Wedge says he's not worried
AVON, Ohio -- Sitting on the gym stage, Indians manager Eric Wedge looked across at the bleachers packed with screaming elementary school kids and observed the future.
He's not so sure about his own.
With two weeks left in Cleveland's disastrous season, Wedge does not yet know if he'll be back for an eighth season and the final year of his contract.
That decision rests with Indians owners Larry and Paul Dolan, who along with general manager Mark Shapiro, are expected to determine the fate of Wedge and his staff shortly after the Oct. 4 season finale in Boston, where coincidentally Wedge played briefly for the Red Sox.
Wedge, of course, would like to return.
"I've always been a big believer in trying to finish what you start," the 41-year-old Wedge said Monday. "But I also understand the situation we're in, the business end of where we are and the realities of where we are. That's not for me to decide. I've been here for a long time and I'm very vested in this organization, so you always want to see it through.
"We'll see what happens."
The Indians are staggering to the finish. They lost their season-high ninth straight on Monday night, 3-1 to Detroit, and dropped to 3-17 in September. It's not the conclusion Wedge had hoped for, and not the kind of last-lap kick his teams have mustered in previous seasons, but he's not worrying about what he can't control.
Wedge is at peace.
"This has been difficult, but it's harder for everybody outside of baseball that's around me," he said. "It's part of it. I understand that."
Wedge isn't sitting around waiting for the end. On Monday, he took part in an assembly to reward the children at Avon Heritage Elementary for their academic achievement. Wedge was joined by Indians players Chris Gimenez and Trevor Crowe as well as the Indians' furry mascot, Slider.
Just back from a brutal 0-7 road trip to Minnesota and Oakland, and with his job in jeopardy, Wedge could have been home with his family. Instead, he kept his commitment.
Wedge and his wife, Kate, are active in Cleveland's community. This is home, where his two children were born and where he has tried to keep the Indians competitive while contending with the mid-market constraints that are threatening to crumble baseball's infrastructure.
The Indians came into 2009 expected to do more than contend in the AL. Some experts even picked them to make the World Series. But an atrocious start was followed by key injuries, and Cleveland was out of the race by early June. The sudden slide led to ownership's decision to trade some of the club's top assets, including third baseman Mark DeRosa, first baseman Ryan Garko, pitcher Carl Pavano, reigning Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee and All-Star catcher Victor Martinez.
Those deals came one year after Cleveland was forced to ship ace CC Sabathia to Milwaukee for prospects before he could leave after the season as a free agent.
Once this season was surrendered, Wedge, the AL's manager of the year in 2007, was charged with two goals: win and develop younger players.
It's not easy to do both, but it's not new to Wedge, whose tenure in Cleveland since 2003 has included two massive rebuilding projects.
This season has been especially challenging.
"We felt if we could get healthy, stay healthy and the guys we were counting on in the bullpen to step up into their roles, then we would have a pretty good shot at it, but none of that happened," Wedge said. "And then there were the trades we made and I understand they were out of necessity, but that's tough. But I understand it."
The feeling was that if the Indians ended the year with a flourish, Wedge's job would be saved.
Now, it appears the team may have no choice but to go in a new direction.
Closer Kerry Wood, who signed a two-year, $20 million free agent contract with Cleveland in December, said the players should be the ones held accountable for the Indians' plunge.
"It's not the coaching staff," Wood said. "They do what they can for us to be better. They suggested adjustments and we didn't make them. We have nobody to blame but ourselves for where we are. The organization has the right stuff in place. They pay attention to the small stuff that a mid-market team has to do, but the players just underachieved."
Wedge has earned the respect of Cleveland's opponents.
"He's one of my favorite managers," Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge said. "He's a smart man and I've talked to their players and they all say he treats them fairly and they respect him. That's what you want in a manager."
In the days ahead, there's a possibility that the Dolans may ask Wedge to make dramatic changes to his coaching staff to keep his job. It's not known how Wedge, who has fired coaches in the past but is fiercely loyal to his staff, would react to such a proposal.
It was just two years ago that Wedge was considered one of baseball's brightest managers. The Indians came within one win of a World Series trip in 2007, and with a core of young, talented players, it only seemed a matter of time before they won it all.
But they're rebuilding again, and soon, they may be doing it with a new manager.
"I know that sometimes change has to be made for change's sake," Wedge said. "You've got to be professional about it. You've got to understand it and I do."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press