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Ever since Eric Wedge tendered his resignation as Mariners manager late last week, I’ve been flooded with emails, Tweets and phone messages from fans. Some expressed their support of his decision, but a sizeable number remained confused about why he’d do such a thing. About why he’d risk his ability to land another manager’s job by stepping away from the situation here. Why he’d put himself further at risk by voicing his opposition to the direction the team’s upper management was taking the ballclub.
Well, simply put, Wedge is a man. He doesn’t just talk the talk. He walks the walk, even when it required him to swallow some job security and walk the walk right on out of here.
The Mariners hired Wedge because they wanted a strong man who could take their out-of-control team from 2010 and meld it into something better. They wanted a man who could lead other men.
In his final postgame media address after today’s 9-0 loss to Oakland, he talked briefly about the legacy he tried to leave his younger players with.
“For me, it’s about being a man on and off the field,” he said. “And about the way you carry yourself with your family in the community and what you mean to the game when you’re on the field.”
Not all managers can manage the way Wedge does, with the patience of a teacher and the swagger of an old Western sherriff. Some managers have very different temperaments. The kinder, gentler, Don Wakamatsu had his own successful style, but it stopped working in 2010 when he was given a clubhouse long on ego and short on true character.
Put Milton Bradley into a clubhouse, you’d better have a strong man with some swagger in charge to make sure the lunatics don’t take over the assylum.
Wedge did the Mariners’ bidding for three seasons. He was loyal to a fault, soldiering on through the toughest of times, including the Bradley debacle, the Ichiro and Chone Figgins declines, a 17-game losing streak, young players thrown into the fire before they were ready, and teams with ever-slimmer payrolls competing against division behemoths.
But Wedge never complained. Never stopped pitching the team’s pitch. Selling its party line — one he believed in, as long as he felt the team would deliver on its ultimate promise to step forward with the proper veteran and payroll support once it was needed. He’d been burned by a never-ending, cost-containing rebuilding plan once before in Cleveland and didn’t want the Seattle one to go down that road.
At some point, he stopped believing. At some point, he sensed that the promised difference with his past Cleveland experience wasn’t going to be there. The doubt continued throughout this year, with Wedge knowing he didn’t have a contract past 2013. A one-year extension for 2014 was mentioned late last year, but he felt that an insufficient commitment to a long-term plan. No written offer was ever put before him this year and then, when reports surfaced three weeks ago that the Mariners planned to fire Wedge at season’s end, no team official stepped forward to correct it.
Wedge was left to twist in the wind, another seeming scapegoat for a team with an ample managerial history of those. Another guy to take the blame and the fall for a roster devised by somebody else, with a payroll trimmed and contained by men even higher up the food chain.
That’s not how you treat a man.
But the Mariners have let a lot of good men down for a long, long time and Wedge was no exception. His straightforward, no-nonsense, lead-by-example and take accountability style was never much of a fit for a wishy-washy, passive aggressive franchise. A franchise run by lesser-men who lurk in the shadows, spin fuzzy versions of the truth and take their swings from places where you can’t see them coming.
Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong are apparently so convicted in their decision to extend Jack Zduriencik for another year that they kept it a secret all season long. They are so beyond any sense of accountability that they ducked questions about Zduriencik and Wedge all month, citing some apparently-flexible team policy about contracts that they conveniently ignored two years ago when announcing the GM’s prior extension.
But that’s the Mariners for you. They’re all out front and in the public eye in good times, then hide in the shadows when things go wrong.
Good men don’t operate that way.
“You don’t play this game with fear,” Wedge said Sunday, explaining what he tried to teach players. “You stay aggressive and you trust your abilities and you coach your own self. You have to know yourself better than anybody.”
In other words, be a man.
Wedge was exactly the man these Mariners needed when times were bad and they couldn’t fix the terrible 2010 baseball team they’d concocted. And he’s exactly the man they didn’t want to pick a fight with.
When they tried Friday to passive-aggressively depict his resignation as contract-motivated, Wedge didn’t do what so many other bought-off team employees have over the years and go quietly slinking into the night. Wedge did what a man does when challenged, stepped into the street on Saturday morning and started to throw down.
The Mariners, as is their nature, quickly scurried back into the darkness from where they had come.
Two final games came and went with nary a peep from the officials Wedge effectively called out as liars. It’s almost as if they were afraid of him. Fearful of what a real man might do if provoked even further. So, they let Wedge’s parting shots at them stand unchallenged, hid in the shadows and waited for him to go away.
And now he has, into a future that’s less-than-certain. But with his dignity intact.
The last good man still standing has left the building.