Incoming CEO John Stanton’s love for baseball goes deeper than just the Mariners
A couple of times during the Mariners’ Wednesday news conference to announce the transition of ownership, the media was reminded that this would be the only time they would hear from incoming Chairman and CEO John Stanton until the sale was completed with the approval of MLB, expected to happen at an owners meeting in August.
John Stanton is a name that those who have followed the club closely most likely have heard in recent years. He would come up as a possible eventual owner or leader of an ownership group of the Mariners when speculation would arise that the team might be sold. If you knew the name you most likely knew that he held top executive positions with a number of wireless companies including McCaw Cellular and Clearwire. You probably didn’t know much more about him, however.
“I suppose lots of you are wondering who the heck is John Stanton,” he said after being introduced by current CEO and Chairman Howard Lincoln at the conference.
His bio noted that he was a Whitman College grad and held an MBA from Harvard Business School. Considered to be a pioneer in the wireless industry, he was born in Seattle, and raised and resides in Bellevue. He’s local, he’s successful, he has a wide range of business experience. He also has a love for the game of baseball.
“I am first and foremost a baseball fan,” he told the assembled media at Safeco Field.
His fandom predates the Mariners and carries a painful memory as he lost his first team – he told the media that as a teenage boy he cried when the Seattle Pilots left town.
“I didn’t really understand,” he remembered. “I was a 14 year old boy who loved baseball. All of a sudden the team was gone. I remember it was very late. They went to spring training not knowing where the team was going.”
While his ultimate goal was to one day be a starting center fielder, reality struck when he got cut from his junior high team. Stanton would have to enjoy the game from the other side of the fence.
“I really remember being with my dad at Sick’s Stadium, which seemed enormous to me at the time but in hindsight was a pretty small spot. I had no idea how intimate that stadium was. It was more like a Triple-A stadium because that’s what it was the year before in ’68, and sitting up in what would pass for a nosebleed section back then and watching the game and taking my glove, having a hot dog and popcorn…”
It wasn’t just the big league games that left their mark on Stanton. Memories of paying a dollar to sit in the outfield berm to watch the Walla Walla Padres – a short-season A team for San Diego – while attending Whitman prompted him to later buy part of the West Coast League’s Walla Walla Sweets, a college wood bat summer team, in 2010.
“That team moved,” he said of the Padres. “Walla Walla didn’t have summer baseball. Some friends of mine said we ought to do this. They had the dream of making it happen. I was an investor along with some of my partners.
“It’s just a dream,” he continued. “As much as I enjoy going to Mariners games, the summer wood bat college leagues or Single-A games, you are up close. You get to really get a sense of the game, the cliche that you can smell the grass. It’s a lot of fun.”
Stanton is also an investor in the Yakima Valley Pippins, another West Coast League team, and the Tacoma Rainiers, and they are not the only teams along with the Mariners that he attends. The games that have been at the top of his list in recent years are the college games his two sons have played in. By his count he has attended 46 baseball games already this season, 36 of which were his youngest son’s.
In addition to the baseball teams, Stanton was a member of the Sonics ownership group that was led by Howard Schultz. He was one of two members of the board who voted against the sale to Clay Bennett, who eventually moved the team to Oklahoma. That move, along with nearly losing the Mariners to St. Petersburg years ago, were on his mind when presented with the opportunity to purchase majority ownership of the Mariners.
“My involvement with the Sonics as a minority owner and the eventual sale of the team, which was an enormous disappointment to me, probably did influence it,” he said. “I don’t think there was a real risk of the team leaving town but I think that every one of the owners had it in the back of his mind that this is one of the very few communities in the country that has lost two sports teams, and I think that keeping baseball safe in Seattle, it’s of paramount importance. If there is any goal greater than winning the World Series it is the goal and the commitment to keep this team in this town.”
As for that goal of winning a World Series, Stanton believes the team is on the right path, a path he believes starts with the direction and a tone that is set from the top.
“I think that leadership is ultimately in any organization the thing that matters most,” he said. “It was exciting to see (Mariners manager) Scott Servais in Texas jumping out on the field. I think that everyone that was watching that saw the passion, not just the passion to win but the passion to support his guys. That makes a difference. It’s also creativity. It’s doing things a little different and seeing things and studying the game and sabermetrics. All those things that go into making a difference, and I think the pieces are all here and I believe that this team can and will win.”