For Baltimore, Cleveland, circle is completed today

April 03, 2000|By Ken Rosenthal

When the American League released its tentative 2000 schedule last summer, Mike Hargrove gave it little more than cursory attention.

Hargrove, then manager of the Cleveland Indians, was pushing toward his fifth straight AL Central title, trying to prepare his club for the postseason.

Opening Day 2000 in Baltimore? Well, Hargrove thought, that would be different. The Indians had opened on the West Coast the previous three years.

Little did he imagine how different it would be. How the Indians would blow a two-games-to-none lead to Boston in the Division Series. How he would be fired after 8 1/2 years as manager and 20 years in the Indians' organization. How he would land in Baltimore and manage against his former team on Opening Day.

Today will be different, all right: Hargrove and two of his former Indians coaches -- Jeff Newman and Brian Graham -- will line up as Orioles along the first base line during pre-game introductions.

Looking over at the third base line, they will see new Indians manager Charlie Manuel, Hargrove's hitting coach the previous six seasons. And they will see other coaches with whom they once worked closely and players with whom they experienced so much.

"I really haven't allowed myself to think a whole lot about that, but I'd be lying if I said that I haven't," Hargrove said last week as his first spring with the Orioles drew to a close.

"The sooner it's over with, the better. I'll be glad when it's over. I'll be glad when the opening ceremonies are over. I'll be glad when that series is over. We can go on and get back to the normal part of baseball."

Today will be anything but normal. Today marks the latest twist in a tale of two cities that began not when the NFL Browns announced their move to Baltimore in November 1995, but eight years earlier, when the Indians hired Hank Peters as general manager shortly after he was fired by the Orioles.

A Peters loyalist named John Hart stayed with the Orioles for one more season, serving as third base coach for the 1988 club that went 0-21. He then joined the Indians as a special assignment scout, and Peters groomed him to be the team's next GM.

Peters set the Indians' future into motion within a three-month span during the '91 season, naming Hargrove manager, then Hart GM. Together, his appointees presided over a spectacular renaissance in Cleveland. But their relationship was never easy.

Hart was brash and restless, Hargrove stoic and reserved. The organization divided into camps, and those camps will be represented today by the former colleagues lining up along the first and third base lines.

No matter what the two sides might think of each other, they are forever linked by the time they spent together -- investing, in Hargrove's words, "your sweat, your blood, your heart, your soul."

They shared the joy of opening Jacobs Field and ending the Indians' 41-year pennant drought with two AL titles in three seasons. And they shared the pain of an 11-inning defeat in Game 7 of the '97 World Series and the playoff collapse against Boston in '99.

All of the principals except Manuel also worked together through the tragedy of March 22, 1993, when Indians relievers Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed in a spring training boating accident.

"There certainly will be an extraordinary amount of emotion," said Graham, the Orioles' new offensive and defensive coordinator. "I spent 14 years in Cleveland. Mike spent 20 years. Jeff was there eight. You don't spend 14 years with an organization and not care very deeply for the organization and its players."

Newman, true to his nature, was more taciturn.

"I don't think it's going to be any different from any other team, except that it's Cleveland, and I have more friends on that team than any other," the Orioles' new bench coach said. "I want to kick their butts just as I would Kansas City. Have I made anything more out of it in my mind? No."

Hargrove smiled when informed of Newman's words. "He'll be emotional," the manager said. "He's got a big heart."

Graham and Newman are Hargrove loyalists, but Hart apparently drew a distinction between them. He offered Graham another job in the organization but not Newman.

Graham, though, had no intention of staying with the Indians. He played five years in the minors and spent nine years managing in the Indians' farm system. Hargrove gave him his first major-league job, naming him to the Indians' coaching staff in 1998.

"My feelings about Mike don't need to be spoken," Graham said.

Nor do Newman's. Once Hargrove said he wanted to jump right back into managing, Newman never considered looking for another job. Wherever Hargrove landed, he expected to follow.

All three insist they are now Orioles, proud to wear black and orange. But the reality is, they helped build something special in Cleveland. Something that is not easily forgotten.

"To say you cut all the ties would be a completely false statement," Graham said. "You don't. We're human. I care about those guys."

And so the tale of two cities continues, its baseball chapter coming full circle.

Peters, the Orioles' former GM, helped Hargrove ascend the managerial ladder, promoting him through the Indians' system. The ladder was pulled out from under him by Hart, another Orioles product. And just as Peters once found refuge in Cleveland, Hargrove found refuge in Baltimore.

The emotions will subside after this series -- the teams don't meet again until late July, and don't play in Cleveland until early September. It could have been worse, Hargrove said. The opener could have been in Cleveland, with all his old friends in attendance, all the old memories flooding back.

"That would have been really tough," Mike Hargrove said. "There is a baseball god."

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