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Indians dismiss Wedge, coaching staff

Indians dismiss Wedge, coaching staff

CLEVELAND -- Seven years after it began, the Eric Wedge era of Indians baseball is over.

The Indians are in the early stages of what general manager Mark Shapiro referred to as a "reloading" period, and the reload will extend to the managerial position and the coaching staff.

At a press conference before Wednesday's doubleheader with the White Sox, Shapiro announced that Wedge and his coaches have all been relieved of their duties. Yet, Wedge and his staff will stay aboard for the season's final six games, including the four-game set in Boston this weekend.

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"I felt like that was the right thing to do," Wedge said. "The only thing I asked [ownership and the front office] was I wanted to know before we went to Boston. But whether they informed me two weeks ago or whenever, I'd still want to finish what we started this year. That's the right thing to do for the players, and one thing we've always done here is put the players first."

Wedge has apparently known his fate for several days, while the coaches -- including pitching coach Carl Willis, hitting coach Derek Shelton, bench coach Jeff Datz, first-base coach Luis Rivera, third-base coach Joel Skinner and bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez -- were informed of the moves following Tuesday's rainout.

The Indians, who are still on the hook to pay Wedge somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.3 million in 2010, are in the midst of an organizational review after two incredibly disappointing seasons.

Team owner Larry Dolan, team president Paul Dolan, Shapiro and assistant GM Chris Antonetti have been meeting to discuss, among other things, the managerial situation. It had been speculated for weeks that ownership might push the front office to make a change in the dugout.

Eric Wedge
Indians manager Eric Wedge was relieved of his duties Wednesday after seven years at the helm. Among the 39 full-time managers in Tribe history, Wedge ranks fifth in wins, third in losses and fourth in games managed. Here is how he fared during his seven seasons:
Year
Record
Pct.
Finish
200368-94.4204th
200480-82.4943rd
200593-69.5742nd
200678-84.4814th
200796-66.5931st*
200881-81.5004th
2009**64-92.4104th
Total**560-568.497
* Advanced to ALCS
**Through Tuesday

In discussing the move with reporters, Shapiro, who said he never envisioned having to make this announcement, offered no real insight into that process. He even sounded a bit reluctant to be making the move, though he stressed that the decision was made collectively.

"We looked at things in their entirety," Shapiro said. "I'm not going to delve into specifics. I'll just say that, again, we arrived collectively that it was the right time for a change."

Once the 2009 season is over, the Indians will officially consummate the search to replace Wedge. An internal hire is considered unlikely. If that's the case, then the Tribe will go outside the organization to hire its manager for the first time since John McNamara took over in 1990.

It is possible that some members of Wedge's staff will stay on, if the new manager sees fit.

Shapiro also declined to discuss what he'll be looking for in the next skipper. But it's obvious the Indians have room for improvement in the standings.

With a 64-92 record, entering Wednesday's play, the Indians are wrapping up their worst season since going 68-94 in 2003, which was Wedge's first year at the helm. The club is in danger of finishing in last place in an American League Central Division it had high hopes of winning coming into the year. The Indians have never finished last in the history of the Central. The last Tribe team to finish at the bottom of the division was the 1991 club, which finished seventh in the AL East.

Regardless of where the Indians finish, '09 can safely be labeled one of the more disappointing seasons in club history. And the fallout of that disappointment has been a major upheaval in player personnel.

The dismissal of the 41-year-old Wedge is the first major change among the organization's higher-ups, and it seemingly serves as the Tribe's mea culpa, of sorts, to a fan base frustrated by the recent trades of star players Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez. Wedge, the 2007 AL Manager of the Year, had been a frequent target of fan criticism throughout his tenure, and that criticism became even more pointed this year.

Did the Indians make this move to appease the fans?

"Our willingness to make unpopular moves indicates our willingness to do what we think is best for the franchise," Paul Dolan said. "Because in the end, what really matters to the fans is winning. We think this decision today will help us toward returning to a winning form."

Back in 2002, when Wedge was hired, he and Shapiro formed a partnership that was rare for a manager and general manager.

"I hired him as a Minor League manager and got a chance to see what he was all about and how special he is," Shapiro said. "He won me over in that role during the interviews, and he was everything I would have expected him to be [as a manager]. ... We live in a game and a business where seven years is a long time. I was hopeful we could avoid [this move], but we've arrived there."

The partnership began to erode over the past two years, as the Indians entered the '08 and '09 seasons with certain expectations, only to find themselves out of contention by the All-Star break. Slow starts, in general, have been a major knock on Wedge. His Tribe teams went a combined 73-96 in April.

Still, when the heat on Wedge was particularly scorching at midseason this year, Shapiro doused the flames by announcing that Wedge and his coaching staff would remain aboard for the second half and be evaluated at season's end.

But whereas the '08 club rebounded with a strong second half to reach the .500 mark, this year's team has floundered in September, sealing Wedge's fate. The Indians recently ended an 11-game losing streak that fell one loss shy of tying a club record.

In seven seasons, Wedge has compiled a record of 560-568, with one division title and playoff appearance in 2007, when the Indians finished one win shy of the World Series. Among the 39 full-time managers in Tribe history, Wedge ranks fifth in wins, third in losses and fourth in games managed.

By lasting seven years with the Tribe, Wedge had been the fifth-longest tenured current manager of a club. Only the Braves' Bobby Cox (hired in 1990), the Cardinals' Tony La Russa (1996), the Angels' Mike Scioscia (2000) and the Twins' Ron Gardenhire (2002) have been with their respective clubs longer.

"Eric has been the epitome of a team player," Shapiro said. "He's demonstrated consistency, strength, a tireless work ethic and, in my mind, is an exemplary leader. It's been a privilege to work with him, and I think everyone in this organization has benefited from his impact and will continue to benefit in the years to come."

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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