BY Steve Rudman 06:30AM 04/04/2016

No-experience manager can be good — or horrible

Scott Servais brings no managerial experience to the Mariners, but that tells us nothing about his ability to run a major league club, as Seattle predecessors Bob Melvin and Maury Wills showed.

Manager Scott Servais begins his first season with the Mariners Monday in Texas. / Seattle Mariners

As every hardball filbert from Aberdeen to Walla Walla knows, the Mariners have not qualified for the postseason since 2001, the longest drought in the majors. But it’s actually more embarrassing than that. The only team in any of the four major pro sports (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL) with a longer playoff absence is the Buffalo Bills, who last reached in 1999.

To help get the club off its relentless hamster wheel, new GM Jerry Dipoto, soon after succeeding Jack Zduriencik last fall, fired manager Lloyd McClendon and replaced him with Scott Servais, who has zero experience managing at any level (Servais is the 10th full-time or interim manager since Seattle’s last playoff appearance).

In the wake of the hiring, Ken Rosenthal, veteran baseball scribe/commentator for FOX and MLB Network, expressed misgivings, commenting that Servais is “more untested than unqualified. His front-office background holds considerable value. But is he more qualified than any number of other candidates? Or does he simply have better friends in high places?”

Rosenthal’s point: If, and until, Servais proves otherwise, he was hired largely because he has a friend in a high place, Dipoto, a sabermetrics advocate who believes that Servais, unlike McClendon, understands the difference between OPS and UPS.

Teammates in Colorado (2000), Servais and Dipoto later spent time together in the Los Angeles Angels front office (2011-15). A former catcher with the Astros, Cubs, Giants and Rockies, Servais has also worked in his post-playing career as a roving catcher instructor with the Cubs (2003-04), a scout for the Rockies (2005), and director of player development (2006-11) for the Rangers (Servais is credited with aiding Nelson Cruz’s development while the pair were in Texas).

Servais is unique in Mariners annals, the only man ever named manager who did not bring an iota of managerial experience with him — not even a game in the deep minors or in some far-flung winter league. But that tells us nothing of predictive value.

When the Mariners hired Bob Melvin to replace Lou Piniella in 2003, the extent of Melvin’s managerial experience consisted of one brief autumn in the Arizona Fall League in 1999. Four years later, Melvin became the most successful first-year manager in Seattle franchise history with 93 wins. The caveat, of course, was that Melvin inherited a 93-win team from Piniella.

At least Melvin didn’t screw up a good thing, although his encore record of 63-99 in 2004 got him fired (imagine if Ichiro hadn’t hit .372 while collecting a record 262 hits that year).

Maury Wills (1980-81) brought only slightly more managerial experience to Seattle than Melvin. A former All-Star shortstop with the Dodgers and one of baseball’s greatest base stealers, Wills managed in the Mexican League for a couple of summers and then worked as an NBC analyst before the Mariners brought him aboard as a replacement for Darrell Johnson late in the 1980 season.

Wills famously predicted he would be a “great manager,” and would have the Mariners in the World Series “within four years.”  Of course, he also said he had an affair with actress Doris Day, which he didn’t, so his predictions weren’t worth much, as he ineptly demonstrated.

The Mariners stumbled to a 20-38 record after Wills replaced Johnson, and then started 6-18 in 1981, prompting Wills’ dismissal, an ouster abetted by his irrational attempt to alter the lines of the batter’s box in a game against Oakland, presumably influenced by his use of cocaine, disclosed after his managerial career became a shambles.

While Melvin produced the best record of any manager in a first season in Seattle, Wills delivered the worst, meaning that the two least-experienced skippers were responsible for the most extreme outcomes. How all of Seattle’s managers fared in their first year with the franchise, based on total wins:

Year Manager Record Skinny
2003 Bob Melvin 93-69 Mariners 63-99 a year later, Melvin fired
2014 Lloyd McClendon 87-75 Mariners 76-86 in 2015; McClendon fired
2009 Don Wakamatsu 85-77 Wakamatsu canned after starting 2010 42-70
1993 Lou Piniella 82-80 Still the only manager of a Seattle playoff team
1987 Dick Williams 78-84 Replaced Chuck Cottier early in 1986 season
1982 Rene Lachemann 76-86 Replaced Maury Wills early in 1981
1985 Chuck Cottier 74-88 Fired after a 9-19 start to 1986 season
1989 Jim Lefebvre 73-89 Fired after only winning year, 83-79 in 1991
2005 Mike Hargrove 69-93 Resigned in 2007 with team in first (45-33)
2011 Eric Wedge 67-95 Lasted 3 seasons, never had a winning mark
1977 Darrell Johnson 64-98 Original manager fired after a 39-65 start in 1980
1992 Bill Plummer 64-98 Lasted only the 1992 season, replaced by Piniella
1984 Del Crandall 59-76 Replaced Lachemann near end of 1983
2008 John McLaren 25-47 Replaced Mike Hargrove midway through 2007
1981 Maury Wills 6-18 One ump: “He didn’t even know how to argue”

Wills never managed after mucking up his shot with the Mariners. But Melvin, a former MLB catcher like Servais, has won manager of the year awards in both leagues since leaving Seattle, with Arizona in 2007 and Oakland in 2012. He’s also won three division titles with three 90+-win teams (the Mariners haven’t won 90 in a season since Melvin departed).

Of the managers listed, only three besides Piniella (82-80) posted a winning mark in their first year. But none of the three – Melvin, McClendon and Wakamatsu – lasted beyond a second year. Wakamatsu didn’t even make it through his second. Servais should at least survive as long as these three because, well, he has a friend in a high place.

Six managers apart from Piniella came to the Mariners with prior big league experience. Not that it did them much good. Johnson (226-362), Crandall (93-131), Williams (159-192), Hargrove (192-210), Wedge (213-273) and McClendon (163-161) combined to go 1,046-1,329 with only one winning season and no playoff appearances.

McClendon’s 87-75 record in 2014 was good enough for Dipoto mostly because he didn’t care about advanced metrics. McClendon’s path in managerial rehabilitation is with the AAA Toledo Mud Hens this spring.

If Dipoto is lucky, he has in Servais another Melvin, who has a remarkably similar background. Or perhaps another Mike Matheny, hired by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2012 with no experience. Matheny has won three division titles and a National League pennant.

The Seattle Times opined last week that the Mariners in 2016 should be “measured in progress, not playoffs.” Absolute nonsense. They ran out of indulgences years ago. So expectations for Servais should be high, even with his lack of experience. He inherits three All-Star position players and two starting pitchers who have made All-Star teams (Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwaksuma).

Even if  Dipoto isn’t lucky with Servais, at least he won’t have another Maury Wills on his hands. No franchise can possibly make such an historic gaffe twice.


YourThoughts

  • ReebHerb

    This is Dipoto’s show. If the Mariners win, he will get the credit. If they lose, Servais is the first scapegoat. The question is whether Dipoto is satisfied with fitting pieces together or will he also try to manage from the front office.

    • art thiel

      From what I’ve heard from Dipoto, he’ll have no ego issue with Servais.

  • jafabian

    Not only did BoMel inherit Lou’s team, he inherited Lou’s AGING team. The fact that he’s had great success since leaving the M’s proves that the club’s problems went beyond just the manager.

    • art thiel

      BoMel did know his ball.

  • The Cane

    Reading through this list of managers calls starkly to mind the pathetic wasteland that Mariners’ baseball has been, with one half-decade exception. Also can not wait for the geek era to conclude.

    • art thiel

      The geek era just started, fercripesake. What do you want — Genghis Khan era?

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        Yes but the Skipper won the battle of the pointing digits in game two….and he was “almost” ready to go all Genghis Khan on Texas til he realized he really doesnt have a lucrative contract with the Ms and you can get fined for beating up the other manager…. point to the sky and save the dough…

  • Rj Smith

    Queen Felix is having a 5th inning meltdown…… why am I not surprised?

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    • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

      Yes but the Skipper won the battle of the pointing digits in game two….

  • bugzapper

    We’re all friend here, right? So can we be brutally honest? The F.O. is too f’ing cheap to hire:

    A) Anybody with experience who knows what he’s doing, and

    B) Someone with the balls (hello, Lou) to tell Lincoln (and of late, Chuckie Cheesehead) to BUT THE F*** OUT!!!

    Me, it’s Game 2 and I’m already on my second tequila. I should be in rehab by the trading deadline.

    • art thiel

      Gotta feel better now after G2. Really, money is no factor in managerial hiring, not with all the Root riches. Nor is Armstrong a factor.

      I fear when they win it all, you’ll asplode because your baseball life will have lost its meaning.

      • bugzapper

        If they win it all I vow to burn my “Patience is for Losers” t-shirt at home plate!

        Hey, I was at very single one of those ’95 playoff games, including the decider against the Angels. But for the last 15 years this team has Plummered depths of ignominy so deep that they once surfaced in the Dawun Unda Outback League. Where they couldn’t beat a pack of barnstorming kangaroos!

        So, you know, call me irrepressible. Just don’t call me in August if they’re 20 games out and “rebuilding.”

        • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

          From the Best record in MLB to 15 years of play off non~dom. Patience somehow doesn’t seem to cover it…..that is hard to palette no matter the local be it Ocean shores or Western State.

      • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

        Baseball is strange. You can almost pencil in a win with Felix on the mound to open it yet he lost and they still went out and got this series win.Collective sighs from Aberdeen to Walla Walla.

        • Bayview Herb

          Just be glad you aren’t a Cubs fan.

          • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

            At least (back in the day and I do mean “day”) the Cubs have made it to the final series of the season even if you would have to have a seance to dredge up A SPIRIT who attended a Cubs/World Series event.
            When i was 20 I almost married a die hard Chicagoan. In her thick Italian/midwest accent Gina was all about Da Bears…the Bulls ….and the White Sox.I might have become a Cub fan back then just to root for someone she did not. She rooted in your typical obnoxious Chicago fan style~obnoxious.
            I do root for the underdog and love Joe Maddens managerial style and off of the wall interviews. I think the Cubbies will be for real this year…hope so for their long suffering fans. See you in the World Series , Joe!

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    From Aberdeen to Walla Walla and beyond.That is the Elephant in the room that they registered the best regular season in Baseball then disappeared for 15 years of non play off funk.
    All is good after one series win in the Servais era. Division foe dispatched on the road and a winning record to work with.Its way early but the ball club has some tools to work with against a team we really scrapped with last year. Lets call it entertaining at this point.

  • Bayview Herb

    With the Texas series over, does Dipoto owe the fans an apology for all of the home runs the new team wasn’t supposed to need?