SEATTLE (AP) -One of the most bizarre days in Seattle Mariners history ended with Mike Hargrove heading into sudden retirement while in search of a new, red pickup truck to drive down the Pacific Coast.
Hargrove, 57, left in the rear view mirror as many conspiracy theories as questions as to why he had resigned as manager Sunday while peaked at Seattle's highest point in more than four years.
``I don't expect people to understand it, I really don't, because at times I don't understand it myself,'' said Hargrove, who's been in major league baseball since 1972.
As Hargrove abruptly and stunningly resigned - citing an inability to muster the daily dedication he has demanded from players for his 15 1/2 seasons as a major league manager - his Mariners won their eighth consecutive game, 2-1 over Toronto on Sunday. Hargrove became the first manager since 1900 to leave a team on a winning streak that long.
Seattle was soaring at 12 games over .500 entering Monday night's debut of new manager John McLaren, Hargrove's bench coach, at Kansas City. The 55-year-old McLaren, who said the startling events were tough for him to comprehend, hasn't been a full-time manager since 1985, when he was at Knoxville in the Southern League. He rejoined the Mariners this season, after 15 years working on the staffs of manager Lou Piniella that included 1993-2002 in Seattle.
``This is not a perfect scenario to take over a ballclub,'' the 12th manager in Mariners history said, his right arm in a sling following rotator cuff surgery last week. ``But I'll run with it.''
Why would Hargrove leave after enduring six consecutive losing seasons in Baltimore and Seattle, just when his last three years of growth and teaching and roster purging were paying dividends?
-Did Hargrove get forced out by Ichiro Suzuki as a condition set by the superstar to ownership, a prerequisite to the seven-time All-Star staying in Seattle beyond this final season of his contract?
``Please don't ask questions about that right now,'' Suzuki said, with a stare, through a translator.
The franchise cornerstone acknowledged again on Sunday they did not get along when Hargrove arrived in 2004, but that relations had since improved.
``At the beginning, there were complications between us,'' Suzuki said. ``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.''
-Are there unknown health issues or family emergencies that are forcing Hargrove away?
No, Hargrove said, ``just an accumulation probably of 35 years.''
-Was Hargrove angry that the Mariners have not announced a status on his contract beyond its end this fall? Was he fed up with constant criticism? Still mad that Seattle fired his best friend, Ron Hassey, as bench coach late last season? Or that team chief executive Howard Lincoln proclaimed last September and reiterated in February that Hargrove and general manager Bill Bavasi ``are on my hot seat'' for 2007, following three consecutive last-place finishes in the AL West?
Hargrove resigned just as Seattle was beginning to think perhaps he might deserve a contract extension. The Mariners entered Monday four games behind the Los Angeles Angels for the division lead.
``It's not a problem with players, the front office. It's not a problem with a contract,'' Hargrove said.
``There are no dark, sinister reasons for this decision. This has been my decision. ... I have no reason to lie.''
But the Mariners have reason to wonder.
``We're not happy about this, not one bit,'' Bavasi said, while stating he was happy for Hargrove personally. ``This is an important, hurtful move for us.''
Bavasi said that on a scale of one to 10 on being caught off-guard, Hargrove's departure was ``an 11.'' Hargrove first told Bavasi of his intentions June 20, after a six-game losing streak. The two then agreed to wait and see if Hargrove's inability to muster motivation for the game continued for a couple of weeks.
It did, even through Seattle's longest winning streak since 2003.
``To see a manager step out like this, you kind of still don't understand what's going on,'' said Jose Guillen, who was screaming at his teammates in the dugout to rally for Hargrove Sunday - then hit a tying home run in the eighth and winning single in the ninth.
Hargrove said he simply lacked drive.
``I've daily challenged my players to give me the best that they've got, 100 percent of what they've got that day - physically and mentally. And they've done that. Without fail, they've done that,'' he said.
``I have never had to work at getting that level myself - ever - until recently. I've found that I've had to work harder in making that same commitment to my bosses, to my players and to my coaches. And that's not right,'' Hargrove said, turning away and choking back tears.
``They deserve better. They are good people. There is a good thing going on here. And it's time for me to leave.''
So he and Sharon, his wife of 37 years, left. They plan to buy a long-wanted red pickup Monday and begin diving down the coast to see one of their five children, son Andy (25), play for Seattle's Class-A affiliate at High Desert, in Adelanto, Calif. Then comes relaxation in a newly purchased cabin in New Mexico.
``We've been married for 37 years. Gone together since junior high,'' Sharon said, fighting back her own tears. ``He's slept in his own bed four days in eight months. I don't know too many people who would sign up for that. And he's done that for 35 years.''

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