The biggest change this summer for the Mariners won’t necessarily be made on the roster. John Stanton takes over as the new owner, which can make a difference at the trade deadline.
The G-forces in mood swings among Mariners fans at midseason are increasing. You can spot a Mariners fan from distance: Flattened features and peeled-back lips. The hat, of course, was long ago blown off.
After losing six games in a row, the Mariners won seven of nine before a 2-1 loss to the Astros in Houston Monday afternoon. The latest mood swing is an uptick, inspired by a four-game sweep of the Baltimore Orioles, leaders of the American League East who entered the past weekend with MLB’s fourth-best record.
Sweeps happen to good teams such as Baltimore at a rate similar to Donald Trump constructing a sentence subject-verb-object. So the rarity of the feat — the Mariners hadn’t swept a four-game series since 2012 — overshadowed a woeful 2-8 road trip that evoked the standard baseball pessimism that is part of the June gloom hereabouts.
But let’s set aside the whipsaw of daily wins and losses and consider something that likely will influence the baseball summer and the future in a way Mariners fans haven’t experienced in almost a quarter century — a change in franchise ownership.
The baseball focus on the player moves made by new general manager Jerry Dipoto and his rookie manager, Scott Servais, to get to 43-40 and the edge of contention, has been so intense that it has obscured a more fundamental change.
Pending the expected rubber-stamp approval from MLB owners in a quarterly meeting in early August, billionaire John Stanton, leader of a 16-person group of his fellow minority owners, will replace Howard Lincoln as CEO.
At his lone public appearance so far, an introductory press conference April 8, Stanton, Seattle-born and Bellevue-raised, made an unequivocal declaration that has not been heard from the primary baseball owner in Seattle in the team’s 40 years.
“The No. 1 goal of this ownership group is to win a World Series,” he said. “We want to win a World Series here in Seattle and have a celebration of that event.
“I think it’s time we have that accomplishment.’’
Seems a simple enough statement. Jeez, has it been avoided.
Since 1992, the Mariners have been owned either by Nintendo billionaire Hiroshi Yamauchi of Japan, who never saw the team play in person, or his estate’s designated successor, Nintendo of America, which cared little about baseball operations except for equity appreciation. A World Series was a gauzy fantasy, not a part of the plan.
Since 1999, Lincoln, a corporate lawyer with no experience in sports or retail, has represented Nintendo’s 55 percent majority interest as CEO. His prime directive? Bottom-line success.
It worked — the Mariners and their giant regional monopoly were valued by Forbes at an estimated $1.4 billion (the club was purchased for $100 million), eighth-highest in baseball. Stanton’s group cashed out 90 percent of Nintendo’s shares for about $640 million.
But business success has not produced baseball success. Not only have the Mariners been absent from the playoffs 15 years, longer than any team, they have been the community’s touchstone for futility jokes and a deep second in civic sports passion to the successful Seahawks. They invited further scorn from many for five years of strident opposition to Chris Hansen’s plan to bring back the NBA with a new arena in Sodo next to Safeco Field.
Stanton has been a part owner since 2000, when he purchased the shares of John McCaw of McCaw Cellular, where Stanton first came to prosperity. Stanton has heard the jokes, lamented Lincoln’s missteps, chafed at the futility and yearned to grab hold of the team and run it.
It’s his time.
He has two sons who played college baseball. He’s part owner of two teams in the West Coast League, a senior collegiate summer league. He’s part owner of the Bellevue Baseball Club, a select team for middle-school aspirants. He’s spent a 15-year apprenticeship learning the closed-door secrets of major-league ownership.
In terms of intense baseball biography, a more opposite profile to Nintendo could not be written.
But passion doesn’t necessarily translate to success. Nor does immense wealth. But if the company goal is as Stanton stated, love and money will get everyone there more quickly.
Which brings us to the drama of this month. Aug. 1 is baseball’s annual trade deadline, before which contenders load up on veteran talent from teams who have washed out. Stanton is not officially in charge until approved, but it’s hard to imagine Lincoln insisting on making the final call on trades with which the Stanton regime must live.
The Mariners under Lincoln historically have been reticent to make midseason trades, fearing the risk more than embracing the reward. It’s not a terrible strategy. More recently the Mariners have taken modest steps to minimal gains.
But to contend this year — and Mariners want to, because the clock ticks louder on the careers of Nelson Cruz, 36, and Robinson Cano, 34 in October – the Mariners clearly need another veteran starting pitcher, and perhaps a veteran reliever. A quality left fielder would be helpful, although Seth Smith and Franklin Gutierrez provide a solid platoon for the rest of the season.
Stanton has to be reasonably pleased with the early results under Dipoto and Servais, who inherited a roster unwieldy for its home park and a remarkably bereft farm system. Attendance at Safeco for a roster of many strangers is up about 400 a game to a 27,449 average.
One way to look upon the pending crossroad is that the Mariners around the end of the month will pick up a most valuable person — a committed, wealthy, knowledgeable local owner, a franchise first.
Since even he gets only one chance to make a good first impression, the opportunity is upon Stanton to acquire a premium player most valuable to a postseason run.
Urgency is often a splendid way to convey sincerity of conviction.