FREE-AGENT managers aren't a lot different from free-agent players. In the "walk years" of their contracts, they'd much rather be shown the love and the money long before the clock strikes midnight. It's one of those places in the big-business world of professional sports where the more vulnerable aspects of human nature can't quite reconcile with cold-blooded reality.
Such is the situation of Orioles manager Mike Hargrove.
His record (he's coming up on 1,000 career wins, one of only 50 major leaguers to reach that plateau) and his reputation (he's one of the best in the business and has the total respect of his current players and staff) would seem to point toward a simple decision by the Orioles: Sign Grover up for another tour of duty.
Certainly, Hargrove has made no secret this is exactly what he wants.
"I like it here. I like the players. The owner is tremendous. The two new general managers are young, dynamic guys who are going to give us a chance. I've been around here when things are good in Baltimore, so I know how good things can be. I also know that when I start a job how difficult it is to have someone else finish it," Hargrove said.
This is the same tune Hargrove has been singing since spring training.
But as the midway point of the season has passed, and with the All-Star break just a little over a week away, and then the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline before baseball sails into those dog days of August, one thing has grown quite clear. It's beginning to look more and more as if Hargrove is going to have to bring it home before his Orioles employers decide if they're willing to commit him to another tour of duty.
There is owner Peter Angelos' long-standing preference to evaluate managers at the end of their contracts. Davey Johnson didn't much like that approach, either.
There is also a new regime that has a chance to get things right from top to bottom during this latest Orioles franchise incarnation. Co-vice presidents Mike Flanagan and Jim Beattie don't want to rush, nor do they have to.
There is also that kernel of doubt that naturally comes when a club finishes a season on a 4-32 slide, like the Orioles did in September. Will it happen again? It can't - not if Hargrove wants to convince management he can help put fannies in Camden Yards.
Managers have been let go for far less obvious failures. Look at Dusty Baker. He took the Giants to the World Series last fall and still he was gone from San Francisco.
You can understand that Hargrove doesn't much like this process. What's good for him, however, differs from what's in the best interest of the Orioles. When Hargrove parses Beattie's language, Hargrove wonders what it is exactly that the organization is looking for before it can make the decision on Hargrove's future.
"I think Jim's been just vague enough that I don't know what he was trying to say," Hargrove said.
Hargrove was talking about comments Beattie made to The Sun earlier this week about what it will take for the Orioles to decide on whether or not to extend Hargrove's contract.
"I think we would at least let him know what we're thinking within the next couple weeks. Whether it's, `Mike, we want to talk to you about something now,' or, `We want to wait.' Believe me, we discuss it and we talk about it, and there's a lot of challenges for the coaching staff. Many of them have been met, and I get a sense the club is more competitive. But the results are still 10 games under .500, and in the end, it's about winning ballgames," Beattie said.
"We're not just talking about wins and losses necessarily ... We're talking about improvement of the club, and the attitude of the club. Are we still going out there with the attitude we're going to win? I think we've played to our opponents' [abilities]. At the same time, our guys go out there and aggressively attack. That's very important, and that comes from the coaches and the manager."
With the club exuding a competitiveness that belies its mostly sketchy pitching, it's getting a little interesting - and a little tense - for the Orioles' manager.
Most people would look at the Orioles and think they're lucky to have a front-line manager like Hargrove on board. It's not exactly as if he couldn't land another job should the club decide against keeping him.
But doesn't it say as much about the potential upside of the rebuilding Orioles that Hargrove wants to stay? "Am I satisfied with the results the last three and half years? No, but I think we're finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel," Hargrove said.
It's been a long, dark haul, especially for a manager who has tried to make chicken salad out of table scraps.
For Orioles fans, there are probably other, more compelling story lines this season. Brian Roberts' breakout season; Melvin Mora's delicious rebuttal to an organization that pegged him to be a twice-a-week replacement player; Luis Matos' ability to get on base.