Wakamatsu named Mariners manager
Former A's bench coach becomes first Asian-American skipper in bigs
SEATTLE -- When Don Wakamatsu was a little boy, his iron-working father brought the family to Seattle, where Dad was busy helping erect a building that is visible today in the downtown skyline that rises above Safeco Field.
Almost 40 years later, the son has landed a construction job of his own nearby. He's the new manager of the Seattle Mariners.
Wakamatsu, the 45-year-old former Major League player and baseball lifer, was introduced in a press conference at Safeco on Wednesday afternoon and walked out onto the field, where the JumboTron welcomed him to his new home.
He represents two firsts: Wakamatsu is the first Asian-American manager in Major League history, and he's the first significant hire in the new era of general manager Jack Zduriencik.
And Wakamatsu represents big-time change for an organization looking to climb right back to the perennial success it enjoyed in the late 1990s and early 2000s after a 101-loss 2008.
"I welcome the challenge here to bring a world championship to Seattle and the fans of the Seattle Mariners," said Wakamatsu, after being introduced by a giddy Zduriencik and holding up his new jersey with the No. 16.
"That's our goal as an organization -- to come together and acquire some talent and put a product on the field that everybody will be proud of."
Wakamatsu brings to Seattle the experience of coaching in the American League West for the last six years. Prior to his stint in Oakland last year, he coached with the Texas Rangers from 2003-07, spending four seasons (2003-06) as bench coach for Buck Showalter.
Zduriencik said that experience within the division was one of the factors he used in selecting Wakamatsu, but ultimately, he said, the decision came from his gut, and he hired Wakamatsu over six other candidates.
"[One thing] that I stated that I was looking for is somewhat of a fresh face," Zduriencik said. "I was looking for someone that has experience, but it didn't necessarily have to be as a Major League manager.
"[I wanted] someone I thought had qualities as a leader, someone I thought could be a face of this franchise, [someone players] could be proud of and follow. Someone who commanded respect. It's important to have someone the players would be able to relate to, as well as have a presence in the clubhouse and on the field."
Zduriencik used three words to describe Wakamatsu's greatest attributes: "Preparation, consistency, loyalty."
Wakamatsu said he tried to emphasize those very factors while interviewing and added a few more.
"Communication and leadership," Wakamatsu said. "Those two things go hand in hand for me. It's important that people know what's going on, where they stand in a certain system, and that's going to be my motto."
Wakamatsu has ties to the Pacific Northwest, which Zduriencik also said he found valuable.
The manager was born in Hood River, Ore., and he closed out his playing career as a player/coach with Seattle's Double-A Port City affiliate in 1996. He also played one game with Triple-A Tacoma that year.
Zduriencik liked many other things about Wakamatsu, too.
In fact, Zduriencik said that five years ago when he thought about whom he might hire as a manager if he had ever gotten a GM job, Wakamatsu's name lingered on his "radar screen." So once the Mariners hired Zduriencik and the managerial search was on, Zduriencik did some big-time vetting of his candidates and came up with nothing but positives on the man they call "Wak."
After extensive conversations with former Rangers manager Buck Showalter, former Angels GM Bill Stoneman, current A's GM Billy Beane and Texas GM Jon Daniels, plus a few phone calls with former teammates of Wakamatsu's, the decision was made.
"His work habits are impeccable," Zduriencik said. "Buck said you won't beat him to the ballpark and he'll be there when you leave."
And his former position -- Wakamatsu caught in 18 games for the Chicago White Sox in 1991 -- didn't hurt, either.
"Don was a former catcher, and in my estimation, I thought it was always a good thing, as you look through the history of Major League managers, shortstops and catchers bring a lot to the table from this end of the game," Zduriencik said.
Wakamatsu is no stranger to big league managerial job interviews. He was a contender for the Rangers' managerial opening in 2006, which went to former A's third-base coach Ron Washington, and Wakamatsu spent the 2007 season coaching third base in Texas under Washington.
Wakamatsu also managed for four seasons in the Minors, including being named California League Manager of the Year in 1998 with High Desert. Wakamatsu joined the Angels system as the manager at Double-A Erie in the Eastern League in 2000.
That followed three years (1997-99) as a manager in the Arizona Diamondbacks system. He led the High Desert Mavericks (high-Class A) to the Cal League playoffs in 1998, posting a 44-26 second half mark on his way to being named the league's Manager of the Year. Wakamatsu started his managing career with Peoria (rookie) in the Arizona Summer League in 1997.
He also caught for four seasons at Arizona State University, and was named All-Pac-10 his final three seasons. He was the Sun Devils' team captain his senior year (1985) and was drafted that June by the Cincinnati Reds.
Now he takes over the reins of a team that finished last in the AL West in 2008, compiling a 61-101 record. But he knows the Mariners' personnel from his time in the division and says he believes the team has talent and potential. He also says he has the skills to get this team back to where it needs to be.
"Our goal is to build an organization that's going to sustain winning for a long time," Wakamatsu says. "I want to be here because of [the organization's] passion. It's unbelievable, when you sit with gentlemen, [to learn] that they care about this city, they care about the product on that field, and they care about winning."
Wakamatsu made sure to thank his wife, Laura, and their three children: Jacob, Lucas and Jadyn. He also held up a drawing his daughter made for him especially for the press conference. In crayon, it read, "Knock 'em dead," to which Wakamatsu laughed and said, "This might be our theme for the year."
Zduriencik didn't hesitate to smile, look over at his new hire, and fire back with, "It better be."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. National writer Mychael Urban contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.