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Manager hunt isn't a battle

By MARC TOPKIN, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published October 6, 2002

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Rays may be in competition with at least five other teams to hire a manager, but they're not in a race.

General manager Chuck LaMar said Saturday that the number of other vacancies won't impact his search process, one aimed more at getting the right man than making the first hire or landing the biggest name.

"Unlike the first time we went through this process (in 1997), there's more competition," LaMar said Saturday. "You'll see some of the same names pop up to be interviewed in different cities, some outstanding candidates on everybody's lists.

"But honestly, we're in a unique situation. A lot of the teams that are looking for managers are in a position to compete immediately and we're obviously still in a building mode. We're looking for a particular type manager and they might be looking for someone much different."

A couple of teams have done a few interviews, but LaMar said he wanted to let a week pass from the end of the season, and for the first round of the playoffs to be over, before launching his search.

Monday, he'll meet with managing general partner Vince Naimoli, finalize a list of candidates and start lining up interviews.

The biggest name on fans' minds is Lou Piniella, but it's unclear if the Rays will even get to talk with him.

Piniella is signed with the Mariners for next season, and there have been increasingly strong comments from Seattle officials indicating they won't let him go, whether to the Rays or the Mets, who also are interested.

General manager Pat Gillick was quoted in New York area papers Saturday as saying he met with top team executives and "we are absolutely not going to grant permission" for Piniella to talk with other teams. Gillick seemed to equally dismiss the idea of Piniella asking to leave: "He's definitely going to be our manager for next year. He's under contract, we want him back and he will be back."

That may not be the final word on the subject, especially not if Piniella makes a personal appeal. The Rays may just have to wait to see how the situation is resolved, and if they get word Piniella is available, without prohibitive compensation (or a bidding war with the Mets), they can pursue him.

Until then, LaMar will go forward with his own list. There will be some candidates, such as a Buck Showalter, who have managed in the major leagues and had success. Bucky Dent might be another possibility.

The other group, much like LaMar compiled in 1997, will be candidates who may not be well known but who he thinks have a chance to develop into successful big-league managers, such as Mike Stanley, who Friday resigned from a coaching job with the Red Sox; Oakland coach Ken Macha; Yankees coaches Lee Mazzilli and Willie Randolph; and current Rays coaches Billy Hatcher and Tom Foley.

LaMar did a pretty good scouting job in 1997. Of the 10 men he interviewed, seven went on to manage: Larry Rothschild (Rays), Tim Johnson (Blue Jays), Grady Little (Red Sox), Jerry Manuel (White Sox), Larry Parrish (Tigers), Jim Tracy (Dodgers) and, eventually, Hal McRae. LaMar also expressed interest in Mike Scioscia (who ended up managing the Angels) and Paul Molitor (who is often mentioned for several jobs).

X-RAY CENTER: The conclusion of Thursday's St. Louis-Arizona playoff game seemed like a Rays alumni party. There was Quinton McCracken doubling in the tying run in the eighth inning off Rick White, then in the ninth Miguel Cairo knocking in the winning run for St. Louis, with Mike DiFelice leading the Cardinals celebration.

"They told all of us that we couldn't play baseball well enough to be Devil Rays," White told Sports Illustrated. "Well, look where that team is. Look where we all are. Quinton, Miguel, myself -- we're playing in the postseason. Where's Tampa Bay?"

RUMOR MILL: Arizona bench coach Bob Melvin is considered a front-runner for the Brewers job. ... There is talk the Pirates may fire Lloyd McClendon, especially if they can get Showalter. ... In a rant about minority job candidates, Reggie Jackson ripped a half-dozen general managers, including LaMar, and questioned the opportunities available to someone like Randolph. "Why does Willie have to take a job in Detroit, Milwaukee or Tampa?" Jackson asked. "Why can't he get a good job? How many times does a Willie Randolph have to win a World Series? Everyone on Jimmy Johnson's staff in Dallas got a head coach's job. What about the third-base coach of the Yankees?"

-- Information from other news organizations was used in this report.

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