If Jack Wilson isn’t done with the Mariners, he ought to be. I know, it’s easy for me to fire players. I’m not the guy who owes them $5 million.
But the longer Wilson takes up a clubhouse cubicle that could be used by a lesser athlete burning to compete, the longer he hangs around teammates and imparts his basic baseball philosophy – it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you avoid embarrassment – the longer the Mariners will regret every minute he remains on the roster.
The home opener Friday night was supposed to be a festive occasion at Safeco Field. The pregame introductions, with a tribute to Dave Niehaus, were typically stirring – no organization in pro sports is as adept at ceremony as the Mariners – and then the teal-topped home team took the field under a twilight sky so pleasant you’d have thought it was spring.
But behind the scenes, unbeknownst to the fans, manager Eric Wedge found himself facing the same kind of “me-first” player attitude that poisoned the team last year. Perhaps realizing that Don Wakamatsu failed to confront the malcontents and lost his job, Wedge went on the offensive Friday.
He wrote out a lineup card that replaced Wilson at second base with veteran Adam Kennedy. The oft-injured Wilson is healthy, nursing only an ego that was bruised Wednesday after his two errors in the third inning undermined a solid effort by starting pitcher Felix Hernandez.
Wilson’s inability to return to second base in the fourth inning, Wedge told reporters after the game, was because the novice second baseman was not feeling well. In reality, the former Gold Glove shortstop, still learning the nuances of a new position he’s been playing for only five weeks, took himself out of the game for the simple reason that he looked bad.
Wedge and bench coach Robby Thompson tried to talk Wilson out of his snit, because quitting in the middle of a game is not an option for a major leaguer. Quitting in the middle of a game should not even be an option for a pee-wee leaguer.
But Wilson, a supremely proud pro athlete who fears failing less than he fears humiliation, would hear none of it. Then he had the gall to suggest it was Wedge’s call.
“I tried to protect Jack by saying he was a little bit hazy,” Wedge said Friday afternoon in the Mariners’ dugout. “Then he made mention of the fact that I took him out of the game. Robby Thompson and I were underneath there, and we wanted him to go back out. He didn’t think he could do that, and ultimately, we had to make a change.”
When asked about his reaction to a big-league player essentially echoing Roberto Duran’s infamous “No Mas” surrender against Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980, Wedge answered: “Unspeakable.”
“It was a first,” said Thompson, who as a San Francisco Giants second baseman was the personification of true grit. “We wanted him to go back in the game, not leave in a critical situation. …
“As a player or coach, I’d never seen it. Hopefully, nothing like this happens again.”
But it happened once, and once is too much. I don’t care if Wilson has been forced to learn an unfamiliar position. I don’t care if taking himself out of a game, as Wilson explained Friday, is “the last thing I wanted to do … but these were big double plays, in a big spot. I didn’t want to go out and do any more damage.
“I want to do what’s best for the team, but not if it means losing games.”
Earth to Jack: You’re just beginning the second season of a two-year contract that annually pays you $5 million. That’s a generous contract, but it does not give you the responsibility of deciding when you’re doing damage to the team or if you’re losing games.
That distinction belongs to Wedge, who through five games had been pleased enough with Wilson’s conversion to second base that two crucial errors weren’t going to sidetrack it.
“I’d been praising him the day before – he’d been playing great,” said Thompson. “He had a bad inning, and then said he couldn’t go back out there and perform.”
Is that all it takes this guy to quit on his teammates? A bad inning during the sixth game of a 162-game season?
Hit the road, Jack, and never come back.
Informing Wilson that he is no longer needed and can play out the last season of his two-year, $10 million contract elsewhere – with Seattle picking up the tab – will not make the Mariners a better team on the field. And heaven knows, after beginning the season with a road trip that showed the lineup to be as punchless as it was in 2010, then serving up a succession of belt-high batting practice pitches against the Indians in the home opener, the Mariners must either get better in a hurry or risk losing 100 games for the third time in four years.
But every so often in baseball, maintaining a standard of professionalism supersedes winning. Every so often, making a point is more important than scoring a run.
On the day he was introduced as the new manager, and seemingly all the days that’ve followed, Wedge stressed how he wants his players to respect the game. The ultimate statement of disrespecting the game is: “I quit.”
As we learned Friday night, it’s no fun watching losers. But watching quitters?