Chuck Armstrong’s Memory Lane. Jack Zduriencik’s 2014 Outlook.
Memories and outlooks were the themes of the 2014 January RBI Club luncheon at Safeco Field. Chuck Armstrong regaled a packed house with tales of the past. He shared stories from his nearly 30-year Major League Baseball (MLB) career. His trip down memory lane was followed by Jack Zduriencik’s look at the 2014 season. (It’s coming soon y’all. Pitchers and catchers report February 12!)
With a little prompting, Armstrong dropped names of the veritable who’s who in baseball, including George Steinbrenner, Scott Boras, Alex Rodriguez and more. He spoke fondly of former Mariners owner George Argyros who brought him to Seattle to help run the franchise.
Argyros owned the Mariners from 1981 – 1989. Armstrong recounted how Argyros wisely inserted a clause into the Mariners old Kingdome lease. The caveat provided a 120-day window to find local ownership prior to the team being moved or sold. “That,” Armstrong said, “is why the Mariners are still here and the Sonics are not.”
During his eight years of ownership, Argyros also instituted a college scholarship program for high school age players drafted by the Mariners. The program dictated that no matter where these young signees went to college, the Mariners would pay the bill. Today, every MLB team replicates Argyros’ initiative. According to Armstrong, the Mariners wrote college tuition checks for roughly $300,000 in last year.
What else did Argyros do? A lot! Not the least of which was urge the Commissioner to extend the MLB pension program to all non-uniformed employees. A benefit, Armstrong noted, of which he would soon be availing himself.
Effective January 31, Armstrong will be retiring. As for his successor, he said he’s not involved in the selection process, but hopes it will be an internal candidate. “We have a deep bench. I know I’m leaving the organization in good hands. The future looks very bright,” Armstrong said.
General Manager Jack Zduriencik praised Armstrong for his passion. “He cares tremendously. He genuinely wants to win and we are all going to miss him,” said Zduriencik.
But, even prior to the search for Armstrong’s replacement, the Mariners were in the midst of a busy offseason, reported Zduriencik. Lloyd McClendon was hired as our new manager. A new coaching staff was named. The club had a flurry of free agent signings, including the exciting Robinson Cano deal. The Peoria Sports Complex team facilities underwent a complete renovation. And, a new Latin American academy is primed to open in the Dominican Republic.
With Spring Training just around the corner, Zduriencik said he is looking forward to competition for several spots in the lineup. He expects Willie Bloomquist to contibute in several positions and off the bench. He is looking for Corey Hart and Logan Morrison to bounce back from their injuries. Franklin Gutierrez is healthy and ready to play, said Zduriencik. And, he expects veteran catcher John Buck to be a good mentor for young catcher Mike Zunino.
In the bullpen, “We’ve got good internal candidates,” Zduriencik said. He directed attention to Tom Wilhelmsen and Danny Farquhar who will be competing for the closer’s job. And, don’t count out Stephen Pryor, who missed most of 2013 due to injury.
Even with all the great potential in the bullpen, Zduriencik mentioned trades are still a possibility.
As for the starting rotation, mark down Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma in ink as your one and two starters. James Paxton, a left-hander who had an impressive debut late last season, will likely be number three, then possibly Erasmo Ramirez and young Taijuan Walker.
Rick Rizzs wrapped up the session with a note about Toys for Kids, which had its best year ever. The 2013 November dinner and auction raised $225,000. The money ensured 7,000 homeless and disadvantaged kids received a toy at Christmas.
Up next, our fifth annual Media Day luncheon will be held February 7. Stay tuned for more details about the event.
Want additional stories from this January’s event? Check back soon. We’ll be sharing more fun tidbits.