SEATTLE — Jack Zduriencik grew up in western Pennsylvania. During summer vacations in college he would follow his father into the steel mill just across the state line in Youngstown, Ohio, as many sons in that proud, blue-collar region did four decades ago.
So what would his rugged dad, who died in 1993, say if he could see his son now — as the new general manager of the Seattle Mariners?
“You better win, Jack!” Zduriencik chuckled Friday.
Yes, and his boy had better grab his hard hat.
The 57-year-old Zduriencik (Zur-EN’-sik), renowned for shrewd scouting and drafting, is inheriting the first team in major league history with a $100 million payroll to lose 100 games. The former special assistant to Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin is going from a playoff team to a sunken franchise.
“It’s a challenge,” said Zduriencik, who coached football and baseball at a high school outside Pittsburgh and collegiately at Austin Peay. “I’m a 24-7 guy. I am to a certain degree no-nonsense. I like decisions.”
He’s come to the right place.
Zduriencik has to decide soon on a manager and what to do about 36-year-old Raul Ibanez, who led the Mariners with 110 RBI this season and is eligible for free agency. He also has to overhaul a team that finished 61-101 after entering the year with postseason aspirations.
Other than that, he won’t be doing much in his new job.
“I hope my wife finds us a nice place to live out here,” he said, laughing about the amount of work ahead of him.
Zduriencik said he wants to choose a manager soon, but did not give a timeline. He received hundred of calls and e-mails from potential candidates and others offering recommendations after he got the Seattle job on Wednesday.
He said Ned Yost, a “great friend” suddenly fired as the Brewers manager last month, and former Seattle interim manager Jim Riggleman are two candidates.
“I have a great relationship with Ned. Ned did a nice job for us … basically raising these young kids,” Zduriencik said. “I’ve known him. I’ve worked with him. I know who he is. I will have conversations with him, yes.”
He has already talked with Riggleman, with whom Zduriencik said he has a professional relationship. Riggleman accepted a job as the bench coach for the Washington Nationals on Friday, but could be back as Seattle manager in 2009.
“We are well aware that Jim is a managerial candidate with the Mariners and would not stand in his way if he was afforded that opportunity,” Washington general manager Jim Bowden wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.
Mariners chief executive Howard Lincoln and team president Chuck Armstrong said the eighth full-time GM in Seattle’s 32-year history will have full autonomy to run all baseball operations.
“We picked Jack because we felt he is the best person to get this turned around as quickly as possible,” Lincoln said. “I know the term ‘rebuilding’ can have a lot of meanings. But I want our fans to know that … Jack intends to field a competitive team in 2009. But he also intends to get this done right, from the bottom up.”
Since he arrived in Milwaukee in 1999, Zduriencik helped draft Prince Fielder and Rickie Weeks as well as 2007 NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Braun, J.J. Hardy, Corey Hart, Yovani Gallardo and Manny Parra — the young foundation of the Brewers’ playoff team this season.
This will be his first GM job, after he failed to get that title with his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates last year.
“(He has) unique, indeed legendary, skills as a superb talent evaluator,” Lincoln said. “This is the skill set we need at the Mariners.”
Zduriencik was one of four finalists to replace Bill Bavasi, who was fired in June, and interim GM Lee Pelekoudas. The others were Los Angeles Dodgers assistant GM Kim Ng, Arizona Diamondbacks executive Jerry DiPoto and Toronto Blue Jays assistant GM Tony LaCava.
“He was the most experienced,” Armstrong said. “We needed a proven talent evaluator. That’s probably what swung it over for us.”