BY Art Thiel 05:32PM 10/23/2015

Thiel: Mariners hire ‘blank slate’ as manager

The absence of managerial experience is no drawback for Scott Servais, at least in GM Jerry Dipoto’s mind. In fact, not having a proven system may be asset in doing things a new way.

Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto isn’t worried about a lack of managerial experience with Scott Servais. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

Scott Servais is no fun. He has zero track record as a manager. We can’t pick apart his errors. At least the Mariners’ new general manager, Jerry Dipoto, had the decency to have been a GM with the Angels, where in the winter of 2012 he actually bid $125 million and won the services of free agent OF Josh Hamilton, whose history with addiction offered up a red flag the size of Vermont.

That hire was the call of team owner Arte Moreno, said Dipoto at his introductory press conference in Seattle. Hamilton as an Angel was the worst value since Argentina in 1982 took the Falkland Islands. Dipoto traded Hamilton back to Texas in April for a bag of Halloween candy while paying $60 million of his remaining salary.

But the episode told us two things about Dipoto. He has experience with wacky ownerships, and he understands the business principle of the sunk cost, two assets that will come in handy for his Seattle tenure.

But Servais, hired Friday as the Mariners’ 17th full-time manager? Nada. No tracks in the snow. No fingerprints on safe’s combination lock. Can’t even find his Amazon shopping history.

However, we can know four things:

  • He is not of the Mike Scioscia/Lloyd McClendon School of Baseball As It Was.
  • He is a ball-bro of Dipoto’s, as a player and as a front-office executive;
  • He was a major league catcher;
  • Lou Piniella had no experience when owner George Steinbrenner hired him to manage the Yankees in 1986. In three seasons, he won 90, 89 and 85 games. But because he didn’t make the playoffs (back when making the postseason was a feat), he was ushered out. Lloyd, meet Lou.

Since Servais (pronounced service, as in, “Two olives or three with your martini, Mr. Lincoln?”) is the sixth man since 2002 deliberately assigned the task of measuring up to the greatest manager in Mariners history, we’ll take that final fact as the most relevant.

In recent years, managers free of previous trials have shown themselves capable; two in particular, the Cardinals’ Mike Matheny and the Yankees’ Joe Girardi, both ex-MLB catchers who had a combined 28 years in the bigs.

Also hired without having choked back fumes from a six-hour ride in an old bus between games in the minors were Robin Ventura (White Sox), Walt Weiss (Rockies), Brad Ausmus  (Tigers) and Craig Counsell (Brewers). Others such as Bryan Price (Reds), Paul Molitor (Twins) and recent casualties Don Mattingly of the Dodgers and Bud Black of the Padres had only MLB coaching experience.

Back in the day, Gil Hodges had no experience, but by his second year managing the Mets, the Amazin’s won the 1969 World Series. Billy Martin had a half-year’s experience before he ascended, Tony LaRussa one year. They did all right.

Previous managerial experience may be worth something for some guy, on some teams. Or not. Since Servais has been on ballclubs from youth to age 48, including nine years catching in the bigs, there’s a good chance he can tap his forearm for the righthander in the bullpen with the best of them.

These days, a lack of experience can be seen as something of an asset, explained in two words: Blank slate.

While every new manager is an amalgam of teachings from managers under whom they played, they don’t have a system yet that has proven to work. In Anaheim, Scioscia, another ex-catcher, had a system in place for 11 years before Dipoto was hired to be his boss in 2011, and it worked well enough to win a World Series.

So when Dipoto came up with an idea to share information from advanced metrics with Scioscia and the players, Scioscia fixed him with a stink-eye worthy of the one the Nazis received opening the Ark of the Covenant.

The relationship was not going to end well. Once Moreno, that oracle of baseball wisdom, sided with Scioscia, Dipoto abruptly resigned in July. So when the free agent signed to be the Mariners GM, he vowed to not let anyone again open on him another ark from the past.

Dipoto apparently knows Servais well enough to count on him to understand the game has changed, and any team that fails to change with it is doomed to, say, miss the playoffs 14 years in a row.

What happens in baseball when the opponent knows habits and tendencies of Seattle players a little better than Seattle knows its own players, is that a lot of games get lost 3-2, 2-1 and in extra innings. Mariners fans may recognize the pattern from the 2015 season.

As was mentioned here before, baseball’s wide adoption of advanced metrics is simply a way to find an edge in a sport that is riven with parity, dominated by powerhouse pitchers capable of shutting off half the game on a regular basis. If shading an infielder a step in one direction, or anticipating a breaking pitch on a 3-2 count, or passing on a bunt can get or save a run, that’s a bigger deal than it has ever been.

Sure, it’s not traditional. But the Mariners are not exactly steeped in tradition. Unless you consider tradition two outs and nobody on.



  • ReebHerb

    Should be able to get to 500 or a little beyond in 2016 without the reclamation projects of this past spring. At the end of 2017 they’ll be rebooting. That’s part of data metrics.

    • jafabian

      Just like with Melvin and Wakamatsu.

      • Lodowick

        I’ll have a twist of lemon with my ‘Melvin and Wakematsu Martini’. Rinse and repeat.

        • art thiel

          Write down that martini recipe for next October and the Cubs-Mariners World Series.

          • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

            What ?Did they mention the Mariners in the new back to the future movie? Thought that was Cubs/Ms in 2069?

          • bugzapper

            With the M’s there is only flux, no capacitance.

    • art thiel

      Can we get through this off-season first?

  • jafabian

    Interesting how the club wanted a GM with previous experience but went with a rookie manager.

    • art thiel

      Typical corporate decision-making, and all teams are corporate: Choose the style opposite of the guy just fired.

      • jafabian


  • Wheezy

    M’s tradition: Two outs, nobody on. Painfully true. But funny.

    Art (or anyone) – are we in the waning days of “baseball guy” managers and GM’s…transitioning to the sabermetricians?? Will arcane stats that some kid from MIT wrote his thesis about be the foundation of a championship team?

    I dunno, I kinda long for a simpler game…gimme a beer and a dog, some friends to BS with at the game…wait, that’s assumed that I attended a game worth watching.

    Fire up the computers boys!!

    • art thiel

      Big data is the way of the world now. It shouldn’t change anyone’s enjoyment of the game, but any team that doesn’t base its decisions on the best available info is doomed.

      • jafabian

        That’s been the pattern as the that no manager since Lou has matched his fire. Part of why they’ve had problems.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        They should name Lou special consultant to the MGR….. a futuristic
        Sabermetrician meets old style winning ATTITUDE… A clean slate soon to
        be Lou like(MOLD)of the 21st century is an amusing thought ….if he
        could clone his fiery like managerial style it would be entertaining.

  • Tian Biao

    i laughed out loud at least three times reading this, thanks Art. and actually I have hope for this new regime. Dipoto has commented on the high strikeout totals and lack of athleticism in the minor league system, so at least he’s noticed, which is something. As the king of cliches himself (Joe Torre) used to say, let’s go out there and see what happens.

    • art thiel

      Chortling always welcome.

  • ss

    2 out. Nobody on. Bottom of the ninth. Mariners down by x…

    • art thiel

      It just continues . . .

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Hopefully we aren’t the Nazi stink eye two seasons into the “Service” experiment…. one great point Art made was that there has been 14 years of dispare (wrong moves) so thinking out of the box couldn’t hurt. A dubious streak that needs to be broken. Should be an interesting 2016.

    • art thiel

      Dipoto has to have a guy willing to look for small advantages.

  • FnuLnu

    Gil Hodges managed 785 games with the Washington Senators – not too successfully by the way. Mets paid the Senators $100k plus a player to get him back to NY. Billy Martin was the 1965 Twins 3B coach in the World Series vs the Dodgers – tried to rattle Sandy Koufax in Game 7 (didn’t work as Koufax threw a 2 hitter, game on youtube)

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  • Larry Stonebraker

    Geez, I remember Jack saying he was a metrics guy when he was hired. Was he fibbing? And I think one of his ex employees ratted him out on that.

  • bugzapper

    “…He vowed to not let anyone again open on him another ark from the past.”

    Jeez, dude, turned into Yoda you really have! May forever upon you a can of whup-ass not be opened.

  • bugzapper

    Olive the blue plate special. How long before this manager is shaken, not stirred?