BY Steve Rudman 07:23PM 11/25/2013

Chuck Armstrong Retires; Lincoln Should Be Next

Chuck Armstrong, a executive with the Mariners on a mostly uninterrupted basis since 1983, announced his decision to retire Friday afternoon, effective in January of 2014.

Howard Lincoln, Chuck Armstrong and John Ellis, left to right, have presided over a Mariners franchise that has missed the playoffs for 12 consecutive years. / Wiki Commons

One down, one to go.

With Chuck Armstrong’s decision Monday afternoon to retire as the Mariners president and CEO effective Jan. 14, 2014, the question now becomes: When will Howard Lincoln follow suit? For Mariners fans, aggrieved over 12 years of tepid teams, no playoffs and scant hope, Lincoln’s departure can’t come soon enough.

It’s not really a surprise that Armstrong, employed by the club on a largely uninterrupted basis since California real estate developer George Argyros owned the franchise back in the early 1980s, decided to seek the sunset. The surprise is that it took him so long to recognize the obvious, which is the inescapable fact the Mariners were never going to flourish under his watch, or Lincoln’s.

Armstrong, 71, didn’t cast his retirement announcement quite in that light, of course, preferring the sunnyside-up explanation that his decision was made on the basis of his own current circumstances, including his age and the recent deaths of several friends. His official remarks:

“After much thought and reflection, it is now time for me to retire and enjoy as much time as possible with my wife Susan and our family. The recent deaths of several good friends have really had an impact on me and helped crystallize my decision. This was a very difficult, very personal decision, but I know in my heart that it’s time to turn the page and move to the next chapter of my life.

“Thirty years ago, my family and I were given a wonderful opportunity to move to the Seattle area and become associated with the Seattle Mariners. We quickly grew to love this community and this team. Through all the good times and the not-so-good times on the field since 1984, the goal always has been to win the World Series. My only regret is that the entire region wasn’t able to enjoy a parade through the city to celebrate a world championship together.”

I’m sure Chuck Armstrong, a relentlessly upbeat individual, absolutely meant that. But along with Lincoln, Armstrong was a big reason why the Mariners couldn’t — and never would — ride in a parade.

Here’s what they did do, all positive: Working on behalf of absentee Japanese ownership, they brokered a deal that prevented the Mariners from relocating to Florida in 1992. That was no small feat at the time, in fact a miracle worthy of Lourdes, a given then that the Mariners were on their way out of town.

Then they retained, from the previous ownership, GM Woody Woodward, who assembled the various pieces that enabled the ball club to become an American League force in the mid-1990s, the only “golden” era the franchise has ever experienced, the rest of if leaden.

Lincoln and Armstrong, now inextricably linked, signed off on the hiring of Lou Pinella, wrangled a new ballpark, and put the Mariners in a position to succeed, which they did admirably for a half decade after the team’s playoff appearance in 1995.

They signed off on the hiring of GM Pat Gillick, the architect of the 2000 team that reached the playoffs, and the 2001 team that won 116 games with Japanese import Ichiro, another Lincoln-Armstrong decision, and a superb one.

But once Lincoln and Armstrong lost Gillick, they lost their mojo, their perspective, their brains. The franchise still hasn’t recovered from their disastrous hiring of GM Bill Bavasi, plus a succession of managers that have helped reduced the Mariners into a franchise that can’t contend because it doesn’t know how to.

The Mariners are superb at a lot of tasks, and Armstrong and Lincoln deserve credit for them. They know how to run a ball club from business, promotional, advertising and public relations perspectives. Their idea has always been to deliver a wonderful, summer-entertainment product that will draw fans to Safeco Field and make fans feel good about coming out to the ballpark. In that, they have hit a gran slam after grand salami.

But they lacked one thing: They underestimated the fan base’s thirst to win. They never understood or figured out how to deliver winning teams, largely — and unfortunately — because winning teams were never a priority. Contending teams were a priority, only because contenders would fill Safeo Field and meet the team’s financial budget.

But, ultimately, Lincoln and Armstrong couldn’t deliver even contending teams. Why? They hired the wrong people — executives, scouts, player personnel directors — who drafted and signed the wrong players. Seattle hasn’t lost 90 or more games, including 100+ twice, six times since 2004 for no reason.

Since Lincoln is in charge, that’s primarily the fault of Lincoln’s, an otherwise smart man who is tone deaf to the wishes of his customer base. And Armstrong abetted and enabled him until he ran out of gang plank Monday, couching his departure in the usual explanation of needing to spend more time with his family.

Armstrong has been with us a long time. He originally joined the franchise in 1983 as an Argyros — worst owner in Seattle pro sports history — underling. After Jeff Smuylan brought the franchise in 1990, Armstrong moved to the University of Washington as interim athletic director following Mike Lude’s forced removal, and then departed UW when it hired Barbara Hedges.

He returned to the Mariners in July, 1992, and has been with the club ever since, for worse, not for better, in the view of most Mariners fans. He also had this to say Monday:

“Thanks to our outstanding ownership, the franchise is stable and will remain the Northwest’s team, playing in Safeco Field, a great ballpark and great example of a successful public-private partnership. The team is in good hands and positioned for future success. I am thankful for this important part in my life and I will always bleed Mariners blue. Susan and I plan to continue to live here and remain involved in many community events and causes.”

Following Armstrong’s announcement Friday, Commissioner Bud Selig offered up a predictable tribute on behalf of Armstrong, saying, in part:

“I congratulate Chuck Armstrong, a great baseball man, on his upcoming retirement, after 28 years of dedicated service to the Mariners franchise as club president.”

Had Selig, a documented waffler, been honest, here’s what he would have said:

“I congratulate Chuck Armstrong, a great baseball man, on his upcoming retirement, after 28 years of dedicated service to the Mariners franchise as club president. I only wish that he and Howard Lincoln had a better understanding of how to develop a major league baseball franchise that has an opportunity to compete. But clearly they don’t. As the results demonstrate, the Mariners haven’t been competitive in more than a decade, and it’s obvious that they won’t be competitive as long as Lincoln and Armstrong are employed.  Those two just didn’t get it. In wishing Mr. Armstrong the best in his retirement, I hope that Mr. Lincoln takes a cue and isn’t long in following him out the door.”








  • Trygvesture

    Thanks, Steve, for sparing us the sugar-coated version– another plus for independent journalism!
    I’d like to think the abysmal performance of the clownship twins and the stomping, screaming, caterwalling awareness fans have of their unarguable incompetence has made the hot-shot prestige-factor plummet for Armstrong. And, hopefully, is having a similar impact on Lincoln as well, since the absence of Chuck just causes a fancam zoom-in on Howard.

    Were it so, and were he to begin the leaving process, the mind boggles at the opportunity that may or may be captured by the minority owners for the good of the franchise.

    Finger crossed.

  • It beats work.

    If Howard is the boss, what did Chuck get paid to do?

    • SUDS

      I’ve always wondered the same thing. I wish I was able to get a 28 year career out of one fortunate move I made.

  • RadioGuy

    On a related note, church attendance in the Seattle is expected to rise precipitously next weekend as Mariners fans proclaim a renewed faith that there is a God.

    • Pixdawg13

      Not until Howie’s gone.

  • just passing thru

    This is a good start. And Steve, what would Bud Selig really know about assembling a winning team? ;-)

  • jafabian

    The problem with the M’s has been, reportedly, that having a three headed management team slowed progress in business. If you see in the movie Moneyball it shows Billy Beane quickly wheeling and dealing. Something not possible under the Lincoln-Armstrong-Zduriencik hierarchy and you can’t afford that in a 30 team league. And especially in the same division as Beane and Nolan Ryan.

    The question is will Jack be promoted to President/General Manager?

  • Jamo57

    Only with the Seattle Mariners could a person hold a job for such a long tenure with so little tangible results, achievements or success to show for it.

    Oh wait, I forgot about Congress.

    • jafabian

      Chuck did have some notable accomplishments. He was part of making Safeco Field become a reality. And he also was the person who proclaimed to Hiroshi Yamauchi that they would go after Ichiro when he became available for posting and Yamauchi scoffed at him, saying it would be impossible to do. Yamauchi later apologized to him for that.

      Pre-Nintendo, the M’s woes can be put on George Argyos and Jeff Smulyan. Currently I’d say there’s too many cooks in the kitchen. The M’s need to change their business model if they be competitive with the other teams in the AL West.

      • RadioGuy

        I’m half with you on your second paragraph.

        Argyros was remarkably horrible as an owner (although he understood how to make owning an MLB team work as far as tax write-offs against his SoCal real estate business profits and making a 500% profit when he sold), but I do think Smulyan genuinely tried to make the Mariners work the first few years he owned the team.

        I think what happened with Smulyan was that he was leveraged to the teeth on loans from Morgan Stanley for his radio business and they called in their notes and he had to sell SOMETHING to pay them off. That’s an oversimplification and there IS more to the story, obviously, but I believe Smulyan started out wanting success in Seattle but soured on the whole thing. Argyros saw the Mariners as an investment and nothing more.

        As for Chuck and Howie, the first few years of the Nintendo Era were indeed golden because they still believed in letting their baseball people make the baseball decisions. What turned things is what often happens in business in general: Management began thinking they were smarter than the people they’d hired. Running Piniella and Gillick off were moves the franchise has never overcome because everyone who has been brought in since has been expected to be “yes” men. I’d love to see Gillick (who still lives here) take over as team president, but I’m not holding my breath with Howie still around.

        • jafabian

          Agreed on Smulyan but as I understand it he always had Tampa in the back of his mind. His own contingency plan if you will.

          From my POV, Chuck was something of a yes man and Howard ran the show. When George was around Chuck didn’t do much. When John Ellis ran the show Chuck got things done. When Howard ran things he stepped back and based on their organizational chart that’s probably how things should go. I believe both Woody Woodward were allowed to a degree some freedom as GM but not as much as most of their contemporaries. The times they were they did well, contributing to the 1995 and 2001 seasons. Then once they achieved that success they got reined in. I’d really like to see someone in the Beane/Epstein/Cashman/Ryan mold come in. Someone who lives and breathes baseball. But then, doesn’t eveyrone?

          • RadioGuy

            If Smulyan was really thinking Tampa Bay over Seattle from Day One, he wasn’t all that smart to begin with. Local support of the Mariners had been pretty tepid after the novelty wore off, but the entire state of Florida is a baseball graveyard when it comes to people attending games. Looking for players? You’re in great shape there. Looking for fans? They’re all into football and/or NASCAR south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Baseball is only something to kill time between the bowl games and the SEC season opener.

  • 1coolguy

    “One down, one to go” YOU GOT THAT RIGHT STEVE!
    No truer words were ever written.
    Your article is right on the mark – even accurate regarding the parts of the organization / operation Armstrong and Lincoln did well.
    BUT, with THE MOST IMPORTANT figure in a baseball organization being the GM, they have failed since they let Gillick get away.
    They did the right thing and contacted Beane, yet he declined. Now what I recommend is they look at the MOST successful teams and pick off one of those GM’s. If none are available, then one of them must have an excellent assistant GM who knows the system and is ready to break out. Boston, Oakland, Philadelphia, LA, etc are teams to start with.
    Until the right GM is in place, the M’s are going nowhere.
    Until the right person is leading the organization, the right GM will not be selected.
    So, one down, one to go, then we can bring on the right GM.

  • Once a fan

    Thanks Steve – I really can’t be satisfied unless this guy is punished on his way out. A baseball fan all my life, he’s even ruined the ’95 season for me. I’m sick of it. It wreaks of the pitiful success of a franchise unable to compete save for, oh, that magic season . . . Who knows what baseball memories I would cherish today had there been a real team in town the last 40 years. Perhaps the celebration (yes, Seattle will be celebrating) will enlighten mr lincoln.

  • jimc

    I hope the M’s are planning a stunning celebration for the 20th anniversary of the ’95 season.

    • just passing thru

      count on it

  • Lawrence Glosser

    You overlooked the role of John Ellis in the “golden era”. Lincoln was not always the top banana !

  • geoff

    Good on Armstrong for convincing Argyros to sign Griffey. But how did they let Jongewaard go in 2005? Seems to me an organization really committed to excellence finds a way to keep him and have him train all the rest of the scouts etc.

  • Da Kid

    Where in the world do you start with this mess?

    1. “GM Woody Woodward, who assembled the various pieces that enabled the ball club to become an American League force in the mid-1990s…”

    A complete clown who got lucky. Responsible for the worst trade in baseball history outside of Babe Ruth to the Yankees. And that was just the Lowe/Varitek for Slocum deal. That same season he swapped the “untouchable” Jose Cruz, Jr. for two stanky, useless relievers. Oh sure, Griffey finally won the AL MVP that year, but remember what also happened?

    2. As Junior gleefully clutched his trophy at the media feed, Chuckie Cheesehead stepped to the podium and emphatically declared, “No, we’re not going to re-sign Randy Johnson. He has a bad back.” What a complete maroon. Complicit in that insane decision were Woodward and Lincoln.

    3. “Signed off on the hiring of Lou Piniella,” Yeah. And ultimately drove him crazy by refusing to let Lou work his magic. Not even Gillick could keep Lou from giving the same “After much thought and reflection, it is now time for me to spend as much time as possible with my family” speech. So, in essence, Cheesehead is also a plagiarist. Then Gillick bailed, too. (And won a World Series championship with the Phillies.)

    It’s beyond astonishing how pathetic Lincoln and Armstrong have been in these latest Days of Doom, reaching out (grasping is more like it) to both Lou and Gillick in a desperate attempt to recreate the un-recreatable. 1995 is OVER! 2001 is OVER! What isn’t over is our long regional baseball nightmare.

    Armstrong has been an overpaid figurehead since Day One. All he’s ever done is mug for glad-handing photo-ops when things were going well. Otherwise, he’s been the Invisible Man. Except on payday, of course. Good riddance.

    As far as Lincoln, Adamack and the rest of the concerned, I have absolute zero faith that Armstrong’s exit will lead to any substantive improvement, on or off the field. To kill the Hydra you must cut off ALL its heads.

    • westsydemariner

      You forgot the bullshit cost-cutting, profit-insuring, ‘trade’ of Tino Martinez, Jim Mecir, and Jeff Nelson to the spanks for a bunch of AAA crap. That was the trade that defined how committed this ownership group was to winning a World Series.

  • Enough is enough

    Like an idiot, I go to Fan Fest each winter charged and ready for another season. Like an idiot, I head down to Peoria to wish/pray/hope each spring. Like an idiot, I purchase at least 20 games per season. Like an idiot, I shrug when they break my heart by Memorial Day. Yesterday’s news was wonderful, but nothing really changes until Howie is gone. Please Howie…it’s time.

  • Joe Fan

    Please Howie, for the love of gawg, please retire/step down!

  • Hockeypuck

    Chuckles – What a complete, total bumblephuque. RIP you died a long time ago…