Good luck, Eric Wedge -- you'll need it
Posted by Jerry Brewer
The first thing you notice, besides the "Magnum P.I." mustache, is how loud Eric Wedge talks. He'll start a sentence mellow, but then SOMETHING WILL IGNITE HIS PASSION, and then he takes things to A NOISE LEVEL REMINSCENT OF SUNDAY AFTERNOONS AT QWEST FIELD.
When it comes to intensity, Wedge is a cousin of Huskies defensive coordinator Nick Holt. Not since Holt proclaimed everything in Seattle "awesome" two years ago has the city seen this much passion and ooze from sports figure. During his introduction Tuesday, the new manager actually managed to make Mariners baseball seem fun again, if only for 25 minutes or so.
Wedge commanded attention, even though you're tired of giving this team unwarranted attention. He articulated an inspiring vision, even though you're more uninspired than ever about this franchise. He provided a no-nonsense edge, even though you're still smarting over the shenanigans of the 2010 Mariners.
"I'm looking forward to our future," Wedge said.
OK, who's with him?
Uh, well, what's the rush?
It'll take some time before a weary fan base rises to Wedge's level of passion. At times, it seemed like he was cheerleading at a wake Tuesday. Then again, Pete Carroll and Steve Sarkisian probably felt the same way, and those football coaches have diminished the negativity in record-setting time. The challenge for Wedge is even more complicated, but it can be done.
Most encouraging is that Wedge has a skill set that the Mariners need badly. He's a communicator and a motivator. He turned a heap of young talent into a winner when he managed the Cleveland Indians. He's a disciplinarian. He's hard-nosed. And he's blunt.
In essence, he's a stronger version of Don Wakamatsu, who got off to a good start with the Mariners before losing his touch -- and his job -- this past season.
"The bottom line is, we're going to stand for something here within the Mariners organization, from head to toe," Wedge said.
I've heard from many fans who are disappointed the Mariners hired Wedge over the popular pick, Bobby Valentine. They say the Mariners hired another drab, unoriginal, vanilla manager who lacks the charisma to get this community excited. That could prove to be true, but on Tuesday, I didn't see it.
Sure, Wedge was selling himself. And he sold himself hard. But he also came across as genuine. Most of the time, it seemed like he was speaking beyond the reporters in the room and talking directly to his players. He's kind of guy that you have to listen to; he has an incredible presence.
"There are certain things that are non-negotiable, OK?" Wedge said. "Being a good teammate and respecting the game are going to happen here."
Those are beautiful words to hear considering what we witnessed this past season. Milton Bradley leaving in the middle of a game. Ken Griffey Jr. sleeping in the dugout. Chone Figgins nearly starting a fight in the dugout. While Wakamatsu inexplicably let things slide, which contributed to his downfall, Wedge won't be so patient. It's just what the Mariners need. It's just what Wakamatsu gave them when he helped improve the team from 61 wins to 85 during his first season before losing himself amid the chaos this year.
Asked to define his kind of player, Wedge said: "Hard-nosed. Consistent. Passionate. And prepared."
The Mariners could use a lot of those qualities in their clubhouse. They also could use a significant talent increase, which will be Jack Zduriencik's primary concern this offseason. And the franchise's crop of talented young players -- Justin Smoak, Dustin Ackley and Michael Pineda among them - must develop quickly into standout major leaguers.
I think Wedge can accomplish this. He has done it before. But this is the Mariners. It's hard to be too hopeful. It's hard to say hello to a Mariners manager without thinking of his inevitable goodbye. The franchise hires 'em and fires 'em as if they're fast-food restaurant cashiers.
They've had 18 skippers -- 15 full-timers and three interim ones -- in their 34 seasons of existence. On Tuesday, they introduced their seventh manager since Lou Piniella left town eight years ago.
So you don't even have to think about what to tell Wedge upon introduction. The words should be pre-programmed by now.
Good luck, dude.
Like any smart employee, Wedge spent much time praising CEO Howard Lincoln and team president Chuck Armstrong, along with Zduriencik, during his press conference. He mentioned several times that he looked into their eyes and saw passion. While many would doubt the passion of Lincoln and Armstrong, you have to put aside emotion and recognize that they're not going anywhere, and if Wedge is to be successful, he must work as well with the front office as he does with the players. In some ways, the relationship with upper management is more important.
"I'm not yes man by any stretch of the imagination, and neither are any of these three," Wedge said, referring to Lincoln, Armstrong and Zduriencik.
Wedge wants his voice to be heard, but he wants to communicate in a manner that is respectful of everyone within the organization. That's the relationship he had with Mark Shapiro in Cleveland. That's what he must establish here.
"He realizes who he is," Zduriencik said of Wedge. "He realizes what he brings to the table."
This was Zduriencik's hire. Lincoln and Armstrong sat in on the interviews and talked with Zduriencik throughout the process. And when he recommended Wedge, they immediately gave him the thumbs up.
"They were very supportive in the process," Zduriencik said. "Not at all dictatorial."
Wedge is a 42-year-old who looks and sounds much older. He already has seven years of experience as a manager. He was one victory from a World Series just three years ago. He understands player development as well as in-game strategy. On paper, he looks solid. In person, he sounds like a character who can function within this organization.
"I just think it's going to be a tremendous working relationship," Wedge said.
Good luck, dude.
It hasn't worked for many others, but maybe Wedge is the exception. Maybe he's the one. Maybe The 'Stache will empower him.
He's the kind of manager this organization needs. Now, the Mariners must support him to avoid wasting his talent.
Fed up with my long-winded ways? Follow me on Twitter: @Jerry_Brewer. Sometimes, I don't even use all 140 characters there.
Feb 5 - 8:27 PM Fancy new bloggin' digs (and what you need to know about it)
Feb 3 - 9:47 AM Wishing Steve Kelley the best in retirement
Jan 25 - 4:31 PM Jerry Brewer hits the red carpet at Sports Star of the Year