Since opening day, though, this Seattle team has taken on the personality of its second-year manager Bob Melvin, a class baseball man that lacks any semblance of fire or passion. Whether he has the passion isn’t a question – losing kills Melvin – but his inability to show it and bring it out of his players on a nightly basis is what will ultimately spell the end of his short tenure in Seattle.
It really is a shame, for several reasons.
Melvin probably shouldn’t have gotten the job in the first place, having had no previous managing experience in the big leagues. While he was Bob Brenly’s right-hand man as a bench coach on the championship Arizona Diamondbacks team in 2001, Melvin had never taken on the full responsibilities that come with managing a big league team – managing a pitching staff, finding a consistent lineup, handling media interview requests after each game.
When Dusty Baker was available following the 2002 season, a manager most consider one of the best in the game today, the Mariners never even offered him an interview. Baker’s repeated disagreements with ownership in San Francisco reminded the M’s brass too much of their own complications with Lou Piniella that ultimately led to Sweet Lou’s departure for Tampa. Instead, the M’s brought in a bunch of candidates like Melvin who wouldn’t ruffle too many feathers.
In the end, it was Melvin, the well-spoken nice guy who won out; not exactly the kind of name you’d expect a team one-year removed from a record 116-win season to bring in as the new guy to run the show.
From the beginning, it wasn’t a match, though a 93-win season in 2003 masked the inevitable. Even when winning in 2003, Melvin admitted he was still learning how to become a manager, still trying to put his own stamp on the team. Given that chance this season, his stamp has led to a 60-96 record with six games left in the season. In fact, the M’s need to win three of their remaining games to avoid the woeful 100-loss mark.
Has Melvin been very unfortunate due to a rash of injuries and a falloff in production from a slew of players? Undoubtedly. Just look at some of these numbers from last year to this year:
2003 - .294, 35 HR, 117 RBI
2004 - .253, 23 HR, 79 RBI
2003 – 1.48 ERA
2004 – 5.24 ERA
2003 - .294, 24 HR, 98 RBI
2004 - .269, 12 HR, 61 RBI
2003 - .265, 16 HR, 83 RBI
2004 - .215, 10 HR, 40 RBI
2003 – 11-13, 3.57 ERA
2004 – 4-16, 5.03 ERA
2003 – 15-13, 4.59 ERA
2004 – 6-6, 5.17 ERA
2003 – 21-7, 3.27 ERA
2004 – 7-12, 5.07 ERA
Add to that season-ending injuries to Rafael Soriano, one of the most dominating relievers in baseball in 2003, Eddie Guardado, one of the game’s top closers, the late season loss of Joel Pineiro due to an elbow injury and the midseason trade of staff ace Freddy Garcia, and the evidence shows Melvin isn't all to blame.
But when these factors came crashing down, wouldn’t it have been nice to have had a more experienced manager, someone like Baker perhaps, who might have been able to handle things better.
Once the momentum got turned the wrong way, it seemed to build rather than decrease. And in this area, Melvin didn’t help himself.
Take last week for example, when Ryan Franklin nailed Anaheim’s Vladimir Guerrero in the head on a 0-2 fastball. After being warned by the home plate umpire, Franklin became unhappy, having clearly not been intentionally throwing at Guerrero. Then, to compound matters, Angels’ manager Mike Scoscia came out of the dugout and openly pointed and screamed at Franklin. Franklin, restrained by Jolbert Cabrera, needed more than just someone to hold him back. He needed a manager to take his back, to yell back at Scoscia, to let it be known this wasn’t okay to do to his starting pitcher. Melvin, instead, remained in the M’s dugout while Franklin took the heat.
With a week left in this dreadful season, it’s increasingly clearer by the day that someone has to take the fall for the M’s performance, and in this case as is usually the scenario that plays out in the majors, it’s the manager that needs to take the fall.
Someone like Melvin would have been a great fit for a young up-and-coming team only a year or two away from competing with the big boys, but in Seattle, where the nucleus of the team was all 30-and-older, it was a hiring destined to fail. And now, ironically enough, Seattle will enter 2005 with a much younger looking team more suited for someone like Bob Melvin.
In this case, though, it’s too late for both Melvin and the Mariners, and it’s time for a change.