In moment of weakness, strength of Wedge’s bond with his players shows
The hard-edged manager has earned the outpouring of support he’s received from his clubhouse through years of loyalty and care.
Times staff columnist
You can turn Eric Wedge into an exaggerated character. He’s the big, strong Mariners manager with a booming voice who makes bold facial-hair choices. He’s the intimidating presence with eyes that seemingly eject from his face when he gets excited. He’s the disciplinarian who belongs alongside his favorite actor, John Wayne, in one of those old Western films.
He’s Hard-Edged Wedge. He’s a baaaaaad man. He can cook a steak just by staring at it. You can have all sorts of fun overemphasizing some of his dominant personality traits. But if you’ve paid any attention to the solid job he has done with the rebuilding Mariners over the past three seasons, you realize it’s the subtleties that ultimately define Wedge.
He’s a patient taskmaster who has a feel for when to kick and when to comfort. He’s just as loyal to his players as he is demanding. And in an era of rampant second-guessing of the Mariners, he is their most voluble evangelist, preaching the virtue of this youth-based plan, sharing a vision that many are too skeptical to see, talking positive even during the gut-wrenching moments.
Consider Wedge in total, talk to people who work with him daily, and you’re left to characterize him not by intimidation but by the genuine respect he inspires.
And that’s why he is receiving a clubhouse full of prayers right now.
The Mariners announced Wednesday the reason Wedge was hospitalized and missed the past three games after experiencing dizzy spells. Doctors believe he suffered a “very mild” stroke.
Wedge, 45, is recovering at home now, but he’ll take off the rest of this homestand and the next road trip. It’s a wise decision not to rush back. His stroke may be deemed “very mild,” but there’s nothing insignificant about an attack on the brain. Wedge has a taxing, high-pressure job in perhaps the most cerebral sport ever invented. Another 11 days away from the grind of the baseball season is what he needs. And if he thinks he needs longer, the Mariners can accommodate that, too.
“We’re going to err on the side of caution,” said Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, who has been in frequent contact with Wedge.
The team was told the news after Wednesday’s 10-1 loss to Cleveland. The Mariners’ eight-game winning streak was gone, but that wasn’t important anymore. Thoughts shifted quickly to Wedge.
“We’ll be thinking of him,” shortstop Brendan Ryan said. “He’ll be with us.”
Of course, any compassionate colleague would say that, but the emotions behind the Mariners’ words were real. Isn’t that Wedge’s pet word — “real”? To emphasize the legitimacy of what the Mariners are building, he often says “It’s real!” as passionately as any man has ever spoken the two words.
In the clubhouse Wednesday afternoon, the affinity for Wedge was definitely real.
“From Day One, when he took over, I feel like he’s had my back,” first baseman Justin Smoak said. “He has stuck with me, even when I got sent down to Triple A.”
News of Wedge’s stroke made you ponder the difficult times that he has handled with grace. The losing streaks, the frequent struggles to score runs, the hours spent trying to figure out how to turn prospects into players — Wedge has gone through it all without revealing too much strain. You know this job takes a toll. Nevertheless, Wedge remains as disciplined in his approach as anyone in the organization.
Unlike most managers singularly focused on winning now, Wedge has been a mild-mannered proponent of staying the course. Now, the Mariners have won 13 of their last 19 games and seem ready to reward much of the patience.
“He’s all about the process,” Smoak said. “He doesn’t let frustration get in the way. He’s about helping us get better and develop into a winner.
“He’ll get through this. And we’re all going to have his back.”
Hard-Edged Wedge is also the man who proposed to his wife, Kate, at an Adam’s Mark hotel in Buffalo and then bought the red chair that she was sitting in as he popped the question. Beyond sensitivity, Wedge has a level of compassion and a world view that makes him more relatable than the typical, stern manager.
“Eric is a very caring man and loves every one of those guys in the clubhouse,” said bench coach Robby Thompson, who is serving as the temporary manager. “I’m sure they return that to him.”
This isn’t a Western film, and as much as he admires the actor, Wedge isn’t John Wayne. The tough guy must rest now. But when he returns, he’ll know how much his work is appreciated.
About Jerry Brewer
Jerry Brewer offers a unique perspective on the world of sports.
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