Mariner Culture


Actually it is axiomatic that Fortune 500 companies have "cultures."  Here's a sample link amigos:  It's a primer on the definition of culture, shared beliefs, ways of doing things, work environments.

You never worked for a company that was a good one?  Or a bad one?

That cute little list that Forbes puts out about Best and Worst companies to work for, what's that all about?


When Chuck Armstrong and Jack Zduriencik phone down to Eric Wedge to demand extra infield for injured players, that's an example of Mariner culture.  When Brad Miller is allowed to cowardly send over a proxy to smack Robinson Cano down for offering C the Z advice, that's Mariner culture.  When Mike Hargrove deep-sixes Shin-Soo Choo and Bavasi is powerless to do anything about it except trade Choo, that's Mariner culture under Lincoln and Armstrong.  

When Bill Bavasi's first move is to seek approval to bring in Jim Edmonds, and is told he's not the Mariner kind of player, that's Mariner culture.  When Michael Saunders gets buried on Jack Zduriencik's mud list for not playing injured, that's Mariner culture.  When Blengino and Zduriencik can't decide whether to play an all-UZR team or an all-RBI team from one year to the next, that's Mariner dysfunction.  

When the entire pitching staff is allowed -- no!, encouraged -- to cry and whine about Kenji Johjima being Japanese, that's Mariner culture.  When Miguel Olivo is made miserable and ineffective because 70% of the scouts and 90% of the coaches are mad he's not Dan Wilson, that's Mariner culture.

Lou Piniella left because of fights with Howard Lincoln over priorities; that was well documented.  "Pat wants to win; Howard doesn't know how" was his acid comment on being run out of town.  Pre-Gillick, about 1997 or so, he had taken public his complaint "The Mariners need to get it through their head that you have to go to spring training ready to go to war."  That's because Lou had been around some real baseball franchises and knew what it looked like when a franchise acted like the Yankees or Reds.

Eric Wedge took a very unusual step of "blacklisting" himself to air the dirty laundry and the dysfunction - his word.  How mad do you suppose he had to be, to throw away his post-M's career that way?

Ichiro, with his work ethic and discipline, was famously "irritated" by Mariner culture, especially while Hargrove was here.


The good news is that Jerry DiPoto and Scott Servais are doing things absolutely right, have been empowered to do things right, and it's going to make a whale of a difference.  Going to make, pshaw -- it is ALREADY noticeable in the quality of the at-bats and in the accountability and in the "best pitcher gets to pitch," as opposed to the infighting and veteran entitlement and feathered-nest comfort zones.

Don't underestimate the changes to the clubhouse work environment and work ethic.  Some sports franchises do it right, like the Warriors now; some don't, like the Rockets now.  No disrespect to the denizens I admire so much, but not noticing that the athletes on some teams run the asylum ... that would be like not noticing that 98 MPH fastballs help you strike out hitters.  Or not noticing that on some teams, players are allowed to "show up, lose, and then go out into the night" as Pat Riley complained.

There's an example right in town, which for some reason doesn't "take" with fans who have seen a decade of dysfunctional Mariner teams.  The Paul Allen / John Schneider / Pete Carroll Seahawks do things the right way, which is to say everything is permeated with an urgency to win the Super Bowl, from the draft decisions right down to the tackling drills and the way players take accountability for the way they sleep at night.

I was amazed to see how open Jay Buhner was on TV last night about this wonderful change that Russ and I have been waiting for since August 2001.  Going to be nice to have owners who are hardcore baseball fans, he laughed.  I'm excited about bringing a World Series to Seattle now, he said.  That'll do for me too.

I might or might not see a World Series in my lifetime.  :- )  But I have already seen a Mariner front office attempt to do things right, and that's good enough for me.





If you haven't been watching the way the team has played this should.  It isn't just the's the pre and post-game comments.  It was all excuses before this season if they it's all about accountability.


...on that we can agree.

However, the idea that somehow a 'good' corporate culture leads to 'good' results is tenuous, at best.

No one loved Jack Welch's culture at GE.

No one loves the culture Sam Walton bequeathed to WalMart (of course, all workers SAY they love it, or they won't be workers for long).

No one is writing sonnets about how beautiful life is inside fortress Amazon.

I worked for years for a company whose reputation for corporate culture was so widely admiired that I could hire people on the basis of that reputation alone.  However, our results varied DRASTICALLY from one year to the next, even with the same leaders and company mission.

And I have to admit that I gag a little every time I hear Paul Allen's name used in this context.  Am I the only one who remembers the Jailblazers era?  If I remember correctly, registered sex offenders, drug use, animal abuse and team player fights pretty much characterized that corporate culture.  One which was so effective that, in a league where more than half the teams make the playoffs, Paul Allen's leadership managed to have them miss them seven times in one ten year stretch.

And as for the Mariners, as I've said before, it's fair to level all the criticism you want for their results on the field.  But I'm having a hard time piecing together a picture of their so-called corporate culture based on your examples.  It's a place where...

--GMs overrule managers...and managers ignore GMs

--a cabal of (apparently white) players can gang up on another for his ethnicity...while America hears over and over again the heart-warming ebony and ivory story of Griffey and Buhner

--ownership won't spend for Lou...but they will for Figgins, Felix, Cano, etc.

--a player acquisition is allegedly vetoed simply because he represents a violation of the corporate culture they seek to create

--The front office allegedly meddles in Wedge's management decisions...while also being the same management that only cares about sitting back and collecting the cash

--and finally, the same ownership that knows nothing about hiring good people now hires the people that are doing it right.

And because I've gone on too long already, let me just relay one piece of inside scoop to Buhner (assuming his quote above is accurate): Jay, sorry to disappoint you, but there are no new owners.  THEY'RE EXACTLY THE SAME 18 THAT EXISTED THE DAY BEFORE YESTERDAY.

Trucks, trucks and MORE TRUCKS!


And among the middle ground areas you and I have:

1) An effective corporate culture doesn't always mean "extra pleasant work environement."  Ex. U.S. Marines.

2) A good culture isn't the only factor that goes into a company's success, especially year-to-year.  Life is complex.  eBay was going to make money whether it did things right nor not.

3) The Mariners did do some things, many things, towards trying to win.  Personally I think Lincoln and Armstrong wanted a World Series quite badly.  Not as much as they wanted attaboys for annual cash flow, and to spend a quarter-century in their positions, but badly.


Among the things I'd want to clarify:  

Nobody said that Lincoln and Armstrong cared "only" about sitting back and collecting the cash.  The question is where sparkling annual cash flow ranked as a priority compared to the urgency of winning championships.

Also, a single company can change its culture over time; this is often the very reason the board changes CEO's.  The power structure within the M's split ownership is not a simple one.  There's nothing unusual about culture change as power shifts towards a Kevin Mather / Chris Larson bloc and away from a Howard Lincoln / Hiroshi Yamauchi bloc.

Part of the problem was Lincoln and Armstrong overestimating their own feel for MLB(TM) success and underestimating the need for clear delegation to SME's.  Good CEO's know when their employees are smarter than they are, and COVET such resources.  The shift from Piniella to Hargrove was an example of Lincoln over-valuing yes men, as opposed to valuing "VP's" (Piniella) who were unpleasant to work with but great at their jobs.  A Lee Iacocca/Ford situation.

Thanks amigo.


First, let me clarify that the idea that ownership cared more about profits than winning was not aimed at you, but to the endless stream of commenters at places like the Seattle Times blog. I should have been clearer.

The current situation is fascinating to me for two reasons:

  • Inside that Mariners, they (probably not us) will see if a difference in temperament from the boss can have a positive impact.  I think Lincon was unfairly castigated by some for his indifference to fielding a winning team (maybe the opposite was true, considering the turnover).  But by all accounts, Stanton has a much sunnier disposition.  People may well feel happier...even more liberated. But the rank and file still work for exactly the same bosses, and exactly the same owners. Does Stanton mean that any of the key decisions will be made any differently?  Could it alone lead to better draft choices?  Better free agent signings?  Higher payrolls?  The green hydro winning more (as it rightfully should)?
  • Even if Stanton has a positive impact, will he be around enough to impose his will?  Lincoln, aside from his very worthwhile charitiable work, had only one job--and that was sitting in that ballpark and running that business.  Stanton seems to have a LOT more external obligations (board memberships, etc.).  I think what I'm saying is that I see the big 'winner' from this reorg being Mather.  He knows the operation better than anyone else...he knows the levers of MLB very well...and I think he'll be empowered to a higher degree than Armstrong was during either of his tenures.

In other words, maybe the new corporate culture is half Stanton, and half Mather unbound?


...that baseball is much...much more a "people business" than any of the other examples provided, with the exception, perhaps, of the Marines.  The Marines, though, is a FANTASTIC working environment if you are actually suited to being a Marine.  It is simply not correct to say that, because it's tough and they expect a lot from you, it is a bad place to work that gets good results.  That belies a fundamental lack of understanding of how the Marines get the results that they get.

But back on topic...I believe baseball is more about creating the right environment for the employees than any typical corporate endeavor.  The product you're selling is literally the work-product of the employees...not widgets...not services...the direct skill and exploits of the players.  Unhappy or not-properly-trained players = bad results.  Period.  Failing to recognize this is dangerous to the on-field results.


The U.S. Marine Corps might seem draconian if you (1) are a lifelong civilian born into affluence, and (2) an American, as opposed to a person born and raised in a Third World country who is used to life being a struggle.

We even talk about soccer's popularity around the world.  Non-Americans are used to working hard for one point.  IMHO Americans' sensibilities are a little distorted.

Sports in general are an oasis from white American entitlement, because pro athletes can handle military-style discipline.  That's one of the reasons I love sports.


Just finished watching "30 in 30" on the way Pete Carroll changed the environment at USC, taking Trojan football from losing (and worse, irrelevance) by installing a culture of expectation and immersion.  There were many differences between Carroll's priorities and those of Hackett, Smith, Tollner, etc. ... Carroll delineates all of these differences in his book.  ;- )

Highly recommend the show.


Nicely stated, Matt. There are strict cultures like the Marines (or Amazon or GE) that are great and there are loose cultures like Zappos or AirBnB that are great. The most critical aspects are consistency and fit. The great, high performing Zappos employee that thrives in an environment where he can wear a feather boa, a funny hat and flip-flops to work is likely not going to be a great, high performino employee in GE's buttoned down environment. Those organizations know this and they are pretty good at selecting folks that will do well in their environment. I know people that work at Amazone that LOVE it. But they are type-A, competitive, workaholic types. Bezos's "a person can work hard, smart or long and at Amazon, you can't choose two out of three" thrills them. 

Bad cultures are inconsistent. Executives delegate...until they decide to micro-manage. They adhere to a strict budget...unless there is a Japanese player on the line. Some players are coddled...and some are nit picked endlessly, often for no clear reason. 


Henry Jordan "Lombardi is very fair.  He treats us all like dogs."  :- )

There are a lot of roads to Rome, but it still involves creating buy-in to the corporate mission.  This buy-in is elusive but it starts with sincerity from above.  The soldiers need to believe that the generals play by the same rules, will sacrifice more for victory than the soldiers have to.

George Washington is still the father of our country as far as I'm concerned.  Capped it all off by refusing the crown.  That sort of dedication, mission over self, will ripple and permeate the movement.

The reductio ad absurdum, in human history, is probably the Cross.  From a belief standpoint or a disbelief standpoint, a single Example inspired devotion.


++ Bad cultures are inconsistent. Executives delegate...until they decide to micro-manage. They adhere to a strict budget...unless there is a Japanese player on the line. Some players are coddled...and some are nit picked endlessly, often for no clear reason.  ++

Don't know if there could be a better example of the day-to-day "culture" that could be set forth.

When I worked at Application Integration (DCAC/MRM) at Boeing, managers didn't get to indulge themselves in favorites and cliques.  Personalities and alliances played a very minor role.  It was about quality, on time and on budget, or else.  Your personal foibles were tolerated exactly to that extent that your work was critical.  If you botched something you knew exactly what to expect from the boss, whoever you were.

At 777 QA it was just the opposite.  Managers got to indulge their likes and dislikes, treated some workers with deference, made life miserable for others - based on nothing more than personal grudges or who they went out with at night.  They figured the project would get done either way.  They were wrong and they all lost their jobs when the product failed.

Workers have a very keen sense about these things, and they'll take advantage of comfort zones to get sloppy or they'll focus to contribute to team victory.

GLS's picture

What is this story about Brad Miller and Cano you mention above? I have never heard this.

GLS's picture

Thanks. I hadn't seen that article. But, the way the article was written, it sure doesn't sound like Miller cowardly sent Van Slyke over to talk to Cano. As I read it, the article was more indicative of Van Slyke being off of his meds. 

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