Wakamatsu may be award beneficiary
Skipper's leadership has him in Manager of Year contention
When Don Wakamatsu was selected as the Mariners manager last November, he wanted to prove that some of his managerial philosophies, including a "belief system," would work.
By the end of his first season as a big league skipper, Wakamatsu was thrilled that his players bought into the program, overcame adversity and celebrated their 85th win of the season in the year-end finale by acting like a team that had just clinched a playoff berth.
"As a first-year manager, you try to go along and prove the theories you have developed over the years," Wakamatsu said. "Starting in Spring Training, we talked about a belief system, believing that if you play hard every game, you will be in position to win most games."
The Mariners were one of the pleasant-surprise stories of the 2009 season. One year after becoming the first Seattle team in 25 years to lose at least 100 games in a season, Wakamatsu's calm, cool and collected demeanor helped develop a winning atmosphere in the clubhouse and on the field.
The 24-win improvement was the best in the Major Leagues and as a result, Wakamatsu is among the leading candidates for the American League Manager of the Year Award, which will be announced at 11 a.m. PT on Wednesday.
Other contenders include two others from the four-team AL West: Mike Scioscia, who managed the division-champion Angels through the tragic death of pitcher Nick Adenhart; and the Rangers' Ron Washington, who led Texas to a second-place finish in the AL West. Joe Girardi of the World Series champion Yankees, and Ron Gardenhire of the AL Central Division champion Twins, also figure prominently in the Manager of the Year race.
Wakamatsu, the first Asian American manager in Major League history, earned the player's respect with the way he treated them from the first day of Spring Training, through the rigors of a 162-game grind that was filled with injuries to key players (16 players went on the disabled list a total of 19 times) and so many close games that Maalox should have been a team sponsor.
A 4-3 victory over the Rangers in the season finale was the 35th one-run win of the season, the most in franchise history. The previous high was 31. The Mariners also lost 20 games by the scantest of margins, meaning nearly one-third of their games were decided by one run.
"I have played for a lot of managers," well-traveled first baseman Russell Branyan said, "and Don's understanding of a wide range of people is impressive. We're all baseball players, but he has the ability to reach out and get the most out of each individual.
"He has a passion about the game and about life and cares about his players as people. He's the complete package."
The emotional roller coaster that most teams experience was commanded smoothly by Wakamatsu, who made it through the entire season without being ejected from a game. In fact, the only player tossed from a game was Ichiro Suzuki, on Sept. 26 against the Blue Jays -- the first of his career.
Wakamatsu turned out to be just the kind of manager whom general manager Jack Zduriencik thought he was getting from the get-go.
"You've heard me say this before, but when I was in the interview process, one of the things I was looking for in my manager was someone that's going to be very consistent, somebody that was going to give that message from the opening day to the end of the season," Zduriencik said. "For me, as with others I would think, it's difficult to deal with people that are up and down, up and down, up and down.
"Consistency was something I was striving for in my manager. I think I found it in Don."
"Don didn't have mood swings," Branyan said. "From Day 1 to the last game, he was the same guy."
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.