Of all of the decisions Jack Zduriencik has to make this offseason, the most important will be choosing a manager. The organization cannot continue to change managers every two years or less. Stability is needed with both the manager and his staff. This is a decision Zduriencik cannot afford to get wrong.
"We talk about it every day," he said. "We are still in the process of accumulating names. My ears are wide open. Obviously I have an idea of what we are looking for. It is always on my mind but the process has to run its course."
Despite the competition for managers this year, do not look for a move to be made soon. There are candidates on other teams and the season will have to end and permission to talk to them will have to be granted before any interview can be held. For now, Zduriencik is formulating criteria for what he is looking for in a skipper. He will pass this on to Chuck Armstrong and Howard Lincoln with at least the former most likely to sit in on interviews but do so fully versed in what Zduriencik's vision is for the Mariners next manager. While not one ever to say never, Zduriencik is fairly confident experience will be at the top of his list of wants.
"If I had to make a decision today I would lean towards someone with experience, but you have to let the process unfold," he said. "I don't want to box myself in and say that is absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt what has to be because I do think you would limit yourself. But I do think that is the criteria we start with."
Zduriencik is looking for a leader above all else. I asked if he was a believer of veteran leadership in the clubhouse. He feels that leadership ultimately needs to come from above.
"I have always said this, that I think the leader of the clubhouse is the manager," he said. "The manager sets the tone. He can get great assistance from players and they can do wonders for him but that manager has got to set the tone from day one. He is in charge of that clubhouse. These players play for him. They don't play for another player on the team. The manager sets the tone. Players play for the manager. The manager is responsible for what happens in the clubhouse and he is responsible for what happens on the field. To have players that might be on your club that have leadership ability, that is wonderful because they can be a great aid to the manager. But at the end of the day the manager sets the tone."
This is very interesting considering what happened in that clubhouse this year. I think Don Wakamatsu had a shot at setting the tone, of having the players play for him if he had only had the conversation with Ken Griffey Jr.
Some have said that a move involving a player of Griffey's stature isn't something a second year manager should have been left to make. To tell him he was not going to play, to sit him down. I disagree because the manager is the manager. He sits in the chair, he is responsible, he must do the communicating if he wants the rest of the clubhouse to respect him regardless of who the player is. I interviewed new pitching coach Carl Willis a couple of weeks ago and asked him about one of his former teams, the '91 Minnesota Twins, which won the World Series that year. I asked what made Tom Kelly such a good manager and he told me that along with the relationships he had with his players he enlisted the help of Kirby Puckett.
"Kirby Puckett policed the clubhouse, but more importantly he played the game the right way and if ever anything didn't happen correctly with Puck, TK wasn't afraid to call him out," Willis said.
I will never understand why Wakamatsu was afraid to have the conversation with Griffey. Not the "we are sitting you down" one but the "we need to move you down in the order" conversation that Wakamatsu was thinking of weeks before "Sleepgate" erupted. He told me this after a game in Kansas City near the end of April. It made no sense to me that he even thought this would be a problem. He said he was afraid he would lose Griffey if he moved him down. I couldn't see that and I told Wakamatsu so. Griffey wanted to be a part of a team. While it might have stung a little being moved down, nothing he had done since coming back indicated that this would be a problem. He backed his manager fully the previous year. He had a great relationship with him. Towards the end of last year Junior photoshopped himself into a Wakamatsu family photo and placed it on his desk. Wakamatsu asked Griffey to sign one of his candy bars during the final week of the season. Junior even stopped by one of Wakamatsu's sons' football games in the offseason when he was in Dallas to see the Cowboys play. They had a great relationship. It is a shame that Wakamatsu couldn't find a way to have that conversation. I truly believe it would have made any further conversation about Griffey's future easier.
When you talk to players about what they most want in a manager, communication is always first and foremost. Just tell me where I stand. When you talk to players who have had managers they would run through a brick wall for they always say it was the communication and the honesty that made them want to do that. They may not hear what the want to hear but in a game so fickle – a game where you can be in the lineup one day, out of it the next and without a team shortly after that – it is important to know where you stand and what you may be doing wrong. Does this communication improve with experience? Tough to say. But experience brings a track record and if Zduriencik does his due diligence he should be able to get a better picture of how this person inspires.