The Colorado Rockies‘ hunt for a new manager continues, as the latest news links them to a key piece of the coaching staff from last year’s World Series champions.
Wakamatsu has been the Royals bench coach since 2014, but his experience in the game dates back much further. Wakamatsu played professionally, reaching the major leagues briefly with the Chicago White Sox in 1991.
After his retirement from playing, Wakamatsu started his coaching career as a minor league manager in the Diamondbacks system. In 2003, the Texas Rangers hired him as their bench coach, and Wakamatsu hasn’t returned to the minor leagues since. After a brief stint with the Oakland Athletics, Wakamatsu was hired as the manager of the Seattle Mariners in November of 2008.
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(A small historical footnote: Wakamatsu became the first Asian-American manager in MLB history when he took over in Seattle.)
Wakamatsu’s first season at the helm was a resounding success; the Mariners, losers of 101 games the year before, finished 85-77. The record was still only good for third place in a difficult American League West division, but most felt Wakamatsu did a terrific job in his debut season. His success was highlighted by being named to the 2009 American League All-Star Team coaching staff.
In the off-season, Seattle acquired ace left-hander Cliff Lee and prized free agent Chone Figgins. The Mariners were a trendy postseason pick heading into the 2010 season, and Wakamatsu was part of the reason why.
And then the games started.
Seattle struggled from the get-go, losing six of their first eight. Any slim hopes of a second-half turnaround were crushed by by an awful July where the team won just six times in 28 games.
Less than two weeks later, with Seattle almost 30 games under .500 and buried in last place, Wakamatsu was fired, along with his bench and pitching coaches.
Wakamatsu hasn’t had a managing job since, but he only unemployed for a few months before the Toronto Blue Jays hired him to be their bench coach. After that, Wakamatsu spent a year as a scout in the Yankees organization before arriving in his current role in Kansas City.
Let’s rewind a bit: The 2010 season with Seattle was unquestionably a disaster for Wakamatsu. But there is a question about how much of the blame he deserves for that.
The phrase “prized free agent Chone Figgins”, logical in 2009, sounds absurd seven years later. Figgins was not only largely inept on the field for Seattle, he also clashed publicly with Wakamatsu and other players on the team.
Wakamatsu also had the unenviable task of having to deal with an aging and increasingly ineffective Ken Griffey Jr. When Wakamatsu was eventually forced to bench the future hall of famer, Griffey had an opportunity to support his manager; he instead chose to quit the team and drive home in the middle of the season.
That Mariners team also had Milton Bradley, who is one of the most mentally unstable players (both on and off the field) in recent memory. On top of all this, Seattle also had a historically awful lineup; Franklin Gutierrez had a .245 batting average with 12 home runs, and he was probably the second-best bat on the team.
The point is, Wakamatsu probably got a raw deal when Seattle fired him after less than two full seasons. Multiple sources around the situation expressed regret that Wakamatsu hadn’t been given more time to turn things around, including most notably Ichiro Suzuki, who said the following when Wakamatsu was let go:
“It’s frustrating, 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.”
It appears that Wakamatsu will soon have another opportunity to prove his worth as a manager. He was reportedly a finalist for the Rays manager position that eventually went to Kevin Cash, and apparently he has at least two more interviews coming up. Wakamatsu has a decade of experience as second-in-command in an MLB dugout, and seems more than qualified for another shot at running the ship.
As for Colorado, we’re starting to see a potential pattern in what they’re looking for in their next manager. Kevin Henry wrote last week about the Rockies possibly being interested in Dodgers bench coach Tim Wallach. It seems likely that Colorado’s next manager will be someone who’s currently a MLB bench coach.
If that’s the case, here are three more bench coaches that could be linked to the Rockies in the near future: Ron Wotus from the San Francisco Giants, Dave Martinez from the Chicago Cubs (I wrote about Wotus and Martinez in an article earlier this month), and Brad Mills from the Cleveland Indians.