Before the Mariners’ role in the 2013 season became an easily ignored side show, the most compelling reason to believe in Eric Wedge’s managerial future in Seattle was his record.
Under Wedge, the team had taken baby steps optimists could interpret as progress. In 2011, Wedge’s first season, the Mariners improved from 61 victories to 67. In 2012, they won 75. It wasn’t a stretch to presume a finish in the mid-80s, worth some speculation about wild-card contention, was on the horizon.
With three games remaining, the Mariners won’t make it to 80. They barely made it to 70.
Wedge believes the retreat was an inevitable consequence of a roster turned over to prospects.
“You bring young kids up, so you take a step back to move two steps forward,” he told reporters Wednesday. “That’s what we did.”
Ah, so now he tells us. During spring training – and all the way through July – Wedge insisted the team was making the sort of incremental improvements that can be seen in the standings.
“We started rebuilding this a couple of years ago,” he said in February. “We’ve gotten better the last couple of years. With a couple of additions this year and the kids being a little bit older, we feel like we’ll be as competitive as anybody.
“It should be fun.”
You might have rolled your eyes when you heard that “we should be as competitive as
anybody” spiel, but I didn’t. I put the six-game jump of 2011 together with the eight-game jump of 2012 and figured 2013 could be remembered as a launching pad for legitimate playoff contention in 2014.
That was the plan, and Wedge had a record – 14 more victories last season than the team he inherited – to back it up.
Wedge no longer can point to his record of modest gains. The best reason to extend his soon-to-expire contract now has become the best reason for general manager Jack Zduriencik to shake Wedge’s hand, wish him well, and go to work on finding a replacement.
It’s not as though Wedge hasn’t had a shot at this managerial thing. Don Wakamatsu – fired four months into his second season, a year after his first Mariners team finished 85-77 – has reason to wonder if he got a fair shake.
Wedge? Between Cleveland and Seattle, he’s spent 10 seasons as a manager. Through those 10 years, his clubs have won more games than they’ve lost only two times. If the Mariners don’t sweep the A’s this weekend, Wedge will suffer 90 defeats for the third time in four seasons.
A measure of self-esteem is required to survive losing 90 games a year. Wedge faced some serious health issues this summer, but none involved a bruised ego.
“My best managerial days are ahead of me,” he said Wednesday, “whether it’s here or somewhere else.”
I’ve got nothing personal against Wedge, who is as accessible and accountable with the media after ninth-inning breakdowns as he is after the less frequent mob-scene celebration at home plate. Managing a big league baseball team that keeps stumbling upon creative ways to lose can be stressful, but Wedge carries himself as a first-class pro.
He’s a gentleman and a credit to his craft, and while my perceptions of him have been forged only at Safeco Field, I think it’s safe to call him a good guy.
Then again, I also recall John McLaren as a good guy. When he was dismissed midway through the Mariners’ shipwreck summer of 2008, I understood why: He was the wrong man, in the wrong place, at the wrong time.
Managing the Mariners was the opportunity of a lifetime for McLaren, named interim replacement when Mike Hargrove quit amid a burgeoning 2007 pennant race. McLaren lasted 156 games, fired with a winning percentage of .436.
Wedge’s winning percentage with the Mariners is .439.
A “mild” stroke didn’t prevent Wedge from returning to the dugout, and his team’s subsequent struggles haven’t discouraged him from the challenge of regrouping the Mariners for some better baseball in 2014.
“I haven’t done anything wrong except come out here and coach up these kids and teach them how to play at the big-league level,” Wedge said Wednesday. “That’s what I do. I don’t bitch about anything. I’m here to help these kids become good, solid big-league players and hopefully solid citizens in Seattle.”
Wedge’s passionate plea to remain as Mariners manager is mitigated by his team’s record in Year 3 of the rebuilding project: 89 defeats and counting.
Wedge possesses a strong voice that never will finish second in a shouting match, but there’s an ultimate arbiter of a baseball manager’s status.
It’s called a record, and it speaks for itself.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com