And, much to my surprise, he's back for another go-round. I was not deliberately misled, but I was misinformed, and now we all get to deal with the harsh reality that is a third year of Mike Hargrove. Ask anyone and they'll tell you that, if the original sucks, and the sequel sucks, the sequel to the sequel doesn't have a real good chance of not sucking, but here we are, completely and utterly helpless. Barring some sort of divine miracle, Mike Hargrove will manage the 2007 Seattle Mariners.
Make no mistake - this decision wasn't based on strategy. They never are. For one thing, Hargrove has won in the past, however ancient that history may be. He was there in Cleveland as the Indians grew up and ascended to the top of the AL, and the Mariners feel that this team is in a similar situation. For another, the front office values continuity and doesn't want to make important changes unless it absolutely has to, particularly now that we're in the later stages of a rebuilding movement. Firing the manager would only serve to complicate things, as the players would have to adjust to a new coach and the executives would have to take their attention away from improving the roster, and that's not a situation anyone wants to get into right now. Finally, Hargrove has another year left on his contract, and the suits didn't think he was bad enough to justify eating that money and cutting their losses.
I don't agree with much of the previous paragraph, but there you go. Hargrove isn't a winning manager unless he has winning players, and the Mariner team we're building isn't anywhere close to the caliber of those mid-90's Cleveland Indians. That was a group that you literally didn't have to manage at all; Hargrove has said as much himself. Put him in a tougher situation and you end up with lousy results, like the ones he's had in Baltimore and Seattle. His in-game offensive strategy sucks, his loyalty to veterans backfires too often, players don't seem to like him much, and he doesn't strike me as an effective motivator. That's a pretty good recipe for underachieving. For chrissakes, the team had to go out last winter and sign a DH to fire up the team because Hargrove couldn't do it himself (said DH was ironically released prior to the termination of his contract because he wasn't doing his job). Grover has his strong suits - generally (but not always) appropriate use of his best relievers, handles starters pretty well, full of good anecdotes and one-liners - but overall it's not a desirable package, and it's a place where the Mariners could stand to improve.
In the end, though, replacing a manager is an arduous task, and it was determined that, given what Hargrove brings to the table, it wasn't worth going through all that again for the second time in four years. Are they right? I really don't think so, but I can't say for sure, so against my better judgment I guess I just have to trust them. With luck, a year from now we'll all be back to believing that a manager has a virtually negligible effect on team performance, because that'll mean that things went pretty well. After all, much like umpires and third base coaches, you don't notice managers unless they screw up. I doubt that's going to happen, since Hargrove isn't going to change who he is between now and next April, but sometimes all you can do is hope.
Pay no attention to the people who claim to be giving up after hearing about this; it's a simple overreaction, and an easy one to make at this point with a frustrating year three games from completion. They'll talk a big game about how they're never giving another nickel to the Mariners until Hargrove is gone, but invariably they'll all be back when things heat up during the winter and Bavasi lands a big-name player, be it Matsuzaka or somebody else. Anyone who cares enough to frequent a Mariner blog or message board has an unusually strong loyalty to the team, and while it stings to hear that the organization is hurting itself (and acting rather proud of it, no less), an unpopular manager is never enough to break that kind of bond. Just ask the twenty-two million Rockies fans that showed up to watch Don Baylor coach between 1993-1998. It's remarkably easy to root for a team while disliking its manager. Hell, we've done it all year. All it'll take is a little winning to cure most of those ills, and the 2007 Mariners are going to be a fun group to watch, Hargrove or no. He might make some more boneheaded decisions to cost us games, but he's not so awful that the team will never compete as long as he's at the helm. No one is. No one's even close.
I'm not very happy about today's news, because I've been looking forward to Hargrove's dismissal for months, but it's not the absolutely devastating bombshell so many people have made it out to be. It's bad, to be sure, but ultimately nobody's ever blamed a manager for their team falling short of winning the Series. That part always comes down to the players, and if I may say so myself, we've got some pretty good ones. Now the pressure's just on Bavasi to build an idiot-proof roster, like the one that gave Bob Brenly a ring in 2001, and while that may seem like a difficult task, you'd be surprised how far you can go with a 1-2 punch of Matsuzaka and an effective Felix. No matter who's coaching.