Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Updated: October 1, 3:55 PM ET
Wedge fired, but will finish season
ESPN.com news services
CLEVELAND -- Eric Wedge lost his job and kept his uniform.
Wedge was fired Wednesday as manager of the Cleveland Indians, who are in the final days of a terrible season that began with high hopes.
Despite being told he would not be back next season, Wedge will manage the last six games of his seventh year with Cleveland, which entered Wednesday's doubleheader against the Chicago White Sox one game out of last place in the AL Central.
"I still wanted to finish what we started this year," said Wedge, who led the Indians to one playoff appearance since 2003 and went through two rebuilding projects with the midmarket club. "I felt it was the right thing to do. It's been a long run here -- as managers go."
General manager Mark Shapiro said he and owners Larry and Paul Dolan came to a collective decision on Wedge's future "fairly recently" and that Cleveland's coaches were told Tuesday night that they would not be retained for the 2010 season. Wedge is under contract for 2010.
Wedge's firing had been rumored for weeks, and although him still being around makes for an awkward situation, he's glad to have some resolution.
"It's been a big elephant in the room for a while," he said.
After leaving the interview room at Progressive Field, Wedge headed back to his office to begin preparing for his final two home games. It was a strange scene as he walked down the corridor. He was passed by several White Sox players who said hello and seemed surprised to see him still wearing his Chief Wahoo cap.
The Indians won the doubleheader opener 5-1 and dropped the second game 1-0.
Earlier, Wedge joked that Indians third base coach Joel Skinner's father, Bob, a former major league manager, had said "until you've been fired you've never really managed or coached."
"I told him to call his old man the other day," Wedge said. "Tell him I'm going to be a manager and coach."
Shapiro refused to discuss any specifics about why Wedge was dismissed. The Indians were plagued by slow starts throughout the 41-year-old's tenure and this season they couldn't overcome some early injuries and an atrocious bullpen that blew games in April and May.
Cleveland also recently went on an 11-game losing streak and has dropped 20 of its last 25, a tailspin that likely sealed Wedge's fate.
"It was not one overwhelming component that led us to this," Shapiro said. "It was a large number of things occurring. I think we just reached the point where it was time to make a change."
Shapiro said the Indians will begin their search for a new manager soon. Among names that figure to be mentioned are Boston pitching coach John Farrell, former Indians manager Mike Hargrove, former Arizona manager Buck Showalter and Torey Lovullo, who managed the Indians' Triple-A Columbus franchise.
All-Star center fielder Grady Sizemore, who battled an elbow injury before having surgery earlier this month, said replacing Wedge will be difficult.
"Eric had all the qualities you want," Sizemore said. "You don't want to lose a man like Eric. He's respected by his peers, his players, everybody in the game."
Cleveland has a long history of hiring within the organization. Wedge was a three-time manager of the year in Cleveland's system before being promoted. The last time the Indians went outside was in 1990, when they hired John McNamara.
Shapiro and Wedge enjoyed a close working relationship, and the GM said firing the AL's 2007 manager of the year was stressful.
"This is obviously an announcement that I never envisioned having to make," he said. "I was hopeful that this wasn't going to come."
Farrell was the director for player development for the Indians before leaving for Boston in 2007 -- the teams' front offices have a strong, long-standing relationship -- and he lives in Cleveland in the offseason. It has been widely reported that Farrell's contract contains a clause that prevents him from managing until after the 2010 season, but baseball sources told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney that Farrell would be allowed to pursue managerial opportunities if he so chose.
Farrell recently said he is completely committed to working in his current position in Boston at this time but added he would welcome a chance to manage at some point.
"I'm ambitious," Farrell said. "Yeah, I do have the goal of maybe one day fulfilling that role, but I can't tell you where and when that will be."
Two years ago, Cleveland was one win away from a World Series trip. The Indians fell to 81-81 in 2008, but were expected to bounce back and contend this season. However, a slow start snowballed and by midseason the financially strapped club, which is projected to lose at least $16 million this season, traded defending AL Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee and All-Star catcher Victor Martinez to begin rebuilding again.
Those moves triggered outrage among Cleveland's fans and led to questions about why the team would deal its best players a full season before they were eligible for free agency.
Paul Dolan acknowledged Wedge wasn't solely responsible for the team's slide.
"The managers often become the fall guy for what is an organizational failure, that's the tried and true way of baseball," he said. "We will continue to look at ourselves and look for ways to improve beyond the manager and the coaching staff. But this was the one area that we can address right now with a change."
Dolan believes Cleveland's next manager will be stepping into a better situation than Wedge inherited in 2003, when the club was coming off a 74-win season and was dismantled.
"We will look for somebody that has some of the strengths that Eric has," he said. "Eric was a very good manager and will be a very good manager again someday."
Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia came up with Wedge through Cleveland's farm system. Sabathia said Wedge made him a better player.
"He was a tough guy to please," Sabathia said. "He always seemed to find something wrong with what I did, so it made me a lot tougher in not being satisfied and making sure that I was working hard and trying to get better every day."
Wedge's style was never embraced by Cleveland fans, who often criticized his strategy and nose-to-the-grindstone approach. Shapiro didn't understand why Wedge wasn't more popular in a working-class town.
"He's a blue-collar worker, a hard-nosed guy, extremely honest and consistent, Shapiro said. "This is an entertainment business and maybe he wasn't flamboyant enough. Fans want to feel the emotion and Eric, to protect the players, didn't do that."
As the Indians dressed for the final time at home this season, there was a mixture of relief and sadness at Wedge's dismissal.
"I'm disappointed," catcher Kelly Shoppach said. "He's taking all the blame. He always has for us. He has never thrown any of us under the bus. I have nothing but respect for him."
Wedge ranks fifth in club history for wins, 10 behind Hall of Famer Al Lopez.
Information from The Associated Press and ESPN.com's Amy K. Nelson and ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney was used in this report.