By Sweeny Murti
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For all the talk from the outside about looking for the A.J. Hinch/Dave Roberts model of manager, the Yankees certainly didn’t show that inclination with the first two candidates they officially interviewed to be Joe Girardi’s replacement.
Last week it started with the top internal candidate, 54-year-old Rob Thomson. He was followed by former Indians and Mariners manager Eric Wedge, who has split the last four seasons between TV work at ESPN and field coordinator with the Blue Jays.
Wedge will turn 50 in January and his 10 years as a big league manager have produced two winning seasons, with Cleveland in 2005 (93-69) and 2007 (96-66). It was in ’07 when Wedge’s midge-immune team ended Joe Torre’s tenure by beating the Yankees in the Division Series. His Indians then lost Game 7 of the AL Championship Series (after holding a 3-1 series lead) to the eventual world champion Red Sox. Over his decade as a manager, Wedge owns a career winning percentage of .478.
That’s certainly not entirely indicative of future success. As we have seen with the last two men in this position, Torre’s resume included just one playoff team in 15 years (Atlanta was swept in a best-of-5 NLCS in 1982) before he rocketed to the Hall of Fame as Yankees manager. And Girardi finished 78-84 with a young Marlins team in 2005 in his only experience prior to taking over for Torre and winning a World Series just two years later.
So what does Wedge offer now that earned him an interview for one of the best managerial openings ever, a Yankees team that is loaded and poised for multiple shots at a World Series trophy?
“He has some kind of presence to him,” I was told by an associate of Wedge in Seattle, where the Mariners averaged only 71 wins in his three seasons. “He’s been through the ups and downs. He understands today’s players. He’s more of a motivator over new age metrics. Guys will play hard for him.”
“He backed his players, but not to a fault,” I was told by a former Indians player. “He was prepared every day and was a good communicator. He’s fair and understands how hard the game is.”
Wedge has earned high marks for respect from others, even if his record isn’t stellar. That’s not unlike the reputation Torre brought with him after he was fired three previous times.
“I’ve learned a great deal from both experiences,” Wedge told reporters last Friday. “I think when you’re a big-league manager you’ve gotta handle the good, the bad and the ugly, and understand that’s all going to be a part of it throughout the course of the year.
“I’m very comfortable with young ballplayers with a lot of ability at the big-league level,” said Wedge, whose Indians teams made a slow climb with a young core in the early 2000s that included CC Sabathia.
“I think you have to be firm, fair, and consistent as a manager. I think that’s imperative. I believe in working through each and every day more so on an even-keeled basis, but understanding when it’s time to turn up or turn down the volume.
“Obviously managing in New York, its an entirely different situation altogether. I recognize that, I respect that. It’s on a different level here and that’s something that I would look forward to being a part of.”
Wedge was the first surprise candidate of this process, but I think it’s indicative of a bigger-picture philosophy in this hiring process.
The Yankees haven’t had the opportunity to interview for an opening like this in 10 years. Maybe the contenders were just easier to peg back then when it essentially came down to Don Mattingly — the sentimental favorite — and Girardi, the guy who fit the more statistical-minded thinking that differed from Torre.
So now with a chance to open up the interview process the Yankees get a free look at multiple people who bring differing backgrounds and possibly to the Yankees something they didn’t know they were looking for.
Sure, it might have been silly for the Yankees to turn away from a known quantity like Girardi at such a critical juncture in the franchise’s rebuild. But it would be just as silly to lock into a narrow group of candidates when the rest of the baseball world seems to be full of brilliant strategists and team builders.
The Fray sang in 2005, “She is everything I need that I never knew I wanted. She is everything I want that I never knew I needed.”
This is a chance for the Yankees to look at what they want and what they need, and not shut themselves out of a potential winning fit.
They don’t have to just interview for one manager. They can give themselves multiple options. And whether they need another manager in two years, or another bench coach, hitting coach, minor-league manager, general manager, or farm director they can cast their net wide right now. And like many trades that begin with one discussion months or years prior, this process might bear more fruit down the road.
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