The public response to the announcement Friday that Lloyd McClendon “will not be returning” to the Seattle Mariners amounted to a ho-hum shrug.
McClendon is out, and now let’s turn our attention to more urgent matters: Can the Seahawks do anything to solidify that awful offensive line? Can they figure out how to get the ball to quasi-tight end Jimmy Graham? How’s Marshawn Lynch?
Some of the indifference regarding McClendon’s departure was steeped in its inevitability. He was all but shown the door last week when new boss Jerry Dipoto suggested retaining McClendon would be akin to a marriage arranged from a thousand miles away.
Dipoto said nice things about McClendon, and McClendon said nice things about Dipoto, but as marriages ago, this one was destined to be as brief as Cher’s happily-ever-after life with Gregg Allman. They lasted nine days. McClendon and Dipoto got to 11.
It was nothing personal, which is precisely the point: If Dipoto had regarded McClendon as a trusted confidante, the skipper — the only Mariners manager other than Lou Piniella to win more games than he lost — is back for a third season.
But their philosophical differences were obvious. Dipoto approaches baseball as a maestro with sheet music, and McClendon plays it by ear. One had to go, and both knew what that meant.
So did Seattle area sports fans. The firing of a manager typically dominates the news-cycle discussion for a day or two, but the Mariners have made managerial transitions a biannual ritual that leads to callouses, tone-deafness and a general sense of who-the-heck cares.
Since relocating to Washington 24 years ago, I’ve heard 11 of these announcements, beginning with the termination of Jim Lefebvre. He led the Mariners to their first winning season — an 83-79 record in 1991 — but split a clubhouse. Next up was Bill Plummer, a third-base coach whose promotion to prime dugout seat turned out to be a train wreck.
Piniella provided a decade’s worth of stability, although that might depend on your definition of stability. Sandwiched between his four playoff teams were the 1998 Mariners, whose lineup included Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez and Jay Buhner. Hall-of-Fame pitcher Randy Johnson was set to anchor the starting rotation.
They finished 76-85.
Piniella, beset by a vague combination of restlessness, homesickness and frustration, quit after the 2002 season, giving the Mariners a chance to hire the bright-minded Bob Melvin. It appeared to be an inspired choice — Melvin’s 2003 team went 93-69 — but his 1994 team cratered to a 69-93 record when everybody got old at the same time, and he was out.
In retrospect, the worst mistake in the history of a franchise associated with a several of them was failing to show patience in Melvin. His firing begat a musical-chairs procession of managers: From Mike Hargrove (who packed his bags and drove away, in the middle of the 2007 season, with his team in contention), to John McLaren, to Jim Riggleman, to Don Wakamatsu, to Daren Brown, to Eric Wedge, to McClendon.
Six managers in eight years can explain why the announcement of McClendon’s firing sounded as hollow as that automated voice on a telephone telling you assistants are busy. A few minutes of “music” ensues — the kind of canned garbage heard in a pancake house during the 1960s — and then the automated voice returns, telling you assistants still are busy.
So now there will be another Mariners manager, and the likely choice is Tim Bogar, a former colleague of Dipoto who has won at every level. Appointed as the Texas Rangers’ interim manager when Ron Washington resigned last September, Bogar led the Rangers to a 14-8 record.
Small sample, to be sure, and September numbers are unreliable portents. But the 48-year-old Bogar has paid his dues, and seems deserving of a chance to show whether his .636 winning percentage in one month can be sustained over six months.
Whether it’s Bogar or somebody else, a comprehensive verdict on Jerry Dipoto’s first major front-office decision won’t be rendered in 2016. The next manager will need some time to get acquainted with the players, and the players will need some time to get acquainted with the manager.
May that time extend beyond more a season or two? Please?
As for Lloyd McClendon, I will always recall the way he smiled after a defeat. Baseball is meant to break hearts, the smile said. What else can you do but go on and believe in tomorrow?
Happy trails, Lloyd, and keep smiling. It’s a life skill that’ll come in handy for your successor, the ninth Mariners manager since 2004.