By Jim Henry
It was simply an innocent question posed last July during “Mike Hargrove Day” in Liberal, Kan.
“He was signing autographs, and one gentleman asked him what he was going to do next summer,” Liberal BeeJays general manager Bob Carlile said. “Mike said ‘I don’t know. I don’t have a job.’
“I said ‘Mike, I could give you a job but not pay you very much.’ He said ‘Bob, it would not take very much.’ I then asked Sharon (Hargrove, Mike’s wife) if she could live here for two months next summer.”
Hargrove’s hint of interest in managing the BeeJays caught Carlile off guard. After all, Hargrove had resigned as the Seattle Mariners manager less that three weeks earlier.
“I was dumbfounded,” Carlile said. “I called them about two weeks later and asked Sharon what Mike was going to do next summer. She said ‘He’s going to manage a baseball team.’ I asked where, and she said ‘Yours, we’re coming to Liberal.”
So Hargrove, after winning 1,188 games in 16 years as a major league manager, is managing the BeeJays this summer. Liberal plays the Joplin Slashers in Jayhawk League games on Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon at Joe Becker Stadium.
“I’m having a blast,” Hargrove said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s a good bunch of kids. We don’t always play well, but we’ve played hard at it. When we have our game going, we can be pretty good.
“They listen to everything you say. I have to be careful I don’t give them too much. ... That was my biggest concern coming in, giving them too much at one time, overwhelming them. There’s so much about this game that a lot of us never learn.
“There is a lot of instruction, and it’s not just me. Galen McSpadden, pitching coach, is head coach at Seward County (Community College), Matt Torrez is an assistant coach at Barton County, Bill Merrell is head coach at Perryton (Texas) High School. It’s a good staff, lot of energy, good instruction, good baseball people. We’ve been doing a lot of work with the kids, and most of them are better players now than when they got here.”
The Liberal players are no longer star-struck about having Hargrove as their manager.
“Early on, there was some of that without a doubt,” said Hargrove, who batted .290 during a 12-year big-league career. “But as we’ve gotten to know each other, they realize I am just like them. I love baseball.
“They’ve loosened up and joke around with me now. (Tuesday) night I picked up a rake and was going to rake around third base, and three guys came over and asked ‘What are you doing?’ They respect the time I had in the game.”
For Hargrove, who grew up 45 miles south of Liberal in Perryton, this is his second summer in Liberal. He played for the BeeJays in 1972 and became one of the estimated 150 BeeJay alums who went on to play in the majors.
“Sharon and I talked about giving back to people and places that have been influential in helping us do what we’ve been able to do in our lives,” Hargrove said. “Some people give back monetary contributions, others give their time. We wanted to give back to people who have been good to us.
“This is a good situation and a good place to play. The town of Liberal does a good job taking care of kids. We’ve had decent crowds every night.”
“The crowds are up two or three times what we normally have,” Carlile said, “and the publicity has been tremendous.”
Hargrove resigned as the Mariners’ manager just over a year ago, saying he had lost his passion.
“I misspoke when I said that,” he said. “I hadn’t lost passion for the game. If anything, I had lost a little bit of an edge that I always had.
“I asked my players every day to give me everything they had mentally and physically, and without fail they did that. And without fail, I gave that back to them. The last three weeks or month before I decided (to resign), I was having to work at getting there. It never was that I didn’t get to that point, but I’d never had to work at it, and I didn’t like that.
“A manager makes 150 decisions a night, and not all of them are right ones or work out. If we had missed the playoffs by a half-game or game, I didn’t want to look back and see games we had lost because I was not ready with a decision or stayed on top of my game or was caught daydreaming. I didn’t want to damage the team’s chance to get in the playoffs and be successful. Many people in the organization worked hard — myself included — and to be honest with the people I worked with, the people I worked for and with myself, (resigning) was the right thing to do.”
Hargrove, who turns 59 on Oct. 26, would like to return to the majors.
“At some point I would like to manage one more time,” he said. “I don’t know if the opportunity will present itself, but I would like another shot at it. I’ve done it for 16 years, a lot longer than many get to do. I feel like I have a pretty good reputation in the game.
“If it happens, fine, and if it doesn’t, that’s OK, too. It would have to be the right situation, the right job for me to get back in it.”
By Jim Henry