Hargrove says Mariners ‘deserve better’

SEATTLE – In the midst of the Seattle Mariners’ best run of success in four seasons, manager Mike Hargrove couldn’t fully enjoy it.

He said his passion to handle the everyday chores of a major league baseball manager had waned, that the highs weren’t so high anymore and he feared he would have an adverse effect on what the Mariners are trying to accomplish.

So Hargrove, 57, resigned Sunday in the middle of the Mariners’ best season since 2003. Bench coach John McLaren was named manager.

Eleven days ago, Hargrove told his feelings to general manager Bill Bavasi, who tried to change his manager’s mind and couldn’t, then asked Hargrove to delay his decision in hope time would cause him to rethink his future.

That didn’t have an effect, either, and Hargrove made a final decision Saturday. He told the players Sunday morning and, 30 minutes later, explained himself – occasionally through tears – in a news conference.

“It’s not because of a problem with a player. It’s not because of a problem with Bill Bavasi, not a problem with my wife,” Hargrove said. “It’s just an accumulation of 35 years of baseball. I was not forced into this decision. As a matter of fact, there’s been a very strong effort to talk me out of it.”

The clubhouse meeting Sunday morning was something none of the players had ever experienced.

“Shock and awe,” relief pitcher J.J. Putz described the scene. “Nobody saw this coming.”

While the players said they respect Hargrove’s decision, many didn’t understand it, especially in the middle of a season that is going well. The Mariners, who beat the Toronto Blue Jays 2-1 Sunday, have won eight straight games and are 12 games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2003 season.

“I don’t have any sense of abandonment at all,” left fielder Raul Ibanez said. “I respect him and I respect his decision. Personally, I appreciate the way he handled this club the last couple of years. These young guys here, I don’t know that they would have developed as well under another skipper.”

Bavasi said he was shocked when Hargrove first approached him.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, it was probably an 11,” Bavasi said. “We’re not happy about this, not a bit. But we’re real happy for Mike. We thought we had him talked out of this.”

There were questions as to whether outside influences were factors, such as conflicts with anyone in the front office or in the clubhouse.

Star center fielder Ichiro Suzuki had differences with Hargrove two years ago and, with delicate contract negotiations taking place as Suzuki heads toward free agency after this season, some theorize that a new manager would please him. Suzuki and McLaren have long enjoyed a strong relationship.

Hargrove, and others within the Mariners, denied any connection.

“There are no dark, sinister reasons for this decision,” said Hargrove, who is signed through the 2007 season.

McLaren said his first question of Hargrove was whether health was a factor, and he said it wasn’t.

Hargrove emphasized several times during the news conference that he had lost the emotional edge needed to manage the team.

“Every day, I challenge my players to give me 100 percent of what they’ve got that day, physically and mentally, and without fail they’ve done that,” he said. “I have never had to work at getting to that level myself, ever, until recently. I found that I had to work harder at giving that same commitment to my bosses and to my players and my coaches. That’s not right.”

Hargrove choked over those words, then suppressed his emotions enough to continue.

“If I can’t ask myself to give 100 percent for them, then what does that say about me? I’m not going to allow that to happen,” he said. “If I hung on and it costs the team four games and we lose the division or a wild-card spot by two, then how do I live with myself? They deserve better. It’s time for me to leave.”

Sunday was the 2,361st major league game Hargrove has managed, and he said it likely was his last. The Mariners’ victory gave him a career 1,188-1,173 record.

“Will I ever manage again? Probably not,” he said. “I’ve learned never to say never, but I can’t imagine managing again.”

Hargrove, who is making $1.7 million this year, will remain with the Mariners as a special assistant in the player development department.

“I never thought it would end like this,” he said.

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