Wedge reaping rewards for faith in club; Indians now on verge of reaching Series


Indians players celebrate after Game 4 of the ALCS on Tuesday in Cleveland. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, JOHN KUNTZ

By Nancy Armour

CLEVELAND – It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the most enticing of job offers.

He’d be managing a team essentially being rebuilt from scratch, relying on a roster of kids from Buffalo, Akron and that baseball hotbed, Mahoning Valley. The payroll would be meager, the All-Stars were long gone and the only big-name free agents he’d see were on other teams. The losses would be frequent and probably lopsided.

Support the Daily Illini in College Media Madness!

Help the Daily Illini take back the top spot in the College Media Madness fundraising competition! See the current ranking here.

learn more
donate now

Oh, and all of this would be for a passionate fan base hardened by decades of disappointment.

A real dream job, that one. And yet Eric Wedge signed on as the Cleveland Indians’ manager anyway.

    Subscribe to our sports newsletter!

    From the football field to the tennis court, stay up to date on all things Illini sports from the the best student sports journalists in the Midwest.

    “I was actually excited about it,” he said. “Obviously you knew what was going to be ahead. I knew it was going to take a lot of toughness from a lot of people to be able to handle that. I just tried to surround myself with the best people I could, stay as consistent as we could with the players – which is extremely important – and just stay true to the path.

    “And you have to be patient. You can’t take shortcuts. There’s no secret ingredient to doing it outside of consistency, having a plan and everybody staying on the same page.”

    Five years after Wedge took over the Indians, they’re a game away from the World Series. They lead the Boston Red Sox 3-1 in the AL championship series, with Game 5 on Thursday night at Jacobs Field.

    It’s a remarkable yet largely unsung turnaround, and there’s no telling where Cleveland would be had general manager Mark Shapiro hired anyone but Wedge.

    A former catcher who spent parts of four seasons in the majors with Boston and Colorado, Wedge isn’t flashy or overbearing. He’s straightforward, focused and patient, and he holds tight to the lessons he learned from his parents about the value of hard work (when Wedge was introduced as Cleveland’s manager, his parents missed the news conference because it was a work day).

    But his imprint is on every inch of the Indians clubhouse.

    “I was just left with the underlying sense that this guy’s going to be the right partner for me,” Shapiro said. “That he was going to be someone that’s going to care as much as I care, work as hard as I work and, if there was any way for him to ensure that we succeeded, he was going to find that path.”

    “The (manager’s) job that we had at that point was not a simple job of just managing the team,” Shapiro said. “I needed someone to dig in, become my partner and understand more than just getting the most out of 25 players. Understand how we were going to build, what the inherent challenges were in our marketplace and that the way we were going to do it was going to be unconventional.”

    And “Wedgie” was the perfect fit.

    “The two most important things to me are to respect the game and be a good teammate. These guys exemplify that,” Wedge said.

    Wedge’s faith in his players never wavers, even when he has to criticize them. And in the heady days of this postseason, he is quick to turn all the praise and attention toward his players.

    “You start to – I don’t want to say play harder,” Byrd added. “But you really start to get the most out of your players when you have that kind of atmosphere.”

    All it took was staying the course.