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Hutch Award merits broader support, including MLB

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The award honoring the memory of the Major League Baseball star and manager for whom the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is named has been presented for more than half century, but it has yet to gain the visibility traction that would put it on the prestige pedestal that it’s supporters think it merits.

To students of baseball lore, the name Fred Hutchinson brings to mind a Seattle kid who became a star pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, went on to manage three big league teams, including guiding the Cincinnati Reds to the 1961 World Series, but succumbed to cancer in 1964 at the age of 45.

But to those afflicted by the disease that claimed his life, his name on the renowned Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, created in 1975 by his brother, Dr. William Hutchinson, to honor his memory, has conveyed hope.

A year after Hutch’s death, three Midwest sports media admirers who saw him in action created an award to honor his memory, and ever since then The Hutch Award has been presented to a Major League Baseball player who exemplified the fighting spirit and competitive desire of Fred Hutchinson.

For years the award was given out annually in New York, starting with a flourish as the first honorees were New York Yankee legend Mickey Mantle and Dodger pitching great Sandy Koufax. But it was an event far from Seattle and wasn’t a fund raiser until, in 1999, it was brought back to Seattle and was moved to Safeco Field a year later.

But despite the fact the Seattle Mariners are a sponsor and, for the past 16 years, have hosted the annual luncheon where the award is presented at Safeco Field, attracting about 1,000 attendees and raising about a half-million dollars a year for The Hutch, it has not yet achieved the success its supporters think it could and should.

The missing link to bring the award to a visibility level equal to the prestige of The Hutch itself is viewed as active support from Major League Baseball.

And a new push to achieve higher visibility and broader support, including from Major League Baseball, is under way by officials of The Hutch as well as those who have long been involved in this event.

“We hope to take this prestigious award onto a national stage to increase the support and awareness around our world-class science at the Fred Hutch,” said Justin R. Marquart Deputy Director of Development at The Hutch. He was quick to note that local sponsors like the Mariners and Alaska Airlines have provided key support but that what direct involvement from Major League Baseball would mean is national sponsors.

Organized effort to gain visibility for what it is and what it does has not been part of the strategy for The Hutch as an institution until the last year or so, which is part of the explanation for the fact that this event hasn’t received a lot of media visibility, even locally.

Certainly the achievements of The Hutch’s “stars” have gained attention over the years. Those range from the Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine that have gone to Donnall Thomas in 1990, Dr. Lee Hartwell in 2001 and Dr. Linda Buck in 2004, as well as the major awards across the medical industry to individual researchers. Perhaps the most compelling of advances for which The Hutch is known is the life-changing research of Thomas into bone marrow transplantation.

But research into cancer and related diseases has come to require huge amounts of money and the quest to attract those dollars from grants, individuals and events has come to require a visibility strategy and focus matching the research itself at the institutions where research and treatment are carried on.

“It is our goal to eliminate cancer as a cause of human suffering and death through prevention and curative treatments accessible to all patients,” as Marquart put it. And that “accessibility to all” is a major cost driver. Among those is the Hutch School, where patients and family members of those living temporarily in Seattle while being treated at The Hutch have classes, from kindergarten through high school.

The success the award has achieved since returning to Seattle is due to a large extent to the involvement of Jody Lentz, regional sales manager for Mass Mutual, who set up and chaired a committee to oversee planning for the event.

“We had about 25 to 30 people at the event at the hotel the first year and I thought ‘we should make this a fund raiser,’” she recalls.

Her plan included getting a hall of fame player as keynoter each year, and the event has generated attendance of between 1,000 and 1,400 and about $500,000 a year for The Hutch.

Her commitment to the event has stemmed from the fact that both cancer and baseball are part of her life. Husband, Mike, was the highest pick in the baseball draft ever from this state, being the second overall pick as the first choice of the San Diego Padres in 1975.

Her sons Ryan, Richie and Andy were all baseball All-Americans at the University of Washington and Ryan and Richie had careers that included high minor league play and time on the roster of the Major League teams that drafted them.

And she has suffered two cancers, the latest, thyroid, hit her in 2008, as that year’s event was in planning, after she had chaired and overseen the event the previous eight years.

“I just never got involved again,” she told me as we talked about her sense of frustration over the fact “I guess I figured it was time for others to have a chance to guide this event. But I do believe this event could be so much more as a source of funding for The Hutch.”

It was that 2008 event where John Lester, a native of Puyallup and most recently on the mound for the Chicago Cubs in this year’s World Series, was honored after being successfully treated at The Hutch for anaplastic large cell lymphoma.

Lentz is convinced that a lack of local visibility for the event is a reason that major local sponsors have not stepped up in major fashion to add value to the funds raised for The Hutch.

The 2017 event, an 11:30 to 1:30 luncheon, will be January 25 at Safeco with Boston Red Sox star Jim Rice as the Hall of Fame keynote speaker. The honoree for 2017 will be announced in the next few days.

Honorees are chosen by a vote of each Major League team to determine which player on the team meets the criteria and those chosen represent the finalists from which the winner is selected. Jamie Moyer is the only Mariner to be selected.

Last year’s honoree was Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals as the event raised just under $550,000, which The Hutch put toward faculty fellowships.

 

 

 

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Wireless icons Stanton, Thomsen focus on baseball

John Stanton and Mikal Thomsen were in their late 20s when they teamed up at McCaw Cellular to become part of the birthing of a fledgling communications technology whose growth globally they helped guide through several major companies over the next 20 years, becoming iconic figures in the wireless industry.

Now just into their 60s, both have parlayed their business success into owning and guiding professional baseball teams, what they might well agree is a passion that rivals their business focus.

A business focus remains, however, as they continue to manage their Bellevue-based wireless venture and investment firm, Trilogy Equity Partners, formed by a collection of long-time wireless partners after the sale of their Western Wireless to Alltel Corp. in 2005.

Thomsen once told me that the opportunity six years ago to create the ownership team that bought the Tacoma Rainiers was like his “dream come true.” He would be owning his hometown team that he had grown up rooting for from the time his dad took him to his first game at age three. That was the year that the then-Tacoma Giants returned after a 55-year absence.

Stanton, who will soon assume the role of CEO of the Seattle Mariners after the ownership group he leads completes its purchase of the team from Nintendo of America, also recalls attending the games of his hometown team with his father. That was in 1969 when, as a teenager he became a fan of the Seattle Pilots in their first and only year of existence and recalls crying when they left town for Milwaukee.

Thomsen would undoubtedly echo Stanton’s “I am first and foremost a baseball fan” comment  that he made to the media gathering at Safeco Field when he was introduced as the leader of a 17 member local group that would become 90 percent owner of the team and he become the CEO, once Major League Baseball owners bless the deal.

Thomsen and his wife, Lynn, and Stanton and his wife, Terry Gillespie, are all alums of McCaw Cellular in the ‘80s and are now on the team of co-owners of the Tacoma Rainiers, though the oversight of the franchise, including attending many games and spending about 10 hours a week in the office during the season, falls to Thomsen.

The owners are fortunate that the baseball team acquisition included Aaron Artman as club president, a former Microsoft executive who oversaw the $30 million renovation of Cheney Stadium and remained with the new owners in the role of president.

Stanton’s and Thomsen’s baseball involvement extends across the state and all the way down to the West Coast League, an amateur collegiate summer league, where they are among owners of both the Walla Sweets and the Yakima Valley Pippins.

But it was when Thomsen had the opportunity to put together the purchase of the Tacoma Rainiers in 2011 that he turned to Stanton and his wife, an avid baseball fan herself, to become part of the ownership group.

Thomsen has immersed himself in his hometown baseball team and has enthusiastically committed to its increasing success, despite being the smallest market in far-flung Pacific Coast League and being the closest Triple-A team to a major league city.

In fact, the Seattle Mariners and the Rainiers are not only geographically close, which Thomsen admits may sometimes cost the Rainiers attendance of fans heading for Seattle, but close in that the Rainiers are the Mariners’ triple-A farm team.

As Thomsen puts it: “Most of the Rainiers fans are Mariners fans who enjoy keeping up with both teams and hearing about the players they saw in Tacoma performing with the major league club. I think the nearness of the M’s cuts both ways.”

In addition, the relationship is good for the Rainiers’ bottomline since the Tacoma roster is determined by and players’ salaries paid by the Mariners.

A lot of the changes brought about since Thomson’s group bought the team relate to community things, but he is pleased about what has happened in the stands and on the field.

At this point, atop PCL pack, the Rainiers seem headed for their first playoff appearance since Thomsen’s group bought the team, though Thomsen cautions that “it’s a long way from certain. We are only three games up on Fresno.” Plus the team appear on the way to another franchise attendance record, though beating the 352,000 attendance mark of last season is well behind the nearly 680,000 of the Sacramento River Cats.

In addition, Thomsen notes that the decision by the ownership group three years ago to build a new set of stands in left field “has been a stunning success,” adding that he celebrated his 60th birthday there in early May this year “with a couple hundred friends.”

He says the change of the team’s logo two years ago to “the now somewhat iconic ‘R’” has helped drive merchandise sales “through the roof.”

In terms of community involvement, he says the Rainiers “teamed this past off season with Tacoma Parks, the Cheney Foundation and Mary Bridge Hospital to add a playground behind the right field berm that includes a whiffle ball stadium,

“It is packed for most games and open as a public park when games are not going on in the stadium,” he adds.

“The community views this as a partnership and we go out of our way to be great partners,” Thomsen says with obvious pride.

 

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Rewarding patient Mariner fans with a winner is the goal of first-year president Kevin Mather

If the Seattle Mariners are successful in their effort to land their first post-season role in more than a decade, it will fulfill a key wish of Kevin Mather, the team's first-year president and COO, who says "we'd sure like to reward our fans with a playoff opportunity."

Kevin Mather

(Photo Ben Van Houten, Seattle Mariners)

Mather came to his new role, when named last February to replace long-time president and COO Chuck Armstrong, with a conviction on how the Mariners would build a winner and of the need to reward the fans who he said "have been outstanding, patient and loyal" over all the down years.

But while the playoff hopes remain yet unresolved, most of the developments for the Mariners during Mather's first year, some things under his control and some beyond, have come up as positives rather than the negatives that have dogged the team for a dozen years.

In fact, if the Mariners make it to the post season, it will be the first such appearance since 2001, a draught that drained the support of fans who, during the season of that last playoff run outdrew every major-league team with a per-game attendance averaging 43,302.

Mather reviewed the year and fielded questions during a breakfast interview we had last week at the Columbia Tower Club, the same day that the Mariners were singled out, with an article in the New York Times, to be acknowledged broadly for the club's pre-eminent role in an area more important than on-field performance.

As the cries of anger echoed across the NFL and beyond over the assault recorded on video by Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice as he punched his wife senseless in an elevator, the Mariners were singled out for their 17-year partnership with the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV).

It was in 1997 that the Mariners started a public education campaign, "Refuse to Abuse," after the WSCADV reached out to team executives in the hope of engaging and educating the team's fans through media advertising in an annual campaign to foster more safe and healthy relationships.

The relationship, noteworthy among all pro sports teams, has continued since then, with the highlight of the annual fund-raising campaign for the coalition being a 5k run carried out entirely in, out and around Safeco Field.

"The coalition has been a great partner for us," Mather said of the domestic-violence awareness group, then added, "baseball is frankly held to a higher standard. We have zero tolerance for domestic violence."

That partnership began a year after Mather joined the Mariners as the Vice President of Finance and Administration. He was promoted to Executive Vice President of Finance and Ballpark Operations in 1999.

Prior to the Mariners, Mather, a CPA by profession, worked for the Minnesota Twins from 1989 to 1996 as director and vice president of finance.

It was in his role with the Twins that he first came to the attention of the Mariners when he was selected to represent baseball's small market in the landmark revenue-sharing plan. It was a process in which markets self-selected themselves as small, medium or large markets,

As Mather recalls it: "Baseball had become a sport in which 25 teams had no chance to win, so the goal was to make every team competitive."

So in 1992, the then-new baseball commissioner Bud Selig began negotiations to create a sharing of revenue that would involve taking money away from some teams that made a lot of money and give it to teams that didn't make a lot.

It was Mather's job to represent the small-market teams, which included the Mariners, then just being saved for Seattle by a new ownership team headed by John Ellis, CEO of the new Mariners. Mather smiled as he recalled that the small-market group he represented began with five teams and others kept opting in as they liked the way he was negotiating, until the commissioner called as halt at about a dozen small markets

Mather remembers an example of not every team with a lot of money wanting to share.

"George Steinbrenner (the late owner of the New York Yankees) said to Ellis, 'you mean I am going to spend millions of dollars for this sad-case baseball team in the Northwest? We should buy you and put you out of your misery.'"

"John looked at me for a response and I didn't have one," Mather joked to the breakfast audience.

I asked him how the Mariners had done, assuming that some years they had been on the receiving end of the sharing, but he said the team has basically been a payer, to the tune of $20 million to $22 million a year ever, ever since the plan went into effect in 1995.

So when the Mariners needed to go looking for a CFO, they knew where to look, and while thereafter Mather was in Seattle through the glory days when the Mariners were virtually among the best teams in baseball, he's suffered with the fans through the down years as attendance slipped the past three years to 500,000 below the MLB average attendance.

Mather takes pleasure in noting that attendance this year will be above two million after three years below that mark.

And he freely attributes part of the return of the fans to another of those areas beyond his control. That's the impact the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks have had on Seattle sports fans, saying "there's no doubt that the Seahawks have had a positive impact on fan support for all professional sports, including the Mariners."

But within Mather's control is his conviction that the long-term view will guide decisions on players and building the roster, convinced that the position players now in development in the minors represent stars of the future for the Mariners. "They are the key to our winning 95 games a year in a few years"
 
And he credits General Manager Jack Zduriencik, who last month got a long-term contract extension, with positioning the franchise "to be a contender for many years to come."

Jack has never been a short-term thinker," says Mather, whose philosophy is "it's easier to fill a hole in free agency than with trades, because you just give up money in free-agency deals but trades require you to give up players."

Mather says that one goal he outlined when he met with the ownership team for the first time after assuming the new post, was "to still be playing meaningful games into September." That goal has been achieved, and "meaningful games" may still include the post-season.

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Ellis reflects on the dramatic events that saved Mariner franchise 20 years ago

John Ellis, who was a reluctant CEO looking forward to retirement when he was called on 20 years ago to help find local owners to save the Seattle Mariners' franchise, admits that he wasn't even a baseball fan when he undertook the almost-lost cause of saving baseball for Seattle      

              __________________  

 

        Then-Gov. Mike Lowry recalls  

        legislative solution to fund what

               became Safeco Field 

                         (See sidebar below)  

               ___________________ 

 

 

"I didn't know much about baseball and wasn't really a baseball guy," Ellis admits, reflecting back on the events of late '91, early 1992. And he didn't really understand how deeply

 
 

embroiled he would become when he undertook the role that Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, and subsequently other business leaders, urged on him, a role in which he soon found how challenging saving the franchise would be.

 

 "I'm not sure if, to this day, anyone really knows how close we were to losing this franchise," says Ellis, who eventually served as chief executive officer of the Seattle Mariners and remains, 13 years after retirement, the team's primary representative to major league baseball.

 

It's a tale that deserves to be retold at a time when, rather than preparing a celebratory anniversary event for the Mariners to applaud what was achieved two decades ago, community leaders and baseball fans seem intent on railing against the Mariners for a variety of  perceived shortcomings.

 

It was in the midst of last week's outcry over the Mariners' push back on the idea of a new arena that they legitimately pointed out could bring a couple hundred more traffic-generating events a year to the Sodo neighborhood that I visited with Ellis over lunch. It was a visit scheduled several weeks ago so the controversy itself wasn't the topic of conversation, other than a brief, frustrated reference to it by Ellis.

 

I wanted his reflections on those tense days in late 1991, early '92, when an unlikely alliance of a dramatically wealthy Japanese businessman, a group of wealthy young local tech executives and a couple of senior community leaders was cobbled together to keep major league baseball in Seattle.

 

Ellis, as CEO of Bellevue-based Puget Sound Power & Light Co., had agreed to serve as an advisory board member to Mariner owner George Argyros, then to succeeding owner Jeff Smulyan, both commitments made as a community leader rather than baseball devotee. Thus he was logical member of a special advisory group Seattle's mayor turned to when it became clear Smulyan intended to sell the team.

 

"Norm's idea was for us to go out and find someone to buy the team, which at that point was appraised at $100 million," Ellis recalled. "After poking around for awhile looking for a possible buyer, we finally told the mayor we couldn't find anyone crazy enough to put up $100 million to buy a baseball team."

 

At that point, Ellis figured he could go ahead with his plan to retire as CEO of the  region's largest investor-owned utility, get on his boat and set out on a leisurely cruise to Alaska, as he had long planned to do.

 

But over that late December of '91, Sen. Slade Gorton's own efforts on behalf of saving the Mariners uncovered, to his astonishment, in a visit with Nintendo of America President Minoru Arakawa, an interest by his father in law, Haricho Yamauchi, purported then to be the third richest man in Japan, to buy the Mariners.

 

Ellis was quickly sucked into a furious effort to figure out how to get major league baseball, whose antipathy to any foreign ownership but Japanese ownership most of all, to even consider Yamauchi's offer while averting a sale to someone else that would render meaningless any Seattle effort.

 

After an aborted effort by "a totally naïve local group, led by the most naïve guy of all (referring to himself)" to meet with commissioner of baseball, Ellis found himself summoned to a what he describes as "a secret meeting," a "cloak-and-dagger"-like, assumed-name visit in St. Petersburg, FL, with unnamed major league owners.

 

Ellis arrived at the designated hotel and checked in for a meeting that never occurred with a small group of owners whose identity he never learned. But what did occur told him how close Seattle was to having the team leave before the efforts to save the franchise could even gain traction.

 

"I looked at the hotel shop across from the front desk and saw they were selling Tampa Bay Mariners shirts and hats," he said. "That experience and a couple of others that followed made it clear that the deal to move the team to Tampa Bay was already in the works.

 

"the simple fact is that if we hadn't put this together when we did, beating Smulyan's contractual deadline to get out of his Kingdome lease, the team would have been gone," Ellis said.

 

So as the Seattle-ownership deal began to gain traction, both the group of owners who had been brought together to join Yamauchi and Arakawa, and later, major league baseball executives as their opposition eased, insisted that Ellis be a part of the leadership of the team.

 

"At the June meeting of the owners, after all their conditions for our ownership group had finally been met, they told me they had two remaining conditions," Ellis recalls. "First they said they wanted me to serve as the team's rep to major league baseball, the person each team has who is empowered to act without anyone else's approval.

 

"The other condition floored me," he said with a smile. "They said they expected the owners' rep to have a significant financial interest in the team. I replied 'can you tell me what you mean by significant?' and they all broke out laughing because they had gotten to know me and knew the extent to which I could be involved. My financial role ended up being not very substantial."

 

But his involvement as CEO, between then and his retirement at the age of 71 at the end of the '99 season, was extensive and, as he recalls, every time he thought he'd be able to hand over the reins and head out on that boat trip to Alaska, a new challenge emerged.

 

First task was finding a new manager who would represent a statement. So after convincing Chuck Armstrong to come aboard as president and retaining Woody Woodward as general manager, he asked the two of them who should be the new manager "The guy atop both their lists was Lou Pinella."

 

The events that unfolded between then and his retirement included the Kingdome roof collapsing, the players strike, the memorable end-of-season race to the league championship series in 1995, the struggle to get voter approval for a new stadium, legislative alternative when the vote failed.

 

Although he retired in 1999, the stage had been set with the players and team executives who would two years later set the American League record for victories in a season at 116.

 

Since 2000 he has been the franchise's chairman emeritus, but has remained on the executive committee of major league baseball and has continued to be the Mariners' representative to MLB and on the ownership committee.

 

He remains a one-of-a-kind in major league baseball: as the team's retired top executive who never had more than a tiny piece of ownership but who is still viewed by the other teams' owners as the most important voice of Seattle baseball.

 
             -----------------------------------------


Mike Lowry recalls '95 legislative pact that

cemented franchise with stadium funding 

 

While John Ellis gets legitimate credit for his role in saving the Seattle Mariner franchise in 1992, of equal importance was Gov. Mike Lowry's role three years later when he brought the franchise back from the edge by getting the Legislature to agree on a new-stadium funding package.


A 1995 ballot measure to impose a sales-tax increase to fund construction of a new stadium was pushed from hopeless to near passage by the miraculous late-season dramatics of the Mariners that included a memorable victory over the New York Yankees before a championship-series loss to Cleveland.
 

 

"After that sales-tax ballot issue failed by the razor-thin margin of about one-tenth of a percent, I remember Ellis calling a news conference to say the team would be put up for sale because it was losing a lot of money in the Kingdome," Lowry told me Tuesday in an e-mail exchange.

 

Lowry recalled that he was approached by his longtime friends, public-relations executive Bob Gogerty and Boeing's chief of governmental affairs, Bud Coffey, as well as the mayor and county executive, asking him to call a special legislative session to find a stadium-funding solution.

 

"I frankly wanted to do that," Lowry said, "because they had run a great campaign in their narrow sales-tax ballot loss. It was a media campaign that featured tremendous commercials that had young kids who were playing baseball morphing into the actual Mariner players, like Ken Griffey with a tag line that I think went like 'Heroes need a place to grow and become real.'"

 

Lowry says he called Ellis to ask if the owners could hold off on seeking to sell the team until he had a chance to see if he could get the lawmakers to agree to a brief special session limited to the Mariners' issue.

 

"I frankly got a positive reaction from the legislative leaders," Lowry noted. "I guess they didn't want to lose the Mariners either."

 

Thus in something that could probably have only happened in the political environment of yesterday, Lowry was able to work out a deal with key Democrats and Republicans from both houses on what he remembers as "a totally new funding package that was importantly different from the sale-tax measure."

 

"It was composed of taxes that were mostly on the users and beneficiaries of the new stadium, like admission taxes and sports bar taxes," he said. "As I recall, the only new tax in the package that was a stretch to say it was a beneficiary of the stadium was on rental cars."

 

In recalling his feelings in undertaking the legislative initiative, Lowry said "I simply did not want Seattle and the state to have the image of losing that major sports franchise. That struck me as Rust Belt."

 

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