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Hargrove’s move is puzzling

John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

About the only thing Mike Hargrove didn’t say about his startling resignation Sunday as manager of the Seattle Mariners was, “A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.”

So thanks for sparing us that, anyway.

And thanks, too, for his share of the spade work in digging out from the cave-in of 2004 and 2005 and the building to this point – the M’s not just winners of eight straight games, but 26 of the last 38 and players in both a pennant race and the wild-card mix. Maybe he wasn’t anybody’s favorite Mariners manager, but as he said himself, “Somebody has to drive the bus.” And has to get some credit for the smooth stretches of road as well as blame for the blind turns into cul-de-sacs.

Of course, Sunday’s surprise announcement may keep us flipping the credit/blame coin for some time, depending on whether the Mariners maintain their momentum or lose their way under new manager John McLaren.

Surely it was a confusing turn, what with Hargrove passionately denying a lack of passion – “I still haven’t lost it, and I bristle a little bit when you question it” – even as the public relations staff was handing out a press release quoting him as saying “my passion has begun to fade.”

Hey, Charles Barkley said he was misquoted in his own autobiography, too.

Maybe Hargrove just knew what he felt but couldn’t properly articulate it. His more detailed rationale was that he was finding it increasingly difficult to dig down and find that “100 percent” that he asked his players and staff to give daily, and that he didn’t want to cheat their effort – and possibly penalize them with a distracted in-game decision.

“If we end up one game behind the Angels or one game out of the wild card because of that, I can’t live with that,” he said.

Yet he has conjured up the biggest distraction possible for his team: doubt.

“I believe there is more than is being said,” said pitcher Miguel Batista. “I believe Mike had too much to offer to walk away now.”

And despite a stirring ninth-inning win to sweep Toronto on Sunday, this is the thought that the M’s will take with them on an important pre-All-Star road trip to Kansas City and Oakland – unless they’re thinking that their manager simply quit on them.

Rarely are notions at such obvious odds with each other wedded in the same circumstance – the idea of the straight-shooter too true to himself and his principles to merely go through the motions, and that of a career grinder not gritting his teeth through a personal malaise and finishing the job of winning.

Rarely are the explanations so straightforward and yet so unsatisfying.

“You can’t control what other people think,” Hargrove shrugged. “There are no dark, sinister reasons for this decision.”

Which is usually a signal to search for some.

There are all sorts of theories, crackpot and otherwise, to account for Hargrove’s leave-taking – or nudge out the door, if you prefer. There’s the one that this makes Ichiro Suzuki easier to re-sign, reflecting the blunt criticisms of Hargrove the star outfielder made two years ago. There’s the general feeling that he felt unappreciated – whether from CEO Howard Lincoln’s “hotseat” comment over the winter, the hiring of McLaren as his presumptive successor or the obvious lack of regard from the grandstands.

It’s instructive that when Hargrove was given a contract extension through 2008 last winter, the club didn’t announce it. That may have been a mutual decision, but it certainly spoke to unpopularity. It wasn’t just the losing, since that began before his arrival. It was just as much about his woodenness – both as the face of the franchise and with his managerial moves. Plus, like Bob Melvin, he wasn’t Lou Piniella.

But both McLaren and general manager Bill Bavasi tried mightily to talk Hargrove out of this rash judgment, and the manager called Bavasi the best of all his bosses. So none of the theories are any more digestable than Hargrove’s own reasoning for an unprecedented resignation at an unfathomable time, though he noted that “the highs weren’t high enough and the lows were too low.

“I don’t expect anyone to understand this – I really don’t. Sometimes I don’t understand it myself.”

Then perhaps he should have given himself more time to come to grips with it.

Maybe this is why managers and coaches are paid so ridiculously, so they can afford to make these sort of – ahem – selfless decisions and not just stagger through their jobs on reflex alone. Surely there’s a night supervisor at McBurger who’d like to chuck it because he can no longer find it in himself to give 100 percent. Not all of us are blessed with that latitude, however.

But people are complicated. Even more so are the emotions and drivers that guide us through our lives.

Still, in saving himself, it would seem that Mike Hargrove broke at least one cardinal rule of baseball, as best articulated in the movie “Bull Durham.”

“A player on a streak,” Crash Davis famously insisted, “has to respect the streak.”

Sometimes, that’s what a man’s gotta do.

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