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D. Johnson emerges as O's favorite Angelos calls him 'impressive' after 'very good' meeting; Smith seems Tigers-bound; F. Robinson gets OK to speak with Padres


SEATTLE -- The Orioles have moved closer to resolving their manager and front-office jobs, which have been in a state of flux since the end of the regular season. The latest developments:

* Davey Johnson, outgoing manager of the Cincinnati Reds, met with Orioles owner Peter Angelos yesterday and emerged as a very strong front-runner in the event the club does not retain Phil Regan as manager.

* The Orioles granted permission to San Diego to interview Frank Robinson for the Padres' GM job. If Robinson leaves, that could improve general manager Roland Hemond's chances of being reassigned into a different job with the Orioles.

* The Orioles could fall out of the running today for general manager candidate Randy Smith, who completed an interview with the Detroit Tigers yesterday.

Angelos and club counsel Russell Smouse met for more than an hour with Johnson, 52, who is being ousted as manager of the Reds because, simply put, Cincinnati owner Marge Schott doesn't like him.

Angelos characterized the meeting as "very good, very productive. His baseball knowledge is impressive, and his strong background with the Orioles came through."

Johnson was the Orioles' second baseman in their glory years, playing under Earl Weaver. He interviewed to become the Orioles' manager last year, but lost out to Regan, who led the club to a 71-73 record.

Johnson expressed shock when he didn't get the job last year, and he said again last week that he'd like to manage in Baltimore.

Rejoining the Orioles, Johnson said, "would be like going home again. . . . [Last year], it was the only club that I had any interest in. I'd love to go back there. In '66, '69, '70, '71, I was in the World Series. I learned to play there. Those were wonderful teams. To go back and win as manager, that would be very good."

What about the pressure of managing in a baseball-crazy city like Baltimore? "I worked 10 years for the Mets, six years in the majors. I learned to handle a lot of things in New York," he said.

If the Orioles fire or reassign Regan, they would have to pay off his contract, which runs through 1996, with an option for 1997.

Angelos was busy yesterday: in the morning, Padres chief executive officer Larry Lucchino called him and asked for permission to interview Robinson for San Diego's GM job.

Contacted in his office yesterday, Robinson said, "I'm excited. This stuff has been playing out for so long, so I'm not jumping for joy.

"I feel at ease. I don't want to use the word vindicated, but I feel good about it. I have a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities. At least they'll interview me for the job, and talk to me about it."

Club sources in San Diego indicate that Mets executive Gerry Hunsicker, interviewed by the Padres yesterday, likely is the front-runner to replace Smith. But Robinson and Lucchino have a long-standing relationship; the former Orioles president asked for permission to interview Robinson during spring training, and offered him a job as an adviser. Robinson turned down that job then, but left open the possibility that he would go to work for this Padres this fall.

If Robinson is not hired as GM, San Diego sources indicate it's likely he'll be offered a job as an adviser to Lucchino. That job could be more attractive now than in the spring; if Hunsicker is the next Padres' GM, he'll be less experienced and less established than Smith had been, and Robinson could wield more authority.

Should Robinson depart, the chances of Hemond remaining with the Orioles, in some capacity, improve. A club source indicated that the Orioles are considering moving Hemond or Robinson into another job, and if one goes, the other could stay.

A week ago, Smith, 32, had a strong interview with Angelos and was a strong candidate to replace Hemond. But Smith completed an interview in Detroit yesterday, and he flew back to San Diego last night with two offers in hand -- one from the Tigers, the other from the Montreal Expos.

Smith said last week that he wanted to make a decision quickly. An Orioles source indicated that if Smith calls today, as expected, and gives the club an opportunity to make an offer, the club won't be ready to make a decision on Hemond and therefore won't be in a position to bid for Smith.

Smith, then, likely would take the job in Detroit, hire Steve Lubratich as his assistant general manager and former Padres scout Randy Johnson as his farm director.

Kevin Malone interviewed for the Orioles' GM job last week, and the Orioles may have interest in outgoing New York Yankees GM Gene Michael.

The Yankees are expected to announce today or tomorrow that Michael is accepting a scouting job. But it is believed Michael has a clause in his contract that would allow him to interview for a GM job elsewhere, and in the past, Michael privately has expressed an interest in working for the Orioles.

If the Orioles hire Johnson, they will bypass two other big-name ++ candidates, the Yankees' Buck Showalter and Oakland's Tony La Russa, who both may find out in the next few days where they will be working next year.

A club source in Oakland indicated that the Athletics should have a decision from La Russa by Friday.

Yankees owner George Steinbrenner twice attempted to contact Showalter yesterday, the first effort he has made since New York was knocked out of the playoffs. Showalter's contract expires in two weeks, and if he's fired by New York, Smith, if he takes the Tigers' job, could be interested in hiring him.

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