After Don Wakamatsu was fired as manager of the Seattle Mariners toward the end of the 2010 season, the hire of Eric Wedge was a welcome one. With Don Wakamatsu’s seemingly passive attitude and apparent lack of control and respect in the clubhouse, many in Seattle were excited to bring a fresh face in who had become synonymous with passion, intensity and respect. Mariners fans were hoping that Wedge was the right choice – hoping that Wedge would help build a contender out of a group of youngsters and that he would be the first manager since Lou Piniella to actually stick around for a while.
Eric Wedge took over a team that had racked up 101 losses in an abysmal 2010 season and guided them to an improvement of six wins – the 2011 team finished with a final record of 67-95. After the season, Wedge admitted to essentially sitting back and evaluating the talent on the 2011 team, but 2012 was going to be the year he really set things into motion. If you live in the Northwest, there’s no doubt you’ve seen the black and white TV commercials or heard the radio spots regarding Wedge’s philosophy. He has been preaching hard work and accountability and his mantra turned into the Mariners’ 2012 slogan – ‘Get After It.’
The idea is an intriguing one. If players aren’t producing, there are consequences. If certain players are producing, they will be rewarded. Unfortunately, Eric Wedge hasn’t lived up to his own philosophies and, quite frankly, hasn’t done much to impress me in his year-and-a-half tenure as manager.
Last year Ichiro was looked on to be one of the few veteran presences in a lineup that was getting a lot younger and he continued hitting leadoff, which he had been doing his whole career. It didn’t work.
Ichiro’s 2011 was by far the worst season of his career – he finished the year with an OPS of only .645 (his previous low was .747 in 2008). Ichiro turned 38 in October and isn’t getting any younger – it’s clear he is in the twilight of his career. How did Eric Wedge face the problem of an aging superstar declining? Simply by inserting him in the #3 spot in the lineup so that he could become more of an RBI producer. That didn’t work either.
As the #3 hitter Ichiro played in 52 games and drove in only 17 runs. His OPS was .672, a slight improvement, but not close to the kind of production a team needs in the top half of the lineup. Once Eric Wedge admitted the experiment didn’t work, how was Ichiro held accountable? He was moved back to leadoff.
In 31 games as the leadoff hitter, Ichiro once again showed that he is not the player he once was. He hit .237 and his OPS was an unthinkable .581. Two games before the All-Star break, Wedge made one more change – he slid Ichiro down to #2.
For whatever the reason, Eric Wedge refuses to put Ichiro where he belongs, which at this point in his career is towards the bottom of the lineup. Is Wedge scared off by the situation that arised with Don Wakamatsu’s handling of Ken Griffey, Jr.’s decrease in playing time and the firing that stemmed from that issue? Is he wary of upsetting the Japanese ownership, who has a good relationship with Ichiro? We will likely never know the answer to either question, but the fact still remains: a manager that seems to not take failure as an option has let Ichiro continue to do just that.
What about the players who continue to give good at-bats nearly every time they step up to the plate? They are rewarded, right? Not quite. John Jaso quickly cemented himself as a favorite among Seattle fans and is leading the team in batting average, OBP, OPS and OPS+… but is still not an everyday starter. Who’s second in every single one of those categories? Casper Wells. Combined, Jaso and Wells have 287 plate appearances – fewer than Ichiro, Dustin Ackley, Justin Smoak, Kyle Seager, Michael Saunders and Jesus Montero. Chone Figgins, Miguel Olivo and Brendan Ryan have both stepped to the plate more Jaso and Wells. The manager’s job is to put the best possible lineup on the field each and every day, and Eric Wedge is simply not doing it.
Baseball decisions, however, aren’t what has turned my opinion on Eric Wedge the most this year. A manager has to understand that without the fans, a team has nothing. Seattle paid the ultimate price, with the Sonics leaving for Oklahoma City. While the vast majority of fan interest is dependent on a team’s win-loss record, Eric Wedge isn’t doing himself any favors with certain comments towards fans who invest countless hours and dollars into their favorite team.
May 4th, when asked how to respond to people who think that lineup order doesn’t matter: “They don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. So, whoever they are, you can tell them that I said that.”
May 10th, when asked why the team doesn’t incorporate more ‘small ball’ since they don’t seem to hit for power:“Most people don’t know what the hell small ball is. It’s the most cliché, bulls*** word out there. People don’t understand what it means.”
May 26th: “Most of them are just phrases. People don’t know what the hell they’re talking about when they say those things. You know what I mean? If I say ‘put up a good at-bat’ do you know what that means? Not ‘you,’ just in general. If I say ‘make a good out,’ you’ve got to know what that means. Or ‘make a tough out’ – you’ve got to know what that means.
May 27th: “You are not going to have a consistent lineup until you know what your players are capable of doing. They are too young. So for all the yahoos out there that say you should play the same players every day, that you haven’t had a consistent lineup every day, you don’t know s***. Period.”
It’s good for a manager to show passion, but insults directed at Mariners fans aren’t the way to go about growing your fan base. It’s natural for a manager to feel frustrated when a team isn’t performing to the level he wants, but don’t channel that anger into demeaning the people who you put on a show every day for.
The ‘yahoos’ are the reason Major League Baseball exists, Eric. The ‘yahoos’ want a winning team, and the ‘yahoos,’ possibly for good reason, think you may be going about things the wrong way. When the players on a team who are producing the least are the ones who are rewarded with the most at-bats and the best players are sitting on the bench more often than not, there are some questions that need to be asked. I don’t like the answers – not the ones that are put on the lineup card every day nor the ones that are given out in post-game interviews.