- Jim Caple, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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The only way the Mariners' homestand could have been stranger is if the team's mascot, Mariner Moose, took off his headpiece to reveal that he was actually Bill Gates.
When Ken Griffey Jr. and the Reds came to town last weekend, the fans cheered an opposing player when he homered and also booed Seattle's rookie pitcher when he threw over to first base. The homestand ended this weekend with manager Mike Hargrove resigning during an eight-game winning streak that left the team 12 games above .500 and a game out of the wild-card lead.
Managers have resigned abruptly in the past, but how many have done so when their team is playing so well?
"I don't expect people to understand it, I really don't," Hargrove said. "Because there are times when I don't understand it."
An emotional Hargrove said he was resigning because it had become increasingly difficult to keep his passion for the game and that the players and staff "deserved better."
"I ask every day from my players and coaches to give me all they've got physically and mentally," Hargrove said. "They've done that and I'm proud of that. At the same time, if I'm going to ask them to give me 100 percent then I have to be able to do that as well. There's a difference between willing and able. I've always been willing, but it's been more difficult to get myself able recently."
He and GM Bill Bavasi sounded sincere in their remarks, but Hargrove is right: It's hard to understand. And it's difficult not to think there has to be more to this than what was said.
Was Hargrove pushed out because of a rocky relationship with Ichiro and the Mariners feeling that re-signing their All-Star required a managerial change? Perhaps, but why wouldn't they have made such a move last August when the team lost 11 in a row instead of now when they've won eight in a row?
"At the beginning, there were complications between us," Ichiro said of his relationship with Hargrove. "Since then, I've honestly expressed my feelings to him. He listened to them honorably and very gentleman-like. That's a strong memory I'll have."
Asked whether the manager's resignation would affect his thoughts about returning next year, he said, "Please don't ask questions relating to that right now."
Hargrove said he decided to resign June 20 after the Mariners had lost six games in a row. Bavasi asked him to hold off until the All-Star break, but the winning streak didn't change his mind about what he needed to do.
Is it crazy to think that a 57-year-old man who has been in baseball 35 years finally decided that the game's rewards no longer compensated for the drawbacks? Stranger things have happened. Could Hargrove's change in enthusiasm have been brought about by a family illness or a personal issue he would rather not reveal? You hope not, but it is certainly possible. Did his trip back to Cleveland to see his daughter's graduation a month ago affect his feelings on the toll baseball takes on a family? Maybe, but Hargrove denied it.
Pitcher Jarrod Washburn said he was confused at first by Hargrove's announcement, "but after I talked to him, there's no doubt in my mind that this is the right thing for him and his family. It takes a big man to admit that you can't give 100 percent, even when things are going well."
Who knows? Maybe Hargrove is just upset about the Sonics trading Ray Allen.
How will the change affect the Mariners? John McLaren, Hargrove's replacement, should be an improvement. He is a veteran bench coach, a good communicator and very well-liked within the organization.
Hargrove had the Mariners playing much better than I expected in spring training, but I've never regarded him as a very good manager. The Mariners were not blessed with an All-Star roster, but Hargrove seemed to use his lineup as inefficiently as possible. He stubbornly kept slumping hitters in the heart of the lineup while better hitters remained at the bottom of the order. He made curious moves on the field. He buried Ben Broussard on the bench until recent injuries forced him to play the .307 hitter.
On the other hand, he did have the team 12 games above .500. And his team pulled out a 2-1 victory by rallying in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday against the Blue Jays. The players hugged Hargrove as they left the field while the scoreboard flashed: "Thanks, Grover. Best Wishes To You And Your Family."
"I won my first game I ever managed and I won my last," Hargrove said. "That's a pretty good bookend."
Meanwhile, a team with an eight-game winning streak boarded the team plane after the end of a very strange homestand. Said outfielder Raul Ibanez: "I think everybody is still in shock."
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.