CINCINNATI -- Oakland manager Tony La Russa held off his decision until tonight, but Willie McGee figures to start in centerfield over Dave Henderson in Game 1 of the World Series at Riverfront Stadium.
McGee appears recovered from a bruised rib-cage muscle, and La Russa isn't likely to bench one of his fastest players on artificial turf, especially not with Henderson coming off arthroscopic knee surgery.
In addition, the loss of switch-hitting shortstop Walt Weiss leaves La Russa without a lefthanded bat in his lineup unless he plays McGee, another switch-hitter, against righthander Jose Rijo.
It's conceivable Henderson could start Game 2 against lefthander Danny Jackson, but it seems more likely he'll remain in a pinch-hitting role until the series returns to Oakland.
Of course, every manager would love to have the choice of playing the National League batting champion (McGee) or a lifetime .306 hitter in the postseason (Henderson).
Asked if turf would bother his knee, Henderson joked, "Depends how much I have to run the bases. If I go 6-for-8 it could be a rough night. But if I get four or five hits, I'll just go for the jacks [home runs]."
The A's, by the way, went 16-9 on artificial turf. Weiss, out for the series with a strained left knee, has greater range than Mike Gallego, who is normally a second baseman. But La Russa said, "I don't feel we have a problem at all."
* HE'S BACK! The back of Rijo's T-shirt yesterday said, "It's over." No word whether the reference was to his pact of silence with reliever Rob Dibble, which lasted all of 24 hours, or to the Series itself.
Rijo, of course, drew criticism in the NL playoffs for proclaiming the Reds champions when they led Pittsburgh three games to one. He appeared in the interview room yesterday, but only after consulting with his Game 1 opponent, former Oakland teammate Dave Stewart.
"See what happens when they talk to me?" Stewart said, smiling.
The latest Rijo controversy involves the way he was handled in Oakland. He maintains the A's hindered his development before packaging him in the Dave Parker trade on Dec. 8, 1987. Naturally, the A's dispute that claim.
Rijo was 17-24 with Oakland.
He's 34-22 with Cincinnati.
La Russa downplayed the matter yesterday, but both he and Stewart indicated that one of Rijo's problems in Oakland might have been the influence of fellow Dominican and former A's teammate Joaquin Andujar.
Stewart said the relationship "caused some problems," but added, "That was then. This is now. I've always felt a good young arm is something you have to wait on. He's done an outstanding job for Cincinnati."
Rijo smiled when asked about Andujar, of whom he said, "He had a big mouth, but he's a great guy." Rijo has since moved on to better role models -- specifically, his father-in-law, Juan Marichal.
vTC * ON THE LIGHTER SIDE: A reporter told La Russa that Cincinnati manager Lou Piniella had gray hairs in his beard. La Russa blamed the double switch. "National League managing, boy it's tough," he said.
Piniella, by the way, said he intends to shave his stubble before tonight in accordance with club policy. Why hadn't he done so already? "We haven't played the game yet," he said, smiling.
Oh, these teams are nervous all right.
Stewart feigned anger when approached by an A's publicist, hollering, "I ain't doing no press conferences today. I've got the Roger Clemens syndrome."
Then, at the conclusion of his news conference, a surprise interviewer popped his head out from behind a curtain. "Dave, I have a question Dave," he said, raising his hand.
It was Reds outfielder Eric Davis.
"Get out of here," Stewart yelled, grinning. "I'll talk to you Wednesday."
That's tomorrow, the day after Stewart pitches.
* ON THE QUOTABLE SIDE: La Russa on Piniella's transition to managing: "I always thought he was kind of amazing. To manage as well as he did right away with the Yankees, normally you've got to do it in the minor leagues first.
"To do it in the major leagues, it takes a while to get that good. But that's the kind of player he was. For all the stuff about his temper, he was a smart hitter, a smart player. He's taken all that into his managing."
Stewart, a leading citizen of Oakland, on earthquake relief efforts one year after The Big One: "Everything is slow in the Bay Area, as far as rebounding from the 'quake. Nothing really happens as quickly as you would like.
"If it was up to me, all the freeway entrances and exits would be open. But there are still quite a few in Oakland and San Francisco not in use. As far as the mental part, I think people in the area have recovered quite well."
Cincinnati infielder Ron Oester on the imprisoned Pete Rose: "Because of what happened, I know Pete's not going to get a lot of public recognition here, but believe me, he's not forgotten in the clubhouse.