Life is a lot easier when you live by a code. Or, at least, that's what I was told when listening to a torrented copy of the audiobook for Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People during a 500-mile drive between Seattle and Missoula, MT. The book is cheesy in the way you expect books like this to be, and it comes with occasionally-grating religious undertones, but it left me with some points I think about on a semi-frequent basis—even if I don't completely live by them.
Though the aforementioned recommendation isn't one of the core seven habits alluded to in the title, and I didn't go so far as to draft my own code, it's easy to understand why such a practice would be advantageous. In plain, you don't need to over-think every crucial life decision, or even just the small day-to-day non-menial choices. You weigh it against your code of values, maintain consistency, and you're good. Let me explain—and I promise this will turn into a post about the Mariners.
The Ten Commandments in Judaism and Christianity are, essentially, a template code. They come with the "follow these or you'll be Ackley-in-AAA on-fire for eternity" warning but when you remove the "don't you dare disrespect God" ones, you end up with the basic outline of a valuable code of ethics—ones that can make your life more effective.
Let's look at the most basic one and go off that. As I pause to look these up (I remember now I failed this quiz in Mrs. Kroll's second-grade class), I realize "Thou shall not lie" isn't an actual commandment. It's really "You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." Let's just go with the former for purposes of this exercise and way overly-extended intro.
When I was a God-fearing little kid attending Catholic elementary school in small-town Wisconsin, I stuck to this as much as I could. When I lied, I made a mental note, because I knew I'd have to list them in confession and it would be awful. Just awful. So what happens when you don't lie, like almost at all? It has a pretty pervasive impact.
It isn't so much the virtuous telling of the truth and dealing with any necessary consequences of potential negative "truths" that's so impactful, it's setting yourself up to have no repercussions for being completely honest. When you're a child, your parents and teachers run your life. They tell you what to do and they keep track of everything. You're constantly facing questions like the following:
Have you started your homework yet?
Did you read your book or watch TV all day?
Are you going to clean your room later if we let you go outside for the afternoon?
Did you steal this from your classmate?
Did you smack your sister?
If you can answer questions like this honestly without facing repercussions, you're most of the way to being an effective little eight-year-old. Again, it isn't the not lying that's so important, it's the setting yourself up to not lie that's crucial.
What I'm asking of the Mariners isn't quite the same, but it's closely related. They don't have to not lie, because they aren't lying much now. They really don't say much of anything. What they should do more of though, is telling the truth.
Mariners, be more transparent.
As it stands now, no one knows what you're doing. And with the product that's been put on the field over the past few years, and no one effectively explaining what's going on, it's easy to assume you don't know what you're doing either.
Let's start at the most obvious place: the Jack Zduriencik extension. As has been reported and confirmed, Jack Zduriencik was secretly given a one-year extension on his contract, now extending during through the 2014 season. When Geoff Baker sought out said confirmation, despite Divish apparently receiving it, Zduriencik and team president Chuck Armstrong each declined and cited club policy of not commenting on such contract extensions.
That's funny. Because this happened.
Though the inconsistency and perceived incompetency is damaging, it's the thought process that says even more.
Upon inspection, you can attempt to understand why the Mariners would handle this the way they did. Announcing a contract extension for Zduriencik when it was signed, after the mediocre 2012 campaign and before all offseason activity preceding the 2013 season, might not go over well with the Mariners fan base. Also, while Jack Zduriencik did receive an extension that avoided him enduring a lame duck year, manager Eric Wedge was not so fortunate and that may have rubbed him the wrong way.
But, as mentioned above, it isn't the telling of the truth that's so important, it's the preparation for doing so that can have a positive impact.
If Jack Zduriencik isn't the guy, and you're not confident in his ability to run this baseball team in the future, then don't extend him in the first place. It may even be worth firing him. If you're confident that Jack is the guy, and you believe in the young core he's built, give him a real extension and come out supporting him in full-force. Be transparent, and lay out the case for why, despite no major step forward, he deserves more time to accomplish what he came here to accomplish. Don't leave it to us.
And if that upsets Wedge, so be it—be transparent there too. You don't have to throw anyone under the bus but does it hurt that much to be truthful and say "We like the core Jack has built, and we believe he's done a good job bringing young talent into this pipeline, but we want to see more development at the major league level—and the onus is on Eric and his staff to show some progress there."? And before we all jump to "you can't hang a guy out in the media like that," let's not forget that Wedge, or anyone else, has total control over what's said about them.
The goal here, again, isn't to explain everything. That's not the essentiality of what I'm asking. I believe a commitment to explaining most actions has the strong potential to lead to actions that are more explainable. The Mariners, and any franchise seeking success, should move forward with purpose. The Mariners are not doing that.
In certain places, M's just aren't explaining the things that are easily explainable due to, what I assume, is a lack of confidence and commitment. By not explaining them, they've missed opportunities to forge an institutional focus and build a bit of credibility moving forward.
Let's look at the two recent controversial call-ups: Mike Zunino and Taijuan Walker.
Mike Zunino was called up at a time of need after an injury to Jesus Sucre. At first, it was initially assumed Zunino would be coming up only for a short time, spelling Sucre until his return. When later moves gave the indication that wasn't the case at all, many assumed the move was made to save Zduriencik's job (oh look what that did).
Zduriencik made an attempt to explain the move, and laid out some decent points, but he didn't say what he needed to say: Mike Zunino is the best, most talented catcher in the organization right now and our goal is to win baseball games at the major league level. We have no reason to believe a challenge of this magnitude would deter his confidence in the slightest, and we plan on having him as our 2014 Opening Day catcher anyway so we see no harm in giving him the opportunity right now.
As it played out, this reasoning would have made a lot of sense.
For Walker, Zduriencik should've said what we all assumed, though I heard Mike Blowers put it best during Walker's debut: the Mariners plan on going for it in 2014, and Taijuan Walker is going to be part of that, so it's best we get any early jitters out of the way right now.
Just say what we all know: the Mariners plan on making moves for 2014, because if the organization doesn't take a step forward, it will be a failure.
That's the other part of this—a commitment to transparency would create a level of accountability the Mariners currently lack, and it can be applied to many areas.
For example: why haven't we seen any figures on the Mariners recently-signed cable deal? It's the windfall the organization and many fans have been waiting for—why aren't the Mariners proud of it? Without any explanation, it's easy to assume they don't want to be held to it. They want to avoid questions on a payroll that might not be over $110 million, despite the fact that the average annual value on the cable deal—this is just cable money, not gates or the national TV revenue—is $117 million.
And why don't we know who's running things? What are the interpersonal dynamics between Howard, Chuck and Nintendo of America—which now officially owns the team? If someone reached out to Pat Gillick, who was it, and why? I don't think we'd even know who to ask for the answers to these questions.
I mean, doesn't it blow anyone else's mind that we have no idea who's calling the final shots as far as the complete direction of the franchise? Do people think that doesn't have an impact? I just can't.
But what I don't want is for this to be seen as some dumb "It's Howard and Chuck's fault!" post. It goes all the way down, and it's less a problem with personnel than it is philosophy.
When Zduriencik overhauled the front office, and drastically altered the organization's direction with regards to personnel decisions, it would've helped to explain why he took the route he did. I don't think he owes the fans anything, and no one has to explain themselves, but it would help. Not only does it create a heightened sense of accountability—as if he doesn't have enough of that already—but by committing to explaining rationale, he'd be forced to really solidify his reasoning beforehand.
But—and don't believe I don't know it—this is a fantasy. It isn't how sports work, and it certainly isn't how the Mariners work. I'm aware, I live in this fantasy world. Before every single season since 2010, I've thought the Mariners had a good shot at the playoffs. And when I have trouble falling asleep at night, I try to envision exactly what I'd do if I woke up in the morning with $1 billion dollars. The immediate first step there, every single time, is buying the Mariners.
And I know, if I ran the Mariners, this is how I'd do it.