Monday, July 2, 2007

Grover's Independence Day

Mike Hargrove, the manager of the Seattle Mariners, took a page from the playbook of other figures in pro sports who went out on top. Hargrove, whose team is riding a wave in the AL West, announced yesterday that he would resign as Mariners skipper, effectively more or less immediately. Bench coach John McLaren takes over, making his first appearance as a manager since 1985, when he was with Knoxville of the Southern League.

Dudley Michael Hargrove thus becomes the first manager since 1900 to quit while on a winning streak of more than seven games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“It’s not the front office, it’s not a problem with a contract,” Hargrove said at a press conference with phrases meant to quell suspicion. “It’s where I’m at in life. I’m 57 years old. I’ve got my health. I’ve got a great family. It’s time.”

“I’ve daily challenged my players to give me the best that they’ve got, 100 percent of what they’ve got that day — physically and mentally. And they’ve done that. Without fail, they’ve done that," said Hargrove, whose Mariners won their eighth straight game yesterday, after he formally hung 'em up. The team is 12 games over .500.

“I have never had to work at getting that level myself — ever — until recently. I’ve found that I’ve had to work harder in making that same commitment to my bosses, to my players and to my coaches. And that’s not right,” Hargrove said, turning away and battling back tears.

“They deserve better. They are good people. There is a good thing going on here. And it’s time for me to leave.”

His wife Sharon, who also attended the presser, was equally eloquent, just as heartfelt in her celebration of Hargrove’s decision. “We’ve been married for 37 years. Gone together since junior high,” she said, choking off her own tears. “He’s slept in his own bed four days in eight months. I don’t know too many people who would sign up for that. And he’s done that for 35 years.”

You’d have to be made of stone not to see the sincerity in their comments. Professional sports skeptics will weigh in, looking for the deeper front-office motives behind a manager’s sudden decision to hang ‘em up when the team is on a serious winning streak. Some have said that Hargrove somehow ran afoul of nearly-free agent Ichiro Suzuki, the Mariners’ star player, or that the front office got tired of falling short of late-season divisional wins season after season. Or that, after 35 years, the wife put her foot down.

But it’s just as easy to come to the conclusion that Hargrove – "Grover" to legions of his Mariners fans – was only being honest. There’s been something evident in his body language all season long that suggested disquiet. After wins and losses alike, Hargrove sat at press conferences with a hangdog demeanor, eyes down in a weary stoicism, the countenance of a man tired of getting on and off planes and living in hotel rooms, a man exhausted by the exhaustion in his partner’s eyes.

And today the last shoe dropped. Grover made his announcement before the Fourth of July, but this was his Independence Day. And don’t look for Hargrove to turn into an AARP poster child for midlife crisis: He and Sharon already have fireworks of their own planned. They’re hitting the road, driving down the Pacific Coast in a new, red pickup truck they've either bought or will buy by time you read this. First it's off to see their son Andy, who plays for the Seattle farm club in Adelanto, Calif. From there it’s on to a little hideaway in New Mexico. Somewhere where Grover can finish the beard he already started early in the season, and draw flies for a while … real ones, not those popped up to the outfield. The real thing.

Good for you, Grover. Life’s too short not to be about the real thing. Whatever your real thing may be.
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Image credit: MyName (permission to use granted under GNU Free Documentation License, v1.2)

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