Finally, something to talk about.

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times has recently come into possession of what we are being led to believe was an interoffice email from Howard Lincoln to the rest of the Mariners employees. I say this not because I don’t believe it, but because there are quite a few people wondering exactly how Baker – someone who by his own admission does not work for the organization – came into contact with this information. That aside, I’d like to make it absolutely clear that even though I have occasionally disagreed with Baker, I don’t begrudge his reporting on this, because it’s something that is fairly important, and gives great insight into the way that the folks at the top of the Ms front office think about their own team and the fans.  Plus, it gives me something to complain about on an off-day. I’ve been trying to refine my complaining skills.

I’d also like to point out that while I usually try to be an optimistic sort of person in regards to the game this game and team that I love, it has been difficult for me to turn on games over the past few weeks, rather than just sitting around watching COPS, going to visit friends, or going elsewhere I am free from thinking about this season of disaster. School has made that a little easier for me over the past two months especially, but I’m pretty sure I may be in the camp that Lincoln is referring to several times in this tome. And I’m not going to candy-coat my attitude anymore, this 2010 Mariners team has been atrocious, and saying anything to the contrary makes you either blind or stupid. Possibly both.

So off we go, a bit of a breakdown of Lincoln’s email, copied and posted from Geoff Baker’s Seattle Times blog

“If it seems to you like the local media is going out of its way to trash the Mariners, well, you’re right, they are! And you can expect this to continue as the season winds down. We’re getting hit like never before–or at least never before in recent memory! Indeed, if you read between the lines, you get the clear impression that at least one beat reporter would love nothing better than to step right in and run the Mariners. (Don’t worry, that’s not going to happen!)”

Oi. Where to start here? First of all, I doubt very much that Geoff Baker (and you know that’s who he’s referring to) wants to run the organization. Lincoln severely flatters himself here – why would any of the press or blogosphere want to run this team further into the ground? Second of all, this front office deserves to get “hit like never before”. These people put together a winning team out of the ashes of 2008, added a few key pieces that should not have failed, and turned 2010 right back into 2008, adding the cherry on top of letting the players run amok and get their own manager fired (yes, I am still not happy about the lack of Don Wakamatsu in Seattle). Over the past 10 years, they’ve changed team managers more than I change my mind while ordering sushi. Tell me, please, where is the part where the reporters, fans, and blogosphere shouldn’t be upset over what’s been going on here since 2001?

“None of us likes to read about our organization being “dysfunctional” or in “panic” or that we fire employees without good cause or that we’d be much better off if a few heads at the top were lopped off. All of us know that this is a fine organization with dedicated and hard working employees and that we’re doing everything we can to win on the field and to provide our fans with a first class entertainment experience at Safeco Field.”

Well, buckle your seat belts and put your big boy boots on, because if things continue the way they have been, you’re going to be reading a lot more about how dysfunctional or panicked you may be. I like the part about specifically mentioning the few heads at the top – he’s obviously been paying attention. Manager and player turnover rate has been high, decisions are made too early or too late (see also; Don Wakamatsu, Rob Johnson, Sean White), yet the Lincoln/Armstrong duo seems to remain constant. You don’t need a business degree to figure out that something might be wrong here. I’ve worked jobs where middle management and good employees were hired and fired but the upper management stayed put, making bad decisions left and right, and not paying much attention to anything else but the amount of money they thought they could get if they made these moves. Strangely enough, none of these businesses still exist – they are all now defunct. If Mr Lincoln thinks that the fans, the journalists, or the blogosphere wants that to happen to the Mariners, he is  severely mistaken. But this is the part of the email that infuriates me the most: “first class entertainment experience“?! You have got to be joking. If I want a first class entertainment experience, I’ll to see an IMAX movie, or go see my favorite band, or have dinner at El Gaucho. I don’t go to a baseball game for “entertainment”. I go to root for the team to win. I guess when all you have for the crowd to get excited about is pre-determined animated hydroboat races, the hat trick, and a mobile camera so people can see themselves on the jumbotron, then that’s all you’ll concern yourself over.  Plus, if Lincoln believes in any way, shape, or form that this season has been remotely “entertaining”, remind us all to avoid parties at his place.

“I want you to know that Chuck, Jack and I have very thick skins and that nothing said by the folks in the media or, for that matter, the bloggers, is going to distract us from continuing to do our jobs to the best of our ability, with the goal of giving our fans a championship team. In due course, we will let our fans know of our plans for the future and of our commitment to them. And we look forward to working with you as we put these plans together.”

I imagine the word “bloggers” mentally typed with just the lightest sheen of condescension. It wouldn’t shock me. Maybe the original goal this year was to give the fans a championship team. But when it became obvious that that wasn’t going to happen, nothing was done. Players that couldn’t hit were still placed in awkward spots in the lineup, pitchers who couldn’t pitch were still trotted out to the hill for relief in tight situations (and even not-so-tight situations which they then turned into losses, again, without being hastily replaced by a better arm to try and save the game), and our two aces (sorry, Cliff) got so tired of losing games that they started to go the distance, pitching complete games and putting their arms at risk so the team with the worst offense in baseball could win at least one game under their watch. When Don Wakamatsu attempted to bench Chone Figgins for sloppy play, Figgins lashed out at him, was not disciplined for it, and Wakamatsu was eventually fired…for doing his job.  Ken Griffey Jr threw what basically amounted to a hissy fit after being used in a thin utility role (despite him saying in the press during Spring Training that he would be happy to take whatever role they needed him in), and quit the team with no fanfare, barely an announcement, and with less grace than I would have thought befitted him. Players, not their manager, were allowed to run the clubhouse and things went quickly downhill. Outside of a handful of players who have been and continue to be excellent, that’s not a “championship team”, and no amount of the front office’s reasoning will convince me otherwise.

I recently read a blog from Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks in which he explained his reasons for attempting to acquire the Texas Rangers. He had something to say about the media that for me, really rang true. Here is what he said:

“What I have learned in 11 years in the sports business is that the dumbest guys in the room are always the media guys. Some do a decent job of reporting, most just spew opinions. And those opinions change more often than they brush their teeth. So what the media was saying (about his effort to acquire the Rangers) was of zero impact or influence on what I was doing. Listening to the media only increases your odds of failing at whatever you are doing. So I ignore them.”

While I vaguely agree with the bit about journalists and their opinions (journalism should be reporting, not punditry, and in this country, sadly, it has become far more the latter of those two than it should be), frankly I think maybe some ball clubs occasionally need to pay attention to the journalists and bloggers. I can give you at least one incident where it has proven to be quite successful. What is interesting about this one is not Mark Cuban’s well-known opinions about the press, but the fact that now we all know for sure Howard Lincoln feels the same way. I will take a moment to assume that “media” also refers to bloggers, as blogs are indeed a form of media. Blogs, however, are also written by fans of this team, and their opinions mirror a pretty large number of other fans’ opinions, fans who don’t blog. So basically, Lincoln is saying he doesn’t give a damn about the opinions of Mariners fans. Thanks, Howie.

I hope each of you take Mark Cuban’s remarks to heart. Don’t pay attention to what the local media is saying. Keep doing your job. And keep your heads up. You have every right to be very proud of this organization and for what it stands for.”

What does it stand for? These words are hollow unless they can be defined or backed up. Especially backed up. Right now, it just seems to stand for $8.50 pints of beer, elevating prices by $5 on tickets for Red Sox and Yankees games (wow, I get to pay extra to watch my team get spanked by the top teams in the league? Sign me up!) and continuing to charge top dollar in the Seattle market for a team that continues to lose. I beg of you to prove me wrong, and do it sometime soon. Until then, put your money and your time where your mouth is, because trying to defend yourselves in an email just makes it look as if – aside from being concerned about public and journalistic opinion – you might also be concerned about the opinions of the people that work for you. When the walls of defensiveness go up, there are usually battalions of fear behind them. And there should be.

Despite all of this, make no mistake that the people who work in the lower eschelons of the Mariners organization are absolutely marvelous employees, and that is my honest opinion. I have yet to have an unpleasant interaction with any of the customer service, ticket office, ushering, marketing, food service, or team store personnel. They do their jobs, and they do them damn well. It has to be difficult working for an organization when you’re aware of public opinion, but the people who work at SafeCo are, in my opinion, first class all the way. I also don’t include Jack Zduriencik or the folks he works with in this diatribe; I love Zduriencik, and have even gone as far as to tell some friends that if anything happens to him during the offseason, if he is allowed to take the fall for this season, I will not be purchasing season tickets next year. The people that Lincoln is addressing are the people that help make Mariners games worth going to. It’s unfortunate that Lincoln himself cannot be one of them.

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4 Responses to Finally, something to talk about.

  1. FUNdMENTAL says:

    The statement about ignoring what the media says is troubling:
    Howard is correct hat you cannot judge yourself by everything other people say. I am a pastor and have learned that.
    But, the not listening is of concern. The media, and the public they represent do have valid concerns and input. The input may be hard to hear but Howard needs to listen carefully…
    One of his jobs is to keep things to where the Majority Owner does not have to step in.
    Howard’s leadership is to the point where it is going to be noisy enough to be heard in Japan.
    If MO starts hearing that fans are completely ticked and threatening sales; Yamauchi will not tolerate for long.
    If front office drives Ichiro and the Japanese market away; Yamauchi will be embarrassed and take it out on the top two.

    I personally don’t mind that they have losing years, that happens. I would rather watch a bunch of raw talent playing their hearts out than $27M per year players on glide mode.

    But Mariner Mgt is scaring off any FA of any considerable talent and value. Their front office meltdown this year is going to keep good personnel from wanting to be a part of this schlock.

    Any decent Manager should really be deeply concerned about taking the open position.

    Howard… PLEASE LISTEN!!!

    • Megan Shear says:

      I think that part of the problem is that there are just enough casual fans who want to go to games for a nice afternoon with their family, so those of us who might decide not to spend money on tickets are not as much of an issue, because tourists and suburban households are so prevalent here (not knocking either of those things, of course).
      It’s funny, to listen to the guys on ESPN talk, a new manager would just love to take over in Wak’s/Brown’s wake next year – but I’m wondering why? The obvious answer is that it is a challenge, something to accomplish; but with our track record, why would anyone want a job here if there is the very distinct and real possibility that they can just be fired at will any time the org needs to foist some blame on somebody?
      I admire Zduriencik for the same reasons I admired Wakamatsu – for being a calm and collected presence amidst all the chaos. And he, McNamara and Blengino are stand-up guys who love this game and enjoy what they do; I want all of them to stay. I just fear that we’re going to pull a repeat performance with the next manager and etc., etc., until there is nothing left to “Believe Big” IN.

      People are upset because we DO back this team, with all our hearts. We spend time and money and energy in watching the team – for some of us, it’s been all that’s been keeping us sane through a very rough summer. I think Lincoln misconstrues our anguish for anger, and is missing the point.

  2. Bart's Evil Twin says:

    Megan, I think this is one of your best efforts yet. Well said!

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