CLEVELAND - Eric Wedge`s Indians didn`t win the World Series this year, not even the American League championship. But his team overcame a mountain of adversity to match world champion Boston for the best record in baseball, while returning to the postseason with its first Central Division title since 2001.
For that, Wedge was named the AL`s Manager of the Year on Wednesday, winning the award by a large margin to become the first Cleveland manager honored since voting began in 1983. Arizona`s Bob Melvin won the National League`s award.
To guide the Indians back into contention, Wedge endured injuries to the rotation, lineup upheaval, a collective month-long offensive slump and wintry Cleveland weather that caused the cancellation of the club`s home-opening series and the relocation of games to Milwaukee`s Miller Park.
All this, while competing in what was perceived as one of the top divisions in baseball, and with a modest payroll.
"There`s always challenges and unexpected challenges you deal with over the course of six months, but I think we were at the extreme of that," said Wedge, whose club won 96 games before beating the high-priced Yankees in the division series and then falling to the Red Sox in the ALCS despite owning a 3-1 series lead.
Wedge was the second person from the Indians organization honored in two days, with C.C. Sabathia winning Cleveland`s second-ever AL Cy Young Award, and the first in 35 years, Tuesday.
He was the only manager listed on all 28 ballots cast by the Baseball Writers` Association of America (two writers from each major league city), receiving 19 first-place votes and a total of 116 points to runner-up Angels manager Mike Scioscia`s four first-place votes and 62 points.
Joe Torre, who left New York to become manager of the Dodgers this offseason, finished third despite receiving one more first-place vote than Scioscia. Boston`s Terry Francona, who beat Wedge`s Indians in the ALCS and led the Red Sox to their second World Series title in four seasons, was the only other manager to receive votes, finishing fourth with 13 points. All BBWAA awards are voted on prior to postseason play.
Wedge was humbled by becoming the first Cleveland manager to win the award.
"I think it`s a great honor," he said. "I think about how much respect I have for what it means to be a manager at the major league level. I think about all the great teams the Indians had in the 90s and what (former Cleveland manager) Mike Hargrove was able to do."
Wedge, who finished second in 2005 balloting to Chicago`s Ozzie Guillen, led an Indians` resurgence that saw the club post a 96-66 record, coming off a 78-84 mark in 2006. At 39 years, 10 months, Wedge, who was in his fifth season, is the third youngest manager to win the award. Buck Showalter was 38 years, six months, when he won in 1994 with the Yankees.
Nearly all of Wedge`s postseason moves - not starting Sabathia on short rest in the ALDS and sticking with shaky closer Joe Borowski to name a couple - paid off. But he may have done his best managerial work in the regular season, when his team went into an offensive funk after the all-star break that threatened to stall Cleveland`s trek to the division title.
Following an August loss to his team`s closest competition, defending AL champion Detroit, Wedge had harsh criticism for his players, especially his hitters, in front of the media. It was an uncharacteristic move, but a calculated one that paid off with the Indians shaking the slump and distancing themselves from the Tigers, whom they swept in a pivotal series at Jacobs Field during the final month of the season.
"There`s not much that comes out of my mouth where there isn`t a thought process behind it," Wedge said. "I`ve got so much respect for the players that play this game, but sometimes you have to take a different approach to get it home."
"I think the team really took on his personality more than ever this year," said Cleveland general manager Mark Shapiro. "That personality is one of strength, consistency and loyalty."
As is his style, Wedge deflected the praise to his players and staff.
"I think it`s an honor for the organization," he said, "just the people I surround myself with and the approach that we have here with the Cleveland Indians.
"It`s an award that our entire major league staff should be proud of."
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or email@example.com.