"They deserve better. They are good people. There is a good thing going on here. And it's time for me to leave."
Wow. That sounds like a man who is world-weary, fed up, and willing to let someone else deal with his problems. Were they the words of recently released Baltimore Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo? Nope. Cincinnati Reds ex-manager Jerry Narron, cut loose recently by the lowly NL Central franchise? Again, no.
They were the honest and humble words of Mike Hargrove, who managed his final game in a Mariners uniform Sunday, earning a 2-1 victory that was the team's eighth in a row and put Seattle at 45-33, a mere 4 1/2 games out of first place in the AL West and only 1 1/2 games back in the Wild Card race.
The only sentiment on everyone's mind was very simply "what the hell just happened?" — even Seattle Mariners GM Bill Bavasi, who called the move an "11" on the 1-10 "How Shocked Was I?" scale.
Bavasi chose to focus on what a crushing blow this was for the team, and indeed it will be difficult for Seattle to press on in the immediate future, though I do not think Hargrove is a fool. He likely made the move because he felt he had gotten the current group to reach their full potential and was confident they could continue producing without him.
I am more interested in Hargrove. Perhaps there's something to be found in the commentary from Hargrove's pregame press conference that Sunday:
"I don't expect people to understand it, I really don't, because at times I don't understand it myself…[t]he highs weren't high enough, the lows were too low…I have never had to work at getting that level myself — ever — until recently. "I've daily challenged my players to give me the best that they've got, 100 percent of what they've got that day — physically and mentally. And they've done that. Without fail, they've done that. I've found that I've had to work harder in making that same commitment to my bosses, to my players and to my coaches. And that's not right," Hargrove said, turning away and choking back tears.
That didn't help a whole lot, and now I'm just depressed. What about Hargrove's managing history?
He started out as an assistant under John McNamara in Cleveland. McNamara is most well known for his successes – and failures – as manager of the Bill Buckner-era Red Sox. He came to Cleveland the year before and managed the team to 77 wins, and was in the midst of a 5-25 tailspin that had the Indians at 25-52 headed into Fourth of July weekend. Hargrove finished out the season at a slightly more respectable 32-53, and then re-signed as the head honcho to begin the 1992 season.
Hargrove struggled initially (with much the same lineup as the previous year) but seemed like an upgrade, posting identical 76-86 records in his first two seasons in town. Then came 1994, and a lot of things fell into place. Sandy Alomar Jr., Omar Vizquel, and Albert Belle all hit their stride offensively, and with the addition of young studs Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome, and an impressive rotation boasting an aging ace in Dennis Martinez and a young and surging Charles Nagy, Cleveland posted an impressive 66-47 record in the strike shortened season.
Hargrove went on to post no fewer than 86 victories in each of the next five seasons, including two trips to the World Series (and, oh yeah, he got Jacobs Field built, as well).
Hargrove then rode his managerial popularity into Baltimore, a team that was two seasons removed from consecutive ALCS appearances and had managed a less good but still respectable 78 wins in each of the past two seasons.
Unfortunately for Hargrove, he inherited a team that wasn't particularly young or good, and didn't improve in either area during his four-year tenure as the Oriole's skipper. The laundry list of young talent he had to work with consisted of Jerry Hairston, Tony Batista, Sidney Ponson, B.J. Ryan, and Jorge Julio. Hargrove managed to squeeze 275 wins out of that depressingly maudlin crew over four seasons, but an understandably (though not justifiably) disappointed ownership and fan base cut Hargrove loose after the 2003 season.
Hargrove then was out of managing for a year before taking over a Seattle team that had won 393 games the previous four seasons before posting a 63-99 2004 record that was their worst since 1992. The ownership and fans, after opening beautiful Safeco Field, were obviously frustrated and looking to get back on top sooner than later. Hargrove's hiring coincided with a large amount of money being thrown at free agents Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson. Sexson, along with Ichiro, provided what the team asked for, but Beltre proved his previous career year was a fluke, and Jamie Moyer, the staff veteran, was the only pitcher who could be described as above average. This all capitulated in another lackluster 69 win season.
2006 brought another season of great hitting and absentee pitching, which kept the team in contention for a while, but led to an 11 game losing streak in late August that crushed any hopes the team had and forced them to fight their way back to 78 wins.
Which brings us to the here and now. There were many grumblings about Hargrove being fired this past off-season, including various members of ownership giving him anything ranging from votes of no-confidence to outright ultimatums.
The season started out with another team playing roughly .500 ball, then things suddenly clicked on Memorial Day weekend. The young talent started producing, the mediocre veterans were a little bit above mediocre instead of below it, and before you know it the Mariners were 35-26 and three games out of first place. Then it regressed all over again, and the team hit a six game losing streak.
Around this time, Hargrove went to Bavasi and told him about the difficulty he was having mustering the energy to do his job. The two agreed to wait and see if it was a still a problem even when things turned around, and the Mariners got hot again, they continued to win, with nine victories in their next ten games, surging back into playoff contention.
All that still wasn't enough, as Hargrove announced prior to Sunday's game that he had had enough, and was calling it quits after Sunday's game. He commented in a written statement that he couldn't continue to manage the team while his passion was fading.
I can surely understand where Mike is coming from. Going from the success of Cleveland, to the unwillingness to win in Baltimore, to a roller coaster group in Seattle would be enough to wear any man down after 16 seasons of managing, and nobody can do this job forever.
There are a number of conspiracy theories floating about, from Seattle management wanting to resign Ichiro and believing thay couldn't if they kept Hargrove, to Hargrove harboring ill will towards the team for various personal slights. Whatever the case, Hargrove decided it wasn't worth the strain anymore.
What does the future hold? Hard to tell exactly. Seattle has a number of good young players, but not enough to call themselves a contender, and they don't have the bank account to fill every hole with a free agent paycheck.
Hargrove's resignation was a sudden move, which made it a bit more melodramatic, but not more uncommon. The team will move on to bigger and better things, as will Hargrove, but only time will tell exactly where these now divergent paths will lead.Powered by Sidelines