BY Steve Rudman 06:07PM 11/07/2013

‘Golden age’ coming, says upbeat McClendon

New Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon talked about a dawning “golden age” of Mariners baseball Thursday, comparing where Seattle is now to where Detroit was in 2006.

Lloyd McClendon, former batting coach in Detroit, was introduced as the new manager of the Mariners Thursday. / Wiki Commons

I learned something new Thursday, not entirely a novel experience. At mid-afternoon, I found out that I, you, all of us, are about to enter “a golden age for the Mariners.” I would have settled for a comparatively unexciting renaissance, but if it’s to be “a golden age,” bring it on.

While this emphatically sets a record for quickest trip from black hole to golden age, at least in the expansion era, or DH era, or whatever era, I’m not about to cast stones at Lloyd McClendon on his first day on the job. A few pebbles, perhaps, but none aimed at McClendon.

McClendon had his managerial baptism in front of Seattle media and highlighted all the right themes — young team, plenty of potential, tons of positive possibilities, only a dash of patience required — just as a succession of his predecessors did, to little avail. All departed, either voluntarily or involuntarily, with the Mariners no better off competitively than when they arrived.

The difference with McClendon, the seventh Seattle manager in six years and third under  GM Jack Zduriencik, is that McClendon greets a fan base cleaved in half since Lou Piniella’s days and at a time of unprecedented cynicism over the front-office leadership – or lack thereof — of Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong. The gist of that cynicism: The Mariners will never flourish with those two in charge.

One e-mailer to Sportspress Northwest Tuesday, when news of McClendon’s hiring broke, went so far as to opine, “McClendon seems to be a nice guy, but he has to be an idiot for going to work for this team.”

Harsh? Well, McClendon is certainly no idiot, but 12 years without a playoff team, more regressions than progressions, plus dozens of promises and projections unfulfilled, has not only scraped the remaining fan base raw, but left it convinced the immediate, if not long-range future, is next to hopeless.

For many, the Mariners are out of excuses and further pleas for patience will only sound pathetic. No new manager, even one as personable as McClendon, is going to change the culture until results are delivered. The only question is, how many more managers will that take?

Answer: The manager, since the days of Maury Wills and Del Crandall, never has been the problem. These days, evicting Lincoln-Armstrong is the solution.

Certainly McClendon can take care of franchise business only as it applies to him, and – call him crazy if you must — he seemed eager Thursday to accept a job that has felled all those who preceded him. Zduriencik is agog to have him.

“This is a guy,” Zuriencik said, “who is determined to do an outstanding job. For this point in time, where we are right now, this is the right move for this organization.”

For Zduriencik’s sake, it better be.

“I’m extremely happy and honored to be here,” McClendon said. ”I think this is a golden opportunity for me and a golden time for the Mariners. There is nothing but good things ahead. I know the last three or four years have been disappointing, but this team reminds me of the Detroit Tigers in 2006.”

That Motown ensemble went 95-67 and reached the World Series one year after finishing 71-91 and 28.5 games behind in the AL Central. Detroit’s turnaround was even more remarkable than worst-to-first would suggest. In the four previous seasons, the Tigers finished 66-96, 55-106, 43-119 and 72-90, a four-year run of futility even the feeble Mariners have never approached.

Everything changed when Detroit hired Jim Leyland, under whom McClendon worked as the hitting coach and learned much about running a ball club.

McClendon said he sees the same sort of potential in the Mariners that Detroit manifested in 2006, starting with the Seattle pitching staff.

Asked “Why Seattle?” McClendon said,”Felix, Felix, Felix.”

“Come on, this guy is just unbelievable. He’s a tremendous asset and what he does out there is awfully special. When you back that up with (Hisashi) Iwakuma and look at some of the young pitchers (Taijuan Walker and James Paxton), that’s the name of the game. If they pitch well, you’ll love me. If they don’t, you’ll kick my butt out the door. But I like the power arms we have.”

The issue with the Mariners, though, is not so much the pitching as the lack of hitting, specifically abysmal situational batting. The Mariners significantly increased their home run total last season, but squandered more opportunities with runners in scoring position than any team in the American League.

“I think I can help young hitters,” McClendon said. “I’m not a neophyte when it comes to hitting. I think we have a nice core group of young players. We need to harness, encourage and support them. They’ve shown what they can do in spurts. Now they need to show it on a consistent basis (Eric Wedge said the same thing over and over last season) and that comes with experience and confidence. I think we have a chance to become pretty good.

“I will demand that we prepare from both a physical and mental standpoint. One of the things we were not afraid of in Detroit was preparation. Hopefully, we can instill those values here. It’s about commitment, character and integrity and understanding what teamwork is all about. It’s about how you go about your business and how you prepare.

“This is a results-oriented business. The bottom line is winning games, developing young talent while winning games in the process, and hopefully we’ll be popping champagne and having a good time. I think we’ll put a product on the field that fans in Seattle will be very proud of.”

The 54-year-old McClendon doesn’t see, or at least didn’t address, all the negatives in Seattle that long-time Lincoln/Armstrong critics see. That figures, especially on McClendon’s first day on the job: He will now become the most frequent major public face of the organization and will be expected to pound hard on positive themes. That, in fact, will be his primary job.

“Long before the decision was made in Detroit (to hire Brad Ausmus as Leyland’s replacement instead of McClendon), I told Jack (Zduriencik) that this is where I wanted to be. I think I’m in the right place at the right time. We have a chance to be real good on the pitching side and our hitters will get better with more experience. I’m excited about the plan. I love Jack’s (rebuilding) plan. You can see it working. We just have to have a little patience.”

Everybody around here has heard that, ad nauseum. While I wish Lloyd McClendon the best, I fear his “golden age” reference may come back to bite him.


YourThoughts

  • Jamo57

    But the problem is Howard and Chuck are sort of happy living in the Bronze Age.

  • tedsfrozenhead

    So…was Chuklinkenstien the problem from 95-01?
    M’s fans are just too happy to live with such a pessimistic outlook. Ever consider that there just might be better days coming soon? Kids are maturing, budget is being opened up…you know, progress.
    Whining little babies, perhaps you deserve the misery you rain down upon yourself but not me. I can actually see better days ahead for this team.

    • RadioGuy

      I was sounding a lot like you last winter all the way through spring training and even predicted a 90-win season this year. FWIW, crow is almost tolerable with a little BBQ sauce.

      “Candide” was one of my favorite novels when I was in my teens, but optimism carries you only so far. At this point, I’m from Missouri.

      • tedsfrozenhead

        Well….it all depends on how one views things I guess. The world is full of darkness…evil people, selfish actions, intolerance etc. It is also full of light….beautiful things like children laughing, old and new friends, opening day, laughter. I know about the darkness and have an eye out for it but I don’t live in it. I choose to see the light of the world. Anyone who thinks the Mariners have no hope simply embraces what is natural to them.

        The Mariners are my team. From going to opening day in ’77, walking up to 25-30 games a year in the 80′s to the glory of the mid 90′s to the troubles of the last decade I will always look for the best out of them and not seek out the worst. While I was born in Renton I also spent a few years in Missouri as a small kid.The first MLB game I ever saw was 8/19/70 when the Cardinals played the Dodgers and it is among my fondest baseball memories. It would be easy to transfer my loyalties to a “winner” like The Cardinals. But they are not “my” team. My team is the Seattle MAriners and I will stand by them.

        • Marcus

          Ted, those of us unhappy with ownership and management are still fans of the Seattle Mariners. We have followed the team for years to decades, just like you. We’ve been with the team in good and bad times.

          But looking for the best is too close to not holding ownership and management accountable. When you don’t hold people accountable they keep running through the same parade again and again. They talk about “plans” that are forever changing. It’s the same bad episode of TV and some mistaken notion of fan pride prevents you from flipping the channel.

          You can be a fan and still demand a good product, especially when the team has shot itself in the foot so many times in the past decade. If you know your Mariner history, and from your post you don’t appear to, you’ll know that a Mr. John Ellis had a controlling influence for many of those “glory years” of 1995-2001. The Mariners also wanted a new stadium in 1995, spending $$$ like they hadn’t before. Of course after they got their stadium they shipped off key elements of the team that off season (Tino Martinez, Jeff Nelson). Piniella and Gillick were strong personalities and made generally good moves. Once they were gone, wow, the Mariners started the feel good decline.

          Nice that the Mariners might open their wallet this off season. They could have done that each of the last several years rather than dumpster diving. In a division with the Rangers and Angels, yes, we do expect the Mariners to spend the $$$. Sitting in that publicly subsidized stadium we also have expectations of fielding not only a .500 team, but a World Series winner. That is the ultimate goal, although listening to Lincoln you wouldn’t know it.

          So we’ll go on rooting for the Mariners as a team, which is not to be confused with rooting for the incompetent ownership group currently in control. In the mean time you can keep blindly bowing before Armstrong and Lincoln and equating that with being a fan.

        • maqman

          There must be a dozen or more poor or diseased people someplace in Africa or Asia that don’t know the Lincoln and Armstrong are responsible for their desiccated lives.

    • Effzee

      If you want to get technical about it, yes, they were the problem in 2001. They prevented a deal at the trade deadline. They completely sabotaged that playoff run, seemingly out of spite for Lou. He had the gall to demand they get better as the season went on. How DARE he act as if HE knew how to succeed at baseball! No, in their eyes, Safeco Field was the reason for the success of the franchise. Being a loyal fan of your team is just fine. But also, being awake to reality works well to prevent the delusional state you are in. I recommend giving it a try.

    • maqman

      Amen brother.

  • Will

    McClendon’s in a tough place … sort of like the other team is cruising with a no hitter, the score is 12-0, it’s the 9th inning and his batters all bunters. Miracles can happen but they’re called miracles for a reason.

  • jafabian

    Maybe Lloyd is hinting that Howard told him that he’s going to retire? That’s when I’d believe the Golden Age is coming.

    Just not willing to go all in just yet on this club. Based on the current roster it’ll be 3-5 years IMO before they’ll contend. Frustrating when smaller market teams like the A’s win with consistency. It’s a day-to-day relationship, especially with Jack Z. in the last year of his deal.

  • Matt712

    Clearly, McClendon sees a bright future… The man’s wearing two pairs of sunglasses in the pic.