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Mike Hargrove‘s abrupt dismissal–"Hey, we could wait to fire
you and keep it discreet, but we’d rather rub salt in that wound and
embarrass the heck out of you now"–will cause a lot of
head-scratching around baseball over the next few days. But while Hargrove
arguably deserved to go after five years of early playoff exits, it appears
that he’s getting the axe for some questionable reasons.

On the one hand, Hargrove clearly hastened his own demise with some
questionable roster shuffling and player usage this October. The Bartolo
Colon
debacle actually has its origins in the exclusion of Chris
Haney
from the Tribe’s postseason roster. Hargrove had to use Colon in
Game 4 because his scheduled Game 4 starter, Jaret Wright–a strong
indication that Hargrove didn’t expect the series to even reach Game
4–pitched in Game 3 in relief of the injured Dave Burba.

Injuries happen, and they’re not really predictable. However, all of the
other seven teams that reached the postseason included an emergency starter
on their postseason rosters, guys like Terry Mulholland, Tim
Wakefield
, Hideki Irabu and Scott Elarton who could start
if a Burba-like episode occurred. With Haney healthy and many active
relievers like Steve Karsay and Steve Reed decidedly not
healthy, Hargrove’s choice was very odd and unfortunate.

Similarly, his decisions in Saturday’s Game 3, in which he left Wright in
too long, left Ricardo Rincon in too long and sat around while the
game and series got out of hand, had to infuriate Indians’ management,
particularly with the benefit of hindsight. Much of this was reminiscent of
his obstinate use of Jose Mesa in the ninth inning of the 1997 World
Series finale.

On the other hand, judging Hargrove by his failure to win a very unusual
series this fall is hardly fair or rational. Managers, like players, should
be judged over significant time periods, rather than on their worst
five-game (or three-game) performance. Just as one can rip apart Hargrove’s
tactics in the ALDS loss, one could easily find times when Hargrove’s
machinations have won games that perhaps his team didn’t figure to win
without him.

Furthermore, Hargrove had to play the hand he was dealt: John Hart must
shoulder the blame for assembling the worst division-winning pitching staff
since…well…since the Rangers’ staff this year…but still a really
lousy and thin staff. Rincon and Reed were both ineffective due to
injuries, but Karsay’s woes were predictable, and Mike Jackson was
hardly a bastion of health early in his career. Hart’s failure to grab
middle-relief talent in July, when it is usually widely available at a
relatively low cost, was at least as culpable in the team’s loss to Boston.

Many other Tribe problems also trace their origins elsewhere, even though
Hargrove eventually had to deal with the results. Jaret Wright was wrecked
coming up through the organization, and Bartolo Colon’s fitful progress may
also arise from minor-league overuse. Frequent acquisition of veteran
chaff–Marquis Grissom, Travis Fryman–in exchange for the
organization’s wheat, and a related unwillingness to develop young talent
at the major-league level–particularly Enrique Wilson–have left
Hargrove with a revolving door of less-than-useful hitters. The only deal
that brought in something he really needed, a real starting pitcher, netted
Dave Burba at the cost of emerging star Sean Casey. Hargrove’s
continued ability to win 90+ games per year in light of the organization’s
maneuvers should earn him more credit than he apparently received from the
Indians’ management.

What happens next will be quite interesting. The Indians aren’t likely to
hire anything less than a marquee name, and there aren’t many of those
available who are also good managers. If the new hire stumbles, much as
Jim Leyland did this year in Colorado, the team may wish it still
had Grover on board–and probably won’t think to turn the microscope
upstairs instead.

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