The Associated Press
CLEVELAND - Eric Wedge's first decision as manager of the Cleveland Indians was to add Joel Skinner, the man he beat out for the job, to his coaching staff.
Billed as tough, aggressive and confident, it didn't take long for the 34-year-old Wedge to show just how bold he can be.
"He's a difference maker," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. "Eric Wedge is a leader."
Wedge was officially introduced as Cleveland's manager on Tuesday, making the former minor league manager the youngest in the majors.
Wedge, a former big league catcher with a no-nonsense style of managing, was picked by Shapiro over 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.
It would seem to be an awkward pairing except that Wedge and Skinner are friends.
"Joel Skinner is a great person, and he's a great baseball guy," Wedge said. "He was the first one to call and congratulate me. He's a class act all the way. I didn't have to urge him to stay. I don't worry about Joel. He's a secure person. I'm a secure person."
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 wanted to stay with the same organization he has played for, coached and managed.
"I'm glad I got the opportunity. I think I filled a gigantic hole, and I feel proud about it," he said. "The one thing I'm not going to have is a pity party."
Shapiro refused to say what separated the two candidates, but he cited Wedge's communication skills and dynamic personality as two of his new manager's greatest attributes.
"He has all the qualities necessary today to be a successful major league manager," Shapiro said. "Players gravitate to him. He pays attention to detail. He's a great communicator, he is driven to succeed, and has a tireless work ethic. He's a difference maker, and there aren't many managers like that."
The Indians signed Wedge to a two-year contract, with the club holding options for 2005 and 2006.
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.
Along the way, Wedge 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.
"There's been a lot made of my intensity and aggressive nature," he said. "I'm an intense person. If I say something, I mean it. It's not about being a tough guy. It's just following up on what you say."
A young 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.
Shapiro, 36, said Wedge's age was not a factor in his hiring. He wasn't chosen because the Indians have a young team. He was selected solely on his qualifications.
"I knew that Eric was the right guy," Shapiro said. "I felt so strongly about it that I didn't really care (how old he is). His maturity transcends his chronological age."
Wedge is the club's second youngest manager behind Hall of Famer Lou Boudreau, who was 24 when he became the club's player-manager in 1942.
Despite never coaching or managing in the majors, Wedge isn't concerned about making the adjustment.
"I've been more comfortable, the higher I go in baseball," he said. "I feel particularly comfortable and at ease at the big-league level. I think I have the personality to be a leader. I've always been comfortable in a leadership role."
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