"I made a couple promises to myself when I started managing," Wedge said Wednesday. "I'll never forget how hard it is to play this game, and it's not about me, it's about the players that play this game. It takes 100 percent commitment to those players to ultimately do your job. You have to do this for the right reasons and you have to be willing to put everything on the line when it comes to your players."But little went wrong for the Tribe in 2007, which is why Wedge -- his reluctance toward adulation aside -- is now the recipient of the game's highest managerial honor. The Baseball Writers' Association of America named the 39-year-old Wedge his league's top skipper after he guided the Tribe to a 96-66 regular-season record and its first AL Central title in six years. He's the first Indians manager to win the award.
"I look at this as an organizational award," Wedge said, "but also an award that our entire Major League staff should feel proud of."Wedge received 19 first-place votes and 116 points overall, topping the second-place finisher, Angels manager Mike Scioscia, by 54 points. Joe Torre, who led the Yankees to their 13th straight postseason appearance in 2007, finished in third place, ahead of Red Sox manager Terry Francona. Wedge's Indians beat the defending AL champion Tigers by eight games, despite having an Opening Day payroll ($61.7 million) that drastically paled in comparison to that of Detroit ($95.2 million). Though the Tribe's eventual advantage over the Tigers was sizable, it was not always an easy road to October. Wedge had to work with a team whose April roster greatly differed from its September makeup, and a schedule thrown into disarray with a series of April snowouts and another series moved to Miller Park.
"We had plenty of challenges this year, no doubt about it," Wedge said. "Looking back, when we lost those games early on in the season, I knew what kind of grind we were going to have ahead of us. We always talk about taking it day to day, but we really had to work hard not to get too far ahead or ourselves mentally. I think the way our staff handled that and the players handled it was really a separator for us in regards to some of the success we had."Injuries and/or ineffectiveness from two spots in the starting rotation and several spots in the starting lineup and bullpen dictated an overhaul in which contributions from rookies and previously unproven players such as Fausto Carmona, Asdrubal Cabrera, Rafael Perez, Franklin Gutierrez and Jensen Lewis became a key. But Wedge's ability to mold young players was a major factor in his landing the job of managing the Tribe before the '03 season. Wedge, formerly an injury-riddled catcher in the Red Sox's and Rockies' systems, had worked his way up the Minor League managerial ranks and been a two-time International League Manager of the Year at Triple-A Buffalo. "What I thought was, at the time we hired him, that he was the right guy for this team at that time, and he had the potential to grow into one of the best managers in the game," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "And I think he was the right manager for us at the time we hired him, and he has grown into one of the best managers in the game.
"The No. 1 thing that stands out is just his consistency. There are very few people that are able to maintain that consistency in an environment so full of the emotion and momentum that normally causes people to change. He never changes. He's consistent with the way he communicates. He's consistent with his expectations for his players."That potential, though, was seemingly fading after the 2006 season. The Indians had won 93 games in '05 but fell short of the playoffs. And with expectations higher than ever in '06, the Indians fell flat with a 78-84 record and fourth-place finish. The '07 season was the last guaranteed year on Wedge's contract. The Indians had a two-year option on him that Shapiro opted not to exercise before the season began, leading to speculation that Wedge might be on the hot seat.
|2007 AL Manager of the Year Award Voting|
|Eric Wedge, CLE||19||6||3||116|
|Mike Scioscia, LAA||4||11||9||62|
|Joe Torre, NYY||5||8||12||61|
|Terry Francona, BOS||3||4||13|
But when the Indians overcame all their obstacles and grabbed a 52-36 record in the first half, Shapiro opted to extend Wedge for another three seasons, through 2010. "You work hard to establish expectations," Wedge said Wednesday. "You want those expectations. That comes with success. It was a heck of a challenge, but ultimately the players were able to see it through." The new contract was a show of faith that was immediately rewarded in the second half. When the Indians were a game back of the Tigers after a loss on Aug. 14, Wedge called out his players and questioned their toughness and leadership. "It's easy to be tough when you're winning," Wedge said at that time. "Now is the time when we have to toughen up. Enough's enough. Now, we're going to see how tough we are." The Indians responded by going 31-12 the rest of the way. "There was more made of that [remark], obviously," Wedge said Wednesday.
That said, Wedge admitted, "There's not much that comes out of my mouth that there wasn't a thought process behind it, particularly when it comes to interviews with the press."And in October, with the Indians holding a 2-1 advantage in the AL Division Series against the Yankees, Wedge made the controversial -- and correct -- decision to stick with starter Paul Byrd in Game 4, rather than pitching ace C.C. Sabathia on short rest. Though the Tribe was unable to capitalize on a 3-1 lead in the AL Championship Series against the Red Sox and advance to the World Series for the first time in a decade, Wedge earned quite a measure of respect around the league this season. "Eric Wedge is a fine young manager," Joe Torre said after his Yankees were ousted from the playoffs by the Indians. "He's a special kid." Wedge, however, never took credit for the Indians' achievements in '07. "We're a family," Wedge said. "We've worked hard to create an atmosphere here that the players have taken it on themselves now. The less I have to do, that means the more the players are doing, and that's what we really work hard to accomplish here." The players get it, but they don't believe he's doing any less. "I think probably one of his strongest traits is the fact that he understands that this game is about the players," third baseman Casey Blake said, "and it's not about the manager or the coaches. Having to understand that is huge. He doesn't try to take any of the credit himself. He stays out of the way, lets the players do it, and I think that's huge. "He won't admit it, but he was a huge part of the success we've had this year, but he would never say that." He doesn't have to. For one day, at least, it's all about Wedge. "It's a culmination of the body of work he's put in here since the day he got here," Shapiro said. "He's so much more than just a manager. He's been a core member of the leadership team that's guided our club to this point."