I don’t think I’ve ever been as blindsided by a move as I was on that early July day in 2007 when Mike Hargrove stepped down as Mariners’ manager. Didn’t see it coming, not one tiny bit — heck, the Mariners were on a seven-game winning streak (soon to be eight when Hargrove won his final game) and were surprisingly in the thick of the AL West race.
In fact, I still can’t say that I really understand it. I know there are a lot of sinister theories about what really happened to cause Hargrove to step down, and I have no doubt that there was more going on behind the scenes than we’ll ever know — or at least more than we know now. But in talking extensively to Hargrove, publicly and privately, after the fact, I came to take at face value his explanation, as reflected in the story that I linked to:
The M’s news release announcing Hargrove’s resignation quoted him saying, “I can not continue to do this job if my passion has begun to fade.” But he bristled at a question about his loss of passion.
“I haven’t lost any fire for this, passion for it, whatever you want to call it,” he said.
But Hargrove said it was getting increasingly hard to summon that passion.
“I have never had to work at getting that out of myself, ever, until recently,” he said. “I found I had to work harder at giving that same commitment to my bosses, and to my players and my coaches.
“That’s not right. They deserve better. They’re good people. There’s a good thing going on here. And it’s time for me to leave.”
Though Hargrove said that the pressure of being on “the hot seat” from the outset of the season didn’t affect him, he didn’t dispute that the ups and downs of the season were wearing on him. The Mariners this year have had two six-game losing streaks, as well as five- and eight-game winning streaks.
“The highs weren’t high enough, and the lows were too low,” he said. “That’s about as simple as I can put it.”
Sharon Hargrove indicated that concerns over being away from his family — they have five children and four grandchildren — also weighed heavily in her husband’s decision.
“It’s been a whole family decision,” Sharon Hargrove said. “Mike’s given 35 years in baseball, 100 percent. When he leaves the ballpark, he gives 100 percent to us. It’s just gotten harder to do that, harder to let go. We’ve always said we’d never let baseball take a step above our family, and it was starting to.”
That’s all fine and good, but the puzzling part for me came in October of that year, when I went out to the Hargroves’ home in Ohio, while on the way to covering the World Series, and did an “up close and personal” type story. I was stunned when Hargrove said he was interested in returning to managing. Here’s an excerpt:
For all the enjoyment Hargrove is getting in being away from the dugout, he admits managing isn’t out of his blood. The Reds’ job across the state, recently filled by Dusty Baker, mildly piqued his curiosity. The Yankees’ job intrigues him even more.
“I don’t think they will call, but if they did, I’d have to listen,” he said. “The Yankee job is the pinnacle of the profession. I have the itch to do it again. I really do. But it would really have to be the right thing.”
I have never quite been able to reconcile how you can walk away from the Mariners job in July, saying you were, essentially, burned out, and then be willing to walk into the biggest pressure-cooker in sports, the Yankee managerial job, four months later. Unless, of course, there was something specific to the Mariners’ job that made your life there miserable.
All this comes to mind as the Indians continue to self-destruct, having lost 11 straight games to punctuate a miserable season that will almost certainly cost Cleveland manager Eric Wedge his job. Some media outlets have already begun speculating on possible replacement candidates; while Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell, who has strong Cleveland ties, is usually listed first, Hargrove is starting to get some passing mention.
It makes sense — he lives in the Cleveland area, he presided over the glory years of Indians’ baseball (two World Series appearances, in 1995 and 1997, and five straight division titles from 1995-99), and he worked as a special assistant to general manager Mark Shapiro for a year prior to taking the Mariners’ job.
Hargrove has spent the last two summers managing the Liberal Bee Jays, a semipro team in Liberal, Kansas for top amateur players. He’s left little doubt, however, that he’s ready to return to major-league managing. No doubt he’ll have to first convince his potential bosses that this time, he won’t walk away.
(Seattle Times photo by Rod Mar)