Wedge's Dilemma

The second-guessing is on full-steam, but I'm not going to talk about last night's game.  As I wrote in the Game Thread, I think few if any big-league managers would have yanked Betancourt or Wickman in those situations.  Both are veterans who a history of success.  Sometimes, you really do have to hang it on the players.

I'm still stuck on a story I read yesterday, before the trade news came over the wire and distracted everyone.  And this story concerned Wedge's reaction to the previous trainwreck of an Indians game, which was, of course, the very night before.  Said Wedge:

It was an embarrassing ending to what potentially could have been a real big game for us. It was a total defensive collapse. When the game is on the line, you've got to want the ball to come to you. If you don't, you shouldn't be here.

It's a solid sentiment.  Good, solid, pissed-off manager talk.  The kind of talk, in fact, that we haven't heard much of from Wedge, ever.  We might even be pleased to read that sort of thing were we not coming off yet another humiliating, inexcusable loss.

But here's my question for Wedge:

Of all the players you've worked with, has anyone ever wanted the ball any more badly than Milton Bradley or Brandon Phillips?

Okay, it's a loaded question.  It's unfair, because those situations were complicated.  Bradley has severe personality problems.  Phillips was a frustrated and stagnating prospect, arguably a terrible candidate to sit on anyone's bench.  Agree or disagree, those decisions were about more than just "who wants the ball."

Still, if Wedge is half as smart and circumspect as he ought to be, right about now -- 19 games out of first place -- I hope he is asking himself that question.  I hope he and Shapiro are talking about it.  I hope they are thinking about a rotting, underachieving clubhouse, one with too many players who have lost their grip on sound, fundamental play -- or maybe never had it.

I hope they're questioning their basic ideas about what kinds of personalities ought to be in that clubhouse.  I hope they are wondering if 25 exceptionally even-keel players might not be too much of a good thing.  I hope they are wondering if a veteran can really provide meaningful leadership -- perhaps steadying a struggling young player like Peralta -- from the nine-hole or the bench.

Wedge and Shapiro have both spoken with great conviction about their ideas on this subject.  I gave them every benefit of the doubt about it -- I'm still tempted to -- because I would like to believe that steadiness and evenness and hard work and being a good teammate are the most important things.  But on the other hand, we have a recent column [pay content] by Rob Neyer, where he quotes the great Sandy Koufax on the subject of intangibles:

In the end, it all comes down to talent. You can talk all you want about intangibles, I just don't know what that means. Talent makes winners, not intangibles. Can nice guys win? Sure, nice guys can win -- if they're nice guys with a lot of talent. Nice guys with a little talent finish fourth, and nice guys with no talent finish last.

And I think about this heavily psychologically profiled, fourth-place team.  And I think about Brandon Phillips.  And I wonder, how did this technologically advanced, deeply invested in scouting and sabermetrically savvy organization -- one of the smartest and most disciplined in the game -- get so hung up on intangibles?  And did Shapiro really let Wedge's opinion of Phillips' intangibles override the opinions of his talent evaluators?

We won't ever know the real answer to that specific question.  What's left is the general question of the role personality plays in assembling a roster.  No doubt a surprise 93-win season emboldened both Wedge and Shapiro to stick with their principles.  Obviously, anyone would have thought things were going in the right direction.  Like me, they wanted badly to believe that they were right about all this stuff.  But this season is providing a different lesson -- all kinds of lessons.

Two big questions that are fair to ask at this point:  One, have the Indians been too influeced by intangibles in their roster decisions?  And two, to the extent that they are focusing on intangibles, have they been focused on the right ones?  It's good to have core principles to design a team around.  But it's not good to be dogmatic.  It's not good to be rigid.  And it's not good to be the most underachieving team in the game.

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