Mariners like new managers style, but is it a winning one?
Bob Melvin is taking a low-key approach, and it's working Ñ so far
SEATTLE Ñ Maybe because he spent his playing career in a crouch and his coaching stints sitting on a bench, Seattle Manager Bob Melvin prefers to stand on the top step of the Mariners' dugout, for all the fans to see.
Sometimes his coat is on, and he looks just like pitching coach Bryan Price from behind. The fans know Melvin, though. They just don't know yet whether they like him.
If he wins, Melvin will be hailed as the first-year skipper who let his veterans do their thing, played the matchup strategy and worked wonders with his pitchers. If he doesn't win, fans will long for Lou Piniella, the controlling, oft-ornery skipper who led the Mariners to 300 wins in his last three years.
'How can you not like Bob?' second baseman Bret Boone says. 'He's just a good dude. Honest. He's not coming here trying to stir things up. Just trying to keep going what we've got going.'
Old sage and ace hurler Jamie Moyer likes the 41-year-old Melvin's combination of a competitive nature and easygoing personality. But Moyer says Melvin hasn't reached Piniella's status.
'I loved Lou as a manager,' Moyer says. 'I'd run through a wall for that man. I feel kind of the same way about Bob, but we haven't been through enough wars yet.'
The Mariners have started decently and were tied for the American League West Division lead at 8-7 as of Thursday.
Seattle has solid pitching, with Ryan Franklin and Gil Meche throwing well in the No. 4 and 5 slots and a lights-out bullpen. The offense can be aggressive with its speed at the top (Ichiro Suzuki and Randy Winn), and the bench is much stronger.
But Edgar Martinez's bothersome hamstring already has cost the Mariners some pop. And day to day, the M's just don't know what they'll get from center fielder Mike Cameron and third baseman Jeff Cirillo.
From Melvin, they'll get patience, loyalty and opportunity. He intends to stick with Cirillo, who started 1 for 24. He plans to play everybody on his bench, notably Mark McLemore, John Mabry and Greg Colbrunn. McLemore has hit third twice, for goodness' sake. Even rookie Willie Bloomquist has played Ñ at third, second and in left.
'He's doing it the way it should be done,' Mabry says. 'He lets people know what their roles are, which is great for the players because we can prepare. You have the feeling when you're going to get in there; he plays the matchups by the book.'
Melvin doesn't want to rock the veterans' ship. He doesn't want to get upset with General Manager Pat Gillick the way Piniella did when the GM didn't acquire extra hitters last year. He doesn't want to step on the toes of Price, the accomplished pitching coach with whom he has several common bonds.
Melvin is married, has a 14-year-old daughter and lives in Cave Creek, Ariz., just outside Phoenix. Price, 40, is married, has a 15-year-old daughter and lives in Scottsdale, just outside Phoenix.
Melvin played college ball at California in 1979, a year before Price got there. Melvin would have been Price's catcher at Cal. Both cut their teeth in player development in the pros, and both interviewed for the Seattle managerial job before the Mariners tabbed Melvin last Nov. 15.
'How we did not know each other amazes me,' Melvin says.
'Met him when he was hired,' Price says.
Melvin, only one year older than Moyer and Martinez, was the catcher when M's pitcher Arthur Rhodes made his big-league debut with Baltimore in 1991. Melvin played 10 years in the bigs and hit .233, not including his three hits against John Tudor in the 1987 National League playoffs while with the Giants. He's a great golfer Ñ once sporting a 2 handicap Ñ and he rides mountain bikes with former Milwaukee great Robin Yount. He worked under Phil Garner in Milwaukee, another one of his mentors.
Melvin served as bench coach with the world champion Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee before becoming the M's manager.
As the sixth catcher managing in the big leagues Ñ joining former mentor Bob Brenly (Arizona), Bruce Bochy (San Diego), Bob Boone (Cincinnati), Mike Scioscia (Anaheim), Tony Pena (Kansas City) Ñ Melvin knows something about pitchers, which puts him one step ahead of Piniella.
'He's just a relaxed guy, easy to be around,' Meche says. 'I was a guy who really liked Lou, but everybody talked about how he didn't like young pitchers.
'There were times Lou would have blown up Ñ he hated walks, no matter the circumstance Ñ and Melvin takes it differently, being a former catcher. Bob and 'BP' bring a great atmosphere to the game. Both are really smart guys, baseball-wise.'
Melvin pitches some batting practice every day Ñ uncommon for big-league managers. He likes to stay involved. Price calls him 'an everyday man,' unlike the 'icon' Piniella. Melvin will wear sunglasses on his hat, even on a cloudy day. He's tall, slender and unassuming, without an overbearing personality.
'I'm not here to dominate everybody and leave my mark,' he says.
Says Martinez, the closest thing to God in Seattle: 'He's very well prepared, does a great job of moving guys around, anticipates things well. Communication is very important, and he does that well. It's hard to play everybody, but everybody knows their role.'
Whereas Piniella would certainly be classified old-school, Melvin carries his laptop computer with him, uses e-mail to communicate and manages men, not just players.
'He's more interactive; we saw that from spring training,' Cameron says. 'He's always positive. That's good. He's behind his players.'
The Mariners might need to win 100 games to finish ahead of Oakland and Anaheim in the AL West. So the pressure is on Melvin and Seattle.
'Hopefully we'll continue to make the transition for him very easy,' Cameron says. 'We're here, we're built to win, and anything less than going deep into the playoffs would be uncivilized.'