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La Russa is perfect fit, but it's not that simple


It's no lock Tony La Russa would manage the Orioles next season. But if he doesn't, who will?

Not Buck Showalter, who almost certainly would stay in New York if he led the Yankees to their first postseason appearance since 1981.

And not Davey Johnson, who was passed over for this job last off-season and whose hiring would amount to the public admission of a mistake.

Stature is perhaps the most important qualification for this job. La Russa, in many ways, is the perfect fit -- if he would work for Peter Angelos.

The Orioles shouldn't hire Sparky Anderson, who hasn't won since 1987 and is a poor choice for a laid-back team.

And they probably can't hire Jim Leyland, who is expected to sign a five-year, $5.5 million contract extension if the Pirates stay in Pittsburgh.

La Russa.

It has to be La Russa.

Firing Phil Regan is pointless unless the Orioles bring in a proven winner. A first-year manager would be a disaster, a recycled manager nearly as bad.

Once and for all, forget Rick Dempsey -- the Dodgers don't even want him back at Triple-A Albuquerque, according to ESPN's Peter Gammons.

The problem is, the Orioles need to act quickly if they want La Russa. And the accelerated timetable raises a number of disturbing questions.

The general manager picks the manager, remember? Yes, but (( the Orioles also are looking for a GM. And La Russa has only 10 days from the end of the season to void the final year of his contract with Oakland.

Hiring La Russa first would disrupt the chain of command and weaken the new GM. Which is exactly what the Orioles don't need at this time.

The question is one of authority. La Russa would report to Angelos, not the GM. La Russa would crave control. La Russa would wield the most power.

That might happen regardless -- La Russa would have the upper hand on most GMs. Still, it would put the GM in an even worse position than Roland Hemond. He would be a puppet, not just of the owner but also of the manager.

Couldn't La Russa also be the GM? No, it would be too much. Player contracts are too important now. A '90s version of Whitey Herzog couldn't separate business from baseball.

Imagine La Russa going to arbitration with a player, then saying, "Hey, can you change positions for me?" Even more frightening, imagine his trying to rebuild the Orioles' farm system from a hotel room in Seattle.

The jobs are too vast, the responsibilities too varied. La Russa is smart enough to recognize that. And if the Orioles hired a sharp GM, one La Russa respected, the team could run just fine.

The real question is, would La Russa even work for Angelos?

The answer apparently is yes.

Earlier this season, La Russa told the Washington Times that he would have considered coming to Baltimore last year if the A's hadn't denied him permission to interview with the Orioles.

He said the job appealed to him for three reasons. He wanted to manage in a baseball-crazed city in the intensely competitive AL East. He wanted to manage in an organization committed to winning. And he wanted to manage Cal Ripken.

La Russa and Ripken were two of the featured subjects in George Will's best seller, "Men at Work." They share a mutual respect, and could be seen talking at length before games when the Orioles played the A's this season.

Factor in La Russa's affinity for Hemond, the man who gave him his first managerial job, and you've got a manager ready to bleed orange and black, right?

Not so fast.

La Russa works for A's GM Sandy Alderson, one of Angelos' many enemies in baseball. La Russa also is fond of Johnny Oates, and couldn't have been happy over the way Angelos humiliated him last season.

Besides, what is Hemond going to tell La Russa, that everything is peachy under Angelos? "He fires everyone, and now he's kicking me upstairs," Hemond might say. "But really, Tony, this is a great working environment."

Actually, it could be a great working environment for someone of La Russa's immense ego and talent.

The truth is, La Russa and Angelos probably would love each other. After all, they're both lawyers. They could argue for hours each day, then tell each other how smart they are.

La Russa could handle the scrutiny of a one-team town and, most importantly, rise above it. A rookie manager such as Regan made for an easy target, and so did an insecure manager such as Oates.

The A's are in last place in the AL West. Does anyone blame La Russa?

Like Pat Riley, he needs a fresh start. Why does everyone assume he'll return to Chicago? The White Sox are the fifth-most important team in that city. And Jerry Reinsdorf is an owner who fired him once before.

La Russa probably is kicking himself for not pursuing the Boston job last season, but he stayed in Oakland out of loyalty to owner Walter Haas, who was trying to sell the club.

Now, Haas is dead, and another AL East team beckons. For the Orioles, all the eggs are in one basket. They need La Russa worse than he needs them. There is no second choice.

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