Indians turn two: Hire Wedge and keep Skinner

By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - The Cleveland Indians turned a rare double play: They hired a new manager and kept their old one, too.

Eric Wedge was officially introduced as Cleveland's manager on Tuesday, making him the youngest in the majors at 34 after two seasons leading the Indians' top farm club.

Wedge, a former big league catcher with a no-nonsense style of managing, was picked by general manager Mark Shapiro over Joel Skinner, who served as Cleveland's interim manager last season after Charlie Manuel was fired July 11.

Skinner, though, is coming back despite finishing as a close runner-up. At Wedge's request, Skinner will resume his duties as third-base coach -- his position before replacing Manuel.

"Skins and I are friends," Wedge said. "I didn't have to urge him to stay. I have the utmost respect for Joel. I'm just happy to have him."

Skinner led the Indians to a 35-41 mark during a turbulent second half this season. He was disappointed at not getting the job, but he wanted to remain with the club he's been with as a player, coach and manager.

"Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose," Skinner said. "But I don't think anybody is a loser here. I'm glad I got the opportunity. I think I filled a gigantic hole, and I feel proud about it. The one thing I'm not going to have is a pity party."

Shapiro refused to say what separated the two candidates.

"Eric was just the right guy," said Shapiro, whose first choice was Anaheim pitching coach Bud Black. "I knew that and felt strongly about it."

The Indians signed Wedge (pictured, above) to a two-year contract, with the club holding options for 2005 and 2006.

Shapiro wouldn't divulge financial terms but said the deal was similar to the contract Ron Gardenhire got from Minnesota, a two-year package reportedly worth about $1 million.

Wedge managed Cleveland's Triple-A team in Buffalo the past two seasons. He led the Bisons to a 178-108 record and was selected minor league manager of the year by The Sporting News after this season.

Upstate New York was the final stop on an odyssey through the Indians' farm system that began in 1998 when Shapiro made Wedge a manager of the team's Class A Columbus (Ga.) affiliate.

Shapiro identified Wedge as a leader the first time he met him.

"He is a difference maker," Shapiro said. "He has a proven track record of developing young players and getting the best out of them."

Along the way, Wedge also developed into an aggressive, take charge manager who isn't afraid to get into the face of one of his players or go nose-to-nose with an umpire.

"I'm an aggressive person by nature," said Wedge, who added that he's toned his act down in recent years. "I'll feel the moment, and if I need a softer touch, I can do that. But I'm always going to stand up for my players."

Wedge didn't dismiss comparisons of himself to the sometimes temperamental Lou Piniella.

"I'm flattered with that comparison," Wedge said.

Wedge is the majors' youngest manager -- by far. Pittsburgh's Lloyd McClendon, who is 43, is the second youngest. He'll also be younger than two of his top players: Ellis Burks (38) and Omar Vizquel (35).

This will be a reunion of sorts for Wedge and Burks. They were teammates in Boston and Colorado.

Wedge doesn't take any special pride in being the majors' youngest manager, and said it won't affect how he does his job.

"Age has never been a factor for me," he said. "Respect has nothing to do with age. It's something you earn. I've always felt well beyond my years as far as age."

So has Shapiro, who at 35, is just one year older than his manager.

"He transcends his age," Shapiro said.

Wedge is the club's second youngest behind Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau, who was 24 when he became the club's player-manager in 1942. Wedge, who will turn 35 on Jan. 27, also will be the youngest manager to make his big league debut since Bobby Valentine with Texas in 1985.

The Indians, who finished 77-85, began rebuilding midway through last season by trading some veterans and finished last season with 19 rookies on their roster.

Wedge, who managed many of them on their way to Cleveland, said his only goal next season is to get the most out of his players.

"I'm not going to put any expectations on this ballclub," he said. "I'm not going to set a timetable. We're going to go out and play and we're going to be excited doing it. There is a format for success here and I'm excited to lead it."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)