I have full confidence that those who don’t like Eric Wedge’s pitching changes or lineup configurations or philosophies on aggressive hitting are united today with those who believe he is the man to lead the Mariners to their elusive title. Everyone would like to see him back to full health, and that extends to the media, who can easily put aside any adversarial instincts to hope that this minor stroke is soon behind him.
It’s a scary thing, and I’m struck by a couple of things. One is that Wedge is the second manager in as many years to undergo some form of a stroke. It happened last year late in the season to Dusty Baker of the Reds, who missed 11 games, then came back to manage his team in the postseason. It was a tough road for Baker, as this story details. In fact, when I saw him during spring training at a media session for all the Cactus League managers in February, I was struck by how frail he looked, and how slow and somewhat slurred his speech was. I covered Baker as a player in his final year with the A’s, several years as a hitting coach with the Giants, and then for his first three years as a manager, so I know him about as well as I know anyone in the game. This wasn’t the vibrant, ultra-sharp Baker I was used to, and frankly I was concerned about his ability to make it through this season.
I was gratified, therefore, to catch up with Baker a couple of weeks ago in Cincinnati when the Mariners played an interleague series. He was a different guy — pretty close to the old Baker, with his speech fully restored and his energy level back near to pre-stroke levels. We chatted for a few minutes, and I told him about my concerns in spring training. He told me my concern was legitimate — the recovery was an ordeal, but that now he felt great.
I have no idea if Wedge’s minor stroke is in any way comparable in severity to Baker’s. I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and I haven’t stayed recently at a Holiday Inn Express. But I did see some research linking strokes to stress, and I do know that managing a baseball team is one of the most stressful jobs on the planet. There were more than a few games this season — brutal, excruciating losses — when I wondered how tough those must have been on Wedge. The amazing thing is that, unlike say Lou Piniella, Wedge always kept his cool after such games. He was clearly distressed, but he always handled himself with equanimity that frankly was remarkable.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t taking each of those losses to heart. Wedge is an “all-in” guy, and he throws himself into managing with all his heart and soul. That means living and dying with 25 “sons” as they go through their ups and downs, all the while in a fishbowl in which everyone thinks they can do your job just a little bit better than you. I don’t expect Wedge’s passion to change, but my hope for Wedge is that this incident allows him to somehow forge a new, healthier approach, with an even more keenly focused perspective on the things in life that matter more than wins and losses.