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Tuesday, November 18, 2008
Source: M's to name A's bench coach Wakamatsu as manager

ESPN.com news services

SEATTLE -- Don Wakamatsu has his first job as a major league manager, and it's not exactly an easy one.

Don Wakamatsu
Don Wakamatsu was one of seven candidates interviewed in four days by Seattle.

Looking for new direction, the sunken Seattle Mariners picked Wakamatsu over several other inexperienced candidates in the hope that Oakland's bench coach can help them rebound from a 100-loss season.

After an extension search, which included seven interviews in four days, Wakamatsu was chosen as Mariners manager Tuesday, a source told ESPN's Peter Gammons.

Mariners spokesman Tim Hevly said the team expected to make an announcement Wednesday, but he would not confirm or deny the choice of Wakamatsu.

KING television in Seattle first reported that Wakamatsu got the job.

By filling the only opening in the majors with a rookie manager, Seattle scoffed at the conventional idea that rebuilding teams need experience at the helm. The Mariners have never reached the World Series, and their most recent playoff appearance came in 2001.

The 45-year-old Wakamatsu spent four seasons managing in the minors, never higher than Double-A.

"This is a heck of an opportunity," he said last week after he interviewed in Seattle.

None of the Mariners' seven candidates had managed in the majors, underscoring how intent first-year general manager Jack Zduriencik is on completely remaking this flopping franchise. Seattle lost 101 games this season, its most since 1983, and became the first team to lose 100 with a $100 million payroll.

Zduriencik didn't even interview a former major league manager, saying he's been around enough of them in his 25 years primarily as a scout to know what one would say.

Wakamatsu beat out a fresh, relatively unknown field: Boston bench coach Brad Mills and third base coach DeMarlo Hale; Arizona third base coach Chip Hale; Chicago White Sox bench coach and former Mariners infielder Joey Cora; St. Louis third base coach Jose Oquendo and San Diego Triple-A manager Randy Ready.

Wakamatsu becomes Seattle's fifth manager since Lou Piniella left following the 2002 season. He replaces Jim Riggleman, who took over in June when John McLaren was fired after a 25-47 start to a season in which the Mariners were expected to contend for the playoffs.

McLaren was on the job less than 12 months, after Mike Hargrove quit suddenly in the middle of the 2007 season -- the last time Seattle was winning.

Zduriencik is rebuilding the Mariners with a new scouting department, a new system of player evaluation -- and now a new field leader who knows the AL West.

Wakamatsu interviewed with the then-veteran Rangers a few years ago. He was their bench coach from 2003-06 and third base coach in 2007. Then he went to the young, rebuilding Athletics to assist manager and friend Bob Geren -- the two used to coach their sons' Little League teams together.

Wakamatsu said recently he thought opposite approaches in those last two jobs would serve him well in Seattle, which is transforming itself from old and bad to young and hopefully better.

The native of Hood River, Ore., who grew up in Hayward, Calif., says he knows only a little Japanese -- always a consideration in Seattle, with All-Star Ichiro Suzuki as the franchise cornerstone -- though it has improved recently while with the A's and Rangers. Wakamatsu was the minor league catching coordinator for the Angels from 2001-02, after playing in the minors as a catcher from 1985-96. He played 18 games in the majors with the White Sox in 1991.

He managed Arizona's rookie league team in 1997, then at Class-A High Desert, Double-A El Paso and Double-A Erie from 1998-2000.

He said last week he was edgy talking to Zduriencik and trying to learn if the team is going to have a long-term rebuilding project or push immediately to win in 2009.

"Anybody can come in and say, 'I want to win right away.' But you have to be realistic," Wakamatsu said last week. "There's work to be done this winter."

Zduriencik's intent is to win as soon as possible and he refuses to declare next season a lost makeover. Wakamatsu said winning now is possible, even though 36-year-old Raul Ibanez, the team's leading run producer, is a free agent, and the underperforming, expensive rotation includes Erik Bedard, Jarrod Washburn and Carlos Silva.

"From the outside looking in, this is a club that a lot of smart people around the world thought would make the postseason," Wakamatsu said. "Why were they wrong? ... What changed? I don't see this team as being an old team.

"In general, it's a young team that maybe with some prodding we can win right away."

Peter Gammons covers baseball for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.