Five days after he was hired to provide some answers for the Seattle Mariners, Jerry Dipoto had a question.
“Do you know where the stairs are to get to the next level?” the general manager asked Sunday morning in the press box at Safeco Field, where the elevators were briefly shut down by a fire alarm.
Make what you will of that symbolism.
Dipoto can take his time familiarizing himself with his new home away from home, but other tasks — such as determining the status of manager Lloyd McClendon — require immediate attention.
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The final date of the 2015 schedule found McClendon’s mood as mixed as his two-season record in Seattle: pensive, proud, reflective, hopeful — both at peace with the job he did this season and disappointed his work didn’t translate into more victories.
Chatting in his office before the Mariners’ 3-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics, McClendon termed his self-esteem “great,” adding: “I look in the mirror every night and I know I gave everything I had every day.”
And yet, a moment later, he admitted how the stress of managing a team that failed to fulfill expectations has deprived him of sleep.
“I don’t know how many nights it will take to decompress,” McClendon said. “After 10 rounds of golf, maybe I’ll tell you.”
For what it’s worth, McClendon sure didn’t sound like somebody awaiting a messy split from the organization he once saw to be on the cusp of a “golden era.”
Echoing the remarks that Dipoto offered last week about the need to surround the heart-of-the-lineup-hitters with speed, McClendon acknowledged that the 2015 Mariners “didn’t have a lot of track guys out there. Next year, we need to get more athletic.”
Whether McClendon is part of the “we” next year figures to reveal much about Dipoto’s philosophy. If McClendon is invited back for a third year with the Mariners, it’s a sign the general manager will exercise patience and restraint as he implements his long-term blueprint.
And if McClendon is fired? It’s a sign the new boss will do some serious housecleaning.
I wish I had a strong opinion on McClendon’s body of work in Seattle, but his body of work discourages a strong opinion. He appeared to be the right man at the right time last season, when the Mariners went 87-75, contended into October, and seemed, all in all, to have a blast.
This season was a grind from Day One. Check that. Day One — which produced a 4-1 victory over the Los Angeles Angels — went swimmingly. It was the rest of the season that became a grind, a succession of slow and joyless slogs to push their record over .500.
The Mariners got close: They were 23-23 on May 27, only to lose nine of 11 at home. As recently as Sept. 22, all but eliminated from the wild-card race, they were 74-77. An inspired, late-September push to a winning record looked possible, and almost certainly would have sealed McClendon in the manager’s seat for next year.
But the Mariners went into another 2-9 funk during which they were dazed by an all-too-familiar combination punch: a starting rotation that was short-handed and a bullpen that was overmatched. When a team’s longest winning streak is five games, those 2-9 funks add up.
“Each and every season has a journey to it,” McClendon said. “It’s like I told the players, you’ll be better because of this. Sometimes when you’re on the verge of winning, most clubs take a step back. It’s unfortunate, but I think this club is in position to win going forward.”
Then again, this club was in position to win going forward on the final day of the 2014 season, when McClendon met with reporters after the conclusion of a bittersweet sweep of the Angels and talked of the Mariners’ transition from “hunters to the hunted.”
The hunters were hunted, to be sure, and were pretty much cooked by this year’s All-Star break.
I can understand Dipoto’s logic in staying the course with a manager who darn near pulled off a miracle last season, and I can understand Dipoto’s logic in making a clean break with a manager unable to achieve a modicum of momentum this season.
McClendon is a good guy who has paid his baseball dues. Whatever happens, I’m glad he’s content with the face he sees in the mirror before heading to bed for another sleep-deprived night.