Time to just walk away
Mike Hargrove managed one last game, then handed over his position to bench coach John McLaren, whose stunned expression at a morning news conference spoke to the shock reverberating throughout the Mariners clubhouse, and the baseball world.
Seattle Times staff reporter
When the torrid Mariners put their eight-game winning streak on the line tonight in Kansas City, Mike Hargrove won't be with them.
He'll be preparing to put his Bellevue condo on the market, shopping for a new red pickup truck, and getting ready to head down the coast with his wife, Sharon, to watch their son, Andy, play for the Mariners' Class A High Desert team in Adelanto, Calif.
Hargrove became the Mariners' ex-manager after Sunday's 2-1 victory at Safeco Field that kept them in the middle of an increasingly viable pennant race. He dropped that bombshell prior to the game, resigning from the job he had held since replacing the fired Bob Melvin on Oct. 20, 2004.
Hargrove managed one last game, then handed over his position to bench coach John McLaren, whose stunned expression at a morning news conference spoke to the shock reverberating throughout the Mariners clubhouse, and the baseball world.
McLaren, who came to the Mariners last winter on a two-year coaching deal after turning down an offer to join Lou Piniella's Cubs staff, agreed to a managerial contract for the remainder of the season. He will not have an interim tag.
"I've always wanted to manage, but I never felt it would come on terms like this," said McLaren, his voice breaking. "I'm an emotional guy. I'm so happy, but I'm sad, too.
"This has really been a roller coaster for me, my emotions. It caught me off guard. I had no idea something like this would happen. I'm very proud being part of Mike's staff, being where we are right now. But I'm concerned about Mike and how he's doing."
The elevation of McLaren, 55, leaves open his old bench coach job. It is expected that he will consider current Mariners first-base coach Mike Goff, as well as at least two people outside the organization with Seattle connections -- recently fired Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo, who was Piniella's third-base coach in 1995; and former Mariners batting coach Lee Elia.
Hargrove, 57, said his decision to step down, which he first broached with general manager Bill Bavasi on June 20 -- when the Mariners were riding a six-game losing streak that ended that night against Pittsburgh -- boiled down to the fact that it was getting increasingly difficult to summon the 100 percent effort he demanded of his players.
"I don't expect people to understand it. I really don't. Because there's times I don't understand it," Hargrove said after his final victory left him with a 192-210 record as the M's skipper. "But I ask everyone to respect it."
Hargrove tried several times at the news conference to make a preemptive strike against conspiracy theorists searching for hidden reasons for his abrupt announcement. He stressed the decision had nothing to do with health, his job security or a clash with any player or front-office person.
"There are no dark, sinister reasons for this decision," he said. "This has been my decision."
Bavasi said that at one point between June 20 and Saturday, he thought he had Hargrove talked out of his decision to step down. But when Hargrove showed up at Safeco for Saturday's game against Toronto, he told Bavasi that his decision was irrevocable, and he didn't want to wait until the All-Star break as had been originally discussed.
"There's two sides for us," Bavasi said. "I'm speaking for Chris [Larson, a Mariners minority partner] and [team president] Chuck [Armstrong] and [CEO] Howard [Lincoln] and everyone else.
"We're not happy about it. Not a bit. But if you've gotten to know Sharon, and met his kids, and understand what he's been away from for quite awhile ... while we're not happy about it because he's done such a great job here, we're happy for him.
"I think we can have those two emotions. They're extreme opposites, but we do have them."
Though it was never announced by the Mariners, The Seattle Times reported earlier this year that Hargrove quietly had his contract extended last winter for the 2008 season.
He will serve for the remainder of this season as a special assistant to Bavasi, but it is possible he will forfeit upwards of $1 million with his decision to step away from his contract.
"It was not a knee-jerk reaction; it was something I turned over 15,000 different ways," Hargrove said.
Hargrove lavished praise on M's players and especially Bavasi, calling him "the best boss and the best general manager I've ever been around, bar none.
"It's just an accumulation of probably 35 years," he added. "I've been in this game 35 years. That's a long time. I've been a big-league manager for 16 of those years. That's a long time.
"It's not one thing. I was not forced into this decision. The fact of the matter is, there was a very strong, credible job by everybody to talk me out of it. But I think this is the right thing to do for Mike Hargrove and the Seattle Mariners."
Though Hargrove dismissed the term "burnout," calling it "a crutch," the explanation of his current mind-set seemed to contain several of the classic elements of burnout.
The M's news release announcing Hargrove's resignation quoted him saying, "I can not continue to do this job if my passion has begun to fade." But he bristled at a question about his loss of passion.
"I haven't lost any fire for this, passion for it, whatever you want to call it," he said.
But Hargrove said it was getting increasingly hard to summon that passion.
"I have never had to work at getting that out of myself, ever, until recently," he said. "I found I had to work harder at giving that same commitment to my bosses, and to my players and my coaches.
"That's not right. They deserve better. They're good people. There's a good thing going on here. And it's time for me to leave."
Though Hargrove said that the pressure of being on "the hot seat" from the outset of the season didn't affect him, he didn't dispute that the ups and downs of the season were wearing on him. The Mariners this year have had two six-game losing streaks, as well as five- and eight-game winning streaks.
"The highs weren't high enough, and the lows were too low," he said. "That's about as simple as I can put it."
Sharon Hargrove indicated that concerns over being away from his family -- they have five children and four grandchildren -- also weighed heavily in her husband's decision.
"It's been a whole family decision," Sharon Hargrove said. "Mike's given 35 years in baseball, 100 percent. When he leaves the ballpark, he gives 100 percent to us. It's just gotten harder to do that, harder to let go. We've always said we'd never let baseball take a step above our family, and it was starting to."
Bavasi said that when Hargrove first told him on June 20 he was planning to step down, the shock was "on a scale of one to 10, probably 10, 11."
"This is not something we were prepared for, that we wanted," Bavasi said.
Because Bavasi was about to head off for his daughter's graduation in Southern California, he asked Hargrove to hold off on his decision. The Mariners followed with two rousing victories over the Pirates, including Jeff Weaver's emotional shutout win, and Hargrove decided to wait longer -- until the All-Star break.
"That was a real high, and we had gone through some lows," said Bavasi. "Mike wisely thought it would be better to wait until things were at a more even keel. He didn't want to make any decisions to leave on a low note or stay on a high note."
But when the Mariners continued to win, and Hargrove's conflicted emotions didn't lessen, he knew it was time. He said he made the announcement now so that he could properly inform the team, rather than waiting until they were scattering for the All-Star break.
"We both agreed we would wait and give it some time, thinking it would pass," Hargrove said. "No matter what you do, you go through spells like this. But I'd never felt it at the depth I felt it.
"Then we won seven games in a row, and the feelings hadn't changed. Believe me, I'm enjoying this. I'm enjoying our success. I feel very satisfied I've had a hand in this. Someone has to drive the bus.
"I just feel they deserve more than I'm able to give them right now. I'm at a point in my life I can make that call, and I feel good about that call. I think I'm being a grownup."
Dodgers coach Rich Donnelly, one of Hargrove's closest friends, wasn't surprised the Mariners couldn't sway him.
"I know this. Mike is more bullheaded than me, and he is strong-minded," Donnelly told a Los Angeles reporter after the Dodgers' game on Sunday. "I heard them say they were going to try to talk him out of it. You don't talk Mike out of anything once he has his mind set on something. That's what made him a good manager and a great person. I know Sharon and the family had to all have been on board with this."
And now the Mariners are, too, Bavasi said, despite calling Hargrove's resignation "an important, hurtful move for us.
"We're not happy about it," Bavasi added. "We weren't happy about it then. It's very upsetting to us because he's done such a great job.
"But again, he's one of the best guys any of us have ever run across. It's hard not to be happy for him if he's convinced you he's truly doing what he wants to do. It's taken 10 days, but he's convinced me of that, so I'm happy for him, and selfishly upset for us."
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or email@example.com