John McGrath

John McGrath: Stanton didn’t get applause and he won’t get any mulligans

John Stanton, who would become the Seattle Mariners' chairman and chief executive officer, speaks with media members following a news conference Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Seattle.
John Stanton, who would become the Seattle Mariners' chairman and chief executive officer, speaks with media members following a news conference Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Seattle. AP

Upon his introduction as the new face of the Seattle Mariners’ ownership group, John Stanton proceeded on a hunch.

“I suspect a lot of you are wondering,” said Stanton, “ ‘Who the heck is John Stanton?’ 

Actually, I was wondering why Donald Trump chose to take time off from his busy campaign schedule for a press conference announcing Howard Lincoln’s plans to retire as Mariners chief executive officer. There were moments Wednesday, when Stanton turned his head, he could have passed as Trump’s twin.

But while Trump aspires to the boss of the free world, Stanton will be content to let team president Kevin Mather handle the Mariners’ day-to-day business operations while general manager Jerry Dipoto oversees the roster. Still, Stanton’s new job title — designated “Major League Baseball Control Person” for the Mariners — means he’ll take the blame when things go bad and more or less be an afterthought when things go well.

That’s how it went for Lincoln, whose role in keeping big-league baseball in Seattle has been overshadowed by a 14-year playoff drought distinguished by more managerial changes (nine) than winning seasons (five).

“I would have liked a few mulligans along the way,” said Lincoln, a key figure in the ownership group that bought the Mariners from Jeff Smulyan in 1992. “But I very feel proud of the fact I played a part in saving the Mariners in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.”

Under Lincoln’s leadership, the Mariners’ value has increased to $1.4 billion, or almost $1.3 billion more than the last time they were sold. But for fans, the only bottom line that counts is winning percentage, a reality that Lincoln knows and Stanton soon will discover.

“Howard told me you guys would applaud when the announcement was made,” Stanton told a group of reporters, “and that would be the only applause I’d ever get. And I didn’t even get that.”

Stanton became a billionaire from the wireless communication industry, but as the Seattle native pointed out more than once Wednesday, he’s long been interested in sports in general and baseball in particular.

He’s among the owners of two summer college-league teams — the Walla Walla Sweets and Yakima Valley Pippins — and has a minority stake in the Tacoma Rainiers.

“My real dream was to play center field, but that evaporated when I was 14 and got cut from my junior high team,” he said. “My two sons like to tell me I lettered in debate in high school and college, not in baseball.”

Speaking of debate: The Mariners’ organization has made no secret of its dismay with Chris Hansen’s proposal for a basketball-hockey arena directly south of Safeco Field. And though Stanton is a former SuperSonics ball boy who was among the team’s owners opposed to the sale responsible for their relocation to Oklahoma City, the tone he took Wednesday on the arena issue did not suggest that of a diplomat.

“If you own a house and somebody wants to build a big ugly house right at the end of your driveway — that might just block your driveway — you’ve got a right to express an opinion,” Stanton said. “The notion that somehow, because we expressed that opinion, that means we’re against the NBA is absurd.”

The “big ugly house” reference figures to be Stanton’s last word on the arena controversy for awhile. Because the transition from Nintendo of America to First Avenue Entertainment must be approved by a vote of major league owners, Stanton will be all but invisible until they convene in August for their summer meetings.

In the meantime, Stanton gets more than three months to make the conversion from wireless communications magnate to organizational point man for the Seattle Mariners.

“I enjoy the fact I live in a community where an awful lot of people have had success in different fields. I see Jeff Bezos at the grocery store periodically,” said Stanton, referring to the founder and CEO of Amazon.com. “I run into into the founders of Microsoft playing tennis. This is a career, I think, where you can lead a relatively normal life, and I’m going to try and do that.”

I wish him well but can offer little advice, other than not to let the message boards get him down on those inevitable mornings he is held responsible for his team’s poor play the previous night.

Oh, and don’t expect any mulligans.

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