Mike Hargrove once was a year-to-year manager. Lately, Grover's job status has seemed series-to-series, then day-to-day, and maybe even inning-to-inning. This seemed especially true Friday, June 2, when his Seattle Mariners ("his" as I write this, anyway) hadn't scored off the most dubious pitcher on the worst team in baseball. With the M's scoreless in Seattle through six innings against the Kansas City Royals' Bobby Feller—uh, Bobby Keppel—fan enmity could be heard, felt, and maybe even weighed and measured. As the manager hunched over in the dugout, attendees ("fans" is a stretch) seemed to loom in judgment above him: The Horde of Damocles, as tough crowds were known in ancient times.
Then All-Star-caliber second baseman Jose Lopez smacked one over the left field wall for the only run Jamie Moyer would need to win a two-hit, complete-game gem. Suddenly, everything seemed all right for another night.
But Saturday morning it started again. The no-confidence votes were not among Seattle daily-paper scribes, who have shown patience with Mild Mike seldom extended to George Karl and other controversial local team leaders. No, the indictment came from the great unwashed. John Clayton, who knows more about quarterbacks than Stephen Hawking knows about quarks, can be counted on to talk NFL during his Saturday-morning jock squawk on KJR-AM (950). But instead of Hawks and Hasselbeck and Hamlin, the prevailing H-word June 3 was Hargrove, often used in sentences with "head," as in "we want his." So went the phone calls.
Clearly, many locals don't gotta love these guys, especially with the prospect of a third straight 90-loss season. The Hargrove death watch seems to have become something curiously morbid to do while waiting for Karl Rove to be indicted: "It's 5 o'clock back East, and Rove didn't get nailed today." "Yeah, but it's still early in Seattle, and Grover could still get canned."
Meanwhile, of course, baseball is still being played—well by some Mariners. Ichiro is hitting like a frat boy at last call. Two thirds of the M's starters are playing well enough to suggest that the quest for the tiara of nettles known as the American League West crown hasn't ended. More to the point, the once intractable manager has recently shown a willingness to—get this—fiddle with the lineup: rangy Mike Morse at first, Adrian Beltre batting (and actually hitting) second, e.g.
By Sunday, June 4, the M's had foiled the Royals 16-1 through two games. For perspective, as that day dawned K.C. projected to 40-122, suitable company for the '62 Mets and '04 Mariners. Hargrove put out perhaps his strongest offensive configuration, benching light-hitting center fielder Jeremy Reed for Willie Bloomquist and placing Morse in left instead of reliable Raul Ibanez. The M's promptly responded. The national anthem was still reverberating when a rare Beltre long ball made it 2-zip. Later, with wobbly M's lefty Jarrod Washburn serving an unheard-of 100 pitches in four-plus innings, it was 7-3 K.C. Embattled managers are incessantly second-guessed. Mike-dislikers wondered if Reed in center would have gotten to a fly ball Bloomquist didn't. Bloomquist also didn't reach second base in the fourth, caught in a hot box after yet another of the '06 team's base-running stumbles. Bloomquist's tack-on triple in the sixth did little to assuage the crowd, which had commenced booing a few minutes earlier when the Royals went up 9-3.
That day the M's, losing 9-4, failed glaringly at least once at each of the game's fundamentals: running, throwing, fielding, batting, pitching, and thinking. Fairly or not, though, bad managing is what many will cite. Through the weekend, Seattle was 25-33 (.431) and in last place in the least-competitive division in baseball. Some feel the day will soon break when General Manager Bill Bavasi summons former Tacoma field boss Dan Rohn to run the A.L. club the rest of the season. If so, it could be Bavasi's last major move before joining Grover on the jobless roll. Perhaps Karl Rove will go down with them.