The Mariners' roster is what sunk Wakamatsu, not his performance

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We’ve heard multiple reports of problems in Seattle this year, from Milton Bradley being Milton Bradley, to Ken Griffey’s sleeping, to Mike Sweeney’s belligerence to the public dustup between Don Wakamatsu and Chone Figgins.  Any of those things could be evidence of a team lacking authority or a manager lacking control. Any of those things could, in and of themselves, make the case for a manager being fired.

But we really have no idea what goes on in a major league clubhouse, so we really can’t say how much each of those incidents stood as evidence a problem with the manager if, indeed, they did at all.  Bradley, after all, has a history. Griffey had, after all, apparently lost his motivation. Sweeney was, after all, brought in to at least try to be a leader.  Maybe that was all inevitable.

What we know for certain, however, is that for all of the press General Manager Jack Zduriencik’s offseason moves got, they weren’t moves that did anything to make the team better, and that’s ultimately what sunk Don Wakamatsu and the Seattle Mariners.

The Mariners were famously inept on offense in 2009, and Jack Z. just didn’t bring in enough lumber to help out. Adrian Beltre left. Chone Figgins came in and has underperformed, but he’s been playing second base, not third, which means that there were other, unexpected holes. Bringing in Milton Bradley was a gamble and bringing in Casey Kotchman to fill the hole at first base went beyond optimism and ventured into the land of fantasy. While he’s been effective in spots this year, Mike
Sweeney really had no business breaking camp with a major league team, and the front office’s insistence on extending an offer to Ken Griffey Jr. was a function of desperation and denial.

Those were the cards Wakamatsu was dealt.  When they didn’t play coming out of spring training, rather than get new cards, the front office fired Mariners’ hitting coach Alan Cockrell.  As Geoff Baker noted a couple of weeks ago, that move set the mood for the remainder of the season, with the front office telling Wakamatsu that the pitiful 2010 Seattle Mariners were his problem and, if they didn’t do better, they would be his fault.

And now he has taken the fall.  He’s not a scapegoat as that phrase is commonly used — like I said above, there are many reasons to believe that he didn’t do everything he could to make a toxic situation any less toxic and ended up with a deeply divided clubhouse — but it’s simply not fair to say that the failure of the Seattle Mariners is all or even mostly Wakamatsu’s fault.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.