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June 30, 2007 at 6:26 PM

Bring back Hargrove and McLaren?

Here’s a suggestion, since I keep getting asked the question about what the Mariners should do with manager Mike Hargrove. Today on The Fan 590 all-sports radio station in Toronto, I was again asked whether Hargrove has done enough to keep his job and why he has been able to get this team 10 games over .500.
My first answer was, yes, he should keep his job this season. That is rather obvious, given what has transpired. Yes, this is a streaky team that two weeks ago looked like it would slip under .500. But it has not. That’s all that counts. It is a team that is just 1 1/2 games out of the wild card lead, following Detroit’s loss today to the Twins (who look to be heating up). Angels are losing as well. Is the universe coming together for the M’s? We’ll see. This should be their toughest test of the series. Roy Halladay’s ERA is higher than usual, but the guy knows how to win, as his 9-2 record can attest. Halladay is a winner. Winning games isn’t always the best stat with which to judge a pitcher, but he is one of the exceptions. On nights his team scores only two, he’s liable to give up just one run. That’s what winning pitchers do. He has done it for six consecutive seasons. Check out his stats since 2002. Going up against Miguel Batista, who has to cut down on his number of baserunners tonight. Mariners finally got a six-game winning streak together. Let’s see if they can go seven.
But back to Hargrove. When asked the reasons for his success, on the radio in Toronto, I trotted out my familiar line about his bullpen management. But then I also threw in something that occured to me a while back. Plenty of folks who like either Hargrove, or bench coach John McLaren, tend to credit one or the other for the team’s success. That’s one, to the exclusion of the other.
Well, how about this? What if it’s the Hargrove-McLaren duo that is behind the team’s sudden ressurgence? Think about it. Pretty much the entire universe is ready to conclude that last year’s bench coach, Ron Hassey, wasn’t helping Hargrove to the extent he could have been. The former “administrative coach” Dan Rohn, was also said to be hindering rather than helping Hargrove. We’ll let the referees figure that one out, but it’s safe to say that — no matter who was right or wrong — Hargrove felt undermined in the end.
OK then, what about this year. It’s been widely assumed that since McLaren stands to succeed Hargrove as manager once he leaves, that the two exist in an air of tolerance bordering on tension. Well, what if that’s not the case? What if the two professionals are merely doing their jobs the way they’re supposed to and it’s working? Is it really that much of a coincidence that Hargrove seems to have the right finger on the bullpen’s pulse day after day? Or that the bench players tend to be coming through better than the other subs on other teams? That there’s a different feeling in the clubhouse? That Hargrove is attempting suicide squeezes? Yes, plenty of that has to do with McLaren. Pitching coach Rafael Chaves does help with the bullpen management as well, as that’s his job.
But the bench coach is supposed to be the manager’s eyes and ears. He’s supposed to be a sounding board in the dugout with which to plot strategy. Hargrove has been quick to mention the numerous strategy sessions that McLaren has sat in on during games.
Does this mean McLaren should be the manager instead of Hargrove? Not necessarily. It more than likely means that McLaren is doing his job as a bench coach. Just like he did all of those years beside Lou Piniella. There’s a reason McLaren was in demand as a dugout advisor. Sure, he probably deserves his shot at running a team at some point. But that doesn’t mean he deserves it at Hargrove’s expense.
Perhaps a big reason Hargrove is succeeding again is because he finally has the right bench coach by his side, as every good manager usually does.
Right now, looking at where this team is compared to where I thought it would be with all of the problems it has faced, there is no reason to change the Hargrove-McLaren alliance. Not now, maybe not ever. Maybe McLaren will have to leave the organization to be a manager someday. Maybe the M’s finally do fall apart in the second half and the team doesn’t bring Hargrove back. As things stand now, though, he should finish the year. Worry about next year after that.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been told that Hargrove was quietly extended for next season before this one even began. I was told the reason for that is that McLaren has a two-year deal here and you can’t have a bench coach with a longer term contract than his boss. So maybe, just maybe, we even see Hargrove and McLaren back in 2008?
Now that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s just see if the Mariners can win this series tonight against a former Cy Young Award winner and one of the winningest major league pitchers going on the last six seasons.

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