Regan fits Rangers' big needs

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Meet the Texas Rangers.

A pitching staff so poor as to be almost painful to watch. Consistently shoddy fundamentals. Botched grounders. Missed cutoff men. Base-running blunders. Runners welded to second base with nobody out, then one out, then two outs. Situational hitting? What's that?

Game after game. Year after year.

Doug Melvin, charged to right these wrongs as the Rangers' new general manager, will start by hiring a manager.

The Rangers are rich with Latin American talent, so look for the manager Melvin hires to relate well to the frustrations Latin players encounter working in a foreign culture. Also, look for the manager to handle pitchers well, since Rangers pitchers have been mishandled for so long.

In short, look for Melvin to hire Cleveland Indians pitching coach Phil Regan, a finalist for the Orioles' job. Regan, considered one of the game's brightest pitching minds, has managed in the Dominican Republic or Venezuela every year since 1985.

"Managing down here has been invaluable," Regan said from Venezuela. "It's helped me in a number of ways. What's been invaluable to me is to understand the players. For instance, the Latin players a lot of times in the U.S. are portrayed as moody. But you have to understand what they go through to play in the States. An American player comes down here and someone is there to meet him at the airport. A van takes him everywhere he wants to go. An interpreter is available at all times. And even with that, American players down here get a little moody being in a foreign culture. It's not easy being away from your own country."

Regan patterns himself somewhat after the late Walter Alston.

"He was tough when he had to be tough, which was one of the things I respected about him," Regan said. "One of the first games after I joined the Dodgers, Don Drysdale failed to cover first base and cost us the game. Alston called a meeting the next day. If you make an error or a bad pitch he would never say a word. But if you made a mental mistake, look out. He chewed on Drysdale for 10 minutes and he said if that had been Don Sutton, who was a rookie at the time, he'd be on his way to Spokane. That made us all wake up a little."

Regan handles pitchers well and relates well to Latin players, which makes him a nice fit for the Rangers.

Now, what to do about the shoddy fundamentals? Hire Johnny Oates as bench coach and Orioles field coordinator Reid Nichols to perform similar duties for the Rangers. Oates and Nichols work well together on stressing the fine points of the game.

As dugout coach, Oates would not be the center of attention. A deer can't freeze in the headlights if the headlights are shining in another deer's eyes.

Third base coach for the Rangers? Jerry Narron. A man of utmost integrity, sound baseball knowledge, sound judgment in the box and great enthusiasm, Narron would be a huge plus for any organization.

hTC If Melvin attempts to raid the Orioles' scouting department, that's where the Orioles must build a moat.

Corporate KO

The St. Louis Cardinals, much like the Orioles in their search for a manager, took the corporate path in hiring a general manager.

Slowly they searched, inch by inch, step by step.

In baseball, sometimes it's best to shed the coat and tie and do it the old way. The Cardinals might live to wish they had taken that approach.

Cardinals president Mark Lamping, a corporate climber from the brewery, was granted permission to speak to Philadelphia Phillies general manager Lee Thomas.

Most of baseball, probably Thomas included, figured Lamping would all but offer Thomas the job at the first interview, last Sunday. Instead, Lamping was not ready to commit himself and continued discussions with Thomas during the next couple of days. Lamping told Thomas to think about when he wanted to come back for a second interview.

Lamping's stalling gave Thomas enough time to think about how staying in Philadelphia might not be the worst thing. Thomas called Lamping on Wednesday and told him thanks but no thanks.

"If I really wanted the job that badly, I would have seen it through to the end," Thomas told the Philadelphia Daily News. "But I felt bad for Bill Giles and I felt bad for the Phillies. Too many people were being disrupted. I don't know of too many organizations that would have put up with a week like that. . . . I may regret it someday, but right now I feel good about my decision."

Of course, the Cardinals won't regret waffling if Walt Jocketty works out as well as many in baseball believe he will.

La Ru$$a as free agent?

Jocketty, a former assistant GM for Oakland and Colorado, was recommended to Lamping by Tony La Russa. Expected to stay in Oakland at least for one more year, La Russa could be a free agent next winter. St. Louis' Joe Torre has one year remaining on his contract, as does Gene Lamont of the White Sox.

La Russa has strong ties to Jocketty, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and GM Ron Schueler. Plus, whatever other teams fire their managers after 1995 surely would be interested in La Russa.

Davey watch

Cincinnati Reds general manager Jim Bowden received a five-year contract extension Friday and wants to extend Davey Johnson's contract if Johnson doesn't get hired by the Orioles. Bowden has said he will not talk to Johnson until he resolves his status with the Orioles. But from Johnson's vantage point, can he afford to wait much longer?

If the Orioles really wanted Johnson, the most logical candidate for the job, what's the holdup? Could it be that the committee, realizing Johnson is the people's choice but not theirs, is stalling so that Johnson returns to Cincinnati? Probably not, because the committee members are sharp enough to know that wouldn't tame the fury of the fans for letting Johnson get away.

Otter update

Atlanta Braves GM John Schuerholz remains supportive of ex-Orioles closer Gregg Olson, who went 0-2 with a 9.20 ERA and allowed 32 base runners in 14 2/3 innings.

"We have gone through this together," Schuerholz said. "I would like to have him there for spring training."

Olson insists his elbow is fine.

"My elbow hasn't hurt in a long time now," Olson told the Atlanta Constitution. "I kept throwing the ball during the strike, but I have cut that out now. I think I can come back and be as strong as ever. I want to play for Atlanta. I'm healthy."

Wild Thing

Mitch Williams, hit so hard last season that the Houston Astros released him two months into the season, wants to make a comeback. Williams rejected offers from the California Angels and other clubs to return to baseball during last season. Now, convinced that his respite has enabled him to regain lost velocity, Williams wants to close again.

Williams, who saved 43 games for the Phillies in 1993 but received death threats after squandering two save tries in the World Series and giving up the decisive home run to Toronto's Joe Carter in Game 6, even would return to the Phillies.

"We've talked to Philadelphia, and they told me the door is open," Williams said. "I'd definitely consider going back there. I don't think I left on bad terms. . . . It takes a certain mentality to watch me pitch. Jim Fregosi just gave me the ball and walked down the tunnel and smoked."

Williams, accustomed to making others nervous, was a little shaky himself when he awakened at 5:30 one morning and saw an unfamiliar pickup truck parked at the front gate of his ranch in Hico, Texas. Williams armed himself and went outside to investigate, only to find former teammate Terry Mulholland asleep at the wheel. Mulholland, driving to his Arizona home, took a detour, arrived for an unannounced visit and did not want to wake up his buddy so early.

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