Thursday, October 1, 2009

Driving the Wedge

If a big jaw and the image of strength was all you needed to win baseball games, Eric Wedge would be Cooperstown bound.

Instead, he was officially dismissed Wednesday as manager of the Cleveland Indians, although he and his coaches (including Carl Willis, whose role with the '91 Twins will long be fondly remembered by a generation of Minnesota fans) will serve out the rest of their sentence — er, season.

The tendency among fans and media alike in judging mangers is to slide them up and down the idiot pole. He's a genius this year (because he won); he's an idiot last year (because he lost).

A more nuanced approach views managers (and, by the way, head coaches in other sports) as people with particular strengths and weaknesses. A manager spends long enough in a job, he often makes himself obsolete, because the things he is weaker at ultimately start to fester.

The defining aspect to me of Wedge's tenure in Cleveland was the bullpen. I don't know how much of the blame for this goes to Wedge and how much goes to other aspects of the organization, but this is true: Wedge had two seasons with effective relief pitching. One year they came oh-so-close to the World Series (2007); the other they finished a close second in the AL Central to the eventual World Series champs (2005).

Every other season, the bullpen flopped, and the Indians didn't challenge.

And for that, Wedge takes the fall, fairly or otherwise.


The AP story above notes that Wedge is fifth in Cleveland history in managerial wins. With a win in Wednesday's doubleheader, he's just 9 behind Al Lopez.

That surprised me. Lopez is only fourth? He's in the Hall of Fame for his managerial prowess, and while he split his career between the Tribe and the White Sox, he's got to be considered the best manager Cleveland ever had.

So who's ahead?

Answer: Lou Boudreau, 728-649; Mike Hargrove, 721-591; and Tris Speaker, 617-520, followed by Lopez, 570-354, and Wedge, now 561-569.

That's three Hall of Famers (Speaker and Boudreau in for their playing more than for their managing, although Boudreau spent much of his playing career managing as well).

Hargrove is getting mentioned as a potential successor to Wedge, so he might get a chance to catch Boudreau.

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