Don Wakamatsu was fired as manager of the Seattle Mariners on Monday, but knew exactly one month earlier his job was in jeopardy, when he and his coaching staff learned Cliff Lee had been traded - by hearing the news on television.
That general manager Jack Zdurienci’ s confidence in his manager had dropped to the point of not consulting him prior to a major deal stunned Wakamatsu, bench coach Ty Van Burkleo and pitching coach Rick Adair.
And Adair, who’d worked with the two pitching prospects sent to Seattle in that trade – and didn’t think much of either – had never been asked about them by Zduriencik.
That far out of the loop on a trade that might help shape the future of the franchise, Wakamatsu, Van Burkleo and Adair knew then they were no longer considered part of that future.
“I lost confidence in Don, Ty and Rick as the best fit for us this season and as we move forward,” Zduriencik said Monday. “New leadership is needed, and it is needed now.”
For now, that leadership will be sought from Daren Brown, 43, who has spent 10 years in the Seattle organization, the past four manag- ing the Tacoma Rainiers. Brought aboard to assist: bench coach Roger Hansen, a longtime Mariners minor league instructor; pitching coach Carl Willis, who was in his first season as minor league pitching coordinator and Pedro Grifol, the director of minor league personnel, who will serve as a staff instructor/coach.
“I look at this as an opportunity, even with the situation as it is,” Brown said. “Jack said it was my club. The next few days we’ll make some assessments and go from there.”
The move came in one of the more tumultuous seasons in a recent history spotted with them, for a franchise that now has had five managers in five years.
Brown succeeds managers, beginning in 2005, Mike Hargrove, John McLaren, Jim Riggleman and Wakamatsu. None left with a winning record.
In making the announcement, Zduriencik said he took “full responsibility” for the 2010 Mariners, adding that the team had underachieved since spring training. He said no one issue triggered his decision, but the season as a whole.
That season included:
The failure on the field and eventual retirement of franchise icon Ken Griffey Jr., who blamed Wakamatsu for his departure and told teammates his manager had planted the story about his napping in the clubhouse.
The handling of mercurial Milton Bradley, who flipped off Texas fans the first week of the season, then spent two weeks on the restricted list to deal with “emotional issues.”
Two episodes with Chone Figgins, who questioned Wakamatsu’s moving him from second to ninth in the batting order – for two games – then ignited a dugout shoving contest by challenging Wakamatsu for pulling him from a game.
It also included a 42-70 record that, in Zudriencik’s mind, was a disaster, especially after Zduriencik had added Figgins, Lee, Bradley and Casey Kotchman during the offseason.
“Sometimes when you get from A to Z, there’s not always a straight line,” Zduriencik said. “To take an organization from here to there, sometimes you’re going to have those bumps in the road, have rocky waves, things that interfere.
“There were some things that needed to be changed, and today I made the decision to change them.”
When asked if the incidents with Griffey and Figgins figured in his decision, Zduriencik said he tried to factor in everything he’d seen this year.
“Players should be motivated and dedicated. A manager guides the ship,” he said. “A manager is the leader of the clubhouse, in charge of what happens on the field and in clubhouse. Case closed.”
Brown, who was managing the Rainiers in Omaha on Sunday, learned of the transition long before Wakamatsu, who was fired during a brief meeting Monday morning with Zduriencik.
For Brown, the news came after a 12-inning loss, and triggered a whirlwind of planning and travel to reach Seattle in time for the first of the final 49 games of this season.
“The challenge is, you can’t come in and flip a switch,” Brown said. “I haven’t been in the dugout, I haven’t been in the clubhouse.”
The man who was, Wakamatsu, had just seen his team win six games in July – matching the worst month in franchise history. It was all but the end for a manager whose team opened the season expecting to contend.
Instead, age, injuries and poor play doomed the Mariners from the outset.
Wakamatsu’s Mariners spent the first month of the season with left-hander Lee on the disabled list, two months in which Jose Lopez homered once in each and a first half in which Figgins (.235), Bradley (.210), Kotchman (.218) and Griffey (.184) hit far below their career numbers.
The offense cost hitting coach Alan Cockrell his job in early May, serving notice that Zduriencik wasn’t going to let the feel-good 85-win story of 2009 supersede what was happening in 2010.
Once Wakamatsu was left out of the loop on the Mariners’ only viable trading chip last month – Lee – and Zduriencik followed that with public silence after the Figgins dugout blowup, a termination seemed inevitable.
Oddly, it came after the Mariners won two of three games from Kansas City over the weekend. That left Wakamatsu with a 127-147 career record with Seattle, a .464 winning percentage that ranks fifth among the first 15 full-time managers in franchise history.
How the 16th fares in the next 49 games may determine whether a 17th is hired before spring training 2011.