Wilbur Donald "Don" Wakamatsu, 49, is a Yonsei born in Hood River, Oregon to a Japanese-American father and an Irish-American mother. He was most recently the Toronto Blue Jays' bench coach. He currently lives in North Richland Hills, Texas.
Wakamatsu signed with the Cincinnati Reds after being picked in the 11th round of the 1985 draft. He had a rather brief Major League career, catching 18 games for the 1991 Chicago White Sox as Charlie Hough's personal catcher and hitting .226/.250/.226. His first Major League hit came in his second at bat, singling off of the California Angels' Scott Lewis. In his final game, he singled for his final hit when he came in to pinch hit for Carlton Fisk in amid a 9-0 blowout of the White Sox by the Seattle Mariners.
In the minors, Wakamatsu played 12 seasons in total and almost split his plate appearances equally between A, A, and AAA. He retired after the 1996 season at t he age of 33.
Managerial and Coaching Career
During his last two seasons (1995 with the Indians' AA affiliate and 1996 with the Mariners' AA affiliate), Wakamatsu served as a player-coach so he only played sparingly. After his retirement as a player, he was named the manager of the rookie-level Arizona League Diamondbacks in 1997 (22-20, .524). He continued on with the Diamondbacks organization, managing their A-Advanced (82-58, .586) then AA teams (64-76, .457) in 1998 and 1999. He was then hired by the Angels in 2000 and managed a single season with their AA affiliate (47-94, .333). He was promoted to field coordinator for the 2001-2002 seasons.
Wakamatsu made his Major League coaching debut in 2003, when he was hired by Buck Showalter as his bench coach in Texas, and he served in that row until Showalter was dismissed following the 2006 season, when he moved to third base coach under new manager Ron Washington. In 2008 he was the Oakland A's bench coach.
The Seattle Mariners hired him as their manager on November 19, 2008, becoming the first manager of Asian decent in the Major Leagues. In his debut season in 2009, his Mariners finished third in the American League West, with a 85-77 (.525) record, an incredible improvement over the 2008 team that finished 61-101 (.377). However, the M's fell back down to Earth the following season, finishing again with a 61-101 record in 2010. Wakamatsu was fired on August 9 of that year, going 42-70 (.375) in that partial season.
Coincidentally, he has the same winning percentage (.464) as a manager in the Majors as he did in the minors.
After taking a brief break from baseball, he was named as the bench coach for the Toronto Blue Jays on November 8, 2010. During his time in Toronto, he filled in for John Farrell as manager for 10 games in 2011 when Farrell was suffering from pneumonia, going 3-7. He was not named the official interim manager, so those 10 games belong on Farrell's managerial record. I would believe that Farrell continued to set the lineups and the overall game plans for that stretch.
I spoke with Lookout Landing's superb writer Jeff Sullivan about Don Wakamatsu's tenure as the manager of the Mariners. Jeff said that Wakamatsu was fired because he "lost his clubhouse, in large part due to a lack of communication," especially when Mariners legend Ken Griffey, Jr. retired abruptly after being benched. Hmmm... losing control of his clubhouse--sound familiar to a recent Blue Jays' manager? "As a leader, Wakamatsu had room to grow, and maybe now he's grown. Maybe he hasn't," responded Jeff. It is probably expected that Wakamatsu learned something from his first time managing, and the 2013 Blue Jays is not expected to have someone of Junior Griffey's stature on its roster. Jeff had nothing substantial to say about Wakamatsu strategy-wise, saying that he was "by and large unremarkable, as most managers are," and that he rarely used pinch-hitters.
His Chance in Toronto
The name "Don Wakamatsu" has not been bandied about as much as some of the other contenders, but I would believe that he is a contender for the job. He has been in the city and with the organization for two seasons now, so he knows what he is dealing with in terms of his players, his bosses, the fans, and the media. He was in the clubhouse during John Farrell's tenure and hopefully learned something from Farrell's mistakes. Wakamatsu was eager to let general manager Alex Anthopoulos know of his interest in the job last Sunday morning, even before the trade was officially announced.
If Wakamatsu was the choice, he'd be the first new Blue Jays manager with previous managing experience since Jim Fregosi was hired in 1999 (Cito Gaston's second round doesn't count). Perhaps it is time for the organization to explore non-rookies to lead the team?
Oh, and he's also a big fan of calligraphy.
This article is part of our Manager Prospects series: see also our article on Tim Wallach.