- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Baltimore Orioles’ rebuilding project will continue next spring with a new manager.

The Orioles fired Mike Hargrove yesterday, a day after the team completed a 71-91 season. It was the franchise’s sixth straight losing season and fourth in as many years under Hargrove.

Hargrove, who went 275-372 with the Orioles, was informed of the decision in a 15-minute meeting with Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan, the Orioles’ vice presidents of baseball operations.

“It was nothing that I didn’t expect,” Hargrove said. “I don’t have any ill feelings toward anyone in Baltimore. I enjoyed my time here.”

The decision ends Hargrove’s tenure — the longest since Hall of Famer Earl Weaver managed the team from 1968 to 1982 — as well as the season-long speculation about his future. The team never discussed an extension with Hargrove, who has a 996-963 lifetime record.

“It came down to the fact that we were looking to go in a fresh direction. It’s that simple,” Flanagan said.

Added Beattie: “We feel that it’s time for a change. A new manager is the proper thing for us to do.”

When Hargrove, who managed the Indians from 1991 to 1999, was hired after the 1999 season, he took over a team two seasons removed from consecutive American League Championship Series appearances and was charged with returning the franchise to the playoffs.

Yet with the team headed for another sub-.500 finish in July 2000, then-general manager Syd Thrift traded veterans Harold Baines, Mike Bordick, Will Clark, Charles Johnson, B.J. Surhoff and Mike Timlin. The returns on the deals, other than 2003 All-Star Melvin Mora, catcher Brook Fordyce and outfielder Chris Richard, were minimal.

The Orioles fell to 63-98 in 2001, but played well for much of the 2002 season. The team was 63-63 on Aug.23, but lost 32 of its last 36 games to spoil what appeared to be a step forward.

Hargrove had the team flirting with .500 again this summer, overcoming injuries to Opening Day starters David Segui, Marty Cordova, Surhoff and Jerry Hairston to guide the team to a 57-59 record by Aug.10. However, the trades of pitcher Sidney Ponson and outfielder Jeff Conine, coupled with a brutal schedule featuring 30 of the final 36 games against playoff contenders, sent the Orioles into a 14-32 spiral.

However, the Orioles offense showed improvement this season, with Jay Gibbons blossoming into a solid run-producer, both Hairston and Brian Roberts emerging as capable everyday second basemen, and Larry Bigbie and Luis Matos establishing themselves as solid outfielders.

“I think we were able to lay a foundation of winning players with winning attitudes,” Hargrove said.

Hargrove may not be unemployed for long. The Chicago White Sox have a managerial opening after yesterday’s expected firing of Jerry Manuel. The veteran-laden White Sox finished 86-76 this season, four games behind Minnesota in the AL Central, and could contend for a playoff spot next season.

“Hopefully, the phone rings. I want to get back into managing, but want it to be the right fit,” Hargrove said. “If I had my druthers, I’d like it to be a team not in a rebuilding situation, one that has a chance to win.”

Another opening is possible in Cincinnati, where interim manager Dave Miley finished out the last two months for the fired Bob Boone. Philadelphia could also be seeking a new manager after a late-season fade, though Larry Bowa was given an emphatic vote of confidence last weekend.

Meanwhile, possible successors to Hargrove already are emerging. Hall of Famer Eddie Murray and Orioles first base coach Rick Dempsey could be in the mix. Current Boston bench coach Jerry Narron, who managed Texas for nearly two seasons and was a coach in Baltimore under Johnny Oates, also is a possible candidate.

Orioles bench coach Sam Perlozzo, who lost out to Bob Melvin for the Seattle Mariners job last fall, said yesterday he would be interested. He already has one supporter — his former boss.

“I think Sammy would be perfect for the job,” Hargrove said.

Perlozzo, along with the rest of the coaching staff, does not have a contract for next season. However, it is possible much of the staff will return under Hargrove’s replacement.

“We will recommend to the person selected as manager that all of the members of the current coaching staff return, subject to input from the person selected as manager,” Beattie said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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