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Published: Thursday, October 23, 2008, 12:01 a.m.

M's choose old-school for their GM

Seattle hires Brewers scouting director to take the helm, get franchise back on track

  • On Wednesday, the Seattle Mariners hired Milwaukee Brewers special assistant Jack Zduriencik (shown here in a June 3, 2008 file photo) as their new ge...

    Associated Press

    On Wednesday, the Seattle Mariners hired Milwaukee Brewers special assistant Jack Zduriencik (shown here in a June 3, 2008 file photo) as their new general manager.

SEATTLE -- Jack Zduriencik doesn't have a Harvard degree and he's not one of the young executives who've been fashionable hires recently at the top of baseball's front offices.
Instead, he's rooted in the old-school system of gauging a player's potential with his eyes and his instincts rather than depending heavily on computer spreadsheets and statistical analysis.
To the Seattle Mariners, he was the person best suited to turn around a team that lost 101 games and experienced personality clashes in the clubhouse this year.
The Mariners announced Wednesday that Zduriencik (pronounced zur-EN-sik), a 57-year-old former high school coach and current scouting director with the Milwaukee Brewers, is their new general manager.
He won the job over nine others who interviewed, including three finalists -- Jerry DiPoto of the Diamondbacks, Tony LaCava of the Blue Jays and Kim Ng of the Dodgers.
"In the end I think the Mariners picked the right guy," said longtime scout Butch Baccala, a national cross-checker with the Cincinnati Reds who has known Zduriencik for 15 years. "I got to watch the Mariners a lot this year, and I think Jack will make a difference. He has a tremendous eye for talent. He knows how to cut through all the BS that has happened there. He's had success wherever he's been and he knows how to pick players."
The Mariners received permission from baseball commissioner Bud Selig to announce the hiring on the first day of the World Series, but all parties involved won't be allowed to talk with reporters until Zduriencik is introduced at a news conference on Friday at Safeco Field.
"We believe Jack is the best person to provide a new approach and to lead our baseball operations," Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said in a team news release. "He has a proven track record of recognizing talent, both on the field and in the front office."
In the same news release, Zduriencik expressed confidence that he can turn around the Mariners.
"I believe that working together, we can make the Mariners a model franchise," he said. "I am looking forward to getting to work immediately, and developing a plan to reach our goal."
Zduriencik has worked 25 years in pro baseball with the Brewers, Mets, Dodgers and Pirates. He coached football and baseball at Clairton High School in Pittsburgh from 1977-80 and at Tarpon Springs (Fla.) High School from 1980-82. He also coached football and baseball at Austin Peay State University from 1975-77.
There seems no uncertainty about Zduriencik's ability to recognize talent. He was instrumental in drafting such Brewers stars as Prince Fielder, J.J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks and Ryan Braun, and last year he became the first non-GM to be named Baseball America's executive of the year.
The question is whether he can handle the administrative side of the GM job and make the right calls at the major league level.
Zduriencik is known as a personable man and an overall nice guy, but that doesn't make him incapable of tough decisions. His first duty is to hire a new manager and assemble his front-office staff, then sort through a Mariners roster that's mixed with talent and issues.
"I've seen him work and I think he would make tough calls," said Roger Jongewaard, the former long-time Mariners scouting director who now scouts for the Florida Marlins. "A lot of guys want to be nice guys and don't want to make tough calls, but I don't think that will be a problem with him. He realizes that his job is to make the best team possible."
Zduriencik must decide whether to make a run at free agent left fielder Raul Ibanez, who led the team with 110 RBI this year; find a productive center fielder and first baseman; and determine whether the Mariners should undergo a full-fledged rebuilding or tweak the current roster.
Can a nice guy do that?
"I wouldn't go so far as to say he's just a nice guy by any means," said Baccala, the Reds' scout. "He's very business-like and he lets his people work. But you know who the boss is. Jack's not afraid to make difficult decisions, that's for sure."
Despite Zduriencik's experience in building an organization from the minor league level, neither Jongewaard nor Baccala believes turning around the Mariners will be a long-term project.
"He's built farm systems wherever he's been and signed good players. I'm sure that'll be a big part of what he does," Baccala said. "But it's not a bad situation when you can start your pitching with Felix Hernandez, then go to Brandon Morrow, then to Ryan Rowland-Smith. That's a good problem to start with.
"Jack has been around a long time. He'll stick the right parts in there."
Read Kirby Arnold's blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com
Story tags » Mariners

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