Orioles given OK to court Dempsey La Russa still rated top choice

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The list of candidates to succeed deposed Orioles' manager Johnny Oates will be a short one. And, even though Tony LaRussa is perceived to be the top choice of owner Peter Angelos, former Orioles' catcher Rick Dempsey may have the inside track for a return to Baltimore.

Shortly after firing Oates last night, the Orioles moved swiftly to obtain permission from the Los Angeles Dodgers to talk to Dempsey, who managed that club's Triple-A Albuquerque farm team to the Pacific Coast League pennant this season, his second as a minor-league manager.

Sources confirmed that Dodgers' owner Peter O'Malley informed Dempsey that he had permission to talk to the Orioles. It was also learned that Orioles' general manager Roland Hemond contacted Dempsey late last night and that the two were to talk again today to set up a formal meeting.

Last week's revelation that the Orioles had asked the Oakland Athletics for permission to talk contract with La Russa left little doubt that there would be a new man in the manager's office next season.

That became official yesterday, so the managerial search now can proceed in broad daylight.

The A's politely refused to allow Orioles general manager Roland Hemond to make an overture to La Russa, but he remains at the top of the team's wish list and will not need permission to talk to interested clubs after his contract expires Oct. 7. He may be the most respected manager in the game, and he might have been offered the job by Orioles owner Peter Angelos a year ago if he had been available.

Would he accept? That's another story. La Russa will have the pick of a number of managerial openings if he does not sign a contract extension with the A's. He could go to the Boston Red Sox, or he could go back to the Chicago White Sox if they don't come to terms with Gene Lamont.

If La Russa is the prime candidate, then nothing figures to happen for at least a couple of weeks. It is unclear whether he is truly interested in the job, and it will be awhile before anyone is likely to find out. He will be in England on vacation through the first week of October, leaving plenty of time for speculation to develop about other candidates.

In addition to Dempsey, former Oriole second baseban Davey Johnson, the current manager of the Cincinnati Reds, Orioles' first base coach Davey Lopes and Cleveland pitching coach Phil Regan are the other names that surfaced quickly.

However, the quickness with which the Orioles moved to get permission to talk to Dempsey could be an indication that the popular former catcher is the No. 1 choice of Angelos.

In his short tenure, the owner has indicated a desire to bring back some of the principals from the club's championship years -- and nobody was more popular than Dempsey during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Dempsey would be a very popular choice among longtime Orioles fans, and -- despite his sometimes goofy on-field persona -- has become a legitimate candidate for consideration. He has spent the past two years getting experience at the minor-league and winter-league level, and said yesterday that he would be honored to get an interview.

He wouldn't exactly be a rookie after the intense managerial schedule he has kept since leaving the Orioles in 1992. He managed in the Puerto Rican Winter League and at the Class-A " level with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization before leading the Dodgers' Triple-A Albuquerque Dukes to the Pacific Coast League championship this year.

"I definitely needed to be in the minor leagues," Dempsey said. "I needed to go back and learn how to deal with young players. I was fortunate to get that kind of experience, and winning with Albuquerque this year was just unbelievable."

Johnson once was a popular player in Baltimore and also would figure to be a popular choice to become the next manager. He is in the same situation as La Russa, in that his contract is coming to an end, but there is little likelihood that he'll re-up with Cincinnati.

Reds owner Marge Schott is down on him and there are whispers that she has promised his job to former Reds third baseman Ray Knight.

Lopes is the leading in-house candidate. He was considered a strong contender for the San Francisco Giants' vacancy two years ago and the Houston Astros' job last winter. He does not have a great deal of managerial experience (he worked in the Arizona Fall League last year), but built a reputation as a fiery leader during his playing career and has a very good rapport with the players in the Orioles' clubhouse.

The Orioles also are looking at Regan, though his name has not been prominent in the managerial rumor mill the past few years. He is under contract to the Indians and would seem more suited to his current role as a pitching coach, but has impressed Orioles officials.

HANDICAPPING THE FIELD

Here's a look at the names you might hear as possible successors to fired Orioles manager Johnny Oates. Some are legitimate candidates and some are not, but here writer Peter Schmuck reviews the field.

Tony La Russa

Status: Contract expires Oct. 7.

Comment: Orioles asked for permission to talk to the Athletics manager and were rebuffed by Oakland, but La Russa can talk to anyone he wants after his contract runs out in 10 days. He's the No. 1 candidate, but would want free hand.

Davey Johnson

Status: Contract expires this year

Comment: Cincinnati Reds manager is tired of Marge Schott anshe's tired of him. He has good memories of playing in Baltimore and probably would come back in a New York minute.

Davey Lopes

Status: Orioles coach

Comment: He has been waiting for and working toward a chancmanage in the majors and is considered one of the brightest managerial prospects in baseball. He may be the fallback position if La Russa opts to stay in Oakland or go to the Boston Red Sox.

Rick Dempsey

Status: Los Angeles Dodgers minor-league manager

Comment: Former Orioles catcher is wildly popular in Baltimore and has put in two years managing in the Dodgers system. Don't rule him out.

Jim Leyland

Status: Signed through 1996

Comment: Another veteran manager who has been mentioned privately by Peter Angelos, but he's not available. He's under contract to the Pirates and they aren't going to let him go.

Frank Robinson

Status: Orioles assistant general manager

Comment: There have been rumors that Robinson might go back down to the field, but that seems extremely unlikely. His stock has risen and he's expected to be named general manger when Angelos moves current GM Roland Hemmond upstairs.

Phil Regan

Status: Cleveland pitching coach

Comment: The job he's done turning around the Indians pitching staff has not been lost on Orioles officials, who may ask for permission to interview him for the job.

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