O's close in on new manager; Saving face is factor; Hargrove has 'leg up'


Against a not-so-subtle backdrop of internal uncertainty, the Orioles intend to prove again this week that they are fully capable of hiring respected baseball men.

The club's next manager, according to club and industry sources, will be announced in the next two days as either former Cleveland Indians skipper Mike Hargrove, Boston Red Sox bench coach Grady Little or an "internal" candidate resembling third base coach Sam Perlozzo.

Hargrove, whose teams won five consecutive American League Central titles and two league championships before he was ousted earlier this month, is described as having "a leg up" to become the fifth man to work the dugout during majority owner Peter Angelos' six-year stewardship of the franchise. Hargrove has remained adamant about his interest in the job, promising that he hasn't interviewed with Angelos' five-man advisory committee as "practice" for another candidacy.

Angelos, say those familiar with the situation, is likewise excited by the possibility of hiring a manager with Hargrove's credibility and visibility.

The Orioles already have contacted Hargrove and Little about their availability to fly to Baltimore early this week. Hargrove is scheduled to begin a family vacation on Thursday. Little's only possible conflict is his candidacy for the Milwaukee Brewers' vacancy, which already has been offered -- and rejected -- by Atlanta hitting coach Don Baylor, presumably to accept the Chicago Cubs' offer.

Perhaps mindful that Angelos was ultimately going to make the decision, the five-man committee could not reach a unanimous recommendation, according to club sources. Even before receiving its recommendation, Angelos had begun an independent investigation of the candidates.

"I think there's a real desire to get this done and move on," said a club source.

A decision can't come quickly enough for Ray Miller's holdover coaching staff, which has floated in a professional limbo during the committee's 24-day search.

The contracts of Perlozzo, bench coach Eddie Murray and bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks expire at midnight. Perlozzo and Murray interviewed for the vacancy along with first base coach Marv Foley. None has received any indication of his status if bypassed as manager.

"The longer it takes, the more apprehensive you get," Hendricks said earlier this week. Hendricks has spent the past 22 years in an Orioles uniform and has served as coach for Earl Weaver, Joe Altobelli, Cal Ripken Sr., Frank Robinson, Johnny Oates, Phil Regan, Davey Johnson and Miller. He has received no word regarding his status since undergoing back surgery Oct. 4.

Signed through 2000, pitching coach Bruce Kison seemed to predict a change in his status last week, saying, "Any manager is going to want a voice in his pitching coach. I would expect that to be the situation this time as well."

The Orioles have rarely taken industry criticism for whom they hire. Pat Gillick, Kevin Malone and, most recently, Frank Wren have resigned or been fired within the past 14 1/2 months only to be almost immediately courted for similar positions elsewhere.

Gillick ended his "retirement" from the game last week by accepting a post as Seattle Mariners general manager. Wren, fired on Oct. 6, was unemployed for only a week before accepting a job as Atlanta Braves assistant general manager. Wren is considered the presumptive heir to John Schuerholz should Schuerholz rise within the Time Warner empire. Malone left as Orioles assistant GM in August 1998 to become Los Angeles Dodgers general manager.

Hargrove, 50, was victimized by his own success as well as by organizational intrigue in Cleveland. His teams dominated their division but stumbled in the postseason, most recently by blowing a 2-0 Division Series lead to the Boston Red Sox earlier this month.

No fan of his manager's reputation as a tactician, general manager John Hart had threatened Hargrove's ouster the past two seasons but followed through after the latest disappointment.

Hargrove didn't hurt his standing last week in an interview with ESPN. Asked about the seemingly constant turmoil within the Orioles organization, Hargrove said, "I don't look at it as a negative situation. I look at it as a very positive situation. And everything that I have heard about the Orioles' situation from people that are with the Orioles, that are close to the Orioles, that understand what is going on, say that the situation there is not as advertised. It is a good place to work."

Little is also a highly respected baseball man who has interviewed for managerial openings in Boston and Tampa Bay. He is also being considered by the Brewers along with former Orioles coach Davey Lopes and New York Yankees third base coach Willie Randolph.

Before his firing, Wren was a vocal supporter of Little's, calling him an "up-and-coming" talent within the industry. Little hardly fits the Tommy Lasorda-Bobby Valentine line of managers. Conversely, he is seen as a Bobby Cox-type able to communicate with his players while loathe to self-promotion.

As print columnists and talk radio callers remain mindful of the well-chronicled failures that have brought the franchise to this decision, the Orioles look expectantly to announcing their success.

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