When a Seattle Times column last week centered on Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln's business plan suggested the goal of the team is not to win the World Series, but merely to be competitive, it caused consternation in the Seattle clubhouse.
Players were upset, attributing the sentiment to Lincoln since the piece was about his operation of the franchise as the trading deadline approached.
One player called it, "stupid.... how would he like it if we said we had no interest in going to the World Series, were only in it for the money? "
Asked for clarification, Lincoln responded yesterday, saying, "I think the message got muddled up. But the players should know me better than that. No one in this organization is more competitive than I am. Obviously, I want to go to the World Series."
However, Lincoln wants to reach the World Series without making the classic mistake of overspending.
"You can go to the Series two ways; first, go for it regardless of the financial risk or consequences, the way Cleveland or Florida has; or go for it with a competitive team that plays for championships on a continual basis. The objective of the Seattle Mariners is not to go to the World Series regardless of the financial consequences, that is irresponsible."
Thus Lincoln's insistence in recent weeks that any trade must make financial sense as well as baseball sense, "to avoid financial mistakes that would make it impossible, literally, to field a competitive team and having any chance of getting to a World Series."
Although Lincoln did tell his baseball officials in a meeting that if they recommended a trade he would take the recommendation to ownership, he was not tempted to stray from his principles as the deadline neared, even as other clubs in the AL West added to their rosters.
"We will not do a deal just as we can say to fans or players, look at us, we did a deal. That is not the way I operate a business."
He pointed out that Gillick, whom he called, "the best GM in the business," resisted efforts to be pressured by other general managers. "He had the courage not to do a deal like that," Lincoln said.
Would not a trade have provided an emotional lift for a team, at least an offense, that is tailing off precipitously?
"I'm in the baseball business," Lincoln said, "not the feel-good business."
He said he was confident that Seattle's players would take the season "as far as we can go. ... get us into a playoffs ... and take us as far as we can go."
When it comes to obligations, he speaks of ownership first.
"I have an obligation to the people who own this baseball team, an obligation to make money, to operate in a profitable fashion. Doing that, we expect to put the best product we can on the field, and I think we have accomplished that over the last two years."
If you turn that around, he suggested, would he fulfill an obligation to fans by "bankrupting the team?"
Applying the principle that you only get so close, so often, could Seattle not have gone from close to clinch the past two years by making a significant trade at midseason?
"Hindsight is 20-20," he said. "Knowing how Pat Gillick operates, I believe our situation was handled appropriately, that our people worked hard to find the right deal to help this team, not only at the trading deadline but any decision the Mariners made. This business is unlike any other I've ever been associated with, every decision is examined under a microscope."
None of the rumors he heard, on TV or talk radio or in print, made him curious.
"To the contrary," he said. "It's easy to speculate without consideration for how much it costs, where the player fits, who goes. Everyone thinks he's a GM, like everyone thinks they can hit a golf ball like Tiger Woods."
How does it feel to be a lightning rod for disappointment?
"I feel great," Lincoln said, enthusing like Kellogg's Tony the Tiger. "I feel the Mariners are going to be super the balance of the season, that they are going to bring joy to the fans. I feel this will continue for years to come, and I know it is more likely if you follow our disciplined approach."
Mariners camp robbed
A gang of armed thieves robbed players, trainers and staff at a baseball camp in Venezuela run by the Mariners, police and team officials said yesterday.
About 15 men armed with guns and wearing hoods burst into the school in Carabobo State, about 123 miles from Caracas, late Wednesday evening, a police spokesman said.
No one was injured during the robbery, but the thieves took wallets, jewelry, cellular phones and electrical equipment from the school, the spokesman said.
Reuters contributed to this report.