NOBODY CAN SAY Mariner bosses weren't thorough in the search that resulted in tapping Wilford Brimley as the new field boss. Actually, that's not quite right. Brimley, of course, retired after getting a bench burr in his butt because of the happy ending Robert Redford insisted on for The Natural. ("Ain't what Bernard Malamud intended," Brimley is said to have muttered.)
That left the Seattle nine in the hands of former Arizona Diamondbacks bench coach Robert Paul (Bob) Melvin, but not until General Manager Pat Gillick, et al., had run the job description past every baseball-related being in Christendom. Some of the would-bes (Ron Roenicke, for example) weren't even entirely well-known to their own families, but the M's granted them face time. Indeed, just before naming Mervin, uh, Melvin, it is believed that Gillick was seen outside the Issaquah Krispy Kreme offering Lou Piniella's old job to the first person who would let him cut in line.
This is a terrific gig, after all. That's what we keep hearing, anyway, even though Lou concluded otherwise. Many of us married guys were somewhat perplexed (just kidding, Hon) with Piniella giving up a deal that let him be 5,000 miles from the missus eight-odd months of the year.
Anyway, we don't care. Randy, Griffey, A-Rod, Boeing, Dick McCormick, Dunkin Donuts, Lou: Let 'em walk. All the more traffic gridlock and sports mediocrity for the rest of us, right?
OR MAYBE NOT, as far as the mediocrity. All right, so this guy Melvin is untried as a big-league boss. So was Piniella 18 years and a thousand-odd wins ago. Look at what Melvin brings, after all, starting with:
*During all his 41 years, he's never lost a game as a big-league manager. Piniella lost 711 during his decade here.
*Melvin, to our knowledge, never tried to kick a base, cap, and/or umpire's shin in reaction to not liking the call, score, and/or umpire. Piniella, the Tasmanian Devil (now Devil Ray, heaven help him) of organized sports, periodically carried on in such a fashion that, had it been one of your Little Leaguers, you might have suggested that his parents seriously consider intensive counseling for the kid.
*Melvin is a former catcher, albeit about as talented at the position as Robert De Niro was in Bang the Drum Slowly. We all know catchers (suddenly angelic Mike Scioscia is the reigning example) make splendid managers—unless they happen to be associated with the Mariners. Del Crandall was 93-131; Rene Lachemann was 140-180.
*The new boss inherits a quality ballclub. Herein lies the key to the promise of Bob Melvin, who, by all accounts, knows the game the way Rick the Peanut Man knows a five spot. The '03 M's, as I write this (prior to news on the fates of free agents Jamie Moyer and John Olerud), are as solid as they were during that apex year of 2001. Ichiro will rest, eat his wife's rice balls, and return to hit closer to his customary .350, rather than the .321 he posted this year. If the M's keep him, Mike Cameron (Bill James and other stat rats will bet you) certainly will strike out fewer than the 176 times he struck out this year (Ichiro, Olerud, and Edgar Martinez combined for 197). Randy Winn, in his prime at 28, could be a productive, everyday left fielder, an elusive asset for the Mariners since the Phil Bradley years. If nothing else, the Tampa Bay All-Star (an oxymoron to rival "deafening silence") is better compensation for the loss of Piniella than the purported second prize: a year's supply of Tropicana orange juice.
The infield shouldn't be any worse than this season's. My dream (and it's only that) is that somehow we lose malingering shortstop Carlos Guillen, believing the great Miguel Tejada when he says he wants to play here. As for pitching, it will be fine if you like righties, and the emotion is unconditional love in the case of Joel "The Bulldog" Pineiro.
SO WHAT'S TO MANAGE? Gawd, Bob Uecker (actually a worse catcher than Bob Melvin) could take this club to the Series, were it not for at least eight other worthy contenders in the American League. Yeah, but that's why we follow the game. Who out there doesn't want Bob Melvin to become the reincarnation of Sparky Anderson (as a manager if not a grammarian)?
Anyway, Gillick insists Melvin is The Man. How can we question Gillick? Didn't he bring in Jeff "Sorehead" Cirillo, who hit like Barry Bonds at moon-atmosphere Coors Field, then crashed to sea level at Safeco? Didn't he see to it that Luis Ugueto commanded the 25th roster spot instead of giving it to somebody who actually plays baseball for a living? Sure, Gillick could have gone with the incongruous cheap-seat demand for the expensive Dusty Baker. Instead, the G.M. did it his way, reasoning: Why choose Sinatra when I could have my pick of the Osmond Brothers? That narrowed the field-boss choice to Melvin, Buddy Bell, Jim Riggleman, and Sam Perlozzo. (Wilford Brimley never figured.) When that's the bag, you pretty much grab and take what you get.
At least Bob Melvin is young compared with the also-rans. He should relate well with the team's shadow MVP, pitching coach Bryan Price. Together, maybe they'll post a bunch of wins to go with that no-loss record Melvin enjoys until at least next April.