Orioles Fire Hargrove After 71-91 Season

Monday, September 29th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BALTIMORE (AP) _ When the Baltimore Orioles formally launch their search for a new manager, they will look for an experienced leader with the patience required to develop a young team.

Someone like Mike Hargrove. Actually, anyone but Mike Hargrove.

Hargrove was fired by the Orioles on Monday after a four-year run in which he failed to guide the rebuilding team to a winning record. The dismissal was made jointly by Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, the vice presidents who oversee the team's baseball operations.

The duo appreciated Hargrove's effort and professional demeanor, but opted to try something different to end a club-record run of six straight losing seasons.

``We feel that it's time for a change,'' Beattie said. ``A new manager is the proper thing for us to do.''

Hargrove came to the Orioles in November 1999 after an 8 1/2-year run in Cleveland, where he won five straight division titles and twice advanced to the World Series.

But he could not duplicate that success with the Orioles. Hargrove went 275-372 with Baltimore, including 71-91 this year, and stands four games short of becoming a 1,000-game winner (996-963).

When it came time to meet with Beattie and Flanagan on Monday, Hargrove pretty much figured that he wasn't going to get an extension on the contract that expires Nov. 1.

``It was nothing that I didn't expect,'' he said.

But it was a fate Hargrove felt was undeserved.

``There's no doubt in my mind the job we did this year was a good job,'' he said. ``I think we were able to lay a foundation of winning players with winning attitudes.''

Four years earlier, Hargrove cried upon being fired by the Indians. He was wasn't nearly as emotional about losing his job with the Orioles, perhaps because he figured there just might end up in a better place.

``Hopefully the phone rings. I want to get back into managing, but want it to be the right fit,'' he said. ``If I had my druthers, I'd like it to be a team not in a rebuilding situation, one that has a chance to win.''

The Chicago White Sox, who fired Jerry Manuel on Monday despite finishing second in the AL Central with an 86-76 record, could be a perfect fit.

``A job like that would be very interesting to me,'' Hargrove said.

When Beattie and Flanagan begin the interview process for Hargrove's successor, they will probably speak with former Orioles Eddie Murray and Rick Dempsey, as well as Sam Perlozzo, who served as Hargrove's bench coach in Baltimore.

Perlozzo, who managed the club this year while Hargrove attended his mother's funeral, said, ``I would certainly think I'm a viable candidate for this job.''

Hargrove might have retained his job has the Orioles avoided a rash of injuries that made attaining a .500 record a virtual impossibility. In 2002 and this season, Baltimore flirted with a winning season before fading in the stretch.

This year, Hargrove lost his best pitcher (Sidney Ponson) and cleanup hitter (Jeff Conine) via trades. Opening day starters David Segui, Marty Cordova, B.J. Surhoff and Jerry Hairston all played in fewer than 100 games, as did Melvin Mora, Baltimore's lone representative in the All-Star game.

It all added up to a sixth straight fourth-place finish in the AL East.

``He won with Cleveland, but sometimes things just don't work out. It's unfortunate,'' Hairston said. ``I think this organization is definitely going in a positive direction, and Mike helped in that regard.''

Despite the 91 defeats, the Orioles showed signs that their rebuilding effort is finally paying off. Hairston, Jay Gibbons, Larry Bigbie, Brian Roberts and Luis Matos all enjoyed breakthrough seasons, and the team has stockpiled pitching at the minor league level.

Now all that's needed is a manager to lead the way. Whoever gets the job could benefit from the knowledge of Hargrove's staff.

``We will recommend to the person selected as manager that all of the members of the current coaching staff return, subject to input from the person selected as manager,'' Beattie said.