April 8, 2011 in Sports

Blanchette: Benched Wilson on hot seat

By The Spokesman-Review
 

SEATTLE – At least it didn’t take six weeks into the season and a clubhouse nap by the franchise icon for things to unravel.

Yes, on (Home) Opening Night 2011, the Seattle Mariners found their first Wedge issue.

Jack Wilson.

And two days before in a 7-3 loss to Texas that ended the Mariners’ opening road trip, he committed an act that new manager Eric Wedge on Friday afternoon deemed “unspeakable.”

He took himself out of a game.

Let that be a warning to you, Mariners fans: better not head for the exits or change channels before the last out, even if the M’s are getting boat-raced by 11 runs in the fourth inning.

Speaking of unspeakable.

That was the M’s 35th home opener, all right. A 12-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians and someone named Carlos Carrasco. A new clubhouse drama to chew on. Even an otherwise moving pre-game tribute to deceased broadcaster Dave Niehaus was bogged down by an unlistenable, if well-intended, offering by hip-hop artist Macklemore.

Although if Dave ever would have been tempted to insert an epithet into his “My Oh My,” he would have saved it for the ballgame.

Ah, yes. The boos are back in town.

Funny thing is, the first one of the day came from the manager.

When Wedge posted the lineup card and Adam Kennedy was inked in at second base instead of Wilson, it seemed like an obvious reaction to his two-error inning Wednesday – a dropped relay and a wild throw, both on what would have been inning-ending double plays. And it was. But not in the way anyone thought.

After that game, Wedge explained – well, not really – that Wilson came out because “he was a little hazy.” Wilson owned up – well, not really – that his play had been “unacceptable” and that he should have come out.

On Friday, Wedge clarified the circumstances.

“I tried to protect Jack by saying he was a little bit hazy,” Wedge said.

“I did not take him out of the game. He took himself out of the game. (Bench coach) Robby Thompson and I were underneath there and we wanted him to go back out – we tried to convince him to go back out – and he didn’t feel like he could do that.”

And Wilson later admitted it was true.

“It was one of those things,” he said, “that, hey, we needed to get somebody out there who knows what they’re doing.”

Hmm. Isn’t that why they’re paying Wilson $5 million – to know what he’s doing?

Well, sort of. Wilson has been the M’s shortstop the past season and a half when not injured, which he mostly has been. But in spring training, Wedge flip-flopped Wilson and Brendan Ryan, acquired to plug in at second base after Jose Lopez was put on an oxcart to Colorado. The explanation: it put a veteran alongside young first baseman Justin Smoak, and improved the defense – a highly dubious claim.

A more likely rationale: Wilson and his salary will be expendable when the M’s bring up rookie second baseman Dustin Ackley in June, and rather than disrupt two positions then, better to let Ryan get settled at short now.

Instead, the Mariners are experiencing the disruption now.

“It’s something I’m learning,” Wilson said, “and I’m still going to work hard in doing it. But that’s a pretty big cost, to lose a game, especially with a Cy Young guy on the mound and just not getting it done for him. I want to learn this and do what’s best for the team, but not if it’s going to mean losing games.”

Wedge obviously believes deciding what’s best for the team is his job. And he’s right. But this dramatic departure in managerial tone from that practiced by Don Wakamatsu came with some irony: Wilson, who is taking one for the team anyway, felt he was actually trying to help the club, and grabs some pine for his trouble.

Still, this was one of those breaches of baseball etiquette that was obviously anathema to a bootstraps type like Wedge, who slogged through multiple knee and elbow surgeries just to play 39 major league games. You don’t ask out if you can play.

And in the end, it’s preferable to the mutiny ship Wakamatsu ran, as when Chone Figgins charged his manager for being removed after dogging it in the field – and then was in the lineup the next day. It’s still debatable whether Wak got the proper backing from general manager Jack Zduriencik – who offered his “support” a week before firing him, but for what it’s worth he offered the same to Wedge.

Wilson’s view: “Until I’m confident enough … you’re probably going to be sitting there watching somebody else.”

Is Wilson’s future with the club more limited than even previously assumed?

“Good question,” Wedge said, “but I’m not going to speak any more.”

No need, really. Message delivered.

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