BY Art Thiel 10:02PM 10/19/2010

Wedge has edge, but he doesn’t swing a bat

7th skipper since Lou has Lou-like passion; does it matter?

Eric Wedge Seattle Mariners October 2010

Jack Zduriencik introduces Eric Wedge, new Mariners manager / Ben VanHouten

The question was as inevitable as it was uncomfortable for management: What does this guy have that Don Wakamatsu didn’t?

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik, the man responsible for the decision to hire Eric Wedge, looked a tad squirmy. But not so much that he hadn’t rehearsed the answer.

After prefacing with the usual rhetorical dodge about wanting to look forward instead of backward, he did allow as to how the Mariners were “looking for a degree of toughness . . . someone who will tell it like it is.

“That’s the best way to answer that question.”

Well, not really. The best way to say it would be honestly:  Wakamatsu was too soft and didn’t hold sufficiently accountable the miscreants in the clubhouse, and he let it be known quietly that the biggest problem in the debacle of the 2010 season was an absence of talent.

But management would never be so respectful of and direct with its fans to answer that way.

At least the bosses respected the club traditions.

Celebrating Tuesday their nearly annual October baseball tradition, the press conference introducing the new manager, the club acted in its usual and accustomed way:

They went from good cop to bad cop.

Wakamatsu was the thoughtful, measured purveyor of a belief system, a Dr. Ruth. Wedge is the destroyer of worlds, a Dr. No.

When Wedge is fired in a year or two, the Mariners will replace him with a good cop. It will be good to see Bob Melvin again.

In the meantime, the new guy figures to be fun.

He said growing up in Indiana, volatile Hoosiers basketball coaching legend Bobby Knight was someone he admired.

Asked to describe the ideal Wedge player, he said, “Hard-nosed, consistent, passionate, prepared.”

Getting the picture? However, mere printed words don’t quite capture how he delivered his thoughts.

Wedge has a presence that commands that one eye be kept on him at all times.

A platoon of soldiers could execute a parade march on his considerable jaw. His voice could win the contest on the latest idiot-TV show, “America’s Got Decibels.” His stare bends sunlight.

Do not mess with this fellow. This means you, Milton Bradley and Chone Figgins.

As soon as the formal part of the press conference ended, I sought out CEO Howard Lincoln and president Chuck Armstrong, the club’s other two decision-makers. But Lincoln bolted the interview room and was well down the stadium concourse, beating my coverage by 10 yards.

After offering up a couple of loud questions about what he thought of Wedge, Lincoln slowed, turned and offered up one word: “Passion.”

Asked to elaborate, Lincoln paused, warily.

“Let’s put it this way – he has a unique passion,” he said. “He’s fierce.”

Not a bad way to put it. Sensing an opening, Lincoln moved on. On a post route, he had drawn me away from the elevator, to where Armstrong ran a shallow crossing route beneath my coverage and escaped questioning.

Seemed like a bashful way to celebrate the new hire. But they probably had things to do, like fasten down chairs, lest Wedge be prone to hurling one across the playing surface.

This business of passion is quite the trend in Seattle coaches. Remember the buzz suffusing Steve Sarkisian’s first press conference as Huskies football coach? Passion, passion and more passion. No more stone-faced Tyrone Willingham. Fist pumps for everyone!

Same thing over in Renton, where Pete Carroll’s first statement in his introductory press conference as Seahawks coach lasted 11 minutes, uninterrupted by questions or breath, and emphasized passion.

As far as qualifications, seems like passion is the be-all and end-all. The next vacancy may well be filled by the Tasmanian Devil.

Not saying there’s anything wrong with passion. But it seems as if decisions are being made at least partly on how the guy will play to fans on TV. The assumption is that if a guy waves his arms and jumps often enough, he must know what he’s doing, like MSNBC’s investment guru, Jim Cramer.

I mean, Milton Bradley is passionate.

In fairness, Wedge is a baseball man of substance, based on the comments of nearly everyone who has been around him. He was American League Manager of the Year in 2007 when he took the 96-win Cleveland Indians to within a game the World Series.

But by 2009, he was a dead man walking, fired by the Indians after a 97-loss season, owing to the fact that the Indians were amid a massive salary dump of their best, most expensive players (C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez).

The point then, as it was with Wakamatsu’s firing in August, is that more than any other sport, baseball success is a function of superior talent and less about tactics and personnel management skills.

The Mariners were among the least talented teams in baseball, and everyone knew it.  The fact that the manager knew it too, and dared to acknowledge it, was part of what landed him in some trouble.

Good cop, bad cop, it matters little. Talent matters. Wedge and Wakamatsu are quality baseball men whose field fortunes rest almost entirely in the hands of the men above them and below them.

If a skipper’s flared nostrils and bass bleats make him seem as if he really, really cares, well, that means something to somebody. It seems unlikely, however, to make a big difference for MLB’s worst offensive team in the 37 years since the introduction of the designated hitter.

For six months of two outs and nobody on, neither Dr. Ruth nor Dr. No have answers.


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