Hargrove wants no part of 'hot seat' talk
PEORIA, Ariz. -- On the first morning of spring training, Seattle manager Mike Hargrove was fired up about his hot seat.
Mariners chairman and CEO Howard Lincoln declared six months ago that Hargrove and general manager Bill Bavasi "are on my hot seat" for 2007, following the team's third consecutive last-place finish in the AL West.
Hargrove was often asked about the comment during the offseason -- and always answered calmly. But when he was questioned again Thursday, he became noticeably irritated.
"I've got two words: Good. Bye. How's that?" Hargrove said, his eyes searing as his stiff right arm chopped sharply in the direction of a reporter.
"Hot seat? You know what, I'm going to tell you this -- and I don't want to talk about this not one more time all year long unless it's the DAY I'm getting fired: This will be the 16th year of doing this at the big league level. I've been good at what I do. I'm still good at what I do."
The manager who won five consecutive division championships and had two World Series appearances in Cleveland from 1995-99 -- but hasn't finished above fourth in a division since -- wasn't done. He stayed on the offensive, more than his light-hitting team often has in recent seasons.
"Any day any manager in the big leagues wakes up, he is on the 'hot seat,"' Hargrove said. "So whether anybody said this, or what, it doesn't make any difference to me."
His slight Texas drawl stayed pointed. And colorful.
"It gets me fired up a little bit. But it doesn't (tick) me off, or anything like that," he said, unconvincingly. "There will be a time to address that, if it comes to that."
Hargrove is entering the final year of a three-year contract. He has gone 69-93 and 78-84 in his first two seasons with Seattle.
The Mariners have finished last in three straight years for the first time in the team's 30-year history. Attendance at Safeco Field has dropped from a record 3.54 million in 2002 to 2.48 million last season, Seattle's lowest since 1995 in the old Kingdome. An unlikely September rally to the club's first division title that year sparked a baseball renaissance and a new stadium in the Northwest.
Lincoln uttered the "hot seat" remark the day after sending season-ticket holders a letter informing them the team believed Hargrove and Bavasi were putting the Mariners back on the path to winning.
"This phrase has gotten blown way out of proportion ... it's taken on a life of its own," Lincoln said inside his second-floor office at the team's spring training headquarters, which he occupies every day each spring.
"What I was trying to do was convey a sense of urgency," said the former chairman of Nintendo of America, which owns the Mariners.
Hargrove said he hasn't heard from anyone in the organization about his "hot seat" since Lincoln turned it on six months ago.
"And you are talking to the wrong person," Hargrove said. "I didn't say it."
Lincoln said it again Thursday.
"Everybody in the organization is on the hot seat. Mike. Bill. Myself. Every single person," he said.
Over the winter, Lincoln and his 16-person ownership group spent a combined $33.4 million for two free-agent starting pitchers -- Miguel Batista and Jeff Weaver. They signed Jose Guillen for $5.5 million to be the new right fielder. They traded to get another starting pitcher, Horacio Ramirez, and a new designated hitter, Jose Vidro.
That has pushed Seattle's payroll above $100 million for the first time. No wonder Lincoln is throwing around hot seats like they're peanuts at the ballpark.
"I think it is important for our fans to know neither I or anyone else in the organization were oblivious at their frustrations that we had finished last three years in a row," he said. "That we weren't oblivious that our fans, who are very loyal, had been telling me that they had just about had it."
The result so far, six weeks before the first win or loss?
"There is no question that everyone in the organization has come down here with a heightened sense of urgency," Lincoln said.
The CEO was on the field Thursday morning, as usual. He talked to Guillen, an early arrival, as well as Ramirez and Batista, plus holdovers from last season.
He said many told him, unsolicited, "We are going to get this turned around."
If they don't, Hargrove's hot seat might eject him out of town before summer.
"You guys can write about it all you want," Hargrove said. "I waste my time talking about it."
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press