Believe it or not, you and Howard Lincoln share one thing in common.
Apparently, the grief of a 71-91 Mariners season unites us all.
“I think this has been the most frustrating season that I’ve experienced,” the Mariners chairman and CEO said Tuesday afternoon during a wide-ranging, 55-minute interview. “And the reason why is I thought we did a lot of good things in the offseason. When we got to spring training, the way we played in spring training was really encouraging. I think everyone in the organization that saw those games, and I certainly saw all of them, was really encouraged. And so, for whatever reason — injuries, or this or that, the vagaries of the game — it’s been a very, very frustrating season.
“We all had really high expectations, which I think were justified. So this season has got to go down as the most frustrating because everyone in the organization desperately wants to turn this thing around, desperately wants to win. It’s just been agonizing when we’ve had these losses.”
For Lincoln, the agony extended to many areas. Poor on-field performance. Public ridicule. The death of Mariners owner and Nintendo visionary Hiroshi Yamauchi. And over the past week, the bizarre and bitter departure of manager Eric Wedge to put a rotten cherry atop a woeful season.
Lincoln knows there is nothing he can say to pacify enraged fans. He knows the franchise is running out of time before anger turns to apathy. He knows that there are frequent and vociferous demands for him and president Chuck Armstrong to be fired. But despite 12 years out of the playoffs and four 90-loss campaigns in the past six seasons, Lincoln is determined, not defeated.
The Mariners will remain committed to their youth-centric rebuilding plan, Lincoln says. He vows the organization will spend the money that general manager Jack Zduriencik needs to make this ballclub complete. And he rejects the idea that the Wedge fiasco, not to mention that Jack Z is operating with only one year remaining on his contract, will hinder the Mariners’ ability to attract a manager capable of making the ballclub a winner again.
Stubborn? Or steadfast?
Because Lincoln has rarely spoken at length in recent years, this column won’t be as opinionated as usual. It’s important for you to hear from Lincoln on a variety of issues and judge him for yourself. So I’ll be a guide, not a conscience, this time.
At times, Lincoln was dismissive.
When asked if he was concerned about finding another manager after Wedge left the franchise feeling confused and a little betrayed, Lincoln said: “No, I’m really not. Quite frankly, the resumes are coming in at a fast pace. There are only 30 of these jobs in the world.”
At times, Lincoln was empathetic.
When asked about the eroding fan patience, he said: “I’m very concerned because I’m a fan, too. I’m as frustrated as all of our fans, and I know their patience is running out.”
At times, Lincoln was more transparent than normal.
He reiterated that “at the present time” there are no plans for Nintendo of America to sell its majority interest in the Mariners. In 2004, Yamauchi transferred control of his shares to the Redmond-based company for estate-planning purposes. Yamauchi continued to have a final say in franchise matters, but his death won’t change the Mariners’ organizational structure.
Lincoln explained how Nintendo of America operates as the majority owner: “There are three directors of Nintendo of America — Mr. (Satoru) Iwata, who is also the CEO of Nintendo Co. Limited of Kyoto, Japan, the parent company; Mr. (Tatsumi) Kimishima, who is the former CEO of Nintendo of America, who’s now the No. 2 executive in Nintendo Co. Limited in Kyoto; and myself. So, those three people will make decisions for Nintendo of America.”
In addition, Minoru Arakawa, Yamauchi’s son-in-law and the founder and former president of Nintendo of America, is on the Mariners’ board of directors.
Lincoln disputes the notion that the organization isn’t nimble enough to make major decisions quickly. He mentions Felix Hernandez’s $175 million extension as evidence. But the Mariners have much to prove before anyone will consider the organization anything other than an odd, exasperating mystery.
Wedge’s departure won’t help. He quit last week after feeling that the Mariners had left him “hanging out there.” Lincoln backed up Zduriencik’s claim that the franchise always intended to bring back their manager.
“I just think Eric made a decision to move on to greener pastures,” Lincoln said. “It’s as simple as that. I think we did everything we could, in what I think was an orderly process, and I think, unfortunately, he got the cart before the horse. I don’t think it’s realistic to think we can talk about contract extensions before we talk about performance.
“But having said that, I think very highly of Eric’s ability and our expectation was that Eric would continue on, that we would enter into a contract extension, that we would be looking at Eric continuing on as our manager. And I’m very disappointed and surprised that’s not the case. Surprised, because when I met with Eric in my office, in early September, he was, as he put it, all in. So, there’s not much more I can say about that.”
Lincoln can say that, overall, he’s happy with Zduriencik. He says the general manager has done great work in the amateur draft and scouting overall, and Lincoln is pleased the farm system has gone from one of baseball’s worst to one of its best during Zduriencik’s five years.
But, he says, Zduriencik must put together a better major-league roster as he enters his sixth season. Lincoln wouldn’t say whether the Mariners might look to extend Zduriencik’s contract this offseason, like they did in adding another year last fall. He only said that, if Zduriencik is doing good work, he will have a job. Stability comes with performance, not a contract, Lincoln says.
Which brings us to his infamous “hot seat” comment from seven years ago. He put himself on the hot seat in 2006, but even though the Mariners haven’t made the playoffs during that span, he remains the team chairman and CEO. Lincoln regrets the old comment and knows it will always come back to haunt him. He jokes that he should be on the “super hot seat” now.
But if you expect the 73-year-old Lincoln to walk away, he won’t. He intends to be around when the Mariners are good again.
“I recognize that we have made mistakes,” Lincoln said. “I’ve made mistakes. Jack’s made mistakes. Chuck’s made mistakes. I’m fully cognizant of that.
“But I am determined to get this thing turned around before I go to my grave.”