Every time the Indians play the Mariners, it’s a mini reunion of sorts with former manager Eric Wedge and several members of his former Indians coaching staff. It’s inevitable that I end up reflecting on Wedge’s tenure here, and go back over the things that I liked and disliked about Wedge and his staff. The verdict every time – still not sad Wedge is gone. I almost cheered on the day he was fired at the end of the 2009 season, and my feelings really haven’t changed on that subject.
First, the positives of Wedge’s time in Cleveland (since there are significantly fewer, in my opinion). I had the opportunity to meet Wedge on several different occasions, and I found him to be a truly nice guy. There was something genuine about him, and he honestly seemed to enjoy interacting with fans. The same could be said for pitching coach Carl Willis (now also with Seattle) and bench coach Jeff Datz (who also traveled with Wedge to Seattle). I wish nothing but the best for them, particularly in light of their recent health concerns (Datz was diagnosed with cancer and Wedge was hospitalized with dizzy spells). I just wish the best for them somewhere far away from the Cleveland Indians.
You also have to give Wedge some credit for the 90+ win seasons in 2005 and 2007, earning him the Manager of the Year award in 2007. Those were talented teams, but I’m sure that Wedge had some form of positive impact. Still, he oversaw two epic collapses in those good seasons – in 2005 the Indians tanked at the end of the year and narrowly missed out on the Wild Card (if that second Wild Card existed back then, the Indians would have made the postseason). Then they bombed on a 3-1 game lead in the ALCS against Boston in 2007. Again, there were many things that came into play in that ALCS, assuredly not all were the fault of Wedge and his staff. However, people still question what would have happened if third base coach Joel Skinner had sent Kenny Lofton from third base in game seven in Boston. That’s one way that Wedge’s staff had a questionably negative impact on the team’s fortunes.
There are many more negative things I see when I look back at Wedge’s time in Cleveland:
- A couple of teams with very high expectations, pretty much fell on their face. With the 2005 team doing so well, people naturally thought the Indians would make the playoffs in 2006. In 2008, everyone thought they would make it back to the playoffs, but the team just managed to finish at .500. There were injuries and roster issues, not all of which were Wedge’s fault. Still, everyone expected a lot more out of those teams.
- The Brandon Phillips debacle. It was clear that Wedge had a number of issues with the young infielder after he came here in the famous Bartolo Colon trade. Phillips never got a fair shot here, and he was painted as having a “bad attitude” in part, due to his inability to get along with Wedge. He was shipped away for next to nothing, and became a perennial all star with the Cincinnati Reds. I think that if a player had a different personality than Wedge, he had a tough time dealing with them. He always seemed to get along best with the marginal stars, guys that could be labeled “scrappy” and that were basically borderline major leaguers. Maybe Wedge saw something of himself in them, since he was a marginal player that never made it in the majors before injuries took over. Whatever the reason, there were definitely players he seemed unable or unwilling to deal with.
- Back to the marginal players. There were certain players that you could consider “teacher’s pet” when it came to Wedge; guys that he would throw into the lineup (or onto the mound) over and over again without much success. I used to sit around and pray for the front office to release them, just so he would stop using them. There was one point where I even joked that it was some kind of masterful scheme – that he knew this player wasn’t very good, and just wanted the front office to release the guy. So he’d throw him out there constantly so they didn’t have a choice. Unfortunately, I don’t think there was that level of complexity to Wedge’s decisions.
- Baffling lineups, particularly when the team was struggling. Often a new lineup every single day. I have so many good “lineup stories” that I remember when it comes to Wedge; I don’t even know where to start. One time I was discussing lineups with a co-worker when I lived in southeastern Pennsylvania, and he asks “So what is the Indians’ lineup like? Tell me their one through nine.” And I laughed. A lot. Because Wedge was basically using a different lineup every day at that point. I think the only constant was that Grady Sizemore led off for the most part; except for those times they moved him down to the three hole. My co-worker just didn’t want to believe that a manager would do that; he figured that I just didn’t pay close enough attention to the lineup. I think I finally had to show him a week’s worth of lineups in order to convince him that I hadn’t made this up. Some of these lineups were so insane, I questioned whether or not he just put everyone’s names in a hat the morning of the game, and the order he withdrew them was the lineup. The insanity even boiled over to positions in the field sometimes – people playing all over the place in unfamiliar positions. I once joked that I didn’t even think I’d even be surprised to show up to the ballpark and see (the artist formerly known as) Fausto Carmona playing short and batting third. One time in 2008 I showed up to the park and David Dellucci was batting cleanup and was the DH. I felt like nothing would surprise me at that point.
I think one of the things that really got frustrating with Wedge, is that the more the team struggled, the more he seemed to flail. I don’t think he was a complete disaster the entire time he was in Cleveland, but I think his sins more than warranted his dismissal. What was kind of surprising is that he appeared to be a highly coveted manager after he was fired in Cleveland. Both Pittsburgh and Seattle had interest, and I think that even Baltimore may have had interest in hiring him at one point. The Pirates’ front office (who, remember, has many people that worked under Mark Shapiro in Cleveland) was supposedly very disappointed that they missed out on Wedge when he took the job in Seattle. Earlier this year, I thought he may not even make the All Star break before he was fired from the Mariners. However, they’ve been surging lately and may have granted him a reprieve (for now). I’m a firm believer that there are certain times and places for managers – maybe you don’t fit with Team A, but you have a lot of success with Team B. I thought that may end up being the case with Wedge, but he still seems to make many of the same baffling decisions in Seattle and hasn’t led the team to anything spectacular since he’s been there. If he ends up helping the Mariners to sustain their recent success, he may have a future there. If not, he’ll soon face the same fate that he did in Cleveland.
Bonus reading: Susan and I put together this post with former SweetSpot Mariners blogger Jon Shields last year looking at some of the connections between the Indians and Mariners.