MOST DAYS, the manager of one of the most surprising teams in baseball walks to work. It's a short trip from his downtown condominium to Safeco Field, but Lloyd McClendon makes it longer, stopping for coffee or eggs, talking with office workers and baristas.
"I told my players, if they don't start hitting soon, I'll have one of those cans on the side of the road, asking for money," the 55-year-old McClendon says.
Seattle is now a football town, home to the Super Bowl champion Seahawks. But fans older than 13 remember a different era, a baseball era, of Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez and Ichiro Suzuki, of the Griffey slide in 1995 and the 116 victories in 2001.
This team is not that '01 team, not even close. But it is still in playoff contention halfway through the season, and that is progress, baseball baby steps.
"Listen, we have challenges," McClendon says. "From an offensive standpoint we're a very challenged club. But from a pitching and defense standpoint we're probably as good as anybody. We have to dodge the shotgun, take our BB gun and shoot them right between the eyes."
The team's turnaround starts with McClendon (right), who swears in casual conversation and swaggers in the dugout and cobbles together a decent ball club with a couple of superstars (ace Felix Hernandez, second baseman Robinson Cano), some young talent and so many discarded parts.
In recent years, while with the Tigers as a bullpen, bench and hitting coach, McClendon wondered if he would ever get another chance to manage. His first stint, with the Pirates from 2001 to '05, ended with 110 more losses than wins. He interviewed for several openings—killed those interviews, he says—but failed to land a gig. Asked why, he says, "I have my opinions. They wouldn't serve me well to speak on them."
McClendon then segues into lighter matters, like his daughter's wedding this August and the cinnamon rolls on his desk. "I'm not supposed to eat these," he says. "You take one. I'll take three."
He has used that same light touch with the Mariners, his managerial style reminiscent of a therapist's. He has a long black leather couch in his office for when players visit. He even fielded one phone call from Hernandez at 2 a.m.
In typical fashion McClendon cites the oddest of turning points for this team, an eight-game April losing streak. He told his team that their season would get better, that every team in baseball struggles. He walked out of the room thinking, "You're full of s---."
If the Mariners give McClendon an extension, he may look into a bigger place, something more permanent, something he can retire in.
Something within walking distance.
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