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Managers survive, until now

By BRUCE LOWITT

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 1, 2000


They've played Survivor and all 30 have, well, survived.

That is about to end.

It has been 58 seasons since every manager made it from first game to last. Few things of consequence in baseball have survived since 1942 besides Ted Williams' .406 batting average and Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, both achieved in 1941.

By most counts, a baker's dozen of managers (Dusty Baker being one of them) are candidates for departure this year, although it probably will be not much more than half that.

Starting as early as Monday, one manager after another will be gone -- some of them fired, others of their own volition, perhaps a few retiring. Some of them will remain survivors, simply changing uniforms.

The educated guess -- using those words loosely -- is that Gene Lamont (Pirates), Terry Francona (Phillies), Jim Fregosi (Blue Jays), Buck Showalter (Diamondbacks), Larry Rothschild (Devil Rays), Jack McKeon (Reds) and Davey Johnson (Dodgers) have managed their last games where they are. Fregosi is probably retiring, with Johnson retiring as well unless the Dodgers show him the door first.

Less likely to leave voluntarily are Tom Kelly (Twins) and Larry Dierker (Astros). Kelly has managed the Twins since late in the 1986 season. If owner Carl Pohlad decides eight consecutive losing seasons are enough, a big-market team might find him attractive. If Dierker is gone despite the apparent security of a contract worth $1.5-million for the next two years, there's always the broadcast booth from which he came.

Then there is Lou Piniella (Mariners), whose contract expires when Seattle's season does. He could return, retire or come home to Tampa and take over the Devil Rays. He says he's "at peace with anything that happens." Terry Collins, advance scout for the Cubs this year and former manager at Houston and Anaheim, may be a candidate if the Rays' job opens.

Baker's contract is expiring and he is looking for major money from the Giants. His agent says he'd rather stay, but if the money's not there his heart may not remain in San Francisco. If Baker leaves, the Dodgers might invite him in for a talk. Bobby Valentine may also decide to stick it to the Mets and resign.

The Diamondbacks, like the Yankees before them, have won with Showalter, but his insistence on having a big say in the baseball operations has gotten annoying. One of baseball's biggest payrolls has failed to produce, which means Dodgers general manager Kevin Malone might follow Johnson out the door.

McKeon, whose 96-win Reds came within a playoff game of grabbing a wild card last year, hasn't had the same lineup to work with most of this season. Last week he said, sarcastically, "I'm 14 wins dumber this year than I was last year."

Francona seems resigned to leaving Philly. "If something does happen, that's just the facts of baseball life," he said. And when asked if he wanted to see more of one of his rookies in action, Francona replied, "I don't think it really matters what the hell I see."

MAYBE THEY JUST LIKE LOSERS: After locking up the AL Central title a week ago at Minnesota, the White Sox looked forward to returning to Chicago where fans would come out in droves to welcome them back and watch them bat against 17-game winner Pedro Martinez.

"I'd like to say I expect a packed house," White Sox pitcher Bob Howry said, "but I also thought that a couple of other times and it wasn't there. If we don't see it on Tuesday, I don't think we ever will."

Tuesday, Comiskey Park was barely half full, a crowd of 23,319. The Cubs were playing the Phillies and 19-game loser Omar Daal. They drew 26,055, filling three-quarters of Wrigley Field.

Martinez won. So did Daal.

At least the White Sox can take comfort in this: All tickets are sold for their three division playoff games. But if they sell them, will they come?

YER OUT: When Marlins manager John Boles sat Preston Wilson on Wednesday and limited his at-bats the rest of the way to save him from matching or exceeding Bobby Bonds' 1970 record of 189 strikeouts (he has 186), Boles said he was doing it because "I don't want his season to be tainted. In my opinion, tying the strikeout record would taint his season."

"He's the manager," said Wilson, who didn't protest Boles' decision but wasn't happy about it either. "You don't always have to like it, but it's his call. I can't run out there with the other nine guys at the start of the game."

One thing Boles didn't think about; tainting the game. By benching Wilson he wasn't putting his best team on the field. How good is Wilson? He was three RBI short of Gary Sheffield's Marlins record of 120, and last weekend in Colorado, Wilson became the newest member of the 30-30 club (30 homers, 30 steals).

Besides, when one thinks of Bobby Bonds, is a season of strikeouts first on the list? Or his five 30-30 seasons? (Jose Canseco raised the bar in 1988 with a 40-40 season).

Or do we just think of Bobby Bonds the way most fans do? He's Barry's dad. THE LAST WORD: Former Pirates managers Jim Leyland, Chuck Tanner and Bill Virdon will be present for today's final baseball game at Three Rivers Stadium. But Richie Hebner will be the only man to be in uniform for its first and last games.

It opened July 26, 1970. Hebner was the Pirates third baseman that year, and had the stadium's first hit. He is a Pirates coach now, brought up after managing Triple-A Nashville. Hebner also was present for Forbes Field's final game in 1970, before the Pirates moved to Three Rivers.

"Some guys close bars," Hebner said. "I close ballparks."

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

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