Hargrove manages fine in adviser role

Baseball: Back in the Indians' dugout, the man fired by the Orioles holds no bitterness. But he does want to manage again.

Baseball

March 16, 2004|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - Twenty seconds out of the driveway, it hit him - the wind, the chill, the foolishness.

Mike Hargrove suddenly realized he was a 54-year-old man riding a Harley-Davidson on a 20-degree day in Cleveland.

"Instant ice cream headache," Hargrove said with a laugh last week. "People are looking at me going, `Who is this dumb [guy]?'"

Maybe Hargrove was trying to find out himself.

In 13 years as a major league manager, he had a reputation for playing things by the book. Getting fired by the Orioles last September allowed him the chance to leave the book behind.

He bought his first Harley. He got a flat-top haircut. And he returned to the Cleveland Indians, this time as a senior adviser.

"I told them I don't have a problem with the adviser part," Hargrove said. "It's the senior part that's killing me."

Hargrove may sound like a man going through a midlife crisis - playfully, he uses those exact words himself sometimes - but he would prefer to view it as a mid-career crisis.

More than five months after being fired in Baltimore, Hargrove insists he isn't bitter toward the Orioles. He just wants people to know he'd like to manage again someday.

"I feel very disappointed in the record that we had in Baltimore," Hargrove said. "But I would think that, given my track record, another job would present itself at some point."

So, for now, Hargrove is biding his time, staying as close as he can to the job he loves best.

The man with 996 career managing victories - yes, four short of 1,000 - was spotted last week hitting fungoes to Cleveland's young infielders on a back field of the Indians' antiquated spring training facility.

The left-handed swing looked familiar from his playing days, but there was nothing graceful about the way the balls were coming off his bat. In all his years as manager, Hargrove had coaches to hit the fungoes.

He was the man in charge.

These days, he still looks the part. Wearing his navy blue Indians windbreaker and white uniform pants, with the remnants of his close-cropped gray hair peeking out from under his cap, Hargrove dresses the same way he did as manager.

As a senior adviser, he helps out the coaches at the morning practices and watches the Indians' exhibition games, in uniform, just a few seats down from Cleveland's second-year manager Eric Wedge.

The Indians have sent Hargrove to scout a couple of draft-eligible college players this spring, and he also conducted a two-day seminar for the team's minor league staff.

Without this job, he would have been staring at his first spring training out of pro baseball since 1972.

"You know what it's done is recharge my batteries," Hargrove said. "It's made me realize that I really want to manage again."

No bitterness

The Orioles finished 71-91 last year, and one day after the season ended, vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan told Hargrove they weren't going to renew his contract.

Asked if he got a full explanation for that decision, Hargrove said: "No. I didn't ask for an explanation, either.

"I always told my players that I would be honest and truthful with them, if they could be sure they wanted the answer to the question before they asked it.

"And I wasn't sure I wanted to know."

Beattie and Flanagan were hired to replace Syd Thrift in December 2002, and Hargrove had one year to work under the new regime.

"They said they wanted to go a different direction," Hargrove said. "And when a new general manager comes in, as those two guys did, I would want my own person in there, too."

Hargrove had guided the Indians to two World Series berths and five consecutive postseason appearances before they let him go after the 1999 season. The Orioles gave him a three-year contract with an option for a fourth year, and then picked up that option after the 2000 season.

Midway through last season, Flanagan asked Hargrove informally if he would consider staying on a one-year contract. Hargrove, who made $1.2 million last season, said he wanted a three-year deal.

The talks never went any further.

"I don't have any regrets at all," Hargrove said. "I honestly believe if I would have done that [taken a one year deal], I would have sold myself short and hurt my credibility with the coaches."

On his way out the door, Hargrove endorsed bench coach Sam Perlozzo for his old job, and he said it surprised him when Perlozzo didn't get it. The Orioles went with former New York Yankees first base coach Lee Mazzilli and kept Hargrove's entire six-man coaching staff in place.

Then they went out and added free agents Miguel Tejada, Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro - a trio that combined to slug 108 home runs last season.

"I didn't feel angry, and I didn't feel cheated," Hargrove said. "Because I knew, coming into this offseason, there'd be the ability to sign those type of people.

"It would have been nice to have that sort of thunder in your lineup before. The whole time I was there, we never had a legitimate four-hole hitter."

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