Final Analysis: The Business of Baseball

The Mariners are a bad team; are they a badly run company?
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Anyone who plays professional baseball will tell you it takes luck to get to the World Series. So the Seattle Mariners are one of the unluckiest teams in Major League Baseball, right? I mean, only two of the 30 current MLB teams have never been to the World Series—and one of them is the Mariners, now celebrating 35 seasons of futility.

Make that 36. The Mariners won’t be going to the World Series this year, either. At this writing—July 23, the day the Mariners traded Ichiro Suzuki to the New York Yankees—the M’s have 42 victories. To realistically have a shot at the playoffs and, thus, the World Series, they would have to win about 77 percent of their remaining games. It’s not gonna happen.

The only thing the Mariners seem to excel at is slipping on the banana peel and walking into the open manhole. At the same time. But can bad luck explain everything? Or are the Mariners a textbook example of a poorly run organization?

Jim Collins, one of the go-to leadership gurus among today’s CEO crowd, says, “Greatness is not a function of circumstance. Greatness is largely a matter of conscious choice and discipline.”

When the current owners of the Mariners rescued the team from Jeff Smulyan in 1992, greatness wasn’t part of the equation. Geography was. Smulyan had threatened to move the team to Florida. Seattle needed a white knight, and Nintendo of America rode to the rescue with a posse of hometown investors. Ironically, a few years later, these new owners played the good old coercion card. Former Mariners CEO John Ellis famously wept during a news conference in December 1996 to announce that the M’s would be put up for sale because the organization had failed to get the terms it wanted for a new stadium.

The ploy worked. The Mariners got the stadium in 1999, and the organization seemed destined for greatness by 2001, with a team that won more than 70 percent of its games. Since then, the Mariners have failed spectacularly—eight different managers, four winning seasons, no playoff appearances—but the organization has remained mostly profitable, save for a small operating loss in 2008 and another one last season, when it spent $9 million on new scoreboards and other stadium improvements. Not bad, when you consider the Mariners’ record from 2002 to 2011 was 758 wins and 862 losses—a dismal 45 percent winning percentage.

The Mariners pride themselves on providing a wholesome entertainment experience that almost makes the final score irrelevant to a lot of patrons. The ballpark is one of the most beautiful in baseball. The food options are among the best. Ushers and other stadium representatives are helpful and pleasant. It’s a Disney-esque approach that works with many families and casual fans. It would never work in New York or Boston or Philadelphia without a demonstrated commitment to winning every year. But Seattle fans aren’t nearly as passionate, and Seattle’s media coverage isn’t nearly as breathless.

The surprising trade of Ichiro to the Yankees (for a couple of minor leaguers) is an interesting side note. Ichiro asked to be traded so the team could build for the future. It’s a selfless gesture, but you can be certain Ichiro asked to be traded to a team with at least a shot at the playoffs.

As it happens, he joined a team with the best record in baseball at the time of the trade, and a pretty fair track record. In stark contrast to the Mariners, the Yankees have been to the World Series 40 times. They must be very lucky.

JOHN LEVESQUE is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine.

Final Analysis: Would You Go to Work for Donald Trump?

Final Analysis: Would You Go to Work for Donald Trump?

Or would you rather end up on his enemies list?
 
 

Imagine getting a call inviting you to work for your country.

Now imagine your new boss is Donald J. Trump.

Would you move to Washington, D.C., to work for the president of the United States? For this president of the United States?

From what we know through simple observation, Donald Trump suffers from chronic narcissism, he doesn’t read much, he rarely smiles, he has a vindictive streak, he treats women badly, he has the argumentative skills of a bruised tangerine, he fears foreigners almost as much as he fears the truth and he spends his waking hours attached to marionette strings being manipulated by Steve “I Shave on Alternate Thursdays” Bannon.

Sure, you’ve probably suffered under bad bosses. But this guy takes the plagiarized inauguration cake. He thinks it’s OK to assault women. He made fun of a journalist’s disability. He said a judge couldn’t be impartial because of his ethnic heritage. He doesn’t pay people who have done work for him. He has been a plaintiff in nearly 2,000 lawsuits.

We have to assume that Sally Yates, the acting attorney general who got herself fired in January for standing up to President Trump’s ban on accepting immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries, has probably updated her résumé by now. No doubt she proudly included a mention that she torched the president whose approval rating after one week in office had dropped faster than it had for anchovy-swirl ice cream.

If I worked for Trump, it would most likely be a challenging assignment. I try to be gracious and diplomatic with supervisors and coworkers, but I draw the line with people who lie to me. Or lie to others and put me in an awkward position. With them, I’m not so gracious, and I don’t hold my tongue. Which would probably get me early induction into the Sally Yates Hall of Flame.

Or maybe on the president’s enemies list. None other than Trump’s reality-TV pal, Omarosa Manigault, has revealed that the president possesses a long memory — longer, even, than his neckties — and that his people are “keeping a list” of those who don’t like him.

I know I should give my president the benefit of the doubt, but I’m happy to make an exception in this case. I don’t like Donald Trump. And I would be honored to be on his enemies list. Not since I played pickup baseball in grade school have I had such an urge to scream, “Pick me! Pick me!” Being added to a Presidential Enemies List would be such a treat, a career topper, really. Better than submitting to a colonoscopy without anesthesia. Or watching reruns of Celebrity Apprentice. Without anesthesia.

If selected, I would pledge to save my best words for the president and I would only use them in the bigliest way.

Of course, making the enemies list means I might never get the call to join the new administration. I might never get to engage in locker-room banter with POTUS. I might never get to untangle the marionette strings. I might never get to buy razors for Steve Bannon.

It is a sobering realization. But we must serve where we are best suited.

John Levesque is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine. Reach him at john.levesque@tigeroak.com.