The Seattle Mariners started Monday with a standard press release revealing the members of new manager Lloyd McClendon’s coaching staff.
A few hours later, they made a stunning announcement.
President and Chief Operating Officer Chuck Armstrong will retire Jan. 31. The search for his replacement has begun.
Armstrong had two stints as Mariners president for 28 of the past 30 years, overseeing the best and worst of the franchise.
He was in charge when the Mariners selected Ken Griffey Jr. with the top pick in the 1987 amateur draft, forever altering the course of Seattle baseball. And he was instrumental in the building of Safeco Field, which opened in July 1999.
In 2001, the Mariners won a record 116 games. They won more than 90 games each of the next two seasons and made the playoffs four times with Armstrong in charge.
Of late, the organization has been dreadful, most notably in the five of the past six seasons. Seattle has finished an average of 25.5 games out of first place since the 2008 season.
Armstrong, 71, said the recent deaths of “several good friends” helped clarify the decision for him.
“Thirty years ago my family and I were given a wonderful opportunity to move to the Seattle area and become associated with the Seattle Mariners,” Armstrong said in a statement.
“We quickly grew to love this community and this team. Through all the good times and the not-so-good times on the field since 1984, the goal always has been to win the World Series. My only regret is that the entire region wasn’t able to enjoy a parade through the city to celebrate a world championship together.
“After much thought and reflection, it is now time for me to retire and enjoy as much time as possible with my wife, Susan, and our family. This was a very difficult, very personal decision, but I know in my heart that it’s time to turn the page and move to the next chapter of my life.”
Much of recent fan vitriol has been pointed toward Armstrong and Mariners Chief Executive Officer Howard Lincoln, who have been the common denominators during this spate of losing.
The Mariners again hired a new manager this offseason in McClendon, and Lincoln expressed his irritation when he sat down for a rare interview following 2013’s 91 losses.
“This was the most disappointing and frustrating season I’ve ever endured without any question,” Lincoln told The News Tribune.
Armstrong has been much more visible than Lincoln during his time with the team. He would come through the press box or clubhouse and say hello to just about anyone he crossed paths with.
Armstrong was brought to the Mariners in 1983 when George Argyros purchased the team after previously acting as Argyros’ general counsel.
Prior to his move to Seattle, Armstrong practiced law in Los Angeles before running two large businesses in Southern California.
He was let go as president when Argyros sold the team to Jeff Smulyan in 1989. Armstrong stayed in Seattle and worked as a consultant and interim athletic director at the University of Washington in 1991.
Senator Slade Gorton asked Armstrong to work with a group of local investors when the Mariners were put up for sale and possible relocation to Tampa Bay in 1991.
The Baseball Club of Seattle purchased the team in 1992 and named Armstrong president. He has held the title since.
“When the Baseball Club of Seattle purchased the franchise in 1992, it was clear that Chuck Armstrong was uniquely qualified to lead the organization,” Lincoln said in a statement.
“Since Day One, he has given his heart and soul to Mariners baseball. He sincerely cares about the game of baseball, this organization, this city and this region. On behalf of ownership and everyone who has worked here for the past 30 years, I thank Chuck for his tremendous contributions.”
Armstrong was also active in Major League Baseball at the national level, and is currently a board member of MLB Enterprises Inc., the Commissioner’s Special Committee for On-Field Matters, MLB’s International Committee and the Commissioner’s Ticketing Review Committee.
“I congratulate Chuck Armstrong, a great baseball man, on his upcoming retirement after 28 years of dedicated service to the Mariners franchise as club president,” Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said.
“Chuck was one of the key leaders who secured the national pastime’s future in the Pacific Northwest....”todd.dybas@ thenewstribune.com