Hargrove would mark positive step

October 29, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

The hiring of Mike Hargrove wouldn't save the Orioles, but it would be an undeniably positive step, a move that would restore credibility both inside and outside the clubhouse.

Hargrove isn't as respected as Joe Torre or as gifted a strategist as Davey Johnson, but he's a proven winner, which is more than can be said of the Orioles' other leading candidates.

Hargrove over Grady Little or a holdover coach is an absolute no-brainer. Frankly, the Orioles are lucky that Hargrove is available to save owner Peter Angelos and his minions from themselves.

Little might make a fine manager, as might Sam Perlozzo. But with Hargrove, at least the Orioles would know what they're getting -- the only American League manager besides Torre to appear in the World Series in the last five years.

One last time, this bears repeating -- the Orioles are in no position to take another chance on a manager with limited or no major-league experience, the way they did with Ray Miller and Phil Regan.

If their front office is going to remain disjointed -- a good bet, considering that Angelos and his sons likely will treat their new director of baseball operations as a puppet -- then the least they could do is hire a solid manager.

Why would Hargrove agree to become Angelos' fifth manager in seven years and reunite with Albert Belle when he is due to collect $600,000 from the Cleveland Indians next season?

Because he wants to manage again quickly.

And because he wants Angelos' money.

No doubt, Hargrove has heard all the horror stories about the Angelos regime, but Anaheim, Milwaukee and the Chicago Cubs all seem to prefer other candidates. If Hargrove, 50, could score a three-year contract in the $2 million range, he would be set for life.

His other choice would be to sit out a year, but who knows what jobs might become available? The Orioles are the proverbial bird in the hand. And Hargrove would be like all who came before him, thinking things couldn't be that bad, thinking he could win over Angelos the way Torre won over George Steinbrenner.

He would be wrong, of course -- the Orioles are an aging club with no Derek Jeters on the horizon, and they will be hard-pressed to contend next season. But it's true that Hargrove would be somewhat insulated from warehouse politics. In his six years as owner, Angelos has meddled far more with his GM than his manager.

Johnny Oates could tell Hargrove about how Angelos all but ordered him to play Leo Gomez, but that was a one-time occurrence. Angelos soured on Davey Johnson because of personal differences. He left Regan alone and supported Miller beyond the point of reason.

Hargrove might quickly grow weary of the Orioles' lack of vision, but he learned in Cleveland that it can also be difficult to work for a strong, talented GM who is quick to take credit and slow to accept blame. Few perfect situations exist in baseball, even for managers who win five straight division titles.

John Hart wasn't wrong to fire Hargrove -- after nine seasons, the Indians needed a change. On the other hand, Hart never got Hargrove the No. 1 starter he needed to win a World Series, and the Indians entered the '99 postseason with their bullpen a mess.

Let's see if Hargrove's likely replacement, hitting coach Charlie Manuel, will do better -- Manuel is widely respected, but lacks major-league managing experience.

Let's see if Hart regrets firing the manager who presided over the Indians' revival and often was a calming influence, most notably after the deaths of pitcher Steve Olin and Tim Crews in the spring of 1993.

Like any manager, Hargrove has his faults -- his handling of the bullpen came into question this season, and Hart apparently believed that the Indians lacked discipline.

The clubhouse grumbling only seemed to intensify during the playoff collapse to Boston, and perhaps it's revealing that Hargrove doesn't appear to be as hot a candidate as Phil Garner was a month ago, despite his far superior record.

The Colorado Rockies hired Buddy Bell after Hargrove became available (new GM Dan O'Dowd worked under Hart in Cleveland). The Cubs apparently are set to hire Don Baylor. The Brewers seem to be leaning toward Chris Chambliss. The Angels plan to name a GM, then allow him to pick a manager.

That, of course, is the proper way to do it, but the Orioles took this path four years ago when they hired Johnson before Pat Gillick. And their director of baseball operations will be largely irrelevant, anyway.

Hargrove would give them what they need -- a manager who would draw respect from a veteran clubhouse, and perhaps even more important from the Orioles' perspective, a manager who would help sell tickets.

No one would confuse Hargrove with Earl Weaver or any other dynamic field general, but his arrival would give the Orioles legitimacy and enable them to create an illusion of contention that will again seduce many fans.

Undeserving as they are, they're in position to luck out.

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