- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Mike Hargrove is considered by many to be one of baseball’s better managers, especially when it comes to developing young players. But that won’t help him avoid being Peter Angelos’ latest scapegoat at the end of another sorry season for the Baltimore Orioles.

In a word, Grover is on his way out — not really that bad a fate when the alternative is continued employment by King Peter and his minions.

As the Orioles took a badly needed day off yesterday, their season was starting to look eerily like last year’s, when Baltimore careened to a 4-32 finish after playing .500 ball earlier with a large batch of no-names.

A week ago, the O’s were within two games of .500 after again performing over their heads for 41/2 months. Now they’ve lost seven straight to the Devil Rays and Yankees — two opponents that never should be mentioned in the same breath — and appear doomed to a sixth straight fourth-place finish in the American League East.

If there’s no bottom to this dizzying descent, let’s remember that the Orioles are just 71/2 games ahead of the Devil Rays with 39 to play, so last place is definitely doable. And because the current dive started earlier than last season’s, a 4-42 windup is mathematically possible.

Hargrove’s frustration is understandable, of course. He’s one of those managers who rarely lets his emotions show in public, a la Joe Torre, but he acted more like legendarily short-fused Earl Weaver when the plate umpire reversed a decision to allow Aaron Boone’s game-winning home run for the Yankees the other night. He yowled mightily, presumably questioned the arbiter’s parentage, flung his cap and then tossed a bat weight for good measure. Somewhere in there, the ump replied reasonably, “Yer outta here!” — giving us a preview of Angelos’ remarks when the season ends. (Although King Peter probably won’t deliver the bad news in person; a while back, you’ll remember, he canned Johnny Oates by fax.)

Hargrove has a 261-347 (.429) record for nearly four full seasons with the Orioles, a substantial comedown for a guy who took Cleveland to the World Series a few years earlier, but he could offer the same explanation as, say, the manager of Alf Landon’s 1936 presidential campaign: “Look what I was given to work with.” (History buffs will recall that Landon did not win 46 of the then-48 states.)

As far as we know, there have been no negotiations to extend Hargrove’s contract, which expires on the last day of the season, so draw your own conclusions — provided you still give a rodent’s rump.

Now, therefore, it’s permissible to speculate on the identity of Hargrove’s successor.

One of the present coaches, maybe Sam Perlozzo or Rick Dempsey?

Forget it — too closely associated with the current mess.

Some managerial retread from baseball’s celebrated “old-boy” network?

Nah — nobody in his right mind would work for Angelos.

What King Peter wants, I’d say, is a big name who is extremely popular in Baltimore and could make potential fans momentarily forget how low the once-proud Orioles have sunk.

Which leads us to …

ED-DIE! ED-DIE! ED-DIE!

Because Eddie Murray does not share his intimate thoughts with the world — except, a little bit, during his Hall of Fame induction last month — I have no idea if he wants to manage. But we have to give Angelos credit for one thing, if nothing else: He’s a masterful persuader. By the time King Peter is through arguing his case, Murray might be convinced that he could turn the 2004 Orioles into the 1983 World Series champions — even without him playing first base or Cal Ripken playing shortstop.

A few years or even weeks ago, the idea of Murray as a manager might have seemed ludicrous given his infamous relations — or lack thereof — with the media. But in making a gracious, warm speech at Cooperstown, Eddie revealed himself as a far different person than the terrifying man who used to give the impression he would take his bat to the noggins of intrepid reporters. He had been that way, he explained, “because I did what I had to do to be successful.”

So it’s not inconceivable that Murray could endure the bleats of media members before and after each game, although I wouldn’t want to be the one who questioned his strategy after a tough loss. He knows baseball, he knows how to play what used to be called “the Oriole way,” meaning the right way and he certainly would set a good example for his players in terms of intensity and competitiveness.

I’m not saying Eddie Murray will become manager of the Orioles, I’m saying it’s an intriguing possibility. And anything intriguing about the O’s these days would be a distinct upgrade.

Meanwhile, let’s think kindly of Mike Hargrove, a good baseball man himself who had a run of very bad luck.

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