Moments after being fired by the Cleveland Indians on the afternoon of Oct. 15, Mike Hargrove had two things on his mind. One was to telephone home and ask wife Sharon to get in touch with their five kids and their family back in Texas because, as she said, "he didn't want them to hear about it on the news."
The other thing was to spend a bit of time collecting himself. Mike Hargrove knew dozens of reporters were waiting at his home in the Cleveland suburbs, and as he tried to digest his dismissal, he didn't trust his emotions.
"He just needed some time," Sharon Hargrove said today after the Baltimore Orioles introduced her husband as the team's new manager. "I don't think he wanted 20 years of goodwill to be ruined by something he said 10 minutes after being fired."
So as Sharon worked the phones, Mike Hargrove got in his pickup, lit a cigar and went for a drive.
"When he's got his cigars and his pickup, he doesn't need a wife," Sharon Hargrove said, laughing.
Some two hours later, Mike Hargrove returned home and began doing interviews. Yes, he was disappointed. No, he was not bitter. Yes, he would move on. That evening, Mike and Sharon Hargrove went to dinner with some of the team's coaches, and as Sharon told the story today, "Some healing began."
And the next morning, Hargrove started thinking about managing again.
Just like that. Even though he just had finished a draining season that began with talk of a World Series and ended in a first-round elimination by the Boston Red Sox. Even though the Indians were obligated to pay him $600,000 next season whether he worked or not. And even though Sharon Hargrove urged her husband of 29 years to take a year off and do some normal things "like take a summer vacation."
"He's too competitive to do that," said Colorado Rockies coach Rich Donnelly, one of Hargrove's closest friends. "Besides, I don't think Sharon could put up with him if he sat out a whole season."
Hargrove didn't have to wait long. He was contacted by the Orioles within 48 hours of his firing and today signed a three-year, $3 million contract to replace Ray Miller as the manager of one of baseball's most disappointing teams in 1999.
Today, his friends praised him as a man of integrity and honesty, someone the Orioles will like even more after they get to know him. Donnelly called Hargrove "an American hero. He's a guy who has worked for everything he has gotten, and he has done things the right way."
Lee Anthony, who signed Hargrove to his original professional contract with the Texas Rangers, once said of Hargrove: "I've signed 55 players, and he's the only one who still sends me a Christmas card every year."
Back in his home town of Perryton, a city of 7,000 in the Texas panhandle, they still remember him as someone absolutely without pretense.
Several years ago, when asked his favorite meal, he remembered Perryton.
"The Dixie Dog, home of the world's best Cheese Big Beefy," he said.
Sharon Hargrove said it's no act. They began dating in high school when Mike was on his way to becoming an all-state quarterback and all-conference basketball player at Perryton High. They married when both were students at Northwestern Oklahoma State. And their marriage has endured almost three decades in professional baseball. Or, as Sharon Hargrove measures it, "128 cities, 11 states, 88 moves."
They now live in a sprawling colonial in Richfield, Ohio, but Sharon remembered the summer money was so tight that she washed uniforms to help make ends meet.
"I've known him since the seventh grade," she said. "He's exactly the same guy now that he was then. He's honest, and he's a hard worker."
One thing he brings to the Orioles is credibility, which the organization badly needs after the firing of both Miller and General Manager Frank Wren.
In 8 1/2 seasons, Hargrove oversaw the transformation of the Indians from one of baseball's biggest losers to one of its biggest winners. He was fired after winning a fifth straight division championship. He also got the Indians to the World Series twice, but never won one.
Indians General Manager John Hart emphasized today that his firing of Hargrove should not diminish Hargrove's accomplishments or his ability.
"It was just time to make a change," he said. "It had nothing to do with his ability. It's just the environment we're in. I'm not saying it had gotten stale here. I just think there's a certain familiarity you get, and sometimes you need to get rejuvenated, both personally and as an organization. I think it's great for Grover. He's good a lot of great qualities. He's got tremendous character and tremendous loyalty. He's a real solid baseball guy. He's got a good feel and knows how to bring a winner home."
Hargrove, 50, grew up in Perryton, a town that didn't have a high school baseball program. He took up baseball in college, and the Rangers made him the 527th pick of the 1972 draft. He took the $2,000 signing bonus and bought a car.
Two years later, he was the American League rookie of the year after hitting .323. That season was the first of a 12-year career that ended after six seasons with the Indians. Hargrove then returned to the minors to learn how to manage, and three years later, in 1991, was back in the big leagues overseeing the Indians' turnaround.
"He fought his way up the ladder," Donnelly said. "Then he went back and learned how to manage. He did it the way you're supposed to do it."
Today, Hargrove spoke of being uncomfortable talking about himself, but nevertheless offered a glimpse, saying: "I base my life on honesty and loyalty. What you see with me is what you get. There's no hidden agenda. I'm not a nice guy all the time, but I'm a nice guy most of the time."