SEATTLE -- The 2008 season began with high expectations and loads of promise for the Mariners after an 88-win campaign in 2007 and several high-profile acquisitions in the offseason. But that promise has transformed into nothing less than a nightmare through the first 72 games -- a bad dream that finally was put to an end for manager John McLaren on Thursday morning, when the team announced he was relieved of his duties and replaced by bench coach Jim Riggleman as the team heads to Atlanta for a three-game series beginning Friday. "On a personal level, this was a very difficult decision to make," interim general manager Lee Pelekoudas said at a press conference late Thursday morning. "John McLaren and I and many of us in the organization go back a long ways -- back to the 1990s when he first joined us. But from a strictly professional level, I felt this was the right thing to do for the ballclub and for the further advancement of the organization."
The move comes right on the heels of Monday's news that Pelekoudas would be replacing Bill Bavasi as general manager. Club president Chuck Armstrong said that making both moves at the same time had been considered. "We had a long, hard discussion about whether we should make both the moves at the same time," Armstrong said. "And so that's why my answer was that I was somewhat surprised when Lee came in as quickly as he did and said he wanted to make the change in the manager situation." Pelekoudas said the change came because of months of struggles that led to their current Major League-worst 25-47 record and not the past three days, when the Mariners dropped two out of three at home to the Marlins. "I went to Chuck and [CEO Howard Lincoln] yesterday with the recommendation," he said. "There wasn't one game, there wasn't one homestand, there wasn't one series that led to this decision. I think it was a culmination." McLaren went 43-41 after taking over in the middle of last season when Mike Hargrove stepped down. McLaren was 25-47 so far this year, giving him a 68-88 mark during his time at the helm. He also had 11 seasons as a coach with the club. "John took it hard -- he's an emotional person, I'm an emotional person, Chuck's an emotional person," Pelekoudas said. "I think we all have emotions in us, and being that he's a close friend and being that he's been a friend of this organization for a long time, he took it hard. But he also took it very professionally." McLaren's troops suffered all year from inconsistent play, but a couple of the key issues were a lack of production on offense and inconsistency from the starting rotation outside of Felix Hernandez. McLaren tried changing things up throughout the year. He sat Richie Sexson down for several games to work on his swing, called up Jeff Clement (twice), Jeremy Reed and Wladimir Balentien from Triple-A Tacoma, and put R.A. Dickey into the starting rotation in place of Miguel Batista. He also put Ichiro Suzuki back in right field on Monday, a move that Pelekoudas said he was fine with. And while the interim general manager didn't want to second-guess McLaren's moves, he did talk about the plight of managers in general. "All managers are subject to the performance of the players," Pelekoudas said. "To say that this roster hamstrung him, certainly, as we've stated before, we think the players have underperformed. So I think in that regard that all managers have that hanging over their heads, I guess. If the players don't perform, then they're in jeopardy. As are the players, too." Riggleman has plenty of experience under his belt. From the very end of 1992 through the '94 season, he managed the Padres. And from 1995-99, he took over the Cubs and led them to a National League Wild Card berth in '98. His career managerial record in the Major Leagues is 486-598 (.448). "I think he's got to be himself," Pelekoudas said."Jim's a serious, serious man. ... I don't mean to speak for him, but he's not a guy looking to have fun. He thinks fun's going to happen if you do the right things." Riggleman will have the rest of the season to try to get the Mariners back on the winning track. "Jim's the manager until the end of the season. We are evaluating him," Pelekoudas said. "Everyone's under evaluation, beginning with me, I'm being evaluated as well every day. And Jim will be evaluated, and at the end of the season, we'll have some decisions." McLaren's dismissal will bring about other changes in clubhouse. Lee Elia, who recently took over as hitting coach for the dismissed Jeff Pentland, will become the bench coach while still maintaining authority over the Mariners' hitting program. Jose Castro, the Minor League hitting coordinator for the Mariners who has been with the team for the past two weeks, will take over the hitting coach position and work under Elia. "Lee did this previously under Lou Piniella back in the '90s when he was the bench coach and hitting coach at the same time without any help," Pelekoudas said. "This time, he has Jose Castro here to assist him in this area." Pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, bullpen coach Norm Charlton, first-base coach Eddie Rodriguez and third-base coach Sam Perlozza will stay with the team. Pelekoudas said that the managerial change gives the Mariners a new voice and a chance to really evaluate the performance of the team instead of making any "drastic decisions based on their performance so far." He also said that the threat of players fighting for their jobs doesn't lose any of its power, even though the three casualties so far have been the hitting coach, the general manager and the manager. "No, I don't think it does, because they know that the other shoe could drop any day," Pelekoudas said. "I'm not implying that it's going to drop tomorrow or drop at all, but I think that they always know that that shoe is always there. They should know it's always there." Armstrong seems to share Pelekoudas' attitude toward performance evaluation. "The chances to get back in this pennant race are probably zilch," Armstrong said. "We just wanted to see how people perform and that we expect them to come every day prepared to win. Just not coming and going through the motions."
Jesse Baumgartner is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.