Wedge known as hard worker who puts his players first
Eric Wedge, who will be named the Mariners' manager, has a reputation as a "relentless" worker who puts his players first.
Seattle Times baseball reporter
Eric Wedge bioThe Mariners will name Eric Wedge as their next manager.
Age: 42, born Jan. 27, 1968 in Fort Wayne, Ind.
High school: Northrop High School, Fort Wayne.
College: Was a catcher at Wichita State, from 1987-89, leading the Shockers to the 1989 College World Series title. Wedge finished second to Ben McDonald in voting for player of the year in 1989.
Drafted: Wedge was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the third round in 1989.
Minor-league career: Played nine seasons from 1989 through 1997. In 658 games, Wedge hit .249 with 96 home runs.
Major-league career: Wedge played 39 games over parts of four seasons, with Boston (1991, '92 and '94) and Colorado (1993), hitting .233 with five home runs in 86 at-bats.
Managing career: Wedge became a minor-league manager in the Cleveland Indians' system in 1998, at the age of 30. He managed at Class A Columbus in 1998, long-season Class A Kinston in 1999, AA Akron in 2000 and AAA Buffalo in 2001 and 2002. He was named the Indians' manager before the 2003 season. He managed the Indians for seven seasons, finishing with a record of 561-573. Wedge took the Indians to the American League Championship Series in 2007.
Personal: Wedge and his wife Kate have two young children.
Eric Wedge had a reputation as a great communicator in his seven-year tenure as Cleveland Indians manager — though not necessarily with the media, where his postgame comments were once described by a Cleveland columnist as "dry as a calculus lecture."
It was all about the players with Wedge, whose own checkered, injury-riddled career as a journeyman catcher (39 games in the majors) made him vow, upon pursuing a managerial life at age 29, to never forget how tough the game was.
Wedge, who will soon be named the Mariners' manager, also was known as a tireless worker who could walk a delicate balance between demanding total effort (he despises what he once called "Velcro players — guys who show up five minutes before they're supposed to, rip off the Velcro, put on their uniforms and go out to the field") and nurturing inconsistent youngsters learning the big-league ropes.
In many cases, he succeeded, as with Mill Creek's Grady Sizemore, who became an All-Star under his watch, and CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee, who became Cy Young winners.
Sabathia said of Wedge, to The Associated Press, "He was a tough guy to please. He always seemed to find something wrong with what I did, so it made me a lot tougher in not being satisfied and making sure that I was working hard and trying to get better every day."
Sometimes, that style did not resonate. Wedge clashed with Milton Bradley, who in 2004 was traded two days after Wedge yanked him from a spring-training game for not hustling. He never meshed with Brandon Phillips, who became an All-Star in Cincinnati after being traded from Cleveland in 2006, and later said Wedge stifled him by trying to make him conform to his demands.
"When somebody takes the joy away from the game by wanting you to be a certain way and play a certain way, that's kind of hard for a player to perform," Phillips told The Dayton Daily News.
Wedge went through two rebuilding campaigns with the Indians. The first he navigated successfully to lift Cleveland to lofty but ultimately frustrating heights — 96 wins in 2007 and one victory away from the promised land, a World Series appearance. But the Red Sox, down three games to one in the American League Championship Series, crushed the Indians in three consecutive games to steal away the pennant.
The second rebuild did him in, with the financially struggling Indians dumping stars like Sabathia, Lee, Victor Martinez and others beginning in 2008. Wedge was fired with six games to go in a 96-loss season in 2009.
At the news conference to announce Wedge's dismissal, the comments of team president Paul Dolan and general manager Mark Shapiro made it sound as if Wedge was winning a second Manager of the Year award rather than being fired. It was more testimonial than termination.
"Managers often become the fall guys for what is an organizational failure," Dolan told the assembled media that day. "We will look for a manager who has some of the strengths of Eric. He was a very good manager, and he will be again."
Mike Hargrove, another former Cleveland manager who ended up in Seattle, got to know Wedge during his season as an Indians consultant in 2004, when Hargrove was between managerial gigs.
"He's a very intense guy, smart, well-spoken," Hargrove said Saturday in a telephone interview from his Cleveland-area home. "The best compliment I can give him, other than he's a guy with a lot of character to him, is that he's a good baseball guy with intelligence."
Asked if he felt Wedge was the right person to lead Seattle through a likely rebuilding phase, Hargrove said, "He certainly did it in Cleveland. Part of the criticism he got here in Cleveland at the end was that he played so many different lineups. I don't know if it was warranted or not. He did play a lot of lineups. But, certainly, having the guts to do that is essential in bringing along a young team. You have to give the kids at-bats, and he's not afraid to do that. That's in his favor."
And so is a work ethic that Shapiro once described as "relentless." Hargrove recalled a time in spring training of 2004 when a group of Indians employees tried to get Wedge to join them for a golf game after the workout ended about 1:30 in the afternoon. Wedge declined. Following the round, and a dinner out, the group returned to the complex in Winter Haven, Fla., at about 8 p.m. to retrieve their cars.
"Eric was still in his office, still doing work in his uniform," Hargrove said. "He's not afraid to put the time in, and he does it in an intelligent way, not just work for work's sake. He identifies a problem and works to solve those problems and achieve his goals."
One tangible problem with the Indians during Wedge's tenure was slow starts — five losing Aprils in seven years. And at the end, there was a sense by some that young players had not developed as quickly as hoped. After the firing, Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Bill Livingston wrote, "Too many players hustled their way onto the roster by maxing out a low-talent ceiling."
Yet in the end, Wedge paid the price for an organizational teardown, as managers are wont to do. At his farewell news conference, Wedge shouldered the blame and said, "I'm a big believer in being accountable for what you do. I take responsibility for this."
Shapiro admitted that Wedge's low-key — some would say bland — public persona never allowed Cleveland fans to totally warm up to him.
"I think in the end maybe it's because this is an entertainment business, and Eric isn't flamboyant enough," Shapiro told The Buffalo News shortly after Wedge's firing. "He kept his feelings internal at all times to protect his players. But sometimes the fans wanted to see those emotions on his shirt-sleeve. But believe me, as someone who was next to him, those emotions were there."
We'll find out soon enough if Wedge Version 2.0 will display more outward charisma. But that won't be what wins over disgruntled Mariners fans (which is most of them). His Q rating, just like his job security, will ultimately derive from the same place: the standings.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com
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