Monday, June 29, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Armstrong Returns To M's

Chuck Armstrong today was named Mariner team president and chief operating officer.

Armstrong will be a second-term president, having served in that capacity during the ownership of George Argyros from October 1983 until Jeff Smulyan bought the team in October 1989.

Since then, Armstrong has worked for several companies as a consultant and served as interim athletic director at the University of Washington for seven months in 1991.

More recently, he served as consultant to John Ellis, chief executive officer and chairman of the board of the Mariners, and the Baseball Club of Seattle during negotiations to buy the team from Smulyan and obtain approval of that sale from the major-league ownership committee.

While Armstrong stayed in the background, advising the group and dealing with major-league owners and their ownership committee, speculation remained strong that he would return as team president.

Armstrong was the obvious choice on Ellis' list of finalists, which was thought to include at least one other candidate, Mike Stone, former Texas Ranger president. But Armstrong apparently was not offered the position until last week.

Coming back to the Mariners, Armstrong said he would do things "a lot differently."

He was quick to say that did not mean a switch of general managers, a possibility that has been speculated since Armstrong's name surfaced in recent months.

During Armstrong's last year with the Mariners, he and GM Woody Woodward had several differences of opinion on the composition and operation of the team, among them the attempt to trade ace pitcher Mark Langston to the New York Mets.

After Armstrong nixed the Mets' deal, Woodward and his scouts came up with a trade that helped boost Seattle into one of the strongest pitching staffs in baseball: Langston to Montreal for right-hander Brian Holman, left-hander Randy Johnson and top prospect Gene Harris.

"I am looking forward to working with Woody again, really," Armstrong said. "When I think back on the previous relationship between us it is with respect for his abilities.

"We were two creative and strong-willed individuals . . . who wanted the best for the ballclub even if we did not agree all the time and sometimes did not communicate well."

Argyros was responsible for much of the communications problem. "We all had the feeling George was telling Woody one thing and Chuck another," said one long-term member of the Mariner front office. "That created a lot of tensions that hurt the operation and may have hurt the team on the field."

Argyros is in Europe and could not be reached for comment.

A standout pro prospect in high school in Louisville, Ky., Armstrong played freshman baseball at Purdue and some semi-pro ball. Later he attended Stanford Law School.

In February 1981, Argyros bought the Mariners and three months later bought half of Air Cal. Dan O'Brien, who knew Armstrong from his days with Class AAA Louisville, was the Mariners' chief executive officer. But he couldn't take the daily demands from Southern California.

Armstrong first refused to replace his old friend. Then Argyros fired O'Brien and asked Armstrong again. He agreed.

"One of the best decisions of my life," said Armstrong, 49. "Wonderful people, wonderful place to live and raise a family. God's country."

Right. But is it baseball country?

"Tough, but doable," Armstrong said. "For whoever comes in to run it, the big difference, maybe the saving grace, is no debt. Debt can be a killer."

Armstrong refused to evaluate the current team in depth. "They've had trouble with consistency this season," he said, "but I still see an awful lot of talent on the major-league level and in the minors. I know they could use more pitching, but there isn't a team who won't tell you that any year, even pennant winners."

Armstrong also has been highly complimentary of the Mariner marketing and sales staffs. "They have assembled a very creative group that has emphasized the entertainment part of the game," he said.

He added of Smulyan and outgoing president Gary Kaseff: "They started something that we must try to keep alive, building a franchise in which the entire community can take pride.

"I know the Baseball Club of Seattle means it when they say they want it to be our Seattle Mariners. I'm a member of this community and whatever my involvement is to be, I like that."

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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