Sunday, September 9, 2007

Cleveland Fans Got A Wedgie!

Sunday, September 9, 2007, Akron Beacon Journal, Sports, "Wedge Knows What He Is Doing" by Sheldon Ocker.

Sheldon Ocker writes that it is time for the fans of the Cleveland Indians to acknowledge manager Eric Wedge's role in the team's success.

Absolutely, he has had a huge role.

That role has been based on a mix of experience, good planning, a strong farm system, a very good relationship with team brass, a very good relationship with his team, and luck.

Wedge and general manager Mark Shapiro have assembled a team that has been in first place in their division for most of the season. Wedge is in his fifth season as manager of the Cleveland Indians. There have been many ups and down during that time that have given Wedge much experience to draw on; the unexpected early success of the team in the 2005 season, the unexpected collapse of that same team, the disappointment in the 2006 team, his timely discipline of players (Milton Bradley, Brandon Phillips, Cliff Lee, etc.), and the handling of this current team.

Last year, the team theme was "Team, One Through Nine" that did not quite play out. This year, the theme is "Win, One Game At A Time." This is a good theme that seems to get clouded by another Wedge-ism, "There are 162 of these games to play." However, the players give Wedge credit for a never-give-up attitude that they all have adopted as indicated by their come from behind victories, their one-run victories, and their two-out, clutch hit and scoring performances.

The farm system has been very generous to these Indians. Ryan Garko, Asdrubal Cabrera, Franklin Gutierrez, Aaron Laffey, and more have all made excellent contributions to the success of this team. Wedge has handled them masterfully, as he has his pitching staff.

Mark Shapiro has constantly endorsed his manager, which for the most part has been well deserved.

The players appreciate Wedge's support and are very dedicated to their manager. They live his never-say-die style. They are disciples of Wedge and his winning plan. There is no griping when a player is rested. Only positive "Team" words have been uttered by C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona when they were the victims of insufficient run support. Casey Blake has played unselfishly in right field, first base, and third base as needed by Wedge and Blake has responded with a strong season.

That brings us to luck. Wedge has been guilty of sticking to his plan despite his team's offensive collapse that lasted almost five weeks. He stuck with his line up and made references that the team would work through the current problems with their chins up. While the Indians were slumping offensively, the Tigers and Twins collapsed.

What if this collapse did not occur? The Indians would be in third place in the division and out of any playoff contention at this point. Wedge's reaction to the slump was viewed by the fans of the team as "missing." Instead of winning and putting the Tigers behind by 10+ games, the Indians struggled to stay close while the Tigers stumbled. Only when the line up was given a shake up late in August did the team respond and come out of their offensive doldrums. Whether the turn around was coincidental or a reaction to the line up changes makes no difference. There was a huge factor of luck involved in arriving at the current five game lead that the Indians now enjoy over the Tigers.

Sheldon, the fans were 100% right to demand the bar to be raised, to expect a change, to demand a reaction of a team that was playing below their abilities and losing out on opportunities to vault ahead to a comfortable lead in the division.

Wedge should be supported and celebrated for a great job to date but acceptance of mediocrity will never be tolerated.

Here is hoping the recent struggles have made Wedge a much better manager than he was a month ago.

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