Maybe Lloyd McClendon learned more from Jim Leyland than how to smoke cigarettes in your underwear. Then again, the way he speaks and the way he acts, maybe managing a baseball team is something that comes more naturally to him than his time with the Pirates led on.
But today, we're talking about the Seattle Mariners. That's something McClendon made very clear. The initial volley in what's now bordering on a feud after repeated responses by McClendon came from New York Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long, as his once-leaked perspective on Robinson Cano's supposed lack of hustle went public to New Jersey Star Ledger.
McClendon's first response on the matter was strong, as he fired back at Long via ESPN's Jerry Crasnick:
"Last time I checked, I didn't know that Kevin Long was the spokesman for the New York Yankees," McClendon told ESPN.com. "That was a little surprising. I was a little pissed off, and I'm sure Joe [Girardi] feels the same way. He's concerned with his team and what they're doing, not what the Seattle Mariners players are doing.
"I'm a little surprised that Kevin Long is the spokesman for the New York Yankees. I wonder if he had any problems with Robbie when he wrote that book ["Cage Rat"] proclaiming himself as the guru of hitting."
Those comments, presumably, came from this morning. They only got better when McClendon spoke to the media following the Mariners' first full-squad workout. Here they are, courtesy of Shannon Drayer:
...Like I said earlier, I didn't know he was the spokesman for the New York Yankees, but it is what it is. My concern is Robinson Cano in a Seattle Mariners uniform and what he is moving forward. I don't give a damn what he did for the Yankees. I have no concern whatsoever." [...]
"One of the messages that I am trying to send to my players is we don't have to take a back seat to anybody. That includes the New York Yankees or anybody else," he said. "My concern is my players and the family atmosphere we build here. Any time anyone attacks one of my players then I am going to defend them. If you don't like it, tough [shit]."
As McClendon alludes to in the latter part of that, this is much bigger than Lloyd McClendon v. Kevin Long—it's about a philosophy built around family. McClendon is going to back his players in any situation, and he's going to do so fervently. You will, undoubtedly, see him get up in the grill of an umpire who wronged one of his guys, probably throw a tantrum from time to time. And if the situation dictates such an outcome, McClendon may even call for a fastball to someone's ribs. Thus far, that's the type of guy he seems to be.
Where Eric Wedge felt to me like an actor trying to play a baseball manager in a movie, what Lloyd McClendon said today was better than anything you'd find in a screenplay.
But while McClendon will stand by his players, he isn't going to baby them. Creating a family atmosphere doesn't mean everyone's going to be happy.
"This is a results-oriented business," said McClendon on Saturday. "This is not about development at this level, it's about winning games. If you want to be developed then we'll send you back to the minor leagues and you can do all the developing you want to do."
He had this today:
McClendon setting tone in #Mariners camp: "Part of the message is, `I love you, but if you can’t get it done, I’ll get somebody who can.'"
— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) February 18, 2014
Of course, quotes are just quotes. Talk is just talk. While everything we've seen and heard thus far is positive, we don't know how McClendon will construct a lineup, utilize a bullpen or make adjustments through the course of the game. And while those are important, so too is the ability to lead a club and earn that oh-so-crucial "buy in," as unquantifiable as that is.
What McClendon did here is a big step in that direction. When Robinson Cano spoke at his introductory press conference about the Mariners feeling more like a family, everyone laughed and said "Sure, $240 million would make anyone feel like family." But maybe it wasn't all nonsense. Or, if it was then, maybe it isn't now.
At the very first opportunity, before Robinson Cano even stepped on the field to represent the Mariners, Lloyd McClendon had his back and spoke out with passion. If Cano already respected McClendon before, what does he think now? And if you're not Robinson Cano, but Justin Smoak or Dustin Ackley or—hell—Jesus Montero, maybe you're more likely to give the skipper the trust and respect the he deserves, and needs, if your team's best position player is doing so.
Maybe, probably, it was just an old-school baseball manager doing the type of thing old-school baseball managers do. But, either incidentally or intentionally, it was an example of keen leadership tactics.
Is this going to win the Mariners games? I don't know. But I said it when McClendon was first hired, and I'll continue to say it, there's nothing to dislike so far.
But if this serious side doesn't work, maybe Lloyd McClendon's other side, his more light-hearted side, will do the trick.
Because if you ask Fernando Rodney, Lloyd McClendon can motivate through dancing: