Sunday, July 8, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Blaine Newnham

Hargrove has earned benefit of the doubt; Bennett hasn't

Special to The Seattle Times

So whom are we believing these days?

I'm OK with Mike Hargrove, but not Clay Bennett.

Maybe it is because I've recently retired from full-time duty, or that in the late 1960s I covered baseball, made trips with the San Francisco Giants and understood just how demanding and debilitating that kind of travel can be.

My wife, in fact, appropriately wondered if our choice wasn't having a family or me covering baseball. The next year I covered the Oakland Raiders.

On one particularly bizarre trip before the 1969 season — the Giants had Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry and Willie McCovey — we barnstormed across the country with the Cleveland Indians.

On the same jet, we made stops in Albuquerque, Amarillo, Shreveport and Memphis before leaving the Indians and going to New York to play two games in Yankee Stadium.

From there we went to Atlanta to open the regular season, then to San Diego and finally Cincinnati before returning home.

It was early-afternoon movies and late-night meals. To this day, I'm not sure how they do it, but looking at the weight Hargrove has gained, I know things haven't changed much.

I like the way Hargrove quit the day before a road trip, ending a life of "bags in the lobby."

The way he and his wife kept talking about buying a red pickup truck and driving to California to see their son play minor-league baseball, and visiting their getaway home in New Mexico for the first time in the summer.

In making the decision, Hargrove talked about talking more to his wife in the previous 10 days than he had the previous 10 years. She talked about moving 100 times in 35 years.

I read it as romantic, probably soul-searching, and clearly understandable for a guy who had spent 35 years in baseball. As far as the various conspiracy theories, if the Mariners were choosing between Ichiro and Hargrove, they would have done it a year ago.

I commend Hargrove for being selfish, if that's the way people want to view it. He owed the M's a hard day's work every day he went to the ballpark, nothing more. They would have shown him no more loyalty had the team faltered this year.

As difficult as Hargrove's unprecedented winning-streak departure may be for the Mariners, it is nothing like what happened to the Sonics.

Talk about transformation. Even Pat Gillick's job as general manager of the 2000 Mariners — trading Ken Griffey Jr. for Mike Cameron and signing John Olerud, Arthur Rhodes, Aaron Sele and Stan Javier — pales in comparison to what Sam Presti is doing with the Sonics.

I didn't like it even before Rashard Lewis took flight.

The concern — and I'm not much of a conspiracy guy — has to be whether owner Bennett is going young so he can unload salary and be mediocre, the perfect prelude to moving the franchise to Oklahoma City, where it ultimately can be good. I don't think we can know he isn't doing that.

The other concern is that Presti, the 30-year-old genius, is doing on-the-job training at our expense.

As a first-time owner yourself, wouldn't you have hired a coach to help a first-time general manager remake a team? Couldn't Presti have used counsel, especially in the form of the person who had to coach these guys?

As owner, wouldn't you have been personally all over Rashard Lewis?

There were good reasons to trade Ray Allen — free up the ball for Kevin Durant, get more for Allen now than later, improve the team's defense.

But if Boston was so hot on getting Allen, wouldn't you simply have said no to Wally Szczerbiak and his way-too-heavy contract, and gotten someone else?

Wouldn't you have demanded a course of action your fans could fully comprehend? And have a coach on hand with the experience to implement it?

Does anybody really know who is going to play center, let alone who is going to replace Allen, if not Lewis?

Gary Payton begat Ray Allen, and what is it that the Sonics got for Allen?

Jeff Green had better be good. He seems to be the key to all of this. But what if with the No. 5 pick the Sonics had drafted the next Yao Ming — Yi Jianlian — instead?

Presti seems infatuated with Green, enough to get rid of the team's superstar. Or was it just money he got rid of?

And did the Sonics really want to spend the money to keep Lewis? Or just talk about it?

You know, I really don't know. And that's the problem.

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Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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