McLaren's words came too late for Mariners

By Jerry Brewer
Seattle Times staff columnist

The contrived tirade began with a warning.

"We're gonna do this a little different," John McLaren said.

He sounded a little like Tina Turner at the beginning of "Proud Mary." Then the downtrodden Mariners manager unleashed a 45-second outburst that would've made Ozzie Guillen blush.

"We're playing our [expletive] off every day and got nothing to show for it," he said. "I'm tired of [expletive] losing, I'm tired of getting my [expletive] beat, and so have those guys. We gotta change this [expletive expletive] around and get after it. And only we can do it. The fans are [expletive] off, and I'm [expletive] off, and the players are [expletive] off. And that's the way it is. There's no [expletive] easy way out of this, can't feel sorry for ourself, we gotta [expletive] buckle it up and get after it. I'm tired of [expletive] losing this, [expletive] every night we bust our [expletive]. It's gotta be a total team [expletive] effort to turn this thing around, and that's it."

That was 14 curse words, or about one per every three seconds. What was this, Lee Elia Appreciation Day?

Elia, a Mariners special assistant, will always be remembered for his expletive-laced blowup as the Cubs manager 25 years ago. Now McLaren is a candidate for the YouTube Hall of Fame.

He'll have to do some lobbying for induction, however. Get past the profanity, and his message is too thin, too late and too inconsequential.

The Mariners have been a corpse for a few weeks. The only intrigue left is where they will be dumped. They need to be overhauled, and they will improve only when they realize there is no remedy.

McLaren's antics felt forced. The entire postgame was a strange, calculated event.

The Mariners' public-relations staff advised the media to go to the clubhouse immediately after Wednesday's 5-4 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Normally, when the clubhouse opens, the manager speaks first and then the players talk. On this day, we were told to talk to the players, and in the surprise of the season, most all of them were sitting at their lockers.

It felt like a firing. Reliever Arthur Rhodes threw a tantrum, kicking and throwing gear. For most everyone else, there was an eerie silence, an anticipation of bad news.

And then it was time for McLaren to speak.

The nice man did his best Al Pacino impression before storming away without taking any questions.

Now, I have a firm belief about managers and coaches who go bonkers. I call it the Cuckoo Principle. When they go cuckoo, that's it. They're done. It works in almost every case, except for Guillen. The White Sox manager is incessantly cuckoo and blessed with the cushion of a World Series. But even his time will arrive soon.

An explosion is always proof that either you've lost the grip on your team, or you're struggling with the pressures of the job. McLaren had to be provoked to act out of character.

Three hours before the game, team president Chuck Armstrong was overheard yelling inside a closed manager's office.

In private, McLaren is much more fiery than in public. He prefers to protect his players in interviews, but he's not soft on them behind the scenes.

"John was controlled today," general manager Bill Bavasi said of the tirade. "He was very under control. I give him a lot of credit."

You can see the agony on McLaren's face. He's spent weeks dissecting this problem, and for what? The Mariners are so bad that new problems arise before old problems are solved.

He has spent weeks protecting players, and for what? The guys keep on with their irresponsible ways, and he gets ripped for being too kind.

The Mariners want to fight through the losing without making major changes. They dream of a miracle turnaround. But all this hoping and wishing only enables a team that wanders through this season without fear of the hammer.

They're just an awful team. In only 60 contests, they've fallen 18 games under .500 and 15 games behind the Angels.


"I have a tough time pinpointing this thing," Bavasi said. "We've turned over every rock to correct this thing. Unfortunately, we've also turned over every rock to lose."

With upper management still doing its "Brownie, you're doing a heckuva job" act with Bavasi and McLaren, the only thing left is to shift blame onto the players. It's a good strategy to finally make these guys more accountable, but it's too late. They've been protected too long. They know it's easier to fire a manager or general manager than get rid of high-priced players with multiyear contracts.

Not enough of the Mariners sincerely want to solve this problem. They want to win only if it's convenient to win, easy to win. If winning gets too complicated, they'd rather try again tomorrow.

No foul-mouthed rant can change that. McLaren tried his best to stir some passion. It's too late, however. The Mariners are gone, lost, and they won't come back until words defer to actions.