Author Topic: Wedge named AL's top manager  (Read 2297 times)

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Wedge named AL's top manager
« on: November 14, 2007, 04:21:43 PM »
Wedge named AL's top manager
11/14/2007 2:00 PM ET
By Anthony Castrovince /

CLEVELAND -- The American League Manager of the Year Award, in principle alone, is not an honor that suits Eric Wedge.
After all, Wedge is the guy who refuses to even walk into fair territory after an Indians victory to celebrate with his players. He prefers to stand off to the side, applauding his team's work.

That's probably the best summation of Wedge's managerial style. To him, baseball is about the players, and it's the manager's job to stay out of the way when things are going well and get out in front when they're going wrong.

But little went wrong for the Tribe in 2007, which is why Wedge -- his reluctance toward adulation aside -- is now the recipient of the game's highest managerial honor.

The Baseball Writers' Association of America named the 39-year-old Wedge his league's top skipper after he guided the Tribe to a 96-66 regular-season record and its first AL Central title in six years.

Wedge's Indians beat the defending AL champion Tigers by eight games, despite having an Opening Day payroll ($61.7 million) that drastically paled in comparison to that of Detroit ($95.2 million).

Though the Tribe's eventual advantage over the Tigers was sizable, it was not always an easy road to October. Wedge had to work with a team whose April roster greatly differed from its September makeup.

Injuries and/or ineffectiveness from two spots in the starting rotation and several spots in the starting lineup and bullpen dictated an overhaul in which contributions from rookies and previously unproven players such as Fausto Carmona, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rafael Perez, Franklin Gutierrez and Jensen Lewis became a key.

But Wedge's ability to mold young players was a major factor in his landing the job of managing the Tribe before the '03 season.

Wedge, formerly an injury-riddled catcher in the Red Sox's and Rockies' systems, had worked his way up the Minor League managerial ranks and been a two-time International League Manager of the Year at Triple-A Buffalo.

"He knew our standards, our expectations and what we wanted a Cleveland Indian player to be," general manager Mark Shapiro said recently. "He was an outstanding teacher. I knew when I hired Eric, nobody would care more than Eric, nobody would work harder than him, nobody would be more vested than him and, because of all that, nobody would be a better partner for me."

That partnership, though, was viewed as being a bit shaky after the 2006 season. The Indians had won 93 games in '05 but fallen short of the playoffs. And with expectations higher than ever in '06, the Indians fell flat with a 78-84 fourth-place finish.

The '07 season was the last guaranteed year on Wedge's contract. The Indians had a two-year option on him that Shapiro opted not to exercise before the season began, leading to speculation that Wedge might be on the hot seat.

But when the Indians overcame some unique obstacles -- in the form of a snowed-out series against the Mariners and home games moved to Milwaukee -- and grabbed a 52-36 record in the first half, Shapiro opted to extend Wedge for another three seasons, through 2010.

It was a show of faith that was immediately rewarded in the second half.

When the Indians were a game back of the Tigers after a loss on Aug. 14, Wedge called out his players and questioned their toughness and leadership.

"It's easy to be tough when you're winning," Wedge said at that time. "Now is the time when we have to toughen up. Enough's enough. Now, we're going to see how tough we are."

The Indians responded by going 31-12 the rest of the way.

And in October, with the Indians holding a 2-1 advantage in the AL Division Series against the Yankees, Wedge made the controversial -- and correct -- decision to stick with starter Paul Byrd in Game 4, rather than pitching ace C.C. Sabathia on short rest.

Though the Tribe was unable to capitalize on a 3-1 lead in the AL Championship Series against the Red Sox and advance to the World Series for the first time in a decade, Wedge earned quite a measure of respect around the league this season.

"Eric Wedge is a fine young manager," Joe Torre said after his Yankees were ousted from the playoffs by the Indians. "He's a special kid."

Wedge, however, never took credit for the Indians' achievements in '07.

"These are the guys that are doing it," he said of his players. "Every now and again, a manager has to give some direction, but ultimately, it's about these guys."

But for one day, at least, it's all about Wedge.