Mariners, Dipoto push reset button
SEATTLE -- Two years ago, it was the Pittsburgh Pirates putting to rest a record-setting two decades of losing seasons, and, at the same time, advancing to the postseason for the first time since 1992.
A year ago, the Kansas City Royals ended a 29-year postseason drought, claimed the American League pennant, advancing to a World Series that the San Francisco Giants won in seven games.
This year, not only have the Toronto Blue Jays assured themselves of ending the longest current postseason drought, dating back to back-to-back World Series championships in 1992-93, but the Houston Astros are trying to clinch their first postseason berth in a decade having already ensured themselves of a winning season after a four-year stretch in which they lost 416 games.
Enter the Seattle Mariners.
A team that was a Spring Training favorite of many to blow through the AL West and into the postseason instead finds itself still searching for its first postseason appearance since 2001, the longest active drought among Major League teams.
And the natives -- including the folks who run the Mariners -- are restless.
Welcome to the Pacific Northwest, Jerry Dipoto.
Dipoto, who walked out in the midst of his contract as the general manager of the AL West-rival Angels in midseason, was hired to get the Mariners back on track Monday, taking over for Jack Zduriencik, who was dismissed one month ago.
And to think it was seven years ago next month that Zduriencik was hired to oversee the revitalization of the Mariners franchise, a surprise choice to many, who thought at that time Seattle was going to hire Dipoto.
It has been a challenging dozen seasons for the Mariners since Pat Gillick resigned as the team's general manager, having seen Seattle advance to the AL Championship Series twice in the four years he was in charge, including winning an AL record-tying 116 games in 2001, and a total of 393 regular-season games overall.
Under the guidance of Bill Bavasi and then Zduriencik, the Mariners had a winning record only three times in the last dozen years, had eight different men fill the managerial role, and finished in fourth place nine times.
That was supposed to be different this season. The Mariners were one of the trendy picks from coast to coast to enjoy a breakthrough season after battling for a postseason berth until the final week a year ago. With a rotation built around Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, and the promising Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, and a lineup in which Robinson Cano was given the additional protection of Nelson Cruz, there was every reason to believe Seattle was ready to take that next step, back into the postseason, this time around.
But the Mariners didn't. And Zduriencik paid the price.
They won the season-opening game against the Angels, but haven't been above .500 since. They did not have a winning record in any of the first five months of the season, and five weeks ago were a season-worst 11 games below .500.
In six years under Zduriencik, the Mariners had slipped back into the same pattern they suffered through during the Bavasi years, which opened the door for Dipoto to get his chance in the Pacific Northwest.
Smart people have a tendency to be better their second time around. This is Dipoto's opportunity to show that.
Yes, it was well documented that Dipoto had his problems with the power structure in Anaheim, where manager Mike Scioscia has a unique stature given not only his managerial tenure with the Halos, which included the only World Series championship in franchise history in 2002, but also his critical role as the catcher on those Dodgers teams that won four division titles and two World Series championships during his 13-year playing career.
Dipoto, however, is smart enough to know the malfunction with the Angels was just as much his fault as anyone's.
Being a general manager, after all, is more about managing people and making them feel a part of the process, getting them to buy into the overall plan than it is reading computer printouts.
The two best examples in modern times are Gillick and Braves president John Schuerholz.
Gillick had success as a general manager in Toronto and Philadelphia, as well as Seattle, and his trademark is that he took the staff that he inherited from his predecessors in Seattle and Philadelphia, and created an atmosphere that led to success after building the Blue Jays from an expansion team into a World Series champion. Schuerholz was a part of the front office that molded the Royals from an expansion team in 1969 to a postseason participant seven times in the decade from 1976-85, capped off by a World Series championship, and then, in 1991 assumed the general manager's job in Atlanta, where he replaced Bobby Cox, who moved into the role of manager.
The Braves won 14 division titles the next 15 years -- the lone exception coming in 1994 when an in-season strike forced cancellation of the final seven weeks of the regular season and the entire postseason.
Schuerholz had the ability to make sure Cox never felt ignored, keeping him actively involved in the decision process, and building one of the most impactful general manager/manager alignments the game will ever know.
They learned lessons along their way that made them effective leaders. They made mistakes, they just didn't repeat them.
Now Dipoto gets his chance to learn from his past and be better a second time around.