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Before he destroyed the Mariners, Howard Lincoln saved baseball in Seattle (UPDATE)

The Mariners' CEO is stepping down, and making way for new leadership. He leaves behind a complicated, long, mixed legacy.

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Did you know that Howard Lincoln made his name defending Donkey Kong!? In 1981 Lincoln represented Nintendo in a case between the video game giant and Universal Studios, who claimed that DK infringed on Universal's copyrighted "King Kong" likeness. Nintendo won that case, and Lincoln was hired as Nintendo's chief counsel, and later became its chairman. All so we could enjoy flinging bananas at cartoon rats and shit with Donkey, Diddy, and the whole gang.

Anyway, people love simplicity. Simplicity alleviates hesitation, and leads to confidence in action. "Take that bunker", "Get those sales figures up", "that guy's an asshole", etc. Simplicity serves as a way for our brains to put a barrier between the roaring chaos of existence, and gives us a binary. Binaries are so easy.

Howard Lincoln started his time in the Mariner fan consciousness a hero. In the summer of 1992 I, along with hundreds of other little leaguers, put on our uniform, went down on the artificial turf, and shook hands with the members of the new, "local", ownership group as part of a ceremony celebrating that the Mariners Would Be Staying in Seattle(tm). I met Harold Reynolds. He was very nice.

Before anything else happened we should always, always, remember that George Argyros Jeff Smulyan may have sold the team to owners who would have moved the team out of Seattle, and Howard Lincoln helped pave the way for Nintendo of America to purchase the team. Even with everything that has happened since that day, losing on the field will always beat the hell out of losing the field itself.

It's also worth noting that, similarly to briefly lauded executives like Jack Zduriencik and Tim Ruskell, Lincoln was initially beloved. His appointment to the CEO position in the Summer of 1999 preceded the immediate creation of arguably the four greatest teams in Mariner history. From 2000-2003 the Mariners averaged 98 wins, and in almost any other division/era they would have seen a four year stretch of playoff appearances. Times were good, and Lincoln's steady-eyed leadership was certainly credited as part of the reason.

Then it all stopped. The Mariners were a disaster in 2004, and Pat Gillick stepped down/was let go/didn't see eye to eye with upper management. Lincoln, Churck Armstrong, and the rest of Mariner's leadership selected former Angels' GM Bill Bavasi are Gillick's successor, and from there a steady process was set in place that undid almost every good thing Howard Lincoln had ever done in the eyes of Mariner fans.

It didn't help that as the organization cratered into a trench deeper than Marianas' Lincoln had a penchant for putting his foot in his mouth everytime he spoke in public. After the Mariners became the first 100 loss/$100 million payroll team in 2008 Lincoln famously put himself on the hot seat, giving notice that things had to improve. That was eight years, many hundreds of losses, and zero playoff appearances ago. As recently as last year Lincoln, in what can only be described as a terribly out of touch attempt to connect with fans, claimed that losing seasons had resulted in personal financial loss, as though anyone who just watched Edgar Olmos start for their baseball team in its fifteenth straight losing season gives a shit about the finances of a rich lawyer who looks like this:


Mostly though, Howard Lincoln was a totem for fan rage. He was a whipping boy, a scapegoat, an easy target. Focusing anger towards the very top of a failing organization is simple, and thus we rally to it with shocking speed and fervor, just as we give those same totems and figureheads far too much credit and praise for success.

We don't know much about his successor, mobile phone billionaire magnate John Stanton, and change can be scary. I assure you, as someone whose memory extends beyond Lincoln's tenure, that ownership and baseball executives can get worse. Far worse. But by and large, at least for 2016, I imagine that things with the team will be mostly unchanged. We may see a shift in the way the organization communicates on issues like the Seattle Arena project, and if Stanton has an ounce of sense on the value of goodwill he'll immediately lower beer prices at Safeco. But baseball operations, for the foreseeable future, should go on without noticeable change.

Many Mariner fans have no memory of rooting for the Mariners without Howard Lincoln. We gave him many titles over the years: Savior, genius, cheap ass, odious businessman, con artist, out of touch old man. All of those are true, and none of them are. The headline of this article will (hopefully) attract a lot of people to this post. It's designed to do so, and it uses extremes and opposites to that effect.

The truth with Howard Lincoln though, on the day he announces his retirement, is the same as it is with absolutely every single one of us: It's just not that simple.


Well holy crap this is a little bigger than originally announced