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Originally published Thursday, November 20, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Steve Kelley

Don Wakamatsu's hire as manager means a fresh start for Mariners

A new day has dawned in Mariners history. And a better future is coming. These are not your daddy's Mariners. This is a franchise that finally has been dragged, cleats-kicking, into the 21st century.

Seattle Times staff columnist

By any definition, by any complicated Sabermetric formula, by any standard ever set in the sport, the Mariners were a disaster last season.

This was the most disappointing team in baseball. A bust. A mess. And everybody in the game knew it.

Don Wakamatsu knew it. He knew about the troubles in the clubhouse. He heard about the ruckus in the room when one of the Mariners players wanted to go after Ichiro.

He heard about the bad vibes and the bad chemistry, because gossip swirls around baseball like a 5-4-3 double play.

So, even though the new Mariners manager Wakamatsu was diplomatic at Wednesday afternoon's introductory news conference, he knows the problems existed. And he knows they have to be fixed.

Too much nonsense happened with the 2008 Mariners. For the new Mariners manager, changing the clubhouse culture is Job One.

"He [Wakamatsu] wasn't here, nor was I," new general manager Jack Zduriencik said after the news conference. "But what I'm hoping the players hear right now is, 'Be ready for spring training. Be ready to go. If you have any issues, make sure you've taken care of those issues. More than anything else, this is a new chapter and we're starting fresh.' "

A new day has dawned in Mariners history. And a better future is coming. These are not your daddy's Mariners. This is a franchise that finally has been dragged, cleats-kicking, into the 21st century.

A franchise that finally will read the game's complicated statistical reports as if they were magical tea leaves. A franchise that will be more organized, more diligent, better prepared. A franchise that will make better personnel decisions.

Zduriencik has put together the best staff since Pat Gillick, Lou Piniella and Roger Jongewaard worked here. Now, if CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong stay out of the way and let the new guys run the show, the Mariners can lift themselves out of their 101-loss malaise.

Forget the idea that Zduriencik and Wakamatsu are no-names. As Zduriencik joked Wednesday, these are two big names. Plenty of vowels and consonants.

"He [Wakamatsu] got hired because he's a good baseball guy," Zduriencik said. "I have had so many people say to me, 'This guy's consistent. He's solid.' As he develops as a manager these are the things the players are going to see in him. Consistency, work ethic, organization skills.


"This guy's going to have knowledge of the game. He's going to understand players. He's going to understand his staff. He's going to demand a lot from his staff, and he's going to demand a lot from his players."

In Texas, then-manager Buck Showalter thought enough of Wakamatsu that he let him run spring training.

"Buck said to me, 'I don't turn a lot of things over to a lot of people, but I turned spring training over to this guy and it ran like clockwork,' " Zduriencik said. "He was fantastic."

Wakamatsu has been in professional baseball since 1985. He has been a big-league coach since 2003 and a bench coach, baseball's equivalent to an assistant head coach, through five major-league seasons.

"People ask me, 'Well, what about experience?' And I'm always going to tell them it's about the right person," Wakamatsu said.

Zduriencik? Wakamatsu? These aren't sexy baseball names. But neither was Joe Maddon in Tampa Bay or Theo Epstein in Boston or Mark Shapiro in Cleveland.

They have studied well. They have paid their dues. They have earned this next step. And this mess of a team they are inheriting is the perfect place for them to show how good they are.

"Our job is to give this club the tools it takes to win," Zduriencik said. "What would I like to do? I want to win now. I'd also like to build for the future, and that is through our draft picks and through acquiring players in different ways. But if it's possible and if these guys are healthy and they are ready to play, we're going to be competitive this year."

Fans should be prepared for a slow climb. Despite Wednesday's optimism, the Mariners won't be contenders in 2009. They can get better next season, but their goal should be to get younger and smarter and become contenders in 2010.

There are no sure things in this game, but there are hard workers who get noticed and earn their way into the biggest big-league jobs. Both Jack Zduriencik and Don Wakamatsu fit that description.

Wakamatsu is bringing energy to a ballclub that played the game last season as if it was chore. He's bringing joy into a clubhouse that often felt like a detention hall.

And he's bringing a body of work and preparation that says he's ready for this promotion.

Steve Kelley: 206-464-2176 or More columns at

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Steve Kelley
Steve Kelley covers all sports, putting his spin on matters involving both the home team and the nation. | 206-464-2176

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