Mike Hargrove came to Baltimore in November 1999 with a strong resume as a winning manager, but after four losing seasons with the Orioles, the club fired him yesterday morning in a meeting that took about 15 minutes.
Orioles Vice Presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan used their entire first season at the team's helm to evaluate Hargrove, and one day after the last game, they said it was time to move in a different direction.
Hargrove, who guided the Cleveland Indians to five consecutive division titles and two World Series berths from 1995 to 1999, finished with a 275-372 record in Baltimore.
Sunday night, Beattie and Flanagan tabled plans to meet with Hargrove after learning that his father-in-law had died Saturday. But Hargrove and his wife, Sharon, had to drive to Cleveland yesterday to gather their children and fly to Texas for tomorrow's funeral, so he encouraged Beattie and Flanagan to meet with him yesterday morning.
"It was really nothing that I didn't expect," Hargrove said. "They were very professional about it. It was just a cordial meeting. They informed me they wanted to go with a different personality in the dugout to lead the team, and I told them that I understood that."
The decision on Hargrove had been anticipated for weeks, but in a surprising development, Flanagan indicated that the club would like to keep all six members of Hargrove's coaching staff.
"We called most of the coaches directly," Flanagan said, "and we just informed them of what had transpired and that we would certainly like them all to come back. We gave them a chance to think about it."
Asked whether he had any concerns about trying to persuade a manager to take the job with a coaching staff in place, Flanagan said, "I don't anticipate it. I think this staff is well-recognized around baseball."
That led to speculation throughout major league baseball that the Orioles are prepared to hire their next manager from within or plan to bring back a familiar face.
Orioles bench coach Sam Perlozzo emerged as a leading candidate, as did Eddie Murray, the Hall of Fame slugger and former Orioles coach who has spent the past two seasons as Cleveland's hitting coach.
High-ranking Orioles officials confirmed Perlozzo and Murray as potential candidates, along with former Orioles Rick Dempsey, Rich Dauer.
Club sources said other possible candidates include New York Yankees third-base coach Willie Randolph and Gary Allenson, who managed the Orioles' Triple-A Ottawa affiliate this season.
Flanagan said the club probably won't have the full list of candidates or begin setting up interviews until next week.
"We wanted to take care of Mike [Hargrove] and make sure we handled that correctly," Flanagan said.
"We're going to finish off our list this week, and we hope to have everything in place by the end of the World Series."
Flanagan and Beattie declined to critique Hargrove's managerial performance or specify the reasons for the change.
Beattie called those reasons "private," and Flanagan said, "Different direction, different voice."
Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who approved Beattie and Flanagan's decision Sunday night, said, "Unfortunately, all relationships in baseball are temporary, but that's the nature of the game. Having known Mike Hargrove as a manager, a friend and the gentleman that he is has been my good fortune. And I wish him all the very best in the future."
Perhaps the most telling answers came in the way the Orioles described the kind of manager they hope to hire to replace Hargrove.
Looking for `toughness'
"First and foremost, you look for knowledge of the game," Beattie said. "You look for communication with players and, these days, with fans, players, media and so on. You look for character, and you look for some toughness, and there's some tough decisions out there that have to be made."
Hargrove rarely, if ever, met resistance from his players in the clubhouse. Having played 12 seasons in the big leagues himself, he was accorded tremendous respect. But without saying so publicly, the Orioles appear to be searching for someone with more fire.
The team hasn't had a winning season since 1997, and this year it finished 71-91. But during Hargrove's four years, the team cut back significantly on its player payroll, and its talent suffered as a result.
Hargrove wasn't pointing any fingers yesterday.
"The four years I was in Baltimore, we had players that played hard. We had players that showed up to play every day," he said.
"And the players that needed to get better that year were better than when it started. And I think that's a reflection of the coaching staff."
Internally this season, the Orioles had discussed offering Hargrove a one-year contract extension at $1.25 million, the same salary he got this season. With Angelos pledging to spend big money to acquire better players in the off-season, the club thought about giving Hargrove a chance to manage the new players for at least one season.