CLEVELAND -- During the Spring Training that followed the Indians' Game 7 collapse in the 1997 World Series, a fan asked manager Mike Hargrove how long it took him to get over what happened against the Marlins. "As soon as it happens," Hargrove told the fan, "I'll let you know." While managing the semi-pro Liberal Bee Jays in Liberal, Kan., this summer, a different fan asked Grover the same question -- and got the same answer.
The memories from Miami might not keep Hargrove up at night, but he still has his moments when the flashbacks of Craig Counsell's grounder bouncing under Tony Fernandez's glove come back to haunt him. "We came awfully close," Hargrove said Friday, as he prepared to be inducted into the Indians' team Hall of Fame. "Given the talent level of the teams we had, we had real, legitimate chances to win. To not win it, you scratch your head. But then you look and realize the teams we played against deserved to be there, too." Though his Indians never did achieve their ultimate championship goal, Hargrove deserves to be where he's headed this weekend. He was set to be enshrined before Saturday's game against the Angels, along with the late second baseman Joe Gordon. For the 58-year-old Hargrove, the honor is humbling. "I really had never seen a list of the names [in the team Hall] or paid much attention to it, because I never thought I'd be in it," he said. "You look at names like Hal Trosky, Early Wynn, Bob Feller, Cy Young, Lou Boudreau, Herb Score, and it really hits home. This is a really special occasion." Someday, names like Kenny Lofton, Jim Thome and Omar Vizquel will be added to that list. And when Hargrove discusses his role in managing the magical Indians clubs of the 1990s, on which those players starred, he knows the perception that exists. "I guess somebody had to drive the bus," he said with a smile. Hargrove did more than that, of course. While penciling in a lineup of All-Stars night after night is enviable, managing the, shall we say, unique personalities in that clubhouse was no small task. Not that Hargrove makes much of an attempt to point that out. "My entire life it's been hard for me to ever put myself in a position to where it's about me," he said. "Sparky Anderson told me in mid-1995, 'You'll never get the credit that you deserve for managing these teams, because I never did in Cincinnati, either.' That really doesn't bother me." Sometimes, of course, the manager becomes the story. And that's precisely what happened to Hargrove on July 1, 2007, when he surprisingly stepped down as the leader of the Mariners with the club four games back in the AL West and on an eight-game winning streak. At the press conference announcing his decision, Hargrove said his "passion had begun to fade." He regrets that choice of words, but that's about all he regrets about the move, which he considers to be one of the most honest things he's done in his life. "That was such an emotional time that I never really sat down beforehand to put into words what I felt," he said. "I really did misspeak when I said I lost my passion. I think my competitive edge was dulled. I had to work at getting ready for the game, where, before, it was just there, as a player and as a coach." Hargrove would find that edge again, and he found it in what outsiders might consider to be a random place. Liberal isn't the type of environment a manager with five division titles and two American League pennants under his belt is used to. But Hargrove was a Bee Jays veteran, having played for the club before signing his first professional contract with the Rangers in 1972. And he used this summer's experience in the Jayhawk League not just as an opportunity to give back to a team that had meant so much to him as a player, but also to find that inner drive within himself that had dried up in Seattle. He was so eager to help out that he told the Bee Jays he'd manage them for $1. That is, until his wife, Sharon, intervened. "Sharon said a dollar and a nickel," he said, "because she wanted her cut." Sure, the southern Kansas heat was overbearing, the road trips were miserable, and a crowd of 700 people was considered a throng. But Hargrove wouldn't trade his experience this summer for all the big league meal money in the world. "Being around those college kids and watching how they play the game and realizing they love the game as much as the big leaguers do, it got me going," he said. "I realized I had not lost my competitive edge, and that was a good thing to find out." Now, when asked if he'd like to manage in the Majors again, Hargrove -- the same guy who stayed up until 4 a.m. with his wife for 10 nights last summer as he agonized over his Mariners decision -- is quick with a response. "You bet," he said. "One more time. One more shot. Without a doubt. But it would really have to be the right circumstance." Before anyone else could utter the obvious, Hargrove blurted it out himself. "The people who offered me the job would have to be convinced I wouldn't quit on them," he said with a smile. When it comes to his playing days, which included five seasons with the Rangers and the bulk of seven seasons with the Tribe, Hargrove considered himself a no-quit kind of player who gave his all, despite playing for some lousy teams. But he knows how he'll best be remembered in these parts, and he knows how his legacy as an Indians Hall of Famer was built. "I got a deeper satisfaction out of what I did as a manager than as a player," he said. "The managing side was more meaningful. We were playing for something in October, and that's what it's all about." And one of these days, perhaps, he'll get over the way those Octobers ended.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.