Last time Eric Wedge was in proximity to Milton Bradley, the Indians manager told club bosses that it was either him or the Cleveland outfielder. Bradley was traded.
That was in the spring of 2004. As things stand now, Wedge and Bradley will be reunited in 2011 in the spring training camp of the Seattle Mariners, for whom he will be the 15th fulltime manager.
In other circumstances, the player would probably be traded. These arent other circumstances. Owed $12 million for 2011, Bradley is untradeable. He missed part of the first half of Seattles 2010 season while undergoing counseling for emotional problemsv and most of the second half with injuries. He isunlikely to be simply released.
Considering that Bradley once wore a “(expletive) Eric Wedge T-shirt, it would seem that the hiring of Wedge has created an insurmountable problem.
Maybe. But during his interview, Wedge apparently said he thought enough time had passed that he and Bradley understood each other and could work together.
So the Mariners have hired a manager who, whatever else his qualifications, is at his core an amazing optimist. The same man who in 2004 forced Cleveland to trade Bradley, telling Indians GM Mark Shapiro that it was “him or me, is now saying, “lets give it a try.
Word on Wedge is that hes intense about baseball, putting in untold hours and willing to confront players he believes are not going about baseball the right way. In his first couple of years with the Indians, he pulled aside veteran shortstop Omar Vizquel, a one-time Mariner, reportedly admonished him for not running hard to first on every grounder and told him the team needed him to do so. Vizquel, then a 10-year veteran, complied.
Then there was Bradley. Bradley was taken out of game in spring training, 2004, by Wedge, the manager furious Bradley didnt run out a pop fly that fell for a single, believing he should have finished at second base.
Bradley talked back, then left the clubhouse before the game was over. Wedge banned Bradley from the next days workout. After Wedge forced the issue, Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro traded the then 25-year-old outfielder before the season started.
Bradley, who then wore his now-famous T-shirt blasting Wedge, has to buy into Wedge, or he’s going to go. It would be an unbelievably major concession for the Mariners to just throw away $12 million, so a release of Bradley is unlikely in the extreme.
But it is only fair for any new manager to start with a clean slate. Something has to happen, and what follows could be the biggest story of the Mariners winter.
Wedge, who managed in Cleveland for seven seasons from 2002-09, and who has interviewed for almost every available managerial job that has come open since, is the man general manager Jack Zduriencik picked to lead the Mariners in 2011.
Mike Hargrove, who managed the Mariners from 2005-2007, also has Cleveland ties, having managed the Indians from 1991-1999. He spent lots of time with Wedge in Cleveland in 2004 when Wedge was in his third year and Hargrove was an Indians consultant.
“Hes a plain-spoken guy, a good baseball man, Hargrove said after learning of the choice. “Hes a good man, an honest man. I always found if he said something to you, you could believe it.
“And hes always been a pretty good judge of talent, which is important in this job.
Without much profile in the Northwest, Wedge is a popular choice in the general baseball community. He interviewed for five jobs in the last few months, including the Orioles, the Pirates, the Cubs and the Blue Jays.
Wedge is known as being an inspirational speaker in front of groups, including youth and community organizations, and, of course, baseball clubs.
New York Yankees reliever Kerry Wood, who was with the Indians in 2009-10, said that Wedge gave the best spring training speech hed ever heard in more than a decade in the game.
Its not clear if Daren Brown, the interim manager after Don Wakamatsu was fired two-thirds of the way through the season, was given a formal interview. But given that Brown and his wife, Cindy, had their first child Wednesday, daughter Chloe Lynn, it seems unlikely theres been time to squeeze in an interview, and Brown may be asked to return to his previous post as the manager at Triple-A Tacoma.
The Mariners are a team that needs to rebuild after a disastrous 101-loss season in 2010, a year in which they were the slick pick to win the AL West. Wedge has been down the rebuilding road in his early years with the Indians. By 2005, the third year of his tenure, the Indians won 93 games, although a collapse in the final week of the season kept them from winning the AL Central.
In 2007, Cleveland did won the division and came within one game of making it to the World Series, losing to Boston. From that point, however, the cash-strapped Indians broke up the core of the team. C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee, both Cy Young Award winners with the Indians, were soon gone and Cleveland slid back to mediocrity. Wedge was fired with six games left in the a 65-win, fourth-place finish in 2009.
He managed the final six games anyway, showing the kind of work ethic that appeals to the Seattle front office.
Asked about Wedge, Hargrove told a story about the spring of 2004, the same spring that Bradley and Wedge had it out.
“Hes so intense, such a hard worker, but we thought wed get him a set of golf clubs and get him to take maybe half a day off, Hargrove said. “The clubs sat in the corner. One day after a workout ended at noon, a bunch of us went out to play about noon. He didnt.
“We played and came back to go to dinner, and now its about 7 p.m., and hes still in his office, still in uniform, working at the computer. Thats just the way he is.
The Mariners would like to believe that hasnt changed.
“Hes all about accountability and respect for the game, a Mariner source said. “Those are good qualities in a manager.
Now the Mariners need to give him a chance. Since Lou Piniella left of his own volition following the 2002 season, the Mariners have gone through managers as quickly as any team in baseball Bob Melvin, Hargrove, John McLaren, Jim Riggleman, Wakamatsu and Brown have all been in and out.
Piniella has been a hard act to follow in Seattle, where the club bosses hope that Wedge ends an agonizing whiff at the managerial spot.
John Hickey is a Senior MLB Writer for AOL FanHouse (www.fanhouse.com)