Eric Wedge will be returning to the Mariners dugout today, rejoining the team as the host the Angels with Felix Hernandez on the mound. Felix is a nice gift for Wedge, who has been gone from the team since July after suffering a mild stroke before a game at Safeco. Tonight, he'll rejoin the team a month later.
Eric Wedge is only 45 years old. While his grey hair and wondrously thick mustachio indicate a man more grizzled and traveled than he is, he's one of the younger managers in baseball. Wedge was still playing professional baseball in 1997. He was teammates with Desi Relaford and Trevor Miller. Eric Wedge is, without a doubt, not old. Yet he's missed a month of his career after suffering a stroke.
I can't image managing the Seattle Mariners is a particularly relaxing job. Wedge is in the last year of his contract, the team's overall record looks pretty similar to the year before, and the Mariners have suffered ten walk-off losses. Now, Wedge returns for the final stretch of the season, his future entirely in doubt. This still isn't a job that seems particularly low stress.
Wedge's return means a few things, and they're not that fortunate. His return means that the Mariners will now have a fair evaluative period to determine whether Wedge is the right man for the job going forward. His contract is up, and while we've learned that Jack Zduriencik received a one-year contract extension before the year began, it's safe to assume that his job isn't secure either. A lot rides on the stretch run of this season for these two men, and it wouldn't surprise me to see their fates tied together. If Z returns for 2014, I expect that Eric Wedge will as well. If Z gets the axe, I'd expect the new general manager to bring in his own skipper.
If Wedge would have taken the rest of the season off, that would have muddled things up for the Mariners organization. A manager whose job wasn't in question would have certainly been granted the rest of the year off, under normal circumstances. With Wedge, it could become a sensitive issue of whether the team can make a fair decision on a man's future who's been out of the game because of his health. It seems well within Eric Wedge's personality to not let that happen, and that's probably why he's back. Whatever you think about Wedge, he seems to have a tremendous amount of pride. He's not going out like that, and my guess is he never wanted a pity vote for another year when he didn't earn it.
I've grown somewhat fond of Wedge. Managers can't win with critics or fans alike. The good moves are rarely praised or even noticed, and the bad moves are replayed over and over. Hindsight is 20/20. Still, Patrick's series on bunting opened up my eyes to how little he's bunted compared to Don Wakamatsu. There doesn't seem to be any motivation issue amongst the players. Even though he mysteriously blasted off against sabermetrics when addressing Dustin Ackley's struggles, his frustrations seem to have gotten the better of him. Mine probably did too when I reacted.
I've come to realize that the Mariners could do a whole lot worse than Eric Wedge. Whatever happens over the next 36 games and the offseason to follow - thank you for being better than Don Wakamatsu, Eric. I don't feel that strongly one way or another about you, and that's a wonderful thing. Welcome back.