During a quiet stretch a few weeks back, I went digging in SI.com’s Vault. For those of you who aren’t aware, SI put their old articles online. [My bookmark to the author’s favorite baseball stories can be found here] One of those articles I wanted to re-read was one by Gary Smith entitled “The Ripples From Little Lake Nellie”. For those who don’t remember, it was more than 15 years ago when Cleveland Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews were tragically killed in a boating accident during Spring Training. Bobby Ojeda was seriously injured in the accident.
The article got me wondering where how then-Indians manager Mike Hargrove handled the entire incident and where are the families now. I was lucky enough to reach Mr. Hargrove, who kindly agreed to speak with me about this incident. (Please note that this was a chat about a horrible event that claimed the lives of two MLB players, and nearly a third. I had no intentions of asking Mr. Hargrove much about his 2007 resignation from the Mariners.)
It Is About The Money, Stupid: Mr. Hargrove, thank you for taking the time to chat with me regarding this sensitive story. Can you tell me a bit about where you are these days?
Mike Hargrove: Right now, I’m back in Cleveland. We moved here in 1994 after living in Texas. We’ve raised our kids here and they’re mostly living in the area, too.
IIATMS: Where do you stand with managing? Any plans or desires to return to the game?
MH: Right now, I am not affiliated with any team. I’m not ready to go back. I’ve had some offers but right now, I’m enjoying this time. At some point, I’d like one more chance to manage in the majors.
IIATMS: I’d like to go back to the tragic incident in 1993. How did you hear about the accident?
MH: I had spent the afternoon with two of my coaches playing golf. Afterwards, we were all excited to see the Space Shuttle launch later that day since we heard that we’d be able to see it from our place [in Florida]. I remember being disappointed that was cancelled. My wife and I had some friends over for dinner. The phone rang. It was our strength coach Fernando Montes and I was irritated as it was our day off.
Fernando told me there was an accident and that “Oly’s gone”. I asked “Gone where?” and only then did I realize what happened. I remember feeling the blood drain to my fingers and going numb. I got on the phone with GM John Hart and then went over to visit the scene.
IIATMS: What did you find when you got there?
MH: We met Fernando who guided us to the house. We arrived and saw the big klieg lights out back. I could see a bass boat up on the shore. We went into a house full of crying babies. I remember talking with Patti [Olin] but the rest is pretty much a blur. John Hart and Dan O’Dowd came over. I remember going to get Steve’s keys from his car for his wife when a deputy stopped me, saying “You don’t want to go over there.”
IIAMTS: How did you tell the team?
MH: Dan [O’Dowd], John [Hart] and I went to the hospital to see Bobby Ojeda who was in critical condition. We were there all night. We then left for the training facility. By 6:30am, the team started arriving. By that point, they all knew. We cancelled all team activities and basically sat around talking, sharing. It was a big group hug. I gave the guys the choice to go get some work in, and many did as a way of coping.
IIAMTS: How did it affect the team?
MH: I’m really not sure. I know that everyone was totally committed to playing hard. Thankfully we had veterans like Ted Power who were leaders.
They say “time heals all wounds”. It really doesn’t. Time doesn’t heal the wounds; it merely scabs over until it gets ripped off again.
IIAMTS: How did the team memorialize Olin and Crews?
MH: We didn’t do much, other than committing ourselves to go about our jobs and play as hard as possible.
[IIATMS Note: In response to the accident that took Olin and Crews in 1993, the Indians wore a patch on their sleeves of their jerseys. It consisted of a baseball with their numbers on it. Olin's #31 is on the left, with an arrow above. Crews' #52 is on the right, with a star above it. The Dodgers also wore a patch with Crews' #52 for the 1993 season.]
The Indians planted two small trees outside the facility along with a plaque. Those three foot trees are now big trees that are being moved to the Indians new facility in Arizona.
IIAMTS: How did you memorialize Olin and Crews?
MH: I really didn’t do that much. I felt that going overboard would trivialize things.
IIAMTS: How often do you think of them?
MH: Not as much these days, less than before. I rarely think about the accident but more about the players.
IIAMTS: Do you speak with the families?
MH: We’ve lost contact with Laurie (Crews). We’re still in contact with Patty. She’s remarried a great guy. We were with her whole family including in-laws when she visited in Seattle.
IIAMTS: Where are they now? How are they doing?
MH: Kevin Wickander [Olin’s best buddy in the bullpen] is in Phoenix. I last saw him in 2007 after Spring training. Wick’s gone through some tough times [see notes below] but he’s turned the corner. He’s a good man; was then, is now.
As far as the Olins and the Crews, they remain part of the Cleveland family.
IIAMTS: Do you think this experience changed the way you relate to the players as a manager? The article painted you as a disciplinarian who pulled a 180 degree shift.
MH: I definitely went too far the other the direction after the incident. I was excusing too many things. I was creating an alibi for the players so not to hammer them when they needed to be hammered. Eventually I got back to an enforcing style and discipline. I began to treat them like men again, not kids.The accident did make me a better person and manager though. Definitely more empathetic.
IIAMTS: So what’s next for Mike Hargrove?
MH: I was asked to work with the Italian team to prepare for the WBC, so I’m looking forward to doing that. After that, I’ll be back working with the Liberal, KS Bee-Jays. I played for them in 1970, the year I was drafted. About 45 players have played in the majors after playing for the Bee-Jays, including Ron Guidry. And I’ll be looking for that last shot to manage [in the majors].
[IIATMS Note: Active players who have played for the Bee-Jays include: Rich Harden, Ian Kinsler, Hunter Pence, Kelly Shoppach, Troy Percival and Scott Hairston.]
I'd like to thank Mr. Hargrove for taking the time to chat about this subject. To his credit, he seeemed to genuinely appreciate the chance to talk about this story with me, just some guy with a blog who he's never met before. When make interview requests like this, I'm not really sure what to expect. Mr. Hargrove got back to me after midnight the day I emailed him with my ideas. He encouraged me to call at my convenience, not his. I've gotten to be quite cynical and jaded over the years, but when a man with Mr. Hargrove's playing and managing resume treats you with that level of respect without ever meeting you, I just feel pretty darn encouraged.
Thanks for reading. I appreciate it more than you know.
Additional reading, notes:
- Mike’s decision to manage the Liberal KS Bee Jays. Noteworthy quotes:
"I found that for the first time in my life, I was having to work at competing. Some people said it was because of a conflict with Ichiro," he said. "That was absolutely untrue. I felt like I had lost my edge."
"I'm enjoying this. I'm having fun," Hargrove said. "I would like to manage again in the big leagues someday. But I'm not unhappy here by any stretch of the imagination."
- Jayson Stark’s story from 2003, ten years after the accident
- Another story from 2003, ten years after the accident
- Kevin Wickander’s cautionary tale
- ESPN.com’s story about Hargrove’s sudden resignation in 2007
- Bobby Ojeda’s Wikipedia page