Hargrove has stuck with Tribe through thick and thin

Indians mainstay managed club to 2 World Series, including heartbreaking G7 loss in '97

October 20th, 2016

Mike Hargrove knows the Cleveland Indians -- good times and bad. He played for them in the late 1970s and early '80s, arguably as rough a stretch as the franchise ever faced. He managed them in the '90s to what can be called the best run of success in franchise history.

Now, as a senior advisor to Tribe president Chris Antonetti, Hargrove has enjoyed the team's run to a World Series appearance for the first time since 1997, when Hargrove was the manager and the Indians were making their second Series appearance in three years.

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And Hargrove is enjoying his view from afar, watching the way long-time friend Terry Francona maneuvered his way to an American League Central title, swept the Red Sox in three games in the AL Division Series, and on Wednesday eliminated the Blue Jays in five games in the AL Championship Series. 

Now the Tribe awaits the outcome of the Dodgers-Cubs NLCS to see who will be its opposition in the World Series, in hopes of claiming the franchise's first championship since 1948, the second-longest drought behind the Cubs, who haven't celebrated since 1908.

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"This [Indians] team is a team of grinders," said Hargrove. "They just don't know when enough is enough. is probably my favorite player on the team. He embodies what this team is all about. He's consistent, busts his butt, gives everything he's got that night. That's kind of the way this team is."

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And Hargrove is quick to point out that the club's 2016 accomplishments are very much a reflection on the ability of Francona to slot players into roles in which they can succeed. More importantly, Hargrove noted, Francona doesn't let setbacks, like the absence of starting pitchers and , become road blocks to success.

"It's built on pitching," said Hargrove. "Going into the season, they arguably had one of the best rotations in the game. The fact that Terry Francona is a tremendous manager certainly doesn't hurt anything. He looks for ways to succeed."

So far, Francona has found them.

In claiming the ALCS, the Indians became the first team in postseason history to win a game in which no pitcher registered more than five outs (their 4-2 victory in Game 3), and they used relievers for 22 of the 44 innings pitched in the series.

"[Francona has] done things like that a few times through the year," said Hargrove. "I was listening to the TV when [the Indians] were on the road in the postseason, and everybody was trying to figure out Terry's strategy. I think the tipoff to me was the first game in the ALDS when he brought into the fifth inning. Terry was going to take it, try to win every game, one at a time.

"[Francona] was going to manage to stop every possible momentum-building situation for the other club, and he'll worry about the next inning or next game after they get through the one they are playing. ... The immediate. It needs to be taken care of right then."

Now comes the wait for the start of the World Series, which is scheduled for Tuesday night in Cleveland, and it is already a sellout. It's an indication of the revival of baseball in a city that once held the Major League records for consecutive sellouts, but has not reached two million in attendance in the past eight seasons.

The fan reaction has been a pleasure for Hargrove to witness.

Hargrove remembers his playing days, when the team lost 102 games in 1985 and finished in either sixth or seventh place from 1979-85. And he remembers the sellouts during his managerial tenure from 1991-99 that included postseason berths in each of his final five years, including a World Series appearance in '95, when the Indians lost to the Braves in six games, and '97, when they lost to the Marlins in seven games.

The Indians compiled three of the franchise's six highest win totals in that stretch, and home attendance exceeded three million in each of Hargrove's final four seasons.

"It absolutely uplifted everybody," said Hargrove. "I would go to my car after a game during the postseason, and it would be 1, 1:30 in the morning, and people were still on the streets, running around. There were cars going up and down 9th Street honking their horns. It was just amazing. I'd come home and my yard would be decorated with streamers and signs. Everybody got really wrapped up into it. It was a magical time."

So enjoyable but, as a manager, Hargrove admits, difficult to enjoy at times.

"I remember talking to Tony La Russa and Tom Kelly before we went to the '95 Series and asking them, 'What can I expect?'" said Hargrove. "They both said, 'Whatever you do, don't get so wrapped up in the process that you don't enjoy the journey. I thought, "That's great advice.'

"Going into '97, I said, 'This time I'm going to enjoy the journey,' and I didn't. I was so focused on the end result that I forget to enjoy the journey as I went. Looking back on it, it was an absolute blast."

But there was one thing missing -- a World Series championship. And the Indians came so close to winning that Series against the Marlins. In Game 7, Tribe closer Jose Mesa couldn't protect a 2-1 lead in the ninth inning, and the Fish pulled out a 3-2 victory in the 11th, with second baseman Tony Fernandez making an error on a routine play that set up the deciding run.

And to this day, that moment lingers.

"I had a guy ask me that next Spring Training how long it took me to get over Game 7," said Hargrove. "I told him, 'As soon as it happens, I'll let you know.' I had a guy ask me two months ago how long it took me to get over Game 7 and the way we lost it, and I told him, 'Well, just as soon as it happens, I'll let you know.'

"It is something you never forget. I don't think about it all the time, but I catch myself occasionally thinking about it. It's not as often anymore, but it is still there."

Just like it is there for Indians fans, most of whom weren't even alive when the Tribe won its last World Series championship in 1948.

That's a streak that Francona and the Indians of 2016 have a chance to snap in the next two weeks.

And the folks in Cleveland understand that.

"It's fun," said Hargrove, "to see the city hoping again."