Hargrove has feel for hot seat of Chair

November 04, 1999|By Ken Rosenthal

There is something about The Chair. A man's personality can change in The Chair. A man's insecurities can deepen in The Chair. And as Mike Hargrove will tell you, a man's hair can turn gray in The Chair.

Only 30 men face the unique pressure of sitting in a major-league manager's office, massaging 25 egos, making snap judgments, confronting questions from all sides for 162 games.

Sam Perlozzo had never sat in The Chair. Grady Little had never sat in The Chair. But Hargrove had thrived in it for eight seasons in Cleveland, including five straight postseasons and two World Series.

That, more than anything, is why owner Peter Angelos picked the right manager yesterday, even if Hargrove's low-key style and handling of pitchers drew legitimate criticism during his successful run in Cleveland.

Maybe Perlozzo or Little could do better, just as the unproven Jim Leyland excelled in his first major-league job after then-Pittsburgh general manager Syd Thrift hired him over Joe Torre and Art Howe in 1985.

But the Orioles couldn't bypass a proven winner, not after blowing it with the relatively inexperienced Ray Miller, not after hiring first-time manager Phil Regan over Davey Johnson in 1995.

Leyland managed low payrolls in mostly empty ballparks with the Pirates. Miller had a high-payroll club, and he complained about the pressure of managing in front of crowds of 40,000 at Camden Yards.

Hargrove managed at sold-out Jacobs Field. He managed under a high-profile general manager who couldn't wait to replace him. He managed Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and other eccentric millionaires.

And here's the most intriguing part: When Indians general manager John Hart pulled The Chair out from under him on Oct. 15, Hargrove wanted to get right back in it with another club.

"I don't need this job," Hargrove recalled telling Angelos in his interview. "I want this job."

Wanted it even though he is Angelos' fifth manager in seven seasons. Wanted it even though he had no choice but to retain "most" of the Orioles' coaches. Wanted it even though The Chair in Baltimore is a hot seat like none other.

Hart talked about finding a "new energy" when he fired Hargrove. Well, maybe the events of the past three weeks will give Hargrove a "new energy." He would never say as much, but maybe he will be a better manager. Maybe he has something to prove.

"He's managed in the big leagues for eight years, but he's always been with the same team," his wife, Sharon, was saying yesterday. "We have five kids. With my first one, I did things different than I did with my fifth. You learn and you change, but you can't change mid-stream sometimes.

"I think there are things Mike will do differently. But I think he'll do a lot of things the same. I've known Mike since the seventh or eighth grade in our little hometown in Texas. He's pretty much the same person I met then. What you see is what you get."

And what will the Orioles get? A manager who isn't as dynamic as Phil Garner or Don Baylor, but a manager who might have won a World Series if his pitching staff in Cleveland had included an ace like Mike Mussina.

The question with Miller was his competence. The question with Perlozzo or Little, at least at the start, might have been the same. But with Hargrove, the discussion can return to baseball again.

True, Hargrove failed to list a designated hitter on his lineup card for one game last season, and his Indians often showed similar inattention to detail. He never criticizes his players publicly, occasionally creating the impression that he is coddling them -- the last thing the Orioles need.

Hargrove, though, said that he reserves his eruptions for private meetings, claiming, "I can get as mad as anyone you've ever seen." He said that he is a disciplinarian, "to a point." He also said that every player on Team Double Standard will be subject to the same rules.

"To be a team you have to do that, yes," Hargrove said.

Before becoming a manager, he was a major-league player for 12 seasons, a minor-league manager for three, a major-league coach for 1 1/2. Sharon Hargrove said this will be the family's 88th move. Baltimore will be their 18th city, Maryland their 11th state.

Naturally, Sharon encouraged her husband to take a year off, collect the $600,000 the Indians owed him and help their 18-year-old son, Andrew, decide where he wanted to play baseball in college.

" 'Ninety-five was fun," she said of the Indians' first postseason run under Hargrove. "Since then, it has not been as much fun."

And it all culminated on Oct. 15, when Hargrove was made the scapegoat for the Indians' upset loss to Boston in the Division Series.

"I was real glad our fifth-grader went to school and the teacher mentioned, `You know, obviously everyone knows Shelly's dad lost his job. And Shelly, we're going to help you get through this.' " Sharon said.

"But then, she said, `Have any other kids had parents lose a job?' And hands started going up. It helped her to say, `My dad is not the only one who ever lost a job.' She is so excited, she wanted to miss school and come with us."

Sharon was so excited, she allowed her husband to celebrate by smoking a cigar inside their Richfield, Ohio, home for the first time. And Mike was so excited, he talked yesterday about his "blood boiling and rolling" in anticipation of returning to The Chair.

The three favorites for American League Manager of the Year -- Jimy Williams, Howe and Torre -- were all fired from previous jobs. Hargrove won't have the time off that those three did, but if he follows their examples and grows as a manager, the Orioles will have made a wonderful hire.

"Not a lot of men at 50 get a fresh start," Sharon Hargrove said.

Mike Hargrove couldn't stay away. There is something about The Chair.

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