As the carousel of former managers interviewing for jobs with the teams that have openings continues to circle around, Eric Wedge has made stops in Seattle, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Toronto and there could be even more.
Why so many?
Well, Wedge by all accounts was a pretty decent manager in his tenure with the Cleveland Indians from 2003-2009. He was just 35 (my age) when he got the job. The overall record of 561-573 doesn’t necessarily reflect it. However, the Indians won more than 90 games twice under Wedge, and in 2007 they went 96-66, won the American League Central, beat the Yankees 3-1 in the ALDS and were one game away from beating the Boston Red Sox in the ALCS to go to the World Series. Wedge was named AL manager of the year that season.
Expectations were high for the Indians the following season. They had CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona in the rotation, and Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner, Casey Blake, Ryan Garko and Jhonny Peralta in the lineup.
But the team crumpled under expectations and lack of production. Westbrook and Hafner got hurt and missed most of the season. Martinez also missed several games with elbow problems. Sabathia started off slowly and was eventually traded, as were Blake and closer Joe Borowski.
In 2009 the Indians got off to another slow start with Hafner, Sizemore and Asdrubal spending time on the DL. And the team never recovered. Lee, who wasn’t sharp early in the season, was traded at the deadline, as was Martinez, and the losses piled up. On Sept. 29 of that season, the team announced Wedge wouldn’t return.
How much of the Indians' decline after 2007 was Wedge’s fault? Not as much as some would think. But what was glaring was that each year after they won 90 games and expectations were high, the team would fail to meet them.
Why he fits:
By all accounts, Wedge is intense but fair. A former catcher (aren’t they all?), Wedge was what baseball people call a “grinder.” He believed in work ethic and doing your business without fanfare or self-promotion. He isn’t flashy or brash and steadfastly protected his players in Cleveland (sound familiar?)
"He's a blue-collar worker, a hard-nosed guy, extremely honest and consistent,” GM Mark Shapiro said after Wedge was fired. "This is an entertainment business and maybe he wasn't flamboyant enough. Fans want to feel the emotion and Eric, to protect the players, didn't do that."
Here’s another quote from then catcher Kelly Shoppach …
"I'm disappointed," Shoppach said. "He's taking all the blame. He always has for us. He has never thrown any of us under the bus. I have nothing but respect for him."
The Mariners could certainly use a manager with that type of grind-it-out mentality to rub off on some of their players, particularly the young players. Some of Seattle’s youngsters have been exposed to teammates who might not be considered “grinders.”
Wedge’s no-nonsense approach works well for young players, who are trying to figure out what it takes for success at the big-league level.
From this story:
''It's my job to go out there and win ballgames,'' Wedge said. ''There's not an asterisk next to it that says only if you have this, that or the other.
''I'm a big believer in being accountable for what you do. I preach it to the players. I preach it to people around me. And that's the way I live. I take responsibility for this.''
He spoke of what was important to him — and they should be the same things that are important to every Indians fan.
''How our players play, how they act, the way they represent the Cleveland Indians, the way we play the game,'' Wedge said. ''You always hear me talking about respecting the game and being a good teammate.
''They're the two most important things that you can do in this game, and then you have to go out there and play well.” Borowski was on a Chicago radio station talking about why Wedge would be a good fit for the Cubs:
"He expected the players to police themselves in the clubhouse which I loved. He wasn't in your face and expecting you to do this, that and the other thing. He expected you to take care of yourself and if you didn't then he would get involved. He wasn't a big meeting guy. He picked and choosed his spots at the right time."
Why he doesn’t fit:
Wedge took heavy amounts of criticism for the handling of the bullpen in several seasons. Though to be fair, GM Mark Shapiro gave him the likes of Joe Borowski and Bobby Howry and even Carmona as closer.
But one thing to note is that Wedge managed Milton Bradley in 2003 and a small part of 2004, and that didn’t go so … um … well. Their personalities clashed. For M’s fans, think of Bradley now as the mellowed version. In 2003, he was talented, but volatile. In 2004, after Bradley had vowed to change his ways, Wedge benched Bradley in a spring training game after failing to run out a pop fly that dropped for a hit. There was an exchange and Bradley was banned from the spring training complex and the Indians traded him a few days later for … wait for it … Franklin Gutierrez.
And of course, there was the fact that Bradley wore a t-shirt around the clubhouse saying, $%^& Eric Wedge.
But it’s highly doubtful that the Mariners will make a decision on Wedge based on Bradley’s opinion. He’s a non-factor for this team. He barely played last season, and when he did, he didn’t do much. And yet he’ll be getting $12 million next season. Most likely, if the Mariners could trade Bradley tomorrow, they would do it, and probably eat a good portion of his salary at the same time.
Wedge also had clashes with Brandon Phillips and Andy Marte about playing hard. (Insert eye roll now).
Eric Wedge would be a solid choice as a manager. He isn’t as flashy as Bobby Valentine. But that’s not his personality. If you hired Wedge, you would get a quietly intense former catcher who expects his players to play the game the right way, and would protect them from criticism at all cost. Hmmmmm.