October 20, 2010 in Sports

Blanchette: M’s need drivers more than Wedge

By Correspondent
Associated Press photo

Eric Wedge became the Seattle Mariners’ eighth manager in the past eight years on Tuesday.
(Full-size photo)

Here’s what we found out about Eric Wedge, introduced Tuesday as the new manager of the Seattle Mariners (no one lasts long enough to be an old manager of the Mariners, but you already knew that):

• He’s a finalist in the Stacy Keach Lookalike Contest, possibly the leader in the clubhouse.

• As is overwhelmingly the case in coachly press conferences, he tithes to the Church of Moving Forward. His Mariners are going to “move forward.” As if anyone wants to move backward, or that such a thing is even metaphorically possible with the Mariners.

• If you despise Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong, the Tweedle Hum and Tweedle Drum of the front office, you’re not going to have much faith in the new guy.

“Howard, Chuck and Jack (Zduriencik, the M’s general manager), they know what time of day it is,” Wedge told KIRO Radio. “Leadership is not always a popularity vote. I can tell the city of Seattle, these three guys know what the hell they’re doing and are in it for the right reasons and they’re passionate – and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t feel that way.”

They know what time of day it is? Let me guess – it’s Howdy Doody time?

They do know what month it is: the month to hire another manager. Of course, the M’s have had to do this in June, July and August, as well as October. Wedge makes the eighth M’s skipper in eight years, and Zduriencik’s third hire in 24 months. In the early 1960s, the Chicago Cubs eschewed a manager for a “College of Coaches” – rotating head coach duties among six men, while the rest of baseball LOL’d.

Little did we know it was a template for the post-millennium Mariners.

Not that it seems to have daunted Wedge.

“That’s about me,” he insisted. “If I do my job, the rest will take care of itself.”

Yet so numbing is the churn – and so deep is the fan outrage and certainty that nothing will change until the two carbuncles at the top are excised – that Zduriencik could have hired a Kardashian sister and elicited the Everest of shrugs.

This is too bad, because Wedge might actually be a keeper. Zduriencik interviewed only men with previous major league managing experience, a predictable 180 from the hiring of Don Wakamatsu in 2008 when such a resume builder was deemed unnecessary. In his other big league gig, Wedge signed on with Cleveland, saw the Indians through an accelerated development of young stars and got them to within a game of the World Series in 2007 before ownership cheaped out and began selling off the goods.

His reputation? Unflinching, straightforward. Big on communication, big on accountability – whatever that is, exactly.

Lincoln and Armstrong have been the constants in a seven-year dungstorm that’s seen the Mariners lose 99 games once and 101 games twice – once with a $117 million payroll. The bus has been driven off the pier and drifted to the ocean bed, yet these two grifters are still steering and collecting fares.

The Mariners of 2010 quit and mutinied. Wakamatsu either refused to engage in discipline or was headed off by Zduriencik, who did nothing to help his manager.

The M’s are to accountability what “Why the long face?” is to “A horse walked into a bar…”

Wedge grasps the concept. Whether the organization wants to learn – or will let it be taught – is another matter.

“This game demands your respect as a player,” he said. “Every time you put on a big-league uniform – a professional uniform, for that matter – it’s an honor. Like I tell the kids, the players – ‘Listen, every night you come to the ballpark, there’s a family of four up there who’s been saving all year long. It’s their night … and you owe it to them to show up and play your you-know-what off. That’s the way we’re going to play.’ ”

And if they don’t?

“You handle it,” Wedge said, meaning himself. “You have to be firm, fair and consistent from day one. I don’t give a damn what their contract is, they’re going to play baseball the way it’s supposed to be played.”

There is a flip side, too – speaking truth to power. Wakamatsu and Zduriencik eventually came to, if not cross purposes, cross realities. After the $117 million flop of ’08, Lincoln doesn’t want to hear a plea for another expensive bat.

“Being open and frank with each other is important,” Wedge said. “There has to be a certain amount of toughness there. You can’t be afraid to have difficult conversations. I’m not a yes man, and neither are these three.”

So there you have it: tough, frank, fearless. The M’s got it all in Wedge.

Now, who’s going to get a base hit?

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