SEATTLE — I received an email a few weeks back from Zev Icyk, who described himself as a “26-year-old newly married rabbi” who wanted to throw his name into consideration for the Mariners’ managerial job.
Rabbi Icyk grew up in Toronto as a fanatical baseball fan, played college ball in the states, and seems to sincerely believe he’s the right man for the job despite an admitted lack of coaching experience.
“I am a rabbi who brings people together to accomplish a common goal,’’ he wrote. “I WILL turn the Mariners into a team that is feared to play against if given the opportunity.”
That arrived about the same time the story broke of Mariners contact with Lou Piniella, whom team president Chuck Armstrong called to inform he would be going into the team’s Hall of Fame. Piniella reportedly told Armstrong he thought he was calling about the managerial vacancy. Asked by Armstrong if he was interested, Piniella said he’d think about it.
While the Mariners insist they never put a “full-court press” on Piniella, as characterized by Fox’s Ken Rosenthal, the 70-year-old Piniella apparently did contemplate the notion overnight before telling the Mariners he had no interest.
In the large expanse between those two extremes — a young rabbi and a grizzled baseball lifer — the Mariners will soon come up with their new manager. They dived into the interviewing process Wednesday in Arizona when general manager Jack Zduriencik met with Oakland bench coach Chip Hale, a much-respected lieutenant to A’s manager Bob Melvin.
It’s a process Zduriencik should be well versed in by now, having hired his first manager, Don Wakamatsu, before the 2009 season, and when that didn’t take, giving it another whirl with Eric Wedge two years later. In fact, Hale was a Mariners finalist in 2008, and has drawn interest for other openings, most notably the Mets.
Zduriencik is in the process of whittling down his list, a process complicated by the World Series. He is believed to have interest in two Red Sox coaches — bench coach Torey Lovullo and third-base coach Brian Butterfield — but they won’t be available for interviews until the Series ends. Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo, who also interviewed with Zduriencik in 2008, is another potential reprise candidate.
It looks, therefore, like this search — running simultaneously with managerial pursuits by the Cubs, Nationals and Tigers, with potential candidate Bryan Price having been locked up by the Reds on Tuesday — will drift into November.
It is interesting to look at Zduriencik’s past parameters. The first time around, he went exclusively after candidates with no major-league managerial experience: Joey Cora, Randy Ready, Brad Mills and DeMarlo Hale in addition to Chip Hale, Oquendo and Wakamatsu.
The next time, after the 2010 season, only candidates who had managed in the majors were brought in: Bobby Valentine, Cecil Cooper, Lloyd McClendon and John Gibbons, in addition to Wedge.
Now I’d expect the pendulum to swing back toward the untested. Other names that have been mentioned include Cora (again), Giants bench coach Ron Wotus and Phillies third-base coach Pete Mackanin (who had a stint as Reds interim manager before Dusty Baker was hired).
Speaking of which, the sudden availability of the recently fired Baker has fostered much speculation from Mariners fans, mixed between those who scorn his anti-sabermetric bent and those who covet his track record.
I am an unapologetic Baker supporter, having covered his first few years with the Giants — including a 103-win debut season in 1993 — and witnessed firsthand his deft touch in handling diverse personalities. Certainly, he has some tendencies that warrant criticism, but the bottom line — three manager of the year awards plus three more runner-up finishes, one pennant, seven playoff appearances with three different teams — is noteworthy.
That said, and despite the fact that Baker has always expressed an interest in one day managing in Seattle, I would be surprised if the Mariners pursued him. They had no interest in 2003 when Baker was available, and willing, coming off a World Series appearance, and I don’t sense that stance has changed. We’ll see.
One thing that I’ve come to realize over the years is that there is no surefire blueprint for a successful manager. One World Series skipper, St. Louis’ Mike Matheny, had never managed a day anywhere before the Cardinals selected him two years ago. The other, Boston’s John Farrell, was a former pitching coach — a post once scorned as a managerial breeding ground — who had middling success in Toronto before proving to be a savior in Boston.
You can go young or old, experienced or raw, disciplinarian or “player’s manager,” sabermetric or old school, and still be unable to account for myriad mysterious, ineffable factors that will determine success or failure. And each category is fully capable of producing both.
In the Mariners’ case, the first and most important task at hand (and also the most elusive) is to find a way to eliminate the organizational dysfunction — and no other word can be used to describe the situation after Wedge chose to walk away.
Take care of that, and their latest new manager might have a fighting chance to succeed. If it’s still festering, they’ll be going through this exercise again in the not-too-distant future.