Hargrove wins over Orioles

His record of success brings raves from friends, foes alike

`Voted him Manager of Year'

Even Indians' Hart praises adaptability

November 04, 1999|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It came as no great surprise yesterday when the Orioles announced that Mike Hargrove had signed a three-year contract to manage the club through the 2002 season. The only surprise was that he was available in the first place.

Hargrove, after all, was working on a string of five consecutive American League Central titles when the Cleveland Indians fired him three weeks ago. That type of candidate with that type of track record doesn't come along every day.

"I voted him Manager of the Year," Texas Rangers manager Johnny Oates said yesterday. "That's how much I think of him. This guy, he and Bobby Cox have never gotten the recognition they deserved. They do it every year and they don't always have easy guys to work with."

There are a lot of people who think a lot of Hargrove, including the selection committee that chose him from a field of nine candidates to become the Orioles' 14th manager. He is a solid citizen with a sparkling record of success, which is just what the Orioles were looking for after two straight disappointing seasons.

"I've known him a long time," said Orioles director of player personnel Syd Thrift. "I saw him when he first started managing in the instructional league, all through the minors and in Cleveland. He has been part of the process of turning a young, losing team into a winning team. He understands what it takes to win.

"He has patience with young players if that's what it takes and he knows how to use veterans."

Hargrove presided over the dramatic revival of the once-moribund Indians franchise during his 8 1/2-year tenure as manager, only to become the victim of his own success when the club came up short of the World Series this October. But he managed well enough in 1999 to hold the respect of his peers, even if he didn't manage well enough to hold onto his job.

"The bottom line is, you've got to have the horses to plow the field," said Oates, whose team also came up short in the divisional round of the playoffs. "If you can go to the bullpen and call on Jeff Nelson, Mike Stanton and Mariano Rivera [the Yankees' late-relief progression] you're going to look a lot smarter, but I thought Mike did a great job.

"Everybody talks about the injuries that the [Anaheim] Angels had. How about the Indians? They lost Travis Fryman, [Kenny] Lofton, Sandy Alomar and [Wil] Cordero. They kept getting banged up, but he did a super job of putting his players in a position to succeed."

Hargrove led the Indians to the World Series for the first time in 41 years in 1995 and returned in '97. His teams averaged 94 victories a year over the past five seasons, but Indians president John Hart felt that it was time to take that team in a new direction and replaced Hargrove with longtime coach Charlie Manuel.

Critics have jabbed Hargrove for overplaying his starting lineup and mishandling his pitching staff, but even Hart gives him high marks for adapting his managerial style to the makeup of his team.

"When we were young, he was patient," Hart said. "When we gave him veteran players, he was able to bring them home on a regular basis. He gets a feel for his club. He'll manage to the strengths of his club. I was always comfortable that if I gave him good players, he would get it done.

" I'm really excited for Mike. I think this will re-energize him. I think he'll do a great job."

Hargrove might be the right manager for the Orioles if only because he already has proved that he can deal with volatile outfielder Albert Belle, who was the cornerstone of the Indians' offense during the mid-1990s.

"He has an innate ability to settle down volatile situations," Hart said. "That carries over to his managerial style."

Hargrove, however, is not known for his cuddly relationships with his players, even though he was a star-quality major-league hitter before embarking on his lengthy managerial career. He is -- by his own account -- a disciplinarian and a man of his word, even if the truth hurts.

"I tell players, if you come into my office or stop me in the hall to ask a question, don't do that unless you really want the answer," Hargrove said yesterday. "I'm not going to tell you what you want to hear just to get rid of you.

"What you see is what you get. I have no hidden agendas. I'm not a great guy all the time, but I'm a pretty good guy most of the time."

It apparently was that straightforward demeanor that convinced the Orioles' selection committee and majority owner Peter Angelos that Hargrove was the manager to lead the Orioles into the new millennium. Strategically, he is a manager who loves to play match-up baseball. Personally, he is known as a man of integrity and loyalty.

"The two things that are most important for a major-league manager are, the players must trust him and they must respect him," Thrift said. "How do you get trust by being honest. You gain respect by doing what you say you're going to do and knowing what you're doing."

Postseason mark

Mike Hargrove took the Indians to two World Series as manager. How his teams fared in the postseason:

Year Div. ALCS World

Ser. Ser.

1995 3-0 4-2 2-4

1996 1-3 -- --

1997 3-2 4-2 3-4

1998 3-1 2-4 --

1999 2-3 -- --

Tot. 12-9 10-8 5-8

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