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Partners:
  Indians Fire Manager Mike Hargrove

By Tom Withers
AP Sports Writer
Friday, Oct. 15, 1999; 10:15 p.m. EDT

CLEVELAND –– More than 700 victories couldn't save Mike Hargrove's job. Neither could five straight AL Central titles, two trips to the World Series or being a nice guy.

The Cleveland Indians, who went from sad-sack losers to perennial power under Hargrove, still haven't won a World Series title since 1948.

If they win another, it won't be with Hargrove.

Hargrove, who eight years ago inherited an Indians team which would lose 105 games, was fired Friday just four days after Cleveland's collapse against the Boston Red Sox in the AL playoffs.

"It's hard for me to say if I'm paying the price," Hargrove said in a phone interview. "I don't know that this would have happened if we hadn't gone farther in the playoffs."

Later, Hargrove became emotional when talking about his dismissal.

He had heard reports of his firing on local radio, and listened to general manager John Hart's news conference during which the GM talked about his team needing a manager who could get them to the "next level."

"And that's so wrong," Hargrove said, his voice choking with emotion.

Hart said no single event prompted the firing, which came after the Indians lost their third straight game to Boston. But Cleveland's inability to put the Red Sox away, and the complete disintegration of the Indians' pitching staff in the final three games, certainly factored into Hart's decision.

"I'm flabbergasted," Atlanta manager Bobby Cox said. "That's really a shocker. ... To me, he's a real good manager. There must have been underlying problems with the front office. That's the only thing I can think of."

Indians pitchers gave up 44 runs in the final three games, including a postseason-record 23 in Game 4.

Hargrove, who was second-guessed for some of his pitching moves in Game 3, said he doesn't think he's being used as a scapegoat by Hart.

"I didn't pitch in the 23-run game," Hargrove said. "I don't think I've been set up as the fall guy. We just didn't get the job done in the postseason and somebody has to be responsible. And I'm responsible for that."

Hart admitted the Indians' failure to close out the Boston series was painful and the team needed to start "a new era of success."

"There is a need for a new energy, a new voice, coming from the clubhouse," he said. "This change will create a different atmosphere."

Hart said the team would immediately begin interviewing candidates to replace Hargrove. The Indians coaching staff, with the exception of bullpen coach Luis Isaac, has been given permission to explore other opportunities, Hart said.

Hart said the search for a manager would begin immediately, but set no deadline for hiring someone.

Among the names that could surface are Indians first base and infield coach Brian Graham, batting instructor Charlie Manuel, former Detroit manager Buddy Bell and New York Yankees coaches Chris Chambliss and Willie Randolph.

Hargrove, 49, had just completed his eighth full season with the Indians, and his 721 victories make him the second-winningest manager in club history, behind Lou Boudreau's 728.

"I've been able to oversee the resurgence on the field of a proud franchise that was in a very sad state," Hargrove said.

A former Indians player, Hargrove became manager on July 6, 1991. By 1995, Hargrove's Indians won 100 games and the first of five straight AL Central titles in their new home at Jacobs Field. In '95 and 1997, Cleveland won the AL championship.

But Hargrove's inability to get Cleveland its first World Series title since 1948 cost him his job.

After the Indians won the first two games against Boston, Cleveland appeared in control of the series. But Game 3 starter Dave Burba had to leave after four innings with a strained forearm, leading to some harshly criticized pitching moves by Hargrove.

"Am I perfect?" he said. "No. I make mistakes like everybody else."

Although Cleveland easily won its division year after year, Hargrove was constantly second-guessed and many wondered why a team with so much talent couldn't win a World Series.

With the addition of All-Star second baseman Roberto Alomar, Cleveland looked set this year for another World Series run. But injuries, another year of suspect pitching and some questionable moves left the Indians short.

"I think there is a perception that managing the Cleveland Indians is a cushy job," Hargrove said. "There's a lot more to do than just fill out the lineup card."

And that wasn't always easy.

The grumblings about Hargrove increased in July, when he incorrectly filled out his team's lineup card, forcing Indians pitcher Charles Nagy to bat against Toronto.

Hargrove even joked about the gaffe Friday. Asked if he had any regrets, Hargrove paused and said he couldn't think of any.

"Except for maybe checking that lineup card over one more time," he said.

Hargrove enjoyed a good relationship with his players. Affectionately known as "Grover" around Cleveland, he was a fixture on local television and radio, not only as the manager but as a commercial pitchman.

He was also credited with comforting the Indians when pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews were killed in a boating accident during spring training in 1993.

His tenure as manager was third in the major leagues behind Minnesota's Tom Kelly and Atlanta's Bobby Cox. Hargrove was signed with the Indians through 2000, with a club option for 2001.

Hargrove said Hart called him Friday afternoon and said he wanted to see his manager at Jacobs Field. As he drove to the ballpark, Hargrove said he prepared himself for the worst.

After meeting with Hart, Hargrove said he first called his wife, Sharon, and then third-base coach Jeff Newman.

"I enjoyed my time here," said Hargrove, who said he wants to manage again. "We're still going to live in Cleveland. There may be some people who don't like that."

© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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