CLEVELAND — Indians fans have been at odds with Larry and Paul Dolan for quite a while now, but it’s a good bet they are pleased with ownership’s latest decision.
With six games left in a highly disappointing season, Cleveland fired Eric Wedge, bringing to an end a seven-year tenure for the much-maligned manager, who was handpicked by general manager Mark Shapiro.
Wedge and all of the Indians coaches were notified that they would not be brought back in 2010 prior to a doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday, but the manager and his staff will remain until the regular season is complete.
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“This is obviously an announcement I never envisioned having to make,” said Shapiro, who hired Wedge as a minor league manager in 1998 before promoting him to the big league level prior to the 2003 season. “It’s tough personally and professionally.”
Wedge’s 561 career victories rank fifth on Cleveland’s all-time managerial list. But in his seven years at the helm, the club made just one playoff appearance, coming in 2007, when the Indians won the Central Division and came within a win of advancing to the World Series.
Wedge was named American League Manager of the Year after that season, but the Indians have gone in reverse the last two years. Cleveland finished third in 2008 and was expected to contend for a division title this year, but entered Wednesday a season-high 28 games under .500 and a game in front of the last-place Royals.
“The reality is that we weren’t happy with the way the team has performed since 2007,” said team president Paul Dolan, who was not accompanied by his father Larry for the news conference at Progressive Field. “We think that this decision will help us return to a winning form.”
Dolan said Wedge, 41, has been under review since the All-Star break, when the manager began to face criticism from fans and media for the club’s poor performance.
Dolan and Shapiro said the decision to dismiss Wedge was made recently, the manager and his staff being notified Tuesday night. Wedge informed his players Wednesday.
It was a foregone conclusion for many that Wedge would be dismissed once the season was complete, but the end came sooner than expected.
“As we examined everything and looked at the situation, we felt it was the right time to make a change with Eric and for our organization,” Shapiro said. “Accountability lies across the organization and, certainly, Eric is involved. In this game, situations often dictate decisions.
“A lot of different things went into the ultimate decision. At the end, we arrived collectively that it was the right time for a change.”
Wedge, who is still under contract through next season, was forced to operate under budget constraints with a mid-market club that has traded Cy Young Award winners in consecutive years.
Still, he took full responsibility for the shortcomings of his club.
“There are real factors that led to this. I understand that,” said Wedge, who is the majors’ fifth-longest tenured manager with his current club. “I’m the manager of the team. It’s my job to go out and win ballgames. There isn’t an asterisk that says, ‘If you have this, then you can win.’ I take responsibility for this.
“It is more difficult and more challenging (without a competitive payroll), but it’s also more rewarding. What we came so close to doing in 2007, that’s pretty special. It doesn’t matter what type of team I have. It’s my job to work off them and win as many games as possible.”
Even after a successful 2007, Wedge was never able to endear himself to Cleveland fans.
“I don’t know why,” Shapiro said. “I thought they would when we hired him, because he’s very consistent with the values of northeast Ohio. He’s a blue collar guy. But this is an entertainment business. Maybe he wasn’t flamboyant enough. He kept his emotions inside and fans want to see that you wear them on your sleeves.”
Wedge may not have been respected by fans, but he had his players’ support, at least publicly.
“It’s tough,” Grady Sizemore said. “As a team, you don’t want to be in this situation. It’s a reflection on all of us. You can’t put anything on him. As a group, we’ve underachieved the last couple years. As a group, we just didn’t get it done. It’s not his fault, but it’s the business of the game.”
“I’ve learned a lot from him about life and about baseball,” Travis Hafner said. “It’s tough. He’s always been the same guy. He’s a pretty stable figure.”
Neither Shapiro nor Dolan would discuss potential replacements for Wedge, but names have surfaced, including Boston pitching coach and former Indians front office member John Farrell, and former manager and current ESPN analyst Buck Showalter. Former Cleveland manager Mike Hargrove might also be a candidate.
“Where you go from here, I don’t know,” Sizemore said. “It’s a matter of who’s available. Obviously, we have to find a guy that’s right for this team to take us to another level.”
Wedge by the numbers
- 1: Trip to the playoffs in seven seasons, and wins away from making the World Series in 2007.
- 2: Seasons over .500 in seven years; finished right at .500 (81-81) a year ago.
- 561: Wins as Indians manager, good for fifth most in team history.
- .497: Career winning percentage after Wednesday’s split with the White Sox.
- 1.25: As in million dollars, the amount he’s owed for the one year left on his contract.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.