One of several large questions looming over the Baltimore Orioles this offseason was answered today when the team introduced Mike Hargrove as its new manager at a news conference in the Orioles' warehouse offices. The announcement completed a three-week search that encompassed nine candidates.

Hargrove, who was fired by the Cleveland Indians on Oct. 15, was offered the job Tuesday afternoon and today signed a three-year contract believed to be $1 million annually. At his news conference, he donned an orange and black Orioles jacket and predicted there will be "good things in store, sooner rather than later" for the Orioles.

"I think this ballclub," said Hargrove, 50, "is a lot closer than people believe."

Hargrove, the Orioles' fifth manager since majority owner Peter Angelos purchased the team in August 1993, replaces Ray Miller, who was fired Oct. 6 following a second consecutive losing season.

Orioles Executive Vice President John Angelos, who headed the five-person search committee, said the selection of Hargrove--over two other finalists, Orioles third-base coach Sam Perlozzo and Red Sox bench coach Grady Little--went beyond Hargrove's impressive record with the Indians, which included five consecutive division titles and two World Series appearances.

"He comes with an outstanding record," John Angelos said. "But when you get to know him and see what kind of person he is and see how he responds to questions, you really get a feeling of how well-grounded he is. . . . He was strong in so many different areas, and all five of the people in the interview process felt the same way."

With the hiring, the Orioles' management structure becomes clearer. The Orioles have been without a general manager since Frank Wren was fired on Oct. 7, relying instead on a management-by-committee system with director of player personnel Syd Thrift apparently at the helm.

"I have a decent idea of who I'll need to talk to" about personnel matters, Hargrove said, declining to be more specific. "Even on a GM-by-committee, there has to be a point man."

The Orioles apparently are letting Hargrove bring several of his Cleveland coaches with him, including third-base coach Jeff Newman and first-base coach Brian Graham.

Perlozzo, whose coaching contract with the Orioles expired on Sunday, was informed this morning by Peter Angelos that he would have a job on Hargrove's staff, and Perlozzo accepted.

Hargrove also is likely to retain coaching holdovers Elrod Hendricks (bullpen), Terry Crowley (hitting) and Eddie Murray (bench). Less certain of their positions are first-base coach Marv Foley and pitching coach Bruce Kison.

John Angelos said that the committee system will be in place "for the foreseeable future," and the management committee--which also includes chairman's representative Louis Angelos, director of player development Tom Trebelhorn and scouting director Tony DeMacio--will lead the Orioles' contingent to next week's informal general managers' meetings in Laguna Niguel, Calif.

Thrift said the Orioles will "listen to anything" in the way of trades, and did not rule out the possibility that "anything" might include Seattle Mariners superstar center fielder Ken Griffey Jr., who likely will be traded this offseason.

"We're open to improving," Thrift said. "You have to listen."

According to both Thrift and John Angelos, the Orioles' focus will be on improving their pitching staff.

Into this environment steps Hargrove, whom the Orioles chose over Perlozzo, Little, Murray, Foley, Phillies hitting coach Hal McRae, former Cubs manager Jim Riggleman, Reds bench coach Ken Griffey Sr. and Dodgers bullpen coach Rick Dempsey.

Hargrove said that he made the Orioles' job his goal soon after being fired by the Indians, for whom he compiled a record of 721-591 (.550) in 8 1/2 seasons and won the Sporting News's manager of the year award in 1995.

"I looked at the commitment of ownership to bring a product to the field that would have a chance to win immediately," Hargrove said. "I looked at the fan support. And I looked at what sort of city or environment I would be bringing my family into."

Despite the turnover in managers and general managers during Peter Angelos' tenure, Hargrove said he was satisfied that he would have a say in such decisions.

"I was given every indication that I would be involved in the decision-making process in everything we do," he said. ". . . I came into this very open-minded [about Angelos]. Obviously, he has every right in the world to be involved in it, and I have no problem with that. But he has told me that every decision about the team's direction will be my decision."

Hargrove "is going to have a lot of influence," John Angelos said. "He's going to sit around the table with the executives. That's something that came up in all interviews, and it's something that we would want our manager to have."

Among the challenges facing Hargrove are a veteran roster loaded with no-trade clauses and long-term contracts; the demands of an owner who consistently is among the top spenders in the game and demands commensurate results; and a reunion with troublesome right fielder Albert Belle, with whom Hargrove had a sometimes rocky relationship in Cleveland.

"From 1994 on, I have never seen [Belle] not give his best effort," Hargrove said. "There are certain things that come with Albert Belle. I don't foresee any problems."

The Mike Hargrove File

Age: 50.

Career: Hargrove spent 12 years in the majors. In 1974, won AL rookie of the year and was an AL all-star in 1975. He managed Indians from 1991-99 (record at right).

Year Record Finish*

1999 97-65 1st

1998 89-73 1st

1997 86-75 1st

1996 99-62 1st

1995 100-44 1st

1994 66-47 2nd

1993 76-86 6th

1992 76-86 T-4th

1991 32-53 7th

* in division