Don Wakamatsu is a career baseball man known for his meticulous preparation based on statistics and scouting reports, plus a personality that connects well with players.
Today, he’ll add another label: manager of the Seattle Mariners.
The team plans to announce that they have hired the 45-year-old Wakamatsu, bench coach this year with the Oakland Athletics. He replaces Jim Riggleman, who wasn’t retained and has since become bench coach with the Washington Nationals.
Wakamatsu rose to the top of a seven-man field of finalists interviewed last week by Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik.
The Mariners also interviewed Red Sox bench coach Brad Mills, White Sox bench coach Joey Cora, Diamondbacks third-base coach Chip Hale, Red Sox third-base coach DeMarlo Hale, Cardinals third-base coach Jose Oquendo and Class AAA Portland Beavers manager Randy Ready.
Wakamatsu was bench coach with the Texas Rangers from 2003-06 under manager Buck Showalter. He was impressive in his interview for the Rangers’ top job after Showalter was fired in 2006, but the club decided to move away from the Showalter regime and hired Ron Washington. Wakamatsu coached third base for the Rangers in 2007, then joined the A’s as bench coach this year under manager Bob Geren, a longtime friend.
Wakamatsu, who grew up in Hayward, Calif., is a former catcher who played 18 games in the major leagues with the White Sox. He was the Angels’ minor league catching coordinator in 2001 and 2002.
During a conference call with reporters after his interview last week, Wakamatsu said the Mariners could be a competitive team despite their 101 losses this year.
“Anybody can come in and say ‘I want to win right away,’ but you have to be realistic,” he said. “There’s work to be done this winter.
“This is a club that a lot of smart people thought would make the postseason. I don’t see this team as being an old team. In general, it’s a young team that maybe with some prodding we can win right away.”
Among those thrilled with the Mariners’ choice for manager is pitcher R.A. Dickey, who played for the Rangers while Wakamatsu was bench coach.
“The first thing that comes to mind is that he’s always very prepared and he’s very diligent in his preparation,” Dickey said. “He’s a tireless worker for one and he’s hands-on, which is a real valuable thing.
“He’s real down to earth. There’s not a lot of pretense about him and there aren’t any of these high walls (between him and the players). He has real open lines of communication and he tells the truth. Those are all things that I really appreciated about him when we were together.”
Dickey doesn’t believe the transition from popular coach to being the man in charge will be a problem for Wakamatsu. He also believes any clubhouse rifts — there were reports of jealousies within the team this year — will be dealt with swiftly.
“We were a pretty poor team, and there are a lot of things that have to be fixed,” Dickey said. “But he’s a little bit younger and he’s got a great energy about him. He is a real player’s manager. He wants to know the pulse of what’s going on in the clubhouse. He doesn’t want to take somebody else’s word for it.”
Even though Wakamatsu is known for his detailed preparation based on scouting reports and statistics, Dickey said he pays just as much attention to how the players prepare. He won’t allow a player to slack on the little things that make a big difference in winning and losing.
“That will not be the case next year,” Dickey said. “Part of what makes him meticulous is that he doesn’t have a lot of tolerance for being fundamentally poor.
“Most people who know him will say he’s one of the most studious, well-prepared coaches they know. But at the same time, I think he’s got a pretty good feel for the game. We would talk a lot during the games and sometimes his thinking wasn’t necessarily what the matchups and scouting reports would say, but what the flow of the game would dictate.”
Read Kirby Arnold’s blog on the Mariners at www.heraldnet.com.