If there is one sure (and perhaps unfair) way to get fired as a manager, it’s to have a team massively overachieve one season and then underachieve the next. Bob Melvin fell victim to his in Arizona, after the Diamondbacks made it to the NLCS in 2007. Willie Randolph felt the heat when the Mets disappointed after their NLCS run in 2006. And this is exactly what happened to the Mariners between 2009 and 2010, and it’s exactly why Don Wakamatsu was fired. Overachieving creates unrealistic expectations for the future — this is why you should never work hard at anything.
Before serving as manager of the Mariners from 2009-2010, Wakamatsu began his coaching career in the minor league systems of both the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Los Angeles Angels, managing at the Single-A and Double-A levels between 1997-2000. He spent 2001-02 as a roving catching instructor for the Angels before becoming the Texas Rangers hitting coach in 2003. Wakamatsu spent five seasons on the Rangers coaching staff, the hitting coach for four seasons and third base coach for one. He then spent a season as the Oakland Athletics bench coach in 2008, before taking the Seattle gig. Wakamatsu has already been named the Toronto Blue Jays bench coach for 2011, but will reportedly still interview for the Mets job. This scores him a 54 on the managerial experience scale, near the low end for someone with experience managing at the major league level.
Wakamatsu spent twelve seasons catching, including all of 18 games with the Chicago White Sox in 1991, his only time spent in the majors. Wakamatsu played in the minor league systems of seven teams, batting .258, walking a little bit but having almost no power. He had two decent years for the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate in 1992 and 1993, posting .812 and .917 OPS respectively in part-time duty. His 18 games with the White Sox earned him minus-0.1 wins above replacement.
As a manager of the game, Wakamatsu was middling in Seattle. He loved to call for bunts — the 2009 Mariners led the AL in sacrifice hits — but he also stayed away from intentional walks — the 2009 Mariners were last in issuing IBB. His teams were average in terms of stealing bases. Wakamatsu has said he likes the idea of a set lineup and defined roles for his pitchers, but tinkered often with his struggling offense. He went through all of 2009 without being ejected, but was thrown out of three games in 2010. Wakamatsu gets a tentative 6 on the managerial strategy scale, but just under two seasons with a terrible offense isn’t a lot to base it on.
As a manager of personalities, after an impressive 2009, Wakamatsu appeared to lose the Mariners clubhouse in 2010. The benching of designated napper Ken Griffey Jr. did not go over well. Second baseman Chone Figgins got into an in-game, in-dugout physical confrontation with Wakamatsu that was caught on camera. Players grumbled to the press, and Mets-esque communication problems seemed to surround the entire organization. As a second year manager, he was put in the difficult situation of having to tell one of the game’s icons it was time to hang them up. Things just didn’t work out, and the players appeared to turn on him because of it. Wakamatsu was saddled with a terrible team and a poor mix of personalities. He was made the scapegoat for the Mariners struggles, but he didn’t help himself, either.
Managerial Odds: 12 to 1. Big league experience and time spent as both a hitting coach and catching instructor are pluses for the possibly rebuilding Mets, but things ended poorly in Seattle. Wakamatsu will get another job managing someday, but it might be better if spends a year or two as a bench coach so that everyone can forget about the Mariners miserable 2010.
For more on Wakamatsu, check out SNY’s Ted Berg and Lookout Landing’s Jeff Sullivan on “The Baseball Show” yesterday. (Ted beat me to the Fozie Bear reference. )