. Matthew Carruth on December 21st, 2013 5:08 pm

    No, that’s still a crap answer. He should be ready for that question. That question should be on his mind at all times and he should have an answer for it. And part of that answer needs to be about building a better baseball team.

    Else give the city back our money and let us build some parks that we can all play in.

    To hell with Howard Lincoln and any justification or defense of him.

  20. currcoug on December 21st, 2013 6:59 pm

    Lincoln and Armstrong hired “the people in charge of actually putting the roster together.”

  21. LongDistance on December 22nd, 2013 1:46 am

    Weird off season. Difficult off season. The word desperation has been bandied about, and you really do get the impression that the Mariners felt backed into the corner.

    My first inkling things were going to get weird, was when that “full court press” story broke on the Lou Piniella offer.

    I don’t know when casual fan interest peaks in a non-contender season — if it ever does. And I don’t even want to address those fans who go down to Safeco with a Disneyland mentality. But I do know that for those fans who have a more heavily invested interest in baseball, they are very interested in the off season.

    And this off season, is off kilter. And my feeling is nobody really can find solid ground to stand on right now.

    I don’t love Jack Z., but personal feelings aside, I thought that Times/Baker article was of the absolute worst timing just at the time he had to go into what is the most critical part of the year for him. The part of the year where players, the media, and agents, had to have a modicum of respect for him. Especially this year, where the Mariners decided to suddenly kick the door open and let the dogs out. And thanks to a local ha.. uh, reporter, whatever respect he and the Mariners might have still had to work with (not a hell of a lot), was dragged all over the carpet.

    Did that have an effect on the ability of the Mariners, post-Cano, to follow up? Other than for Price, suddenly the air seemed to go out of all the rest.

    And once again – and I would love to be very, very wrong – I have this déjà vu feeling it’s going to be yet another year of watching a team who’s line-up, yet again, consists of mostly Who’s On First? That’s not the definition of a contender. Contenders tend to be teams where, when you think of a position, you think of a name, not of a possible name or a combination of names, or where that sort of speculative cancer is spread out across four or five positions.

    At the very least, we might be looking at a .500 club, which would be a vast improvement.

    But, excuse me if I don’t line up to buy a Howard Bobblehead.

    For me, this off season may well end up being something you could title The Short and Happy Life of Jack Z.

    Exceptionally weird.

  22. nemo on December 22nd, 2013 9:08 am

    The thing that’s been bugging me are the people who use this quote to demonstrate that the M’s are pursuing the “wrong target demographic,” which is something that I’ve seen a lot of. Or maybe just that it’s a DIFFERENT demographic than the one that most of us online (fans who care enough about the Mariners to spend our time discussing and analyzing the team on the internet) belong to, which is a demographic that cares about THE TEAM and THE GAME, and not all the other distractions that Safeco has to offer.

    Some people acknowledge that maybe the demographic that cares about the ballpark amenities is possibly even the better target for the organization, even if we as true fans of the game wish it were different… It allows the Mariners to draw the diehard fans (who, as Jeff pointed out, will come regardless of the other factors), as well as providing something extra to reach out to casual fans, families, etc.

    The whole discussion of “target demographic” is completely moot though, if you go back and read what Lincoln was asked in the interview.

    “If two fans were standing here right now and asked, ‘Why should we spend our money to go see your product?’ What do you tell them?”

    This is a specific scenario, and his answer shouldn’t be taken to demonstrate ANY of the front office’s priorities…

    If Lincoln is being asked “why should we spend our money to go see your product,” it’s safe to assume that the people asking are not the diehard baseball fans. They are more likely the kind of casual fan that maybe needs a little extra persuasion to shell out a chunk of their entertainment budget to spend 3 hours at the ballpark.
    They already KNOW there is going to baseball there, because duh. They also likely have some kind of idea regarding the current state of the team, which is probably why they are asking why they should be expected to pay money to see a team that seems to be in such poor shape.

    I feel like the answer Lincoln gives to this question is basically the best answer that anyone could be expected to give.

    First, he points out the other attractions at the park, because that is likely a big factor to the kind of fan who would ask that specific question. These people are specifically asking for extra incentive to go to a game. OF COURSE the ballpark experience itself is something you can wave at them.

    Next, he goes on to explain why the team may be interesting even if they aren’t currently doing the greatest, by talking about the young developing core of talent that will be around for years to come. (Whether you have faith in the core the M’s have built or not is beside the point… it’s a selling point to casual fans whether it pans out over the next few years or not.)

    Then, he highlights the brightest point of the team, Felix Hernandez. Most of the casual fans that I know show markedly more interest in going to an M’s game if they know that Felix will be pitching, so obviously you want to take the opportunity to remind those people that the team actually has a solid chance of getting a win every 5 days, no matter how poorly the rest of the team is performing.

    As Jeff mentioned, the latter part of Lincoln’s answer (everything after the first paragraph) is largely overlooked, in large part because people think that his priorities for the team are screwed up… that the ballpark attractions are what concerns him the most. It doesn’t reflect Lincoln’s own priorities though, it reflects what Lincoln assumes are the priorities of a casual fan looking for reasons to go to a game. Which, in my opinion, he pretty much nailed.

    There has already been far too much discussion on this topic and it has been blown WAY out of proportion. The question being asked was not “What are the organizations top priorities concerning the fan base and bringing more people out to games?” or anything like that.

    It was a simple hypothetical, concerning casual fans who probably aren’t as tuned in to the M’s as most of us here on the blogosphere are, who are LOOKING for that little extra incentive to go out to the park. Lincoln brings up 3 good points to persuade these hypothetical casual fans, in an order that likely makes the most sense to them.

    I honestly don’t think there is a much better way to answer the question, and I sure as HECK don’t think it gives any kind of insight into the organizations thought processes. It was merely the RIGHT answer to a question that’s been misinterpreted by many in the online community. Actually, I’ve MOSTLY seen it referred to online totally out of context, with people using the first part of the answer to reinforce opinions about Lincoln’s supposed stupidity or the misdirection of the organization, with little attention paid to the question that the quote was in response to.

    Truthfully, I don’t even mean this rant as a defense of Lincoln or the organization. I am entirely too uninformed about the inner workings of a baseball organization to do anything other than guess that they know more than I do, take the obvious mistakes that are made publicly in stride, and HOPE they are being smart.
    To tell the truth, when I first read the interview, I was disappointed that the first thing Lincoln mentioned was the Safeco environment. Then people made a big deal of it and I went back and analyzed what he was actually responding to.

    I really don’t know if the Mariners front office is run any better or worse than any other baseball front office. It wouldn’t matter if I DID bother to form an opinion based on what information is available to me, and I couldn’t care less what anyone else outside the industry has to say about it either.

    Basically, what I’m getting at is that this is one little nugget that’s been repeatedly taken to mean something that it wasn’t meant to, and people should STOP using it as proof of ANYTHING AT ALL. You’re all free to decide how you feel about the M’s organization, but this quote should not be used to form that opinion. Please, internet. Just drop this one.

  23. rick m on December 22nd, 2013 10:01 am

    What I haven’t heard from Howard yet is a strategic plan or imperative, or a corporate mission, or goal even, that says anything about the Mariners winning a World Series. Until they state explicitly that that is what they are trying to do, rather than a “nice it it happens along the way” kind of thing, then it’s difficult to see any reason to expect anything more than what we have. It does have to get better, however, because it really can’t get worse. We may luck into a World Series anyway, if the pieces fall in place serendipitously. But the stated objective of this ownership group has been to keep Major League Baseball in Seattle. Mission accomplished, and now we simply enjoy the year end, year out realization of that met goal, I guess.

  24. Adam S on December 22nd, 2013 4:00 pm

    At a high level, I agree with the point. Often when things go bad, there’s simply no good answer. Or no answer that will make us happy.

    Manger pulls Felix after 8 innings and the closer gives up 2 runs to lose the game. They ask the manager if he had it to do over would he do something different. If he says no, he seems to be admitting he’s OK with losing the game. If he says yes, he’s publicly saying he screwed up — and somehow a decision that made sense 30 minutes ago is a bad one now.

  25. G-Man on December 22nd, 2013 4:54 pm

    So let me get this straight.

    When a team does poorly over time, heads roll. The coach gets fired. When the time is long enough, the GM gets fired.

    When it sucks over a period of 12 years, isn’t it time to fire the one guy left who’s been on the management totem pole the whole time?

  26. Longgeorge1 on December 22nd, 2013 6:49 pm

    The answer is really simple. The execution of that answer is really hard. Build a farm system that produces Major League quality players. The A’s do it, the Ray’s do it, someday even the M’s might do it. Let’s do it, let’s build a team. (Sorry didn’t mean to get carried away there)

  27. ChrisFB on December 23rd, 2013 8:29 am

    The answer is really simple. The execution of that answer is really hard. Build a farm system that produces Major League quality players.

    Which reminds me: what I’d like for Christmas is for the “Mariners have a rebuilt / great farm system” meme to die already. The Jack Z farm is not great by any stretch. Who in this supposedly premium farm system is a productive everyday player for the M’s? Seager… and… potentially Miller… Erasmo possibly if he stays healthy… too soon to tell on Walker… um. Hm. I don’t remember if Fister was one of Z’s guys or if the was here in the Bavasi era… so. Hm. Yeah that’s it, so far. Seager, maybe Miller if you squint enough.

    Perhaps all these so-called prospects are just bursting with talent, yearning to contribute, and the coaching staff are so inept that they’re confusing them six ways to Thursday. It might be plausible that Lloyd and company can flip a switch and say, make Smoak and Ackley productive everyday players. But Baseball America and Fangraphs giving the farm high marks has not translated to wins on the field.

    The farm system has not delivered players who, themselves or through trading them, have directly improved the Mariners’ place in the major league standings season over season. Jack Z’s not demonstrated any aptitude with restocking the farm and it’s time for that meme to die off. He’s pulled off a couple of clever trades and some significant signings, and he’s pretty able to cobble together a mostly believable bullpen each year. That’s about it.

  28. RITTEM1 on December 23rd, 2013 9:51 am

    what Lincoln should have answered:
    “Look, we flat out haven’t won enough over the last decade to sell this product to the fans we need to sell it to. Do we have a fanstastic stadium and a wonderful environment to watch a game? I think so. We have done our best to make Safeco Field one of baseball’s best and I think we have succeeded. Unfortunately, and this starts with me, we haven’t made the right decisions be it in the draft, FA, as an organization, to put a quality product on the field”

    Don’t try and tell me that I should pay the price of a ticket just to get in so I can go to Edgar’s so I can spend even more $ on bland food as if that is some kind of wonderful experience. The M’s suck right now and people aren’t going to go until they stop sucking. Just stop sucking, suckers.

  29. dantheman on December 23rd, 2013 9:57 am

    This is an appallingly bad piece. This reads like it was submitted in a “How Many Excuses Can You Think of for Many Years of Dismal Management by the Mariners?” contest. Was it intended as a parody? You don’t remember Bavasi “very well” because it was “a long time ago”? Seriously? YOU gave Jack Z a standing ovation so the decision to keep him as GM, even though his record is now worse than Bavasi’s (such “a long time ago”) is excusable? And the pinnacle had to be this: “They’ve been in charge while the team has lost a lot of baseball games. So to a large extent they’re thought to be responsible.” People IN CHARGE are only “thought to be responsible”? This HAS to be your idea of humor because it isn’t remotely serious analysis and no one could actually believe this nonsense.

    The short answer to your question is: Howie could have STARTED his answer with a litany of things the Mariners were going to do to improve the team, not what a wonderful place Safeco is to watch bad baseball. It’s that simple.

  30. Jeff Sullivan on December 23rd, 2013 11:50 am

    “We’re committed to making the team better” is not an answer to the question “how do you convince people to come to the stadium today?” Maybe you would’ve liked that answer more, but it wouldn’t have been an answer at all, not to what Divish asked.

  31. dantheman on December 23rd, 2013 1:00 pm

    Surely you understand the difference between saying “We’re committed to making the team better” versus a recitation of specific actions to make the team better. Your defense of the front office is just laughable – suggesting that it’s unreasonable to hold the people “in charge” as “responsible” and wiping away the Bavasi era based on a claimed failure of memory because it was “a long time ago” is sad. Do you really think that your poor memory is sufficient to wipe the slate clean and absolve the front office from its mis-management over the years? And who cares that you or anyone else gave Jack Z a standing ovation? It’s just proof, once again, that hero-worship is no substitute for critical thought.

  32. Jeff Sullivan on December 23rd, 2013 2:10 pm

    A recitation of specific actions to make the team better isn’t an answer to the question “how do you convince people to come to the stadium today?” It’s an answer to the question “how do you convince people to come to the stadium a few years from now?” which is not what was asked. If he had offered that answer, it wouldn’t have made sense, and in the answer he *did* provide he still talked about the team’s youth and development and the importance of winning.

    I don’t like the current front office. I didn’t like the front office that came before it. Lincoln and Armstrong are the people who hired those general managers. But Zduriencik had everyone fooled. I don’t know how Bavasi was hired, and I don’t know the extent of Gillick’s input. Technically yes, Lincoln is one of the guys ultimately responsible for this organization, but he’s not making many roster calls, if any. Too many of the roster calls themselves have gone wrong, and that’s a failure of the people making them. You can blame upper management for Zduriencik, but didn’t we all love him at first?

  33. Eastside Suds on December 23rd, 2013 2:18 pm

    Hate to say it, but if we can get Nelson Cruz for 3 yrs at say 48 million, we may want to take a look. For two reasons, we should do this.

    3 Years is a pretty safe bet for a guy who would have played 160 games last year and hit 40 home runs with over 100 rbis had he not been suspended. Yes, he strikes out at a rate of once per game. But his OPS of .833 and 2.1 WAR over the last 5 seasons merits attention.

    He was easily Texas’ top power hitter last year and I have a hard time thinking of who we would use to “protect” Cano this coming season. Hart? Seager? Smoak?

    I wouldn’t want Mr. Cruz as a 38 year old. But, if we can get him for 3 years, it would be worth it for the short term. We need a stocking stuffer Mr. Z!

    Miller SS
    Gutierrez CF
    Cano 2B
    Cruz LF
    Hart DH
    Seager 3B
    Smoak 1B
    Saunders RF
    Zunino C

  34. Mekias on December 23rd, 2013 3:15 pm

    In hindsight, it’s easy to look back on these past 10 years and see a long sequence of futility and failure. I don’t think anyone is saying that they’re happy with our front office. But that doesn’t mean that every single thing they say and do is wrong or stupid.

    Sometimes as fans we’re too emotionally invested in the team to see things clearly. We want to blame someone for how much the Mariners suck. But occasionally it’s good to stand back and try to look at things from an unbiased perspective. Consider possible mitigating factors that might have affected certain decisions at the time.

    Jack Z honestly looked like a great GM early on. We saw “In Jack We Trust” all over the place. Picking up guys like Guti and Cliff Lee were seen as master strokes. I thought the Chone Figgins signing was an absolute steal. He had just came off a 6.6 WAR season and we got him for almost nothing (8-9 mill/yr). Guys like Ackley, Smoak, and Montero were not just good prospects. They were labeled by nearly everyone as top 10-20 prospects in baseball. The Mariners’ minor league system was continually being talked about as one of the best. Just last year we were full of hope that our young players would bust out and the “Big 3” (or “big 4” with Maurer) would put us in contention.

    Things aren’t always so black and white. The current Front Office isn’t good but neither are they some kind of evil entity whose soul ambition is to crush the spirit of the Mariners’ faithful fans.

  35. mossi on December 23rd, 2013 4:10 pm

    You might not see a 70 win team but you’ll safely get to eat those delicious garlic fries. And you will have the exquisite opportunity to drink an 8 dollar Bud light or two. Don’t take things for granted.

  36. MrZDevotee on December 23rd, 2013 4:34 pm

    Anyone who drinks Bud Light deserves to pay 8 dollars each for them. As a fine. And have a crappy baseball team. It’s the Bud Light drinkers fault as much as Howard Lincoln.

    (Says the Guinness drinker.)

    **Does anyone else feel like, now that Chuck is stepping down, the lightning bolt of fan angst has now polarized on Lincoln? Like he’s the ant under the magnifying glass, starting to smoke a little?**

  37. eponymous coward on December 23rd, 2013 5:00 pm

    Just last year we were full of hope that our young players would bust out and the “Big 3? (or “big 4? with Maurer) would put us in contention.

    Which “we” are you talking about? The “we” that includes the authors of USSM were talking about a 70ish win team, and were nowhere near putting the 2013 Mariners into contention.

    Right now what’s troubling is that the 2014 M’s look like they’ve done the equivalent of going all-in on an inside straight draw out of desperation; they’ve got two legit MVP-level talents in Cano and Felix, some (but not enough) supporting players in Iwakuma and Seager, and a bunch of unproven or questionable talent plus injury bounceback candidates. I guess I should be happier that they’re not spending as much dosh on this years “cheer when they hit those dingers and cringe when they put on a glove” guys as last year, but it feels a lot like the team’s banking on adding Cano to the same talent base (some different faces, same basic skill set) as last year and thinking “this time it will TOTALLY work!”- last year it was Maurer, this year it’s Paxton, and so on. I don’t get the impression they’ve learned much from last year, or the last decade. And that’s the really annoying thing about this front office. If only they could learn in some simulations

  38. MrZDevotee on December 23rd, 2013 5:26 pm

    Or maybe this scene happening on the mound next year–


    I could see it happening.

  39. dantheman on December 23rd, 2013 5:26 pm

    “I don’t like the current front office. I didn’t like the front office that came before it. Lincoln and Armstrong are the people who hired those general managers. But Zduriencik had everyone fooled…. Technically yes, Lincoln is one of the guys ultimately responsible for this organization, but he’s not making many roster calls, if any. Too many of the roster calls themselves have gone wrong, and that’s a failure of the people making them. You can blame upper management for Zduriencik, but didn’t we all love him at first?”

    Three points in response:

    1. You are omitting the important fact that what got people up in arms about Howie’s answer was what he STARTED with – and, therefore, presumably thought was most important. And I doubt that you can convince many people to come to watch bad baseball by extolling the virtues of the ballpark. You will find the answer in the attendance figures for many bad teams over the years. People will not consistently pay to watch bad baseball no matter how nice the ballpark is.

    2. No, we did NOT all love Jack Z at first. Just because some people were fooled doesn’t mean we “all” were fooled. Trying to judge a GM after only one year in the job is foolish.

    3. Your piece is still nothing but a long, poor exercise in excuse-making of the flimsiest sort and you’re still doing it. “Technically”, Lincoln is responsible? There’s nothing “technical” about it. He’s the guy responsible for Armstrong, Z and everyone else and their job performances. Period.

    For someone who claims he doesn’t “like” the front office, your efforts to absolve them from responsibility (relying on memory lapses) paints a very different picture.

  40. Mekias on December 23rd, 2013 5:39 pm

    eponymous coward –
    Sorry for not clarifying. I did not mean to infer that anyone thought we were going to contend last year. Our hope was that enough of our young talent would break out so that we could compete by around 2015 (some even hoped by 2014). The saddest thing about 2013 was that so many of the Mariners prospects struggled. The hope of rebuilding through the farm system took a severe blow and, for some of us, it felt like the last straw.

    As for going all-in, I think many on Baseball Tonight would argue. Most seem to think the Mariners failure to spend a ton of money on Choo/Cruz or give away all our young talent for Price is a scathing indictment on how bad the club is run.

    Knowing for several years now that they’ve been throwing money at the biggest free agents, I guess I’m just glad that it’s Cano instead of Prince or Hamilton. Maybe we needed this kind of splash to excite the fanbase and entice more free agents to sign with the M’s? The problem is, if we don’t win immediately, we’ll be right back to square one.

    As an aside, War Games was my favorite movie growing up. How I wished my little Commodore-64 would talk and play games with me like Joshua did.

  41. TumwaterMike on December 23rd, 2013 6:11 pm

    Eastside I would put Seager between Cruz and Hart just to keep the l,r,l,r going.

  42. Eastside Suds on December 23rd, 2013 6:36 pm

    Agreed Tumwater. I wanted to edit that, but I ran out of time. I totally agree, but only because he’s a better hitter than Hart. He will put the ball in play hard more often. If we could add a solid starter and another experienced bullpen arm, who knows? We might even compete a little in 2014. Still upset we didn’t land Suzuki.

  43. CCW on December 24th, 2013 12:36 am

    I knew when I read this that people would take it as simply giving the front office a pass. That’s not what it says though. It says that Lincoln shouldn’t be raked over the coals for that one statement. Which is right. That statement was about the best he could make in response to the question he was being asked. It was an acknowledgement that the on-field product sucks, but that everything else about the Safeco Field experience is still pretty good. Jeff’s main point in this article is spot-on.

    Where he may have gotten into the weeds a little bit is where he starts to talk about the budget and the point that we don’t really know what Lincoln’s role has been in the on-field product. Personally, I’ve had it with that line of argument. I agree that the “spend spend spend” mantra is stupid, and of course it’s almost impossible to really know what the individual members of the FO really do. But I think the Mariners front office, as a whole – Jack, Howie, Chuck, basically – is a laughing stock around MLB. I don’t care what Howard’s direct role is. The FO has been a dysfunctional failure for a decade and when that happens, it’s pretty good evidence that the boss isn’t doing a good job. And if the M’s don’t make some pretty spectacular moves very soon, we’re looking at another 5 years down the toilet as well. The Cano / Felix window isn’t going to be open for much longer.

  44. Westside guy on December 24th, 2013 1:13 am

    I’ve never been a particular fan of Guinness, MrZ. You guys should be paying $8 for that too, and have to stand in line with the guys buying Bud. It’d be fun to watch the two groups interact…

    They should be selling Samuel Smith’s Oatmeal Stout for cheap at the Safe. And it should be delivered to your seat. 😉

    Also, I want a pony. And I don’t want to see Nelson Cruz in the outfield.

  45. bookbook on December 24th, 2013 7:16 am

    Hey, I just saw an ad on TV for the Moyer foundation. In honor of the M’s and the great Jamie Moyer, I think sending them a few bucks might be nice.


  46. MrZDevotee on December 24th, 2013 9:25 am

    One thing we can all agree on– ponies are awesome!

    The M’s should just invest in a bunch of ponies that wander around the concourse. Talk about good feelings!!!

    And maybe a “Puppy Zone”?! For $8 you get a beer of your choice and the opportunity to hold a puppy!

    I’m there– who cares who’s in the outfield.

  47. LongDistance on December 24th, 2013 9:50 am

    A few bowling lanes would fit pretty good in left field.

  48. Eastside Suds on December 24th, 2013 1:27 pm

    Two words…….Lawn Darts

  49. TumwaterMike on December 24th, 2013 3:41 pm

    How about setting up a couple of tables, one in the RF gap and the other in the LF gap. Charge a premium to sit there and have unlimited umbrella drinks catered to you. Put a circle around it and anyone who hits a ball in the circle is out. If a patron catches the ball, they’re signed to a one year contract.

  50. Eastside Suds on December 24th, 2013 4:33 pm

    All I want for Christmas is Tanaka! He has been posted!

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