McLaren eager for full year at helm
Skipper says pitching, defense key ingredients for success
PEORIA, Ariz. -- John McLaren went to great lengths to prepare himself to be a Major League manager, and he became one when he least expected it.He went from being the bench coach and Mike Hargrove's right-hand man to being "The Man" on July 1, when Hargrove suddenly and unexpectedly resigned as manager. McLaren took the reins and guided the team to a 43-41 record and second-place finish in the American League West. Armed with a veteran coaching staff and two new starting pitchers in Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva, McLaren believes the Mariners are good enough this season to not only challenge the defending division champion Angels, but capture the division title. McLaren recently sat down with MLB.com to talk about his job and the upcoming season, which starts March 31 at Safeco Field against the Rangers. MLB.com: If you could thank someone for being where you are today, who would that be? McLaren: From a personal standpoint, it definitely would be my mother [Jackie]. She was always very supportive. Being a single parent and having to support my brother, my sister and myself, she worked a lot of extra hours to give us what we had, and we never did without. From a professional standpoint, I would have to name a few people just to be fair. Of course, Lou Piniella is a slam dunk, Bobby Mattick, of the Toronto Blue Jays, Pat Gillick, Al Lamachia and Billy Smith. These guys kind of shaped me a little bit and really helped me over the years. MLB.com: Now that you have a half-season as a Major League manager under your belt, how much more confident are you now than when you suddenly took over the team in early July? McLaren: I really didn't have any time to prepare myself for what was put in front of me. Now, with a Spring Training under my belt and getting to know the guys, I think I have their respect and that's really big. MLB.com: How big?
McLaren: I have always considered myself an underdog type of person and that has motivated me. I use it as a positive. Just to give you an example, Piniella played for New York, and is a big name in the game, whereas people in baseball knew John McLaren, but some other people didn't know who I was, or if they did, didn't know much about me. I came to the ballpark every day thinking that I had to earn my stripes every day and I had no problem with that. I always wanted to do more than throw batting practice and hit fungos. I tried to get to know every player individually, whether they were a superstar like Ken Griffey Jr., Edgar Martinez, Alex Rodriguez, Jay Buhner and Ichiro Suzuki, or it was Charlie Gipson. I tried to treat them all the same. Another thing I've tried to do is be the same person every day. I have my bad nights and bad days and am cranky, but when I punch in, I try to challenge myself to be the same person day in and day out and I do that as a manager. I try not to show that I'm moody, but I do show emotion. I think players appreciate that.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
MLB.com: Is there one thing that you took from all those years with Piniella that has helped you so far?McLaren: Winning. It's just about winning and there's not a close second. There were never any false pretenses about Piniella's desire to win. None. Zero. Losing bothers everyone and we all handle it in different ways. We all react differently and I hold it inside more than Piniella does. I have always been a good competitor and being around Piniella took me to a different level. MLB.com: Is pitching and defense still the most important ingredients in building a playoff-contending team? McLaren: Absolutely. That's why I have to tip my hat to the organization. The club went out and got Erik Bedard and Carlos Silva. That is huge. On paper, we're much better, and now we have to go out on the field and do it. The organization has done its part. Now myself and my staff, we have to make every player play as close to their potential as we can. That's why we are doing so much individual work during Spring Training. Little things win championships. Big things get the headlines, but it's the small things that actually get you where you want to go. MLB.com: If someone was to attend two weeks at your Spring Training camp, what would you hope to be their biggest impression? McLaren: I would hope they would go away talking about good organization, a lot of energy, some laughs, a lot of sweat and a lot focus and concentration.
MLB.com: The coaching staff you put together is already being regarded as possibly the best in the American League if not the best in the Major Leagues. Why was it so important to bring in veteran guys?McLaren: First of all, the staff last year did a good job. But I felt like, given the opportunity like I was, I thought it was a good opportunity to bring in some of my guys. I have a history with almost all of these guys, and there is a common thread with all of them and that is winning at the Major League level. With that said, I have stepped back and watched everybody do their thing and I have been impressed how each one approaches his job. Being a coach myself for 22 years, I have been around some great coaches and watching these guys go about their work, I'm tickled inside. MLB.com: What do think your emotions will be like on Opening Day at Safeco Field? McLaren: I hope we don't have to run in from center field, I'll tell you that. I'm not sure I can make that long run anymore. But Opening Day is always so special. Just hearing you say that, I think back to my first Opening Day as a Major League coach with the Toronto Blue Jays in 1986 against the Texas Rangers. When I knew I couldn't play, I knew I wanted to go to the Major Leagues somehow. That's when I started having the mindset of becoming a coach. I know jogging out there the first time, I was extremely proud and it would be the same thing this year. With this job, I feel I am carrying the torch for a lot of people, not only my family but close friends that have been in my corner pulling for me, always encouraging me. All my friends are big fans of mine. MLB.com: Who will be there?
McLaren: In a perfect world, you'd like to have your whole family there. But [my wife] Maria has the business here, my mom has to travel with my sister and my sister would have to get time off, so I don't know if everything could come together. I would like for it to, but we'll see how everything is. An invitation is there for anybody, but it might just be me.MLB.com: What would it mean to you to become the first manager of the Mariners to take a team all the way to the World Series? McLaren: I would feel good for the club. It's all about the players. I'd be crazy to say that having my name up there as the leader of the club wouldn't be great, but I would feel good for the players because they have worked so hard. I know the kind of heart they have. When I said they left it on the field every night last year, I meant it. That will definitely happen again this year. But more than that, our fans have been so loyal. I think our players want to make everybody proud.
Jim Street is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.