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Wednesday, September 29, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.
Larry Stone / Baseball reporter
OAKLAND, Calif. Wherever Bob Melvin goes after Sunday and all indications are that it won't be back to Seattle to manage another year one thing is clear: He's taking the high road.
While pundits and fans debate his future, Melvin has handled his potential banishment with uncommon grace. There has been no backstabbing, no sniveling, no whining about the poor hand he has been dealt by management or the unfair shake he has been given by some fans for the unforgivable crime of not being Lou Piniella.
This is a man who firmly believes he deserves to be back but has come to peace with the idea that he might not be.
"There was probably a time a couple of weeks ago I was a little bit worried and thought about it," Melvin said yesterday. "What can I do by worrying about it? I really feel like I'm in a better place now because I just go from day to day, and I don't worry about it."
That's not easy when talk shows, newspaper columnists and bloggers all weigh in on your worthiness some defending you, others deriding you for an endless variety of perceived sins.
"That was a little difficult, too," he said. "You know what? People are going to write what they're going to write, and if you look at the situation, it's tough to put a positive spin on it. It's such a negative situation. I understand when people write that (he should be fired).
"And I understand that when there's a death like has happened here, someone's got to die. Whether or not I'm the guy that's going to be knocked out because of it, I don't really think it's in my control.
"I have to do what I do here every day, and hopefully we can win enough games and play hard like we do every day, and play with some passion every day and play with some focus every day. That's all we can do, and that's all you can ask for right now."
Suddenly, the Mariners are playing with more passion and focus and energy than they have all season. It's probably too late to save Melvin, but it will help him leave with his head held high. The players never quit on him, and he never quit on the players.
Melvin said that former Arizona manager Bob Brenly, a close friend, has helped him deal with the uncertainty and speculation. Brenly, with whom Melvin won a World Series championship in 2001 as the bench coach, went through much the same thing this year, and was fired in July. Lo and behold, he discovered that life went on.
"He told me, 'You know, there's nothing you can do about it except do your best every day,' " Melvin said. "In talking to him, if I do get fired, it's not the end of the world. I'm a firm believer in everything happens for a reason, and whatever is going to happen is meant to be, and I'll go from there."
Today, Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln and team president Chuck Armstrong are coming to Oakland for the Ichiro countdown, joining general manager Bill Bavasi and his assistant, Lee Pelekoudas, who are already here.
Sometime within the next week, no doubt, the Mariners' brain trust will convene to make the final decision on Melvin. He shouldn't be left to dangle in the wind. If nothing else, they owe their manager a swift judgment and a dignified exit.
Meanwhile, Melvin tries not to beat himself up over decisions made and actions not taken. Still, there are times he'll go home or to his hotel room after a tough loss and there have been legions of them this season turn on the television and barely notice the program as he rehashes the game in his mind.
It has been, undeniably, a two-year learning experience for a manager whose only managerial experience before last season was a brief stint in the Arizona Fall League.
He realizes now that decisions that don't work are not necessarily wrong decisions. He realizes that he erred by not asserting his personality more forcefully from the beginning.
"I do think, whether I get a shot at this someplace else or continue to do this here, that you have to continually make your presence felt," he said. "That's something that's kind of an acquired taste. You learn that."
Melvin will be a better manager next time around, if there is a next time. But this has been a disastrous season for the Mariners the "death" of a contending team, to use Melvin's blunt term. And it came under his watch.
Thus, there is a growing sense of inevitability that his time in Seattle is growing short five days and counting. That's the way baseball works. When goats must be scaped, it's almost always the manager.
If and when that happens, a large part of Melvin's Seattle legacy will be the class with which he handled his final days.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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