(Photo by Associated Press)
UPDATE AT 7:25 P.M.: Thanks to Seattlenative57 for pointing out that today is Oct. 19, not Oct. 20, as I somehow got it through my head. So it turns out I’m better at observing anniversaries than reading calendars.
Eric Wedge was unveiled as Mariners manager at a Safeco Field press conference on Oct. 19, 2010. Yeah, I missed the one-year anniversary by a day; but just ask my wife — that’s closer than I usually get. Anyway, all the stories about Wedge’s introductory press conference ran in the newspaper on Oct. 20, which was one year ago today. So there.
Right away, Wedge knocked everyone over with his intensity. I remember being impressed by the confidence he expressed about turning around the Mariners — confidence which hasn’t waned even after suffering through a 95-loss season.
Wedge, you might recall, was chosen out of this group of finalists: Bobby Valentine, Lloyd McClendon, John Gibbons, and Cecil Cooper, with Daren Brown, who had finished the previous season as interim manager, also under consideration. There were also rumblings that Clint Hurdle was talked about.
Valentine would have been the sexy pick, but the Mariners were said to be blown away by Wedge. And a year later, I believe he was, and is, the right man for the job. You can, of course, nitpick strategic decisions he made, but I’ve always felt the most important job of a manager is to set a leadership tone. In that aspect, I think Wedge is perfect for the kind of rebuilding team the Mariners have — demanding, and yet realistic enough to be patient through the inevitable growing pains. He was wise enough to use this past season primarily to evaluate the talent in the organization, and I have no doubt he has strong feelings, both pro and con, about the 18 players with under two years experience (including 15 rookies) who finished the season on the Mariners roster. I think those perceptions will come to bear in the upcoming season, which should be less about evaluation and more about pushing the survivors toward success.
The way I see it, there were four “teachable moments” this past year that gave us a glimpse into Wedge’s sensibilities:
1) The Jack Wilson incident in Texas, when the second baseman declined to go back out after committing two errors, a decision Wedge termed “unspeakable.” That was an unmistakable message to the team that “accountability” wasn’t just a buzzword.
2) The rough stretch in May by closer Brandon League, when in the course of one week he suffered four losses — three of them of the horrible walk-off variety. With many people clamoring for Wedge to change closers, he gave League a couple of days off to regroup, then put him right back out there. League pitched well enough from that point to make the All-Star team and finished with 37 saves, blowing just one more all season.
3) The 17-game losing streak in July, when everything fell apart for the Mariners. Wedge had to do a lot of behind-the-scenes work to avoid a crisis of confidence from the young players and the type of clubhouse sniping from more established players that plagued the M’s in past seasons, but never reared its head this past year.
4) The ultra-sloppy game against Texas the last week of the season that prompted Wedge to hold meetings with the team as a whole, and also invidually, deep into the night. He stressed the commitment it takes to be a winning ballclub and made it clear that such lapses were not going to be tolerated.
We’ll find out soon enough if Wedge’s message is resonating, and if he has (or gets) the players to accomplish his goals. As recently as last Sunday, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe continued to float the possibility of the Red Sox pursuing Wedge as the managerial successor to Terry Francona. He wrote of Wedge: “Very interesting name that could be involved in Boston’s managerial search. The problem is getting him out of his deal in Seattle, where he has a lot of personnel power.”
I would be absolutely floored if Wedge became a factor in Boston. He bought a house here and has spoken passionately of his commitment to finishing the job he started in Seattle. I just don’t see him saying “never mind” and bopping off to Boston. Besides, why would the Mariners let him out of his contract and put themselves in the position of searching for yet another manager? Unless the compensation is Jacoby Ellsbury, I’d expect the answer to a hypothetical query from Boston for permission to talk to Wedge to be a forceful no.
One year after meeting Wedge, and his mustache, I’m convinced he’ll be around awhile.