I’ve needed a little time to gather my thoughts on the firing of Don Wakamatsu. I’ve created a mental list of both the good and the bad. I’ve reminded myself the 2010 Mariners are the worst offensive team I’ve ever witnessed. I understand the M’s can’t fall much further (or can they?). I want to understand firing Wak wholeheartedly, but something about it seems off.
After the 2009 season it appeared order had been restored to the Mariners clubhouse. Whether you want to pin a lot of the credit to both Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Sweeney, well, that’s up to you. The fact of the matter is that the chemistry changed from the disastrous 2008 season into something harmonized. The 2009 Mariners did all the “little things” right despite having a bad offense. The 2010 Mariners did some “little things” right but the bad offense buried them so fast they didn’t know what hit them.
Did M’s management really expect Junior to be a force to be reckoned with? Was this team suppose to be filled with high OBP and amazing 2-out hitting? Who was going to drive in 100 RBI on this roster? These were all questions M’s fans pondered as soon as the season had ended. We knew Beltre was heading elsewhere. We knew Jack Z. wasn’t going to throw more than a one-year deal at Branyan, likely leading to his departure. The loss of Kenji Johjima at catcher likely wasn’t missed by more than several handfuls of M’s fans. We all knew this lineup was going to struggle at cranking out bombs. Of all the people involved, Don Wakamatsu especially knew this.
Was it Don’s fault everybody but Ichiro decided to stink up the joint the first 2 months (and some continuing to do so into AUGUST!)? Was it Don’s fault that there might not be a Mariner (sans Branyan’s bombs with CLE) to reach the fifteen HR plateau. Heck, Jose Bautista (who!?) had 12 HR in May for the forever-destined-for-4th-place Blue Jays. The only HR threat the Mariners had in 2009 was Russell Branyan and he was gone to Cleveland for the beginning of 2010. His void was never filled. Boydwonder’s Ruling: I don’t blame Wak for this.
With the likes of Ichiro, Figgins, Gutierrez, and Jack Wilson, the team had players perfectly capable to play “small ball”. Yes, the stolen bases have existed in 2010, but I feel like the aggressiveness showed up far too late into the season. Figgins starting the season as cold as he did killed his chances to be on base, and ultimately swiping bags. We all had huge expectations for Figgy, but what was he suppose to do, hit .340?
It’s now August and we’re seeing some bags stolen, some sac bunts, even a few attempts at a suicide squeeze or two… but when you knew timely hitting was going to be the key cog to the offense, why did it take until the season was roughly mathematically over to unleash the bagswipers? Remember the first month of 2009, when we as fans dubbed “Wak Ball”? Guys like Guti and Endy Chavez were running, bunting, and moving runners along. That style was never apparent in 2010 when the offense was at its sluggish (and ongoing) lull. Boydwonder’s Ruling: I do blame Wak for this.
The Sleepgate Incident. As a die-hard fan, I hate this. I hate every single thing about it. I especially hate the coined nickname for it. It was sad, unfortunate, and the beginning of the end of this nightmare known as the 2010 Seattle Mariners. I don’t know if it was true, I don’t know if it was a young player like Adam Moore who spoke out of character (and against team rules), I don’t know if it was Don Wakamatsu speaking out against a pre-madonna Griffey that he was tired of having to put in the lineup. Griffey was not producing. The only positive thing I remember him doing this season was the walk-off single to right field to beat the Blue Jays. I hate ripping Ken Griffey, Jr.; it’s not in me to do so. He was everything I wanted to be as a baseball player growing up and he will forever be the greatest player I ever saw. His time was up and I wish it would have been a much more graceful departure.
Was it Wak who pushed him out? I don’t know. But I do feel Wak could have been a little more vocal about the situation. Wak seemed to always use the PC defense when it came to problems with this team, and for me, that grew tiresome. I wanted him to speak his mind but he wouldn’t. Wak could have sent a clear message that it was not him who said it, that he would “get to the bottom of the situation” and he could have discussed publicly his agenda to sit Junior while the team tried to find itself offensively. Being quiet about it failed him. Boydwonder’s Ruling: I do blame Wak for this.
Don Wakamatsu did the best he could with a group of underachieving players that collectively look like they don’t belong in the majors. Kotchman, Bradley, Rob Johnson, Jack Wilson all flopped. The revolving door of relievers never worked. Injuries to players like Mark Lowe, Shawn Kelley, and Cliff Lee (for the first month) hampered this team. Not having any power off the bench in a pinch-hit situation killed this team in some of those one-run losses in April and early May. Wak had input on the types of players he wanted to manage, but Zduriencik makes the deals and handles the finances. This team had glaring weaknesses from 2009 and never fixed them. Too many attempts at stopgap filler options with players like Eric Byrnes and Ryan Garko. We all loved it at the time, but these moves backfired and can only be viewed as deep flaws for what they were “suppose” to be. Boydwonder’s Ruling: I don’t blame Wak for this.
I think Don Wakamatsu quickly overstayed his welcome and I don’t have a clue how that happened. He never had some wild Billy Martin/Steinbrenner public feud with Jack Z. We never heard Wak bitch and moan about the deficiencies; he just seemed to roll with the punches. Maybe the passive approach was more than Jack Z. bargained for and decided “you know what, I hired the wrong guy”. Jack never made much of an attempt to defend Wak when the Figgins scuffle happened, and from that day forward, I knew Wak was toast. Dead to rights. No mas, no menos. Wakamatsu was halfway home and his pager kept blowin’ up.
Jack Zduriencik admitted he was to blame for this mess. His press conference was pretty doom and gloom but I think he’s still the right man for the job. Apparently, he knew Wak wasn’t. I think Wak should have been given the rest of 2010 to see what could happen, restore some order, and possibly get after it in 2011 with a really short leash. We’ll never know if that was an option leading up to the day Jack made the decision. But we do know this about Don Wakamatsu, simply put, “he gone”.