No grudges for `Grover'

Orioles: New manager Hargrove believes in loyalty, even when it's not reciprocated.

November 07, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Until the afternoon of Oct. 15, Mike Hargrove had been married to only one woman and managed for only one organization. That evening, he still had Sharon Hargrove, which still left him pretty far ahead of the game.

Much has happened since Hargrove, 50, walked into the Cleveland Indians' front office that day to learn his 8 1/2 years as the team's manager were done. Less than three weeks after his firing, Hargrove landed on his feet Wednesday with a three-year, $3 million contract to manage the Orioles.

Hargrove, who had taken the Indians to the World Series twice in his past five seasons, was shaken when his professional marriage of 20-plus years ended. A man who stakes his reputation on loyalty found out that winning sometimes isn't enough.

"I base my life on honesty and loyalty. What you see with me is what you get. There's no hidden agenda. I'm not a nice guy all the time, but I'm a nice guy most of the time," he said.

If a man's measure is best taken at his low ebb, Hargrove distinguished himself following his firing. Rather than take apart general manager John Hart or the organization, Hargrove took a two-hour drive home. On his way, he phoned Sharon so she could notify their children before the media broadcast the news. He then addressed reporters at his Richfield, Ohio, home.

That night, Hargrove dined with his coaches, at least one of whom, third base coach Jeff Newman, will accompany him to Baltimore.

On Wednesday, Hargrove declined to address several leading questions about him holding any grudge against his former organization.

"I'm a big boy. In some regards, I'm a real big boy," he said jokingly, referring to his manager's waistline. "I have learned over my life that you deal with realities. The reality is that I'm no longer a Cleveland Indian."

A simple man

Hargrove's Texas tongue gives away his roots. He respects a firm handshake, those who look him in the eye when speaking and those who don't try to "trick" him with questions. A youth spent in tiny Perryton (pop: 7,000) remains a favorite time. He asks that players enter his office only if they are comfortable with the truth.

Sharon, who has known her husband since seventh grade, pays him perhaps the ultimate compliment, saying, "He's exactly the same guy now as he was then."

Whatever Hargrove's sins in Cleveland, they appear related more to longevity than anything. Hence, Hart citing the need for "a new voice."

Hargrove can be seen as the American League answer to Atlanta Braves manager Bobby Cox. Despite a fabulous regular-season record (721-591) and five consecutive division titles, Hargrove's tenure is more often (and unfairly) defined by what his teams failed to accomplish in the postseason than their regular-season dominance. Twice the Indians reached the World Series (1995, 1997) under Hargrove, teasing Cleveland with the prospect of the club's first world championship since 1948. But they never led either Series.

Hart denied any linkage, but the Indians likely would have been hard-pressed to fire Hargrove with a year remaining on his contract had the team not blown a two-game lead against the Boston Red Sox in last month's Division Series. More focus was placed on Hargrove's debatable strategy than the inability of his front office to acquire another starting pitcher before the July 31 waiver deadline.

Asked at his post-firing news conference whether he believed the playoff meltdown factored in his ouster, Hargrove said, "Probably."

Cox admitted to being "flabbergasted" over Hargrove's firing. "To me, he's become a real good manager," he said. "There must have been some underlying problems with the front office."

Gloom over Cleveland

The Indians' clubhouse never has been recognized as a place built to allow sunshine. Hargrove's term was dotted with his frequently filling the role as a public apologist for some unseemly player behavior. If left fielder Albert Belle wasn't screaming obscenities at a network TV reporter before a World Series game, he was being suspended and fined for wielding a corked bat. Chad Ogea acknowledged that fellow pitcher Orel Hershiser was a cheat during the 1997 American League Championship Series. And there were occasions when center fielder Kenny Lofton would arrive late for an appearance, grudgingly stand for questions and reply to the first query, "How the hell am I supposed to answer that?"

Indeed, it is part of Hargrove's ethic not to publicly criticize his players, a contrast to Davey Johnson, who could use a needle with surgical precision, or Ray Miller, who seemed to administer it in desperation.

Hargrove pleads guilty to a Vesuvian temper beneath a placid facade. However, he also says he owns no doghouse -- "sometimes I wish I did " -- and will not bury players.

"I figure that our dirty laundry is not for anybody else to see but us," said Hargrove, "and we take care of our stuff and go on."

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