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Murray, Perlozzo lead pack

Where do the Orioles go from here? Firing manager Mike Hargrove yesterday is the perceived first step in changing the direction of a franchise that keeps slamming into fourth place. Now comes the hard part: finding a replacement.

They may not have far to look, unless they decide to rummage through their past.

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Club sources have indicated that bench coach Sam Perlozzo and former Oriole Eddie Murray, the Cleveland Indians' hitting coach, are leading candidates to run the team in 2004.

Though Murray has no managerial experience beyond one stint in the Arizona Fall League, he'll apparently be a finalist for the job. The Orioles are expected to consider no fewer than 10 candidates, but may trim that list to four or five, including Perlozzo and Murray, before conducting interviews.

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Perlozzo, 52, came close to being hired by the Seattle Mariners after last season before losing out to Bob Melvin. He would attract more attention from other teams this fall if the Orioles don't promote him.

Perlozzo has been an Orioles coach for eight seasons, the past three on the bench with Hargrove, who endorsed him yesterday by saying, "I think Sammy would be perfect for that job."

A major league coach for 17 years, Perlozzo compiled a 364-263 record in five minor league seasons. His teams finished in first place three straight seasons, and Baseball America named him minor league Manager of the Year in 1984 after Jackson won the Double-A Texas League title.

Besides going 4-8 this year while Hargrove tended to his ailing mother, Perlozzo hasn't managed since 1986 with Triple-A Tidewater. He moved up to the New York Mets in 1987 as third base coach, and held the same position with the Cincinnati Reds in 1990 when they won the World Series.

An organization obsessed with returning to the Oriole Way also is drawn to Murray, who spent 12 1/2 of his 21 playing seasons with the team and celebrated the city's last World Series in 1983.

The Indians hired Murray, 47, after he served as an Orioles coach for four seasons. His resume as a player is flawless - he joined Hank Aaron and Willie Mays as the only members of the 500-homer, 3,000-hit club - and a thin managerial background might be overlooked by an organization seeking many of the qualities that Hall of Famer Earl Weaver once brought to the team.

Hargrove was viewed as a manager who commanded respect throughout the clubhouse but might not have pushed his players hard enough. Some team officials perceive Murray as more closely resembling the feisty Weaver, though he had a laid-back personality as a player.

Murray and vice president of baseball operations Mike Flanagan both played for Weaver, and their bond is unmistakable.

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Without addressing anyone in particular, executive vice president Jim Beattie said: "First and foremost, you look for knowledge of the game. You look for communication with players, and in this day, with fans and the media. You look for character and you look for toughness."

Murray's sour relationship with the media didn't affect him as a player or prevent him from being inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer in his first year of eligibility, but it could bring challenges as a manager. It also could be a deciding factor if the choice comes down to him or Perlozzo.

Though Murray hasn't paid his dues as other candidates have, he's one of the most popular Orioles in franchise history, and commissioner Bud Selig likely will push for a minority hire.

Hargrove won five division titles and went to two World Series with the Indians, coming within a Jose Mesa blown save of winning it all in 1997. Named as Ray Miller's replacement on Nov. 3, 1999, he instantly brought credibility to an organization needing direction. He had a track record and the respect of his peers, but none of that mattered in a division where the standings seem to be predetermined each spring.

He couldn't transform the Orioles into winners, so it's somebody else's turn. And if the new hire fails, especially with a roster that's expected to be upgraded this winter, Hargrove will be vindicated.

Beattie and Flanagan must decide whether they want to give the keys to a rookie driver or go with a more experienced hand. Should they offer someone a first chance or do a little recycling? Of all the decisions they'll make before Opening Day, none will be more important.

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The following is a capsule look at some other candidates:

* Gary Allenson, manager, Triple-A Ottawa

Allenson's stock soared this year after leading Ottawa, in its first year as an Orioles affiliate, to the International League playoffs despite significant roster upheaval. He's part of the organization's infusion of no-nonsense leadership at the minor league level that brought better discipline and better results on the field. He also was hired by the new regime, which works in his favor. A big league catcher for seven seasons, Allenson is 612-665 in 10 years as a minor league manager, beginning at Single-A Oneonta in 1987. He won the New York-Penn League title in 1988. Before joining the Lynx, Allenson, 48, was the Milwaukee Brewers' first base coach in 2000 and third base coach in 2001 and 2002. He also was the Boston Red Sox's bullpen coach in 1992 and 1993 and their third base coach in 1994.

* Rick Dempsey, first base coach, Orioles

Another link to the Oriole Way, Dempsey spent 11 1/2 of his 24 seasons as a player in the organization and was named World Series Most Valuable Player in 1983. He has been on the Orioles' coaching staff for two years. Dempsey, 54, also lacks major league managing experience, but he posted a winning record in three of five minor league seasons in the Los Angeles Dodgers' and New York Mets' systems. He led Triple-A Albuquerque to the Pacific Coast League title in 1994 with an 83-56 mark, one year after going 42-94 at Single-A Bakersfield. He also was 145-139 in two seasons at Triple-A Norfolk. Dempsey spent two years on the Dodgers' staff but was demoted from third base coach to bullpen coach in May 1999. He's a fan favorite and a member of the Orioles Hall of Fame, and probably will receive a courtesy interview.

* Willie Randolph, third base coach, New York Yankees

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Randolph's name is attached to every opening, but he's still looking for his first managerial gig. He has also grown tired of being used by organizations that need to interview a minority candidate. Last year alone, Randolph, 49, met with officials from Seattle, Milwaukee, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Detroit Tigers and Mets. The previous year, he lost out in Minnesota and Houston. Being tied to the Yankees for so long, including one season as an assistant general manager and the past 10 as third base coach, does have its advantages. All those world championships look really good on a resume.

* Rich Dauer, bench coach, Milwaukee Brewers

The Orioles' interest seems to be painted in orange and black. Dauer also has deep roots in the organization after playing second base for the Orioles from 1976 to 1985. He was among the players getting drenched with champagne in the visiting clubhouse at Veterans Stadium after Game 5 of the 1983 World Series. Dauer's major league experience since retirement is confined to coaching duties, including a stint in Kansas City. Another former teammate of Flanagan's, Dauer is certain to receive a phone call. If he handles the interview as smoothly as all those ground balls at second, he could become a finalist.

The best of the rest

Plenty of other names could surface. Joe Torre might be fired if the Yankees lose in the playoffs. If he wound up in Boston, that would make Grady Little available. Is this baseball or dominos?

Jerry Manuel is looking for work after the Chicago White Sox fired him yesterday, and there's lots of heat on Los Angeles manager Jim Tracy.

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Former Kansas City Royals second baseman Frank White has paid his dues as a major league coach and should be considered one of the top minority candidates. So is Davey Lopes, a former first base coach with the Orioles who was fired as Milwaukee's manager after last season. He interviewed with the Orioles before they hired Hargrove.

Red Sox bench coach Jerry Narron, a former Orioles coach and minor league manager, was rumored as a strong candidate because of his ties to Beattie - a former teammate seen holding a long conversation with him beside the batting cage before a recent game at Camden Yards. But Narron apparently isn't in the mix.

Sun staff writer Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.


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