O's old Indian guide hasn't lost his way

Hargrove: Mixing small-town honesty and a big will to win, the manager with Texas roots hopes his Cleveland success can rub off on the Orioles.

March 19, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

PERRYTON, Texas - Outside the city limits of this tiny northern Texas outpost, signs tell visitors they are entering the hometown of Mike Hargrove, the 1974 Rookie of the Year and manager of the Cleveland Indians, 1991 to 1999.

There is no mention of the Orioles.

Inside Perryton High, a trophy case honors its most famous graduate with pieces of memorabilia from Hargrove's career. There's an old mitt from his playing days and an autographed hat celebrating Cleveland's 1995 American League title.

Again, no mention of the Orioles.

"We're still a little bit in the dark about Baltimore," said Jim Page, one of Hargrove's best friends and one of Perryton's 7,774 residents. "He was with the Indians for so long, we knew the players, we knew the general manager and everything. We'll get a little more excited about the Orioles when they start getting to the playoffs."

Hargrove did a lot of winning over the final six years of his tenure with the Indians. In two seasons with the Orioles, he's done a lot of losing.

As he enters what promises to be another rebuilding year, Hargrove insists he isn't losing his patience or his desire.

"Will we ever get to the point we got with the Indians? I don't know," Hargrove said from his spring training office. "But I do know that we're giving it every chance to happen. And that's all you can do.

"The knowledge, the work ethic, the loyalty, the dedication, the passion - it's all the same, if not even a little bit more. Not just for me - I'm talking about everybody. If it's going to work, it'll work because of that."

To know Hargrove is to know Perryton, and to know Perryton is to know Hargrove. A two-hour drive north from Amarillo, this Texas Panhandle town is where he met his wife, Sharon.

They were junior high sweethearts and married shortly into college at Northwest Oklahoma State. No matter where baseball took them, they kept a house in Perryton until 1994. Every winter, the Hargroves still go there to visit friends and family.

"He's still a hometown boy," said Hargrove's father, Dudley, who lives in Perryton along with Hargrove's mother, Rita Ann. "When he's out on the golf course here, people will call him by his first name. Nobody bothers him. It's a pretty friendly town."

Hargrove played football, basketball and golf in high school. Baseball wasn't offered, but it is now, and the Perryton Rangers play their home games at Mike Hargrove Field.

When Perryton first put signs honoring Hargrove on U.S. Highway 83, the town held a celebration at City Hall, drawing about 250 of his biggest fans. To this day, he still considers that one of his greatest honors.

"Anytime you can get that sort of recognition from people you've known your entire life, it's special because they know you," Hargrove said. "I mean, those are people you can't fool. They know your heart. They still remember me for the dirtball I was."

Or as his old friend Page put it: "He's still a small-town guy, but he's got more money than he used to have."

Hargrove, 52, still has two seasons remaining on a contract that pays him $1 million a year. He and Sharon now keep their off-season home in the Cleveland suburb of Richfield, Ohio.

Of the five Hargrove children, only 13-year-old Shelly still lives at home. So Mike and Sharon are planning for the next phase in their lives, when the work eventually ends and the kids will all be on their own.

This past winter, they accomplished their longtime dream of purchasing a home on a golf course in Tucson, Ariz. They spent 12 springs in Tucson with the Indians, and that is the place they had always hoped they'd retire.

"It just overwhelms me sometimes," Sharon said, "when you think of what we've done together."

Tucson can wait

Mike is quick to credit Sharon, who co-wrote the book Safe at Home: A Baseball Wife's Story.

"You talk about sacrifices," Hargrove said. "That woman is straight from God. She really has done a tremendous job of raising our kids and keeping our family together."

So here Hargrove is, abundantly happy with his family life and 30 years into a professional baseball career. A small-town Texas native with more fame and fortune than anyone in Perryton could have ever imagined.

The Tucson home purchase was a significant step for the Hargroves, Sharon said, but that doesn't mean retirement beckons. There's too much left to be accomplished in Baltimore for that.

"When we got the place in Tucson," Sharon said, "never did I sit there and go, `He's already looking at the end of his contract, and he can't wait until it's over.' It never even crossed my mind. I know he loves what he's doing."

The Orioles entered the off-season with hints they might restock the cupboards through a major trade or free-agent signing. It never happened. The front office decided the organization should wait to spend the big money until it had time to build around its young talent.

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