Editor’s note: This story was chosen as one of our top 12 in 2010. Don Wakamatsu was an exciting addition to the Mariners and the community. However, after a winning season, things took a turn for the worse and Wakamatsu was fired. It was a move that pleased some and upset others. One thing is for sure, though, Seattle still lacks Asian Americans in pro sports.
By Chinami Tajika
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Don Wakamatsu, who has been the manager of the Seattle Mariners since 2009, was fired on Aug. 9. He was the manager for the Mariners for more than halfway through the 2010 season.
“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 the Mariners’ manager,” Wakamatsu said in a statement released by the team on Aug. 9. “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.”
From 2003 to 2006, Wakamatsu was the Texas Rangers’ bench coach. On Nov. 19, 2008, he was named the manager of the Mariners after a national search. He was the first Asian American manager in the major leagues.
It was Wakamatsu’s second season with the Mariners. The Mariners are 43–70 so far, which is the second worst record in the American League.
Last year, the Mariners, under Wakamatsu, were 85–77.
Nevertheless, the firing of Wakamatsu isn’t sitting well with some.
“It’s frustrating,” Mariners perennial all-star Ichiro Suzuki told the Associated Press through an 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.”
Many fans were upset when the news was announced Aug. 9.
“I am saddened and shocked by the firing of Don Wakamatsu,” said Ted Yamamura, a Boeing employee and cofounder of the Executive Development Institute. “He did a great job last year in bringing the team to respectability. He certainly deserved better under the limited circumstances of the players he had to work with.”
Yamamura said he is very fond of the Mariners, especially with both Ichiro and Wakamatsu leading the charge.
“Like most teams under these circumstances, the manager takes the fall,” said Yamamura. “But truly, the entire organization needs to look at itself and jointly take the blame for the current team’s lack of success. I’m sure Don will get other opportunities soon and under better circumstances, will come out far ahead.”
“[I] thought Don was given a raw deal,” said Jerry Lee, chair of MulvannyG2 and a Mariners fan. “The team wasn’t playing well and the manager always pays the price. I hope he gets another major league manger opportunity in the future.”
In a pregame conference, Mariners General Manager Jack Zduriencik said, “The truth of the matter is, I lost confidence in Don.”
According to the Associated Press, Bench Coach Ty Van Burkleo and Pitching Coach Rick Adair were also fired. Performance Coach Steve Hecht was also displaced.
“New leadership is needed and it is needed now,” Zduriencik said.
The explanation isn’t enough for Kohei Kawabata, a 21-year-old student and baseball fan who is interning with the Mariners.
“[Wakamatsu] is the first Japanese American and Asian American Major League Baseball manager. He changed the MLB for Asian Americans,” said Kawabata. “Players have a big hand in the losses. They are earning a lot of money to win the game. They aren’t high school students who don’t have a big responsibility to win.”
“It’s too fast; it’s only his second year,” said Mitsuki Akimoto, 21, who is also an intern with the Mariners. “He was doing so well last season. This year, the players seem to not be as good. They don’t have a good pitcher. Even though the first game with the new manager was good, it doesn’t mean Wakamatsu wasn’t good enough. It’s too fast.”
“[However], Don might not have enough skills to organize the team,” added Kawabata. “But it’s not a problem that can be solved if they change the manager.”
For the most part, Wakamatsu is upbeat.
“I’ll be all right,” he told the Associated Press. “I’ve been in this game a long time, and I have a lot of people pulling for me — most of all my family.”
Wakamatsu was born in Hood River, Ore., and was a professional baseball player before becoming a manager. His father is Japanese American and his mother is Irish American.
Wakamatsu was replaced by Daren Brown, who will fill in for the rest of the season. ♦
Chinami Tajika can be reached at email@example.com.