Hargrove resigns from surging Mariners

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SEATTLE (AP) – Mike Hargrove resigned as manager of the Seattle Mariners on Sunday, saying his “passion has begun to fade” for baseball even though his team is the hottest club in the majors.

Hargrove, who managed Sunday’s game against Toronto, will be succeeded by John McLaren, his bench coach. McLaren’s first game will be Monday against Kansas City.

“There are no dark, sinister reasons for this decision. This has been my decision,” the 57-year-old Hargrove said about 90 minutes before his final game with Seattle.

“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.

“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 choking 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.”

Hargrove’s voice often cracked. His eyes were moist and red, remnants of a meeting he called with stunned players moments earlier. He said he initially made his decision June 20, just after a six-game losing streak.

General manager Bill Bavasi said that on a scale of one to 10 on being caught off-guard, Hargrove’s departure was “an 11.” Hargrove agreed with Bavasi to delay leaving until the All-Star break, and Bavasi and McLaren tried to talk Hargrove into reversing his decision.

“We’ve won seven in a row and the feeling hasn’t changed. I never thought it would end like this. And I am grateful that it has,” he said, adding this is probably his last job.

His announcement came hours before the team tried to extend its longest winning streak in more than four years. And just before spring training, Hargrove said this was the most excited he was for any of his 16 seasons as a major league manager, which included five consecutive division titles and World Series appearances in Cleveland in 1995 and ’97.

Mariners chief executive officer Howard Lincoln stated before the season that Hargrove and Bavasi were on his “hot seat” after three consecutive last-place finishes in the AL West. But now, after enduring six consecutive losing seasons leading the Mariners and Baltimore, Hargrove is resigning just as Seattle was beginning to think perhaps its oft-criticized manager might deserve a contract extension. The Mariners were four games behind the Los Angeles Angles for the division lead entering Sunday.

“We’re not happy about this, not one bit,” Bavasi said, while stating his was happy for Hargrove personally. “This is an important, hurtful move for us … Now, we’ve got guys who can recover.”

Hargrove said he was satisfied that he’s had a large role in Seattle’s resurgence, “but somebody’s got to drive the bus. In my heart, I believe for this thing to take off … they deserve more than I am able to give them right now.”

Hargrove’s three-year contract with Seattle ends after this season. Until then, Bavasi said Hargrove will serve as an adviser to the team – but only after Sharon Hargrove has some long overdue time with her husband.

“It’s not a problem with players, the front office, it’s not a problem with a contract,” Hargrove said. “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.”

By the time McLaren assumes his first managerial job since 1985 at Knoxville of the Southern League, the Hargroves will be driving down the Pacific Coast in a new, red pickup truck. They plan to drive to see one of their five children, son Andy (25), play for Seattle’s Class-A affiliate at High Desert, in San Bernadino, Calif. Then comes time to relax in a newly purchased cabin in rural New Mexico.

“If it feels good, we’ll stay. If not, we’ll go (back to their home in Cleveland),” Sharon Hargrove said, holding a battered broom in anticipation of one, final series sweep of the Blue Jays before her husband leaves the game he’s played or managed or coached since 1972.

“We’ve been married for 37 years. Gone together since junior high,” she said, fighting back 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.”

The 55-year-old McLaren rejoined the Mariners this season, after 15 years working on the staffs of manager Lou Piniella that included 1993-2002 in Seattle.

“We were playing great baseball … that’s what makes this a little hard to comprehend to me,” McLaren said, his right arm in a sling following rotator cuff surgery last week, an operation he joked he would not have had if he’d known he was about to become the 12th manager in Mariners history.

“This is not a perfect scenario to take over a ballclub,” he said. “But I’ll run with it.”

AP-ES-07-01-07 1716EDT

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