One of the high-ranking executives primarily responsible for the Mariners’ decline over the last decade is finally gone, as team president Chuck Armstrong resigned effective January 31st.
While co-workers lined up after the 71-year-old announced his retirement to say wonderful things about what a great guy Armstrong is and what a tremendous job he did in his nearly 30 years with the Mariners, Armstrong’s tenure was marked by consistent incompetence.
Team CEO Howard Lincoln, whose heavy-handed control of the franchise is also responsible for the Mariners finishing fourth in the AL West eight of the last ten seasons, told the media what an “impossible” task it would be to replace Armstrong, because “he knows everybody in baseball, from the Commissioner on down. He even knows the umpires.” Knowing people, however, is not a measure of acumen, and his acquaintances did nothing to raise his understanding of how to run a Major League team.
“One-Buck Chuck”, as some called him, joined the Mariners quite by accident in 1983. He was then-owner George Argyros’ real estate lawyer in California at the time, and was not only unqualified to be team president, he didn’t want the job. Armstrong testified in a deposition in a 1984 lawsuit that “this was neither a job I sought nor desired.”
When Armstrong was hired, he said that he would leave the baseball decisions to “the baseball guys,” but within a couple of years of joining the team he believed he’d learned enough to meddle in baseball affairs. And meddle he did, on a regular basis, right up until his long-overdue departure from the organization.
The late Dick Williams, the Hall of Fame manager who managed the M’s from 1986 to 1988, wrote in his 1990 autobiography No More Mr. Nice Guy, that when he was managing the team, Armstrong was learning baseball “like a two-year-old learns not to drink out of the toilet,” yet Armstrong claimed that he knew the game because he had played college ball at Purdue.
In any other sports organization, an ego-driven executive who ran off 300-game winner Randy Johnson over a petty, personal feud and who made many other puzzling decisions—including giving the keys of the franchise to former GM Bill Bavasi and letting him drive it into a ditch for five years, a fiasco the M’s are only now crawling out of—would have been fired long ago. But with the Mariners Armstrong’s incompetence was not only tolerated, it was rewarded with seven-figure annual salaries and plenty of perks.
If you’re wondering why the M’s have been such a dysfunctional organization for much of their 38 years in existence, look no further than the now-departed Armstrong. Hopefully better days are ahead for a franchise now unburdened by his inept meddling.