The Mariners: It’s captain can’t tell which way the wind’s blowing.

June 10, 2008

Recently I have been writing about conscienceless scammers who profit off the hopes of the innocence.  These are people who take money from others knowing that their hopes will inevitably lead to despair.  This brings the Mariners to mind.  Having now sunk into the familiar mire of inadequacy, the team is a touchstone for reflection rather than an opportunity for exultation.  (Mariner fans tend to be a rather reflective lot, finding pleasure in subtle aspects of the game rather the coarse, fist raising rush of victory.)

I have heard an endless stream of suggestions about what the manager should have done and what players didn’t do, but this is just nervous chatter from fans fearful that we have begun another decade or two of bleak futility.  People tend to fixate on the symptoms of a problem. The Mariners organization, however, has been uniquely resistance to addressing the reason for its malaise.

A dispassionate observer would view the problem as systemic.  Question: what has been a constant from the Mariner’s hopeless performance in the 1980’s through changes of ownership to their current trampling of expectations.  Answer:  Chuck Armstrong.  He is an academically successful, socially able, business oriented non-baseball person.  He came to the Mariners from Stanford without any meaningful background in baseball.  A biographer would would not focus on his ability to lead a baseball team, but his remarkable ability to ingraciate himself to the boards of directors that have shifted with time and change of ownership.

In recent years, since moving to Safeco, there has also been success in business.  To a substantial degree Safeco’s draw assures business success independent of the team’s woeful fortunes.  This of course is transient, as the sparse crowds at Jacobs Field show.  The “Jake” was the first of the neo-historical fields that proved to be fan magnates.

Item two: Howard Lincoln, hired during the team’s Renaissance period in 1999, and another non-baseball man.  To me the term “non-baseball man” means a person whose uncompromising fealty is owed to the board of directors, who measures success solely by the bottom line.  In corporate jargon this person has no sense of the “customer” or the customer’s relationship with the product, except indirectly through measurements of the revenue stream.

Lincoln is the poster child of non-baseball baseball executives.  Revenue measurements are never an adequate substitute for a real sense of the corporation’s business and they have betrayed Lincoln.  The revenue from the field gave Lincoln a smug complacency which he exhibited in an interview in which he indicated that his goal for the team was that the Mariners be good enough for high attendance.  This drove Lou Pinella crazy.  As Art Thiel’s book point’s out Lincoln’s ego did not leave room in the organization for Pinella.  When Lincoln felt that he had a documented breach of the chain of command, Pinella was history.)  Lincoln refused to do the small  things that that required budgetary tweeks but would put the team over the top and assure continued success.  Remember Pinella’s continual dirge about the lack of a left handed bat?  With crowds flocking to Safeco, Lincoln maintained the status quo into oblivion.  He did subsequently modify his rigid adherence to a budget but it was too late.  As if in penance, he now flaunts this new “flexibilty” in a kind of random grab of free agent superstars.