Don Wakamatsu fired by Mariners

SEATTLE -- Instead of leading Seattle to its first postseason spot since 2001, Don Wakamatsu lost games at a stunning rate.

Then, the Mariners manager lost his team -- first franchise icon Ken Griffey Jr., then Chone Figgins.

Now, he's lost his job.

The last-place Mariners fired Wakamatsu on Monday, more than halfway through a season that began with a boosted roster and high hopes.

"I would like to thank the city of Seattle and all the baseball fans here in the Northwest for the great support offered to me during my time as Mariners manager," Wakamatsu said Monday night in statement released by the team. "My single biggest disappointment is that we were not able to finish what we wanted to finish here, bringing a championship club to the fans.

"I cannot tell you how great the fans were to me, and to my family. The support I received here will always mean a great deal to me."

The Mariners started the day at 42-70, the second-worst record in the American League.

They started the night with their fifth manager in three years plus one month. Daren Brown, the manager of Triple-A Tacoma for the last three-plus seasons, took over on an interim basis hours before a game against Oakland.

"It's frustrating," Mariners perennial All-Star and cornerstone Ichiro Suzuki said, through his interpreter. "It's not just his responsibility [that we're losing]. It's the whole team's responsibility.

"I don't think it's fair to say the manager's responsible to take the blame, because he's not."

Seattle also fired bench coach Ty Van Burkleo and pitching coach Rick Adair. The team also released performance coach Steve Hecht.

All to bring together a fractured clubhouse and a wayward team.

"The truth of the matter is, I lost confidence in Don, Ty and Rick," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said during a pregame press conference in which he tried to explain why Wakamatsu was out after one good season and about half a terrible one.

"New leadership is needed and it is needed now," Zduriencik said.

The GM said he would likely begin talking to candidates for the permanent manager job while this season runs out.

Chuck Armstrong, the team's usually talkative and available president, and team chairman Howard Lincoln were in the back of the room as Zduriencik spoke -- but rushed out after he was done. A team spokesman sternly said "We're done" when The Associated Press tried to approach the franchise's leaders for comment.

Wakamatsu had guided Seattle to an 85-77 record in his first season after taking over a team that went 61-101 in 2008.

Asked if the franchise is now back to square one, Suzuki said: "That's the only way we can look at it."

"I don't think we are back to 'Square Zero,'" Zduriencik said. "However, this season presented an opportunity for us. In that opportunity, a lot of things had to fall into place -- with the acquisition of Cliff Lee, with the addition of Chone Figgins, and players I thought had to have good seasons.

"To look around and see so many players having subpar seasons is very disturbing."

Wakamatsu watched Griffey slump this season to the point the manager finally benched him. Griffey then drove home in early June to retirement in Florida in a huff without saying goodbye to most in Seattle. The manager sent an irate Bradley home from a game in May, and the next day Bradley asked him and the GM for help dealing with emotional issues. That turned into counseling for Bradley during a two-week stint on the restricted list.

Wakamatsu has also had multiple public spats with Figgins, whom Zduriencik signed to a $36 million free-agent contract before the season. The most recent incident was an in-game fracas of shouting, shoving and Mariners infielder Jose Lopez getting his jersey pulled over his back. That happened inside the home team's dugout in full view of half the stadium and a national television audience.

Asked for his reaction to Wakamatsu's firing, Figgins smiled, shook his head and politely said, "I'm not going to talk about it, man."

Roger Hansen, who had been the Mariners' minor league catching coordinator, takes over as the bench coach. Carl Willis, who was the Mariners' minor league pitching coordinator, takes on the responsibility of big league pitching coach.

Wakamatsu, the majors' first Japanese-American manager, is the fifth manager in the big leagues to be fired this season. Baltimore's Dave Trembley, Kansas City's Trey Hillman, Arizona's A.J. Hinch and Florida's Fredi Gonzalez also were dismissed.

Beyond Lee, the now-traded former AL Cy Young winner, and speedy infielder Figgins, Zduriencik also brought in slugger Milton Bradley in the offseason. But the roster has proven to be poorly constructed. Seattle has the worst offense in baseball while doomed to 22½ games behind first-place Texas in the AL West entering Monday.

Wakamatsu was asked last week by the AP how he was doing amid rampant speculation that he would become Seattle's fall guy.

"I'll be all right," the 47-year-old Wakamatsu said. "I've been in this game a long time, and I have a lot of people pulling for me -- most of all my family."

He went 127-147 since getting Seattle's job in November 2008. His .464 winning percentage is fifth-best among the Mariners managers.

Oakland manager Bob Geren said he called his good friend Monday afternoon and Wakamatsu "said he was OK."

Geren and Wakamatsu once lived near each other in the Phoenix area, and their kids spent a chunk of their childhoods there. Geren and Wakamatsu coached together on a winter youth team in baseball offseasons -- the Ahwatukee Bandits.

Now both friends feel ripped off.

"I'm saddened," Geren said. "He's a good baseball man and a great man."

Brown is a 10-year veteran of the Mariners' organization. The 43-year-old becomes Seattle's seventh manager since Lou Piniella left with one year left on his contract following the 2002 season.

The sixth, Wakamatsu, has seemed to be on the way out since the worst July in team history -- 6-22.

"I appreciate the continued support of our fans," Zduriencik said Monday, adding he takes "full responsibility" for the Mariners' collapse.

"This has been difficult to watch."