Orioles face no shortage of candidates in GM search D. Johnson seems shoo-in as manager: La Russa opts out of consideration


With the resignation of Orioles general manager Roland Hemond and the firing of manager Phil Regan, much of the club's baseball operations will be overhauled before next season, from GM to the major-league coaches.

The state of the hierarchy:

* The Orioles have interviewed Kevin Malone, who resigned as GM of the Montreal Expos at the end of the regular season, as a possible candidate to replace Hemond. They could ask for permission to talk to Mike Port, assistant GM of the Boston Red Sox, or Danny Evans, the assistant GM with the Chicago White Sox.

Gene Michael stepped down as New York Yankees GM to take a scouting job in the organization, but said that he'd be willing to talk to other interested teams about working as a GM again. However, pursuing Michael would mean going through owner George Steinbrenner to receive permission, a potential road block.

Another possibility is Cincinnati Reds GM Jim Bowden, who is signed to a series of five nonguaranteed, one-year contracts. Bowden effectively could become a free agent Dec. 31, the date his contract expires each year, or he could attempt to make a deal with owner Marge Schott to get out of his contract. Bowden's name already is linked in the rumor mill with the Yankees' GM opening.

Bowden, 34, is respected for his aggressiveness and talent, but generally disliked by fellow general managers for his alleged arrogance. Other general managers think he's often less than forthright when talking trade.

Nevertheless, Orioles officials insist they will not seek permission to talk to Bowden.

* Assistant general manager Frank Robinson could be nearing the end of his affiliation with the Orioles. He interviews for the San Diego Padres' GM job Monday, and even if he doesn't get that, he may be offered another front-office position. His contract with the Orioles expires Dec. 31.

* Scouting director Gary Nickels and Syd Thrift, the director of player development, will remain in their current roles. Nickels was called off a long-scheduled scouting trip to meet with owner Peter Angelos yesterday, but apparently is not a candidate for GM.

* Davey Johnson impressed Angelos in an interview Tuesday and is a strong front-runner to replace Regan. In the meeting, Johnson was asked, in so many words, if he would be interested in taking the Orioles' job, and he answered in the affirmative. The deal may be done as soon as Monday.

Oakland Athletics manager Tony La Russa called the Orioles this week and took himself out of the running to replace Regan. "I asked Baltimore to remove my name from consideration," La Russa said yesterday.

Yankees manager Buck Showalter, then, may be the only possibility other than Johnson. Showalter, whose contract expires in 10 days, meets again with New York owner George Steinbrenner today in Florida to review his situation.

* Whoever the manager is, he will be given wide freedom to choose his own coaching staff, leaving many of the current Orioles coaches in jeopardy. Bench coach Chuck Cottier likely will lose his job, for he had close ties to Regan. Third base coach Steve Boros, hired by Regan, is also in trouble, although his ability at directing runners this year earned him wide respect within the organization.

Unless the next manager has a specific pitching coach in mind, Mike Flanagan may be riding the bubble. Some pitchers praised his work, including Mike Mussina. And while he and Regan drew some criticism for their handling of the pitching staff, no one other than Regan and Flanagan may have a true read on where the influence of former pitching coach Regan ended and where Flanagan's input began. A factor that could help Flanagan, as it helps Johnson, is that he is a beloved former Oriole player.

Hitting coach Lee May likely is out of a job, in any event. According to club sources, the Orioles thought about replacing him in midseason. Former Red Sox hitting coach Mike Easler, whose abilities are widely acknowledged, was hired as a minor-league instructor by the Orioles last week. Easler could be given a preseason promotion, if the next manager doesn't have other ideas.

Players respected the work ethic of first base coach Al Bumbry, but he could be in trouble because he holds a job in which the turnover can be fast and furious. Should the next manager want a friend on the staff, the first base coaching box often is a place where a manager's best friend stands.

Front-runners for Orioles manager, GM

Davey Johnson, 52

The strong front-runner to replace Phil Regan as Orioles manager. Johnson led the New York Mets to a World Series championship in 1986, then was fired in 1990. At that time, the conventional wisdom on Johnson was that he was the prototypical players' manager, allowing his stars to go out and play, unencumbered by his rules. But after he took over the Cincinnati Reds in 1993, Johnson showed an improved talent for instruction. The Reds had the best record in the NL Central in 1994, before the players went on strike and wiped out the season. They won the division title this year but were swept in the NL Championship Series. Johnson's major-league record is 733-541; his .576 career winning percentage is first among active managers.

Kevin Malone, 38

He is the only available candidate who already has interviewed to be the Orioles' general manager. Malone has a long history in scouting and player development, and he became the Montreal Expos' GM in January 1994, when Dan Duquette left to join the Boston Red Sox. The Expos had the best record in baseball last year, and perhaps the best team, but financial problems forced Montreal to strip its payroll; in one week in spring training this year, Malone traded All-Stars John Wetteland, Ken Hill and Marquis Grissom. The Expos remained competitive all year, but weren't contenders. Malone was pegged as the game's best GM this year by Baseball Weekly magazine. His sometimes brutal honesty and his strong religious beliefs occasionally has made others in the game cringe, including his bosses.

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