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'Baseball First' Is The Mantra Of New Mariners CEO

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
John Stanton, left, who would become the Mariners' chairman and chief executive officer, speaks during a news conference as current Chairman Howard Lincoln looks on Wednesday, April 27, 2016, in Seattle.

From “business first” to “baseball first” — that’s how many are describing the transition that will take place in the Mariners’ front office over the next few months, as current CEO Howard Lincoln retires and new CEO John Stanton takes over.

The big change, announced this week, is being welcomed by many fans, and by KPLU sports commentator Art Thiel.

'Perfect' Choice

No doubt you've heard the news by now if you're a Mariners fan. Nintendo of America, based in Redmond, sold its majority share of the Mariners to a minority ownership group led by tech billionaire and Seattle-area native John Stanton. He's described by many as being "steeped in baseball."

"I think he is just about the perfect owner for this team at this time," Thiel said. "He's got the money; he's got the skills; he's got the passion."

The transition is expected to be approved by Major League Baseball owners at a meeting in August.

Business Vs. Baseball

Thiel said the Mariners' new CEO will be drastically different than the current one.

"Howard Lincoln never knew much about baseball," Thiel said. "He was a corporate attorney for Nintendo of America for many years before he took over as CEO [of the team] in 1999.

"He just had no feel for the game, no understanding. He looked at it as a business — and it is a business, of course — but the passion to win on the field was not as important as it was to have the successful business operation.

"Howard wasn't very accountable for the lack of success they had on the field," Thiel said.

But he said Stanton, on the other hand, is "baseball through and through."

"He played as a kid, he was a Little League coach, his kids played in high school and in college, he owns two Northwest League teams: one in Walla Walla and one in Yakima. He's a part owner of the Tacoma Rainiers and he's been a minority owner of the Mariners for 15 years.

"He knows the game; he knows the personalities; he understands how to lead," Thiel said.

"Howard was basically tone deaf. He didn't understand the nuances of the game nor did he understand a retail operation, which is what baseball is.

"You're trying to connect with the fan base, trying to be credible and Howard never was, and that was the source of much fan disaffection.

"There's a lot of celebrating going on from the fans," Thiel continued. "I think it's a little bit unfair because, guess what, if the Mariners are successful with this team, these are Howard's guys.

"He picked General Manager Jerry Dipoto who picked the manager and who's got the players, so, it could be that Howard Lincoln will be credited after he retires.

"If they're on the right path, and I think they are, he will have to be given some credit, which I think many fans will just not do," he said.

Successful Business, But Not Team

The Mariners are one of the top 10 most valuable teams in Major League Baseball, valued at $1.4 billion. But they're also the team that's gone the longest without appearing in the playoffs. Thiel thinks Stanton's leadership will help change that.

"I think John really chafed at the decisions, and lack of decisions, that were made under Lincoln," he said. "So I think Stanton, because of his success at rehabbing businesses that were not doing well, that's a great history to have.

"He's also talked about building a culture of winning, building a culture of energy, and with the priority of baseball first. I think, in the long run, that's going to be a crucial asset.

"Stanton says his goal is the World Series," Thiel continued. "I never heard that coming out of an owner's mouth in the last 20 years in Seattle, so this should be a difference maker."


You can find Art Thiel's work at Sportspress Northwest and

Kirsten Kendrick hosts Morning Edition on KNKX and the sports interview series "Going Deep," talking with folks tied to sports in our region about what drives them — as professionals and people.
Art Thiel is a co-founder and writer for the rising sports website Sportspress Northwest. In 2003 Thiel wrote the definitive book about the Seattle Mariners, “Out of Left Field,” which became a regional bestseller. In 2009, along with Steve Rudman and KJR 950 afternoon host Mike Gastineau, Thiel authored “The Great Book of Seattle Sports Lists,” a cross between and Mad Magazine that has become mandatory reading for any sports fan who has an indoor bathroom.