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Down still hoping to manage in majors

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- Former Orioles hitting coach Rick Down is back with the New York Yankees this season, and he still has hopes of becoming a major-league manager someday because baseball is a funny business.

"Coming over here, I just got a lot smarter," Down said on his way to the Yankee Stadium batting cage this past week. "It takes good hitters to be a good hitting coach."

Orioles owner Peter Angelos interviewed Down before hiring Ray Miller as manager for the 1998 season. Down was the runner-up when the Anaheim Angels hired Terry Collins before 1997, and when the Los Angeles Dodgers hired Jim Tracy before 2001. He was also a finalist for managerial jobs with the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

But a funny thing happened when Down left the Orioles in 1998, after three years as their hitting coach. His stock went down. The phone calls for interviews were fewer and further between.

Down had overseen two of the most prolific offensive seasons in Orioles history -- 1996 and 1997 -- before drawing criticism from Miller when the team slumped in 1998. Down joined former Orioles manager Davey Johnson with the Dodgers in 1999, and they had two disappointing years.

When the Dodgers hired Tracy, Down left to become the Red Sox's hitting coach a year ago, then watched as Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Pedro Martinez succumbed to injuries.

Now, Down has returned to his roots. The Yankees brought him back as hitting coach, remembering the success he had in that role from 1993 to 1995. Before that, as a manager in the Yankees' system, Down had set records at Triple-A Columbus with 242 victories and a .619 winning percentage.

Lo and behold, Down looks like a genius again. The Yankees have added Jason Giambi, Robin Ventura, Nick Johnson and Rondell White to an already potent lineup, and as Down says, he just tries not to mess things up.

The Yankees entered the weekend leading the major leagues in runs (339) and home runs (96).

"These guys have shown they can hit in the past, and they have been notorious for working the count," Down said.

Down signed a one-year contract, so if and when a sudden rise in his stock leads to another managerial interview, he'll be ready.

"I still want to manage someday," he said.

Bird's-eye view

Down said he still has fond memories from his time in Baltimore, and watching the Orioles take two of three from his Yankees last week, Down noticed a difference in their play.

"Those guys play the game right," he said. "They play it hard. They play it aggressive. Regardless of the score, they try to beat you. They don't sit around and wait. They're aggressive on the bases.

"[Brian] Roberts is wearing us out. [Gary] Matthews looks comfortable at the plate. They've got a good mix with [Jay] Gibbons, [Jeff] Conine and [Marty] Cordova. [Mike] Bordick knows how to win."

Rays get to Upton first

With the second pick in this year's amateur draft, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays landed the player the Orioles coveted most: Virginia high school shortstop B.J. Upton. On Monday, reports surfaced that Upton had turned down a $4 million offer from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who held the No. 1 pick.

But his father denied those claims. "I can't ever remember turning down $4 million," Manny Upton told the Tampa Tribune.

Compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.

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