I have always questioned how pertinent the role of a major league skipper is. Outside of being a game manager, how much influence do they truly have on the dynamics of a clubhouse? Can a truly horrible manager just be blessed with really great players and win a ton of games and get all the credit? Or have really bad players and get blamed for everything? Are skippers just glorified scapegoats for a team’s front office?
The Mariners have had their share of managers since 2001: Don Wakamatsu (lol), Bob Melvin (sorry man), Eric Wedge (hahahaha oh boy oh boy), Mike Hargrove, JOHN MCLAREN (to be honest I almost forgot about those last two)… All there with the intent of fulfilling the promise of getting this team to the playoffs. Increasingly over the years that playoff expectation has been the make or break element that determines a skipper’s success in Seattle.
Since no Mariners team since 2001 has made it past the regular season, no manager really has either. In 2001 the Mariners skipper was an
angrygentleman by the name of Louis Victor “Sweet Lou” Piniella. You may have heard him (that is not a typo, the man is quite loud). Over his years in Seattle he managed some of the most recognizable names in Mariners club history: Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Jaime Moyer, Randy Johnson, Ichiro… just to name a few among the absolute greats. He was inducted into the Mariners HOF last August. To Mariners fans, he is the only example of a manager that has produced a dependable, winning club. Because of that, we as fans always seem to find ourselves comparing some aspect of every other Mariners manager (since Lou) to Lou. Who can blame us? As human beings, it’s natural to want to hold on to the good stuff life throws us, and forget the bad as quickly as possible. Like I mentioned last week, us Mariners fans have a pesky little habit of compartmentalizing the bad memories and using the sporadic good moments to help us reason our alliance to the team. The Lou Piniella era is a prime (or only) example of those good memories that we as fans, tend to lean on.
Here in 2015, under the command of new general manager Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners have decided to let go of their sixth manager since 2002 (not counting Jim Riggleman or Daren Brown who served interim). Lloyd McClendon, in my opinion, was the closest thing to Lou we had seen in the clubhouse. While Lloyd was not as emotional as Lou (because no one is), there were flashes of that base-throwing, dirt-kicking, hat-tossing man that we all know and love in a lot of Lloyd’s actions. Win or lose, he was blunt, he was real and there was always fight in him. If you will, take a look back to the red-faced Eric Wedge era. I cannot think of one memorable time when players seemed to like him or when he would fight an ump for a call. It’s unfair to say that all managers in between Lou and Lloyd didn’t like the team, but there is a notable difference in Lou and Lloyd’s passion for the sport and the team.
(In this video Lou and Lloyd were featured as managers for different teams, but I chose it because it featured the both of them. It’s very easy to compare their first managing styles when you can see both together.)
I will never fully understand what it takes to be considered a “good” clubhouse manager in MLB. Do you just know your matchups well? Do your players actually like and listen to you? I don’t know if I would ever be able to answer these questions without being in the situation myself. What I do know is that Lou Piniella was one and will always be one of the best. He yelled, he screamed, he picked up bases out of the ground and threw them to prove his point. He cared. Lloyd McClendon was the best manager the Mariners have had since Lou. He yelled, he screamed and threw his hat in an ump’s face a time or two (he’s also been know to pick up base and carry it back to the dugout). He cared.
There is no possible way to determine if Lloyd would have led the 2016 Mariners to the elusive promise land of playoff baseball. From his time with the Mariners, I’m confident that Lloyd always put what he felt to be his best men on the field everyday for 162 games a season. I cannot hate (nor should anyone) the man for that. He did what he could with what he was given, but in the end baseball is a business. Wins are the ultimate currency, and when you don’t get wins… Changes are made.
Here’s to finding a manager that will use the platform Lloyd left and care about his players and his team in a way that I haven’t seen a manager do since the days of Lou Piniella. Here’s to a manager that will do great things. A manager that will help Seattle fall in love with baseball again. A manager that will have as much confidence in this team that I do, and most importantly a manager that will truly make 2001 (and ‘95 and every manager in between) truly something of the past. Buckle up Mariners fans, we’re in for a new ride.
We’ll miss ya Lloyd. Happy offseason.