Lloyd McClendon is the Mariners' new manager. (AP)
A couple weeks ago, a former manager who would have been a reasonable choice to run another team was asked if he had any interest in returning to the dugout.
"I don't need that crap," he spat.
A week later, another former manager was asked the same thing. He said he was more than satisfied in television, where there is no lineup to post, and therefore no lineup to have summarily and publicly dismantled over the next four hours, as though the difference between 75 wins and a parade was who hits sixth.
Aye, but these are the happy days. In Seattle and Chicago, in Washington D.C., and Detroit and Cincinnati, they come by town car. When they're done, they generally leave by forklift. But that day is forever away, or surely hundreds of games away, and a multi-million-dollar contract away after years of squabbling over another ten grand.
Today, they are bright, charismatic leaders who've paid their dues and studied well under thoughtful baseball men. Today they stress fundamentals and sound baserunning and pitching and defense. Today they answer every question with a smile and greet every person with a warm handshake, because they are the walking, talking solution to whatever went on here before. Except in Chicago, where there is no solution.
Tomorrow? Well, tomorrow there's a lineup to post, and a diva to soothe, and a crazy-ass Internet report to douse, and enough in-clubhouse eye rolls to wear because, remember, in that clubhouse it's never, ever the player's fault no matter what the batting average says.
So Lloyd McClendon on Thursday wore a nice suit, a white shirt, and a patterned blue tie that had some elements of Seattle Mariners colors in it. He looked good. He said smart things. He said the young Mariners would get better because "they're starting to get their man muscles." He laughed easily, because at 0-0 it's so easy to laugh. Between questions he shuffled and aligned a few 3-by-5 cards that held his opening remarks, perhaps calmed by the last time he'd be allowed a script. In the 36-year history of the organization, there'd been 15 other news conferences just like this. McClendon is the seventh guy, including interims, in seven years.
"Look," he said, "when you don't win, when you don't succeed, changes are going to be made. That's the way it is. That's the nature of this business. And I fully accept that. I fully understand that. I'm ready for the challenge. … I think I'm in the right place at the right time."
They all are, of course, on the first day.
By the first week in November, every top step in the game is filled – McClendon in Seattle, Brad Ausmus in Detroit, Matt Williams in D.C., Bryan Price in Cincinnati and Rick Renteria in Chicago. Also, Ryne Sandberg did a swell enough job over 42 games in Philadelphia that he'll be back, and Don Mattingly survived one of the more unique post-season news conferences, so he'll return, likely with a couple more years on his contract.
Williams, Ausmus, Renteria and Price have not done this before in the major leagues, and Ausmus and Price have not managed at any level, and Williams' only time as a manager was in the Arizona Fall League. What that means, exactly: probably nothing.
It mattered little in St. Louis, where Mike Matheny replaced Tony La Russa, won 88 games with a team that lost Albert Pujols to free agency in his first season, and took the Cardinals to the World Series in his second. Robin Ventura was a high school pitching coach in Central California when he took over the Chicago White Sox and won 85 games in his first season before the roof caved in in the second. Walt Weiss, another neophyte, won 10 more games in 2013 than the Colorado Rockies had in 2012.
The recent retirements of La Russa, Joe Torre, Bobby Cox and Jim Leyland means there is not an active manager in the top 20 in all-time wins. (Bruce Bochy is 21st.) There is no active manager who has taken his team to the postseason more than six times. (Cox, Torre, La Russa and Leyland combined for 53 postseason appearances.)
And 18 current managers are in their first managerial job. From Ausmus, Williams, Price and Renteria at zero games to Mike Scioscia at 2,268 games, they've come and, so far, they've stayed. That's not to say there hasn't been turnover. There has. But, in spite of appearances, the average age of major-league managers actually has risen. Today, it is 52.5 years. Ten years ago, it was 51.4 years. Twenty years ago, when Sparky Anderson, Dallas Green and Tommy Lasorda were pushing or past 60, the average age was 48.7, primarily, perhaps, because Buck Showalter was 37, which is amazing, because it's hard to believe Buck Showalter was ever 37.
But he was, and he's sat behind those daises, and he's been quite resolute. There's not a man among them who wouldn't yearn to be the next La Russa, or Torre, or Cox, or even Leyland. Maybe he's not out there today, maybe Bochy already is gaining on it, and maybe he was hired over the past week.
When you watch a news conference on television and it all seems so hopeful, however, you can't help but wonder if it's all downhill from here.
Up there with the GM beside him and zero losses behind him, McClendon grinned.
"I think this is a golden opportunity for me and this is a golden time for the Seattle Mariners," he said.
One bit of advice: Stay away from the forklift.
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