I had this weird dream last night. It was about the Mariners (that's not the weird part). It started normal enough with the front office talking about how great the team is and everyone not believing them. Willie Bloomquist had this great spring training (that's the part where I knew I was dreaming). Then, once the season started, they had this whole series snowed out in Cleveland, which made them play games for two months in a row. Then, Ken Griffey Jr. returned and hit some homers, and then the Mariners started winning lots of games and lots of fans kept coming to Safeco Field every night, and then Mike Hargrove quit!
Oh wait, never mind about the dream. For two and a half years Hargrove's moves as manager have been questioned, but thanks to a seven-game winning streak and admirable managing of the bullpen through the brutal stretch caused by the snow-outs, he was getting some credit for the M's success. Apparently, the questioning had ceased for too long, so Dudley made an unprecedented move in Major League history - he benched himself, or I guess more literally un-benched himself, in the midst of a long winning streak. Simply put, he said he had "lost the passion."
Understandably, many are questioning Hargrove's true motives. Quite literally no manager has ever left a team as hot as the Mariners. Really, how could anybody lose their passion watching this team right now? The whole fan base has been energized by the recent surge, but apparently the man pushing all the buttons just didn't get nearly as enthused. Something just doesn't add up. Really, Mike? You just lost your passion?
This is such a baffling move that I think there's only one logical conclusion: we've got the whole story. There are no secrets or hidden scandals. This man really just did not want to manage any more. As bizarre as this story is, it's what Hargrove says happened, and it does make the most sense.
Mike Hargrove has been in baseball for over 30 years. He has seen a lot and experienced a lot. He's been to game seven of the World Series, and he's been axed by a moribund franchise like the Orioles. Hargrove knows when things are good, and when things are bad. I've doubted his problem-solving methods as a manager, but he does know when times are good and when they are bad.
Apparently, Hargrove went to Bavasi two weeks ago and told him that he felt a loss in his passion to manage. Given that Bavasi has stuck with Grover this long, it wasn't surprising that he wanted him to stick around. The M's were on a six-game losing streak at the time, so it was quite plausible that once they got back Hargrove would feel just fine again. Of course, the Mariners rebounded and proceeded to catch fire. Dudley knew that things were really good right now, but his feelings still hadn't changed. Even though the plan was apparently to wait until the All-Star Break, he was smart enough to realize that if this homestand didn't pump him up, nothing was going to.
No doubt, this will stand as the oddest move Mike Hargrove made as Mariners manager. However, I think it will stand as his best. There's no glory in walking away from such a great thing. There was no friction forcing Hargrove out either (in fact, all indications are that quite the opposite was true). This is the story of a man who knew with all his heart that he was done, because nothing besides that strong of conviction would have taken him away from the current situation. So, I really have to applaud the man for being true to himself. Thanks to his integrity, he'll be a happier man, and the Mariners will be a better organization. As tempting as it is to keep things status quo when they are so good, the situation would have quickly turned sour with a manager that doesn't want to manage. Plus, it doesn't hurt that John McLaren is a great replacement (I'll save talking about Mac for tomorrow though).
Hargrove couldn't have found an odder way to leave. It is perfect timing though. Though Dudley made many wrong decisions as the M's skipper, this one without a doubt was right.