McClendon: Mariners ready to move forward
New skipper says club has 'tremendous' core in place, solid plan for future
SEATTLE -- Eight years removed from his first Major League managerial job with the Pirates, many fans remember Lloyd McClendon mostly from his reputation as a fiery skipper who made headlines and highlight clips from a 2001 incident in which he picked up first base and stalked back to the dugout with it after a disputed call with an umpire.
But the guy who was introduced Thursday as the new manager of the Mariners? He didn't want to spend a lot of time talking about blowing up at umpires, preferring instead to focus on what it will take to build up his team to compete in the American League West.
McClendon says he can be tough and emotional when necessary, but he sees more of a supportive role required when it comes to managing players.
"I think it all evolves around communication and making sure you talk with players on a daily basis, not only about baseball, but about life in general," McClendon said after his introductory news conference at Safeco Field. "Sometimes we forget they're human beings and there are things that bother them just like they bother you and I.
"You have to show some compassion and understanding, and you better be able to communicate with them. Because if you can't reach them, you won't be able to teach them."
As for McClendon's reputation as an emotional battler who will go to war for his players when needed?
"The fiery part, that takes care of itself," McClendon said. "I hope I don't have one incident with an umpire this year. That means they didn't blow any calls. But we all know that may not be the case."
So, yeah, the 54-year-old from Gary, Ind., will do what it takes, depending on the circumstances. McClendon grew up the youngest of nine boys in a family of 13, and life lessons started early.
"I got my butt kicked every day," he said with a grin. "It toughened me up."
You could say the same about managing the Bucs from 2001-05, smack in the middle of a 20-year run of losing seasons in Pittsburgh. McClendon scoffs at those who say that scenario prepared him for this new shot with the Mariners, who have had just two winning seasons in the last decade.
In McClendon's view, the Mariners are far closer to the situation he joined in Detroit as a coach in 2006, when the Tigers were coming off the same 71-91 record that Seattle just posted in Eric Wedge's final year, but then went to the World Series the following year after winning 95 games.
McClendon sees the building blocks in place, particularly on the pitching side of things. He doesn't hesitate when asked what he saw that convinced him the Mariners presented what he calls "a golden opportunity" for his managerial revival.
"Felix, Felix and Felix," he said. "C'mon, this guy is unbelievable. He's a tremendous asset for any organization, and what he does is awfully special. And when you can back it up with a guy like [Hisashi] Iwakuma, that's something to work with. And a kid named [Taijuan] Walker that is going to be pretty special, and [James] Paxton has a chance to be special.
"Pitching's the name of the game," McClendon said. "If they pitch well, you're going to love me and probably give me the keys to the city. And if they don't, you'll be kicking my butt out of town."
Of course, the Mariners have had good pitching over the recent years, but they have failed to support that group with adequate offense. And that happens to fall into McClendon's wheelhouse, as he was the hitting coach the past seven seasons in Detroit.
McClendon will hire a pitching coach and the rest of a new staff shortly. But he'll be fairly hands on as a manager in working with all his players, which means hitters will have an extra set of eyes and an experienced Major League outfielder leading the way.
"I think I know a little bit about hitting from my days in Detroit," he said. "We had three batting champions, two MVPs. I think I can help young hitters. I've had guys that have come along and gotten 200 hits and performed in All-Star Games. I'm not a neophyte when it comes to hitting."
McClendon is also no newcomer to the frustration Mariners fans have felt, having dealt with losing years in Pittsburgh before sharing the joy in Detroit as the Tigers turned things around and went to two World Series and four AL Championship Series during his eight years there.
"Sure, I understand," McClendon said. "I understand their pain. I've been there. We lost five years in a row in Pittsburgh, and when we got to Detroit, it was tough. Fans were very upset and had grown weary. But I'll tell them this: This is a golden age for the Mariners. We have a tremendous core group of players in place. This organization has a tremendous plan and it continues to move forward, and we'll continue to add pieces to get better, and I look for our players to take a tremendous step forward.
"I can't promise you how many wins we'll have. I liken it a lot to the team we had [in Detroit] in '06. We had no idea we were going to go to the World Series. We felt we could be competitive and take a step forward. But baseball is a funny game. I can tell you this: When you buy into it and buy into the team concept and you enjoy winning, funny things can happen. Who knows? Funny things might happen here, too."
McClendon is an interesting mix of dead serious and funny himself. He carries a quiet confidence and intensity that was evident from his first gathering with the media. But McClendon is not afraid to joke either, as evidenced by his answer to the question of what exactly happened to the base he famously yanked out of the ground and stormed into the dugout with during his 2001 tantrum with the Pirates.
"That first base is mine," he said. "I paid a lot of money for that bag."