By Shannon Drayer
PEORIA, Ariz. – The man who was nicknamed the “Bad Dude” in his playing days did a good thing Friday morning. Mariners third-base coach John Stearns, who has missed the majority of spring training after surgery to repair a hiatal hernia, stepped down.
“I could miss the whole spring training and not be ready for opening day,” he told a small group of media members at the spring-training complex. “Now we are going to bring me in and make the players go through a change like that? They haven’t even seen me on the field. It just makes sense to me that for us to get off to a good start and to contend, to be in the playoffs this year, that I should step down and let the staff that has been doing a great job this spring step in and do what they need to do.
“I think it is a smooth transition and the best thing for the team, the best for the Seattle Mariners.”
Stearns, 62, announced that he was stepping down from his position because he felt currently he was physically unable to perform the role after the surgery. Rich Donnelly, who had been hired to manage Triple-A Tacoma this year and had taken over duties at third in Stearns’ absence, will assume the position on a permanent basis. A Rainiers manager will be announced in a few days.
Manager Lloyd McClendon has known Stearns since his rookie year in baseball. When McClendon broke into the big leagues with the Mets, Stearns was their All-Star catcher. When the surgery was originally announced, McClendon said that he would need a month off from physical activity and it would be a battle to keep him down. True to his point, Stearns walked into the the complex the next day, less than two days after surgery.
But the full recovery from the Feb. 24 surgery – which a number of people have said was on the edge of being extremely serious – has taken longer than Stearns anticipated.
“This hiatal hernia that I have has really bothered me more than I thought,” he said. “I’m not ready to go. I am not ready to swing my arms and yell and scream and hit fungos and throw batting practice and do all the things I do as a coach. I just makes sense to me that the best thing for the organization and the players is for me to step down and possibly go do something else in the organization.”
General manager Jack Zduriencink, who has known Stearns for years and brought him into this organization, pointed out that with his experience there were a number of things he could do to help the Mariners. He has been assigned to the pro-scouting department and may assume the role of advance scout, something the Mariners have not had a full-time basis.
Zduriencik said he had been talking with Stearns the last few days and that he asked him to take a night to sleep on his decision. The fact that he would put the team first was not a surprise.
“It says a lot about him,” Zduriencik said. “We all know his background, ‘Bad Dude Stearns.’ He’s a tough guy. But it says a lot about him and his teammates and how he feels about Lloyd and his staff. Nothing will change with him status-wise, just his job. And he will help us.”
For McClendon, he loses not only a third-base coach but a friend on his staff.
“He kind of took me under his wing (in New York),” McClendon said. “We both lived in Colorado and became real good friends. We did a lot of things together in the winter. This is a tremendous guy with a tremendous track record and I know this is tough for him. He is a very proud individual. A very tough guy. It was tough for him to do this.”