Money's on A's, Red Sox in La Russa derby

BASEBALL

September 25, 1994|By TOM KEEGAN

Baseball's ultimate free agent departed Friday for a two-week vacation in England. Did he pack red socks or white socks? Was that an orange-and-black pair in there next to the green-and-gold ones?

Nobody knows what color socks Tony La Russa packed for his two-week family vacation in England. La Russa knows how to keep a secret and duck a question with the best of them because he learned from the master, Orioles general manager Roland Hemond.

"Excuse me, Roland, what time is it?"

"Ah, it's difficult to say at this time."

"At what time?"

"Can't say."

Like the man who gave him his first major-league managing job, La Russa can keep his trap shut. It's even easier to seal lips when you don't know the secret yourself, which very well could be the case with La Russa.

The Oakland Athletics want to keep La Russa, whose contract expires next month. The Boston Red Sox want to hire La Russa and would pay him a record salary.

The Orioles' job is not open yet, but they have requested -- and were denied -- permission to speak to La Russa. Orioles owner Peter Angelos is expected to make a decision on Johnny Oates, signed through 1995, in the next two weeks.

Might Hemond be able to persuade La Russa to sit in the Orioles' dugout? He might, especially since Angelos would be willing to outbid anyone, as he did in heading a group that paid $173 million to purchase the Orioles.

Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf badly wants to right what he considers the biggest mistake of his sports career, letting then-GM Ken "Hawk" Harrelson fire La Russa. The problem? Reinsdorf's current manager, Gene Lamont, has finished in first place for two consecutive seasons. Reinsdorf would have a difficult time justifying firing Lamont.

In fact, the Chicago Tribune reported today that Lamont received an offer yesterday to return as manager but won't decide for a few days whether to accept it.

A friend of La Russa's, claiming no definitive inside knowledge, said he would handicap the La Russa derby this way: Oakland remains the favorite, with Boston running a close second, and the rest of the field galloping off in the distance.

Of course, that could change once the Orioles are able to talk to La Russa, whose contract expires one week into October.

La Russa, whose passion for the game of baseball is matched only by his knowledge, would find the atmospheres at Fenway Park and Camden Yards very much to his liking.

Each potential suitor offers appealing aspects.

Oakland: La Russa and family live in the San Francisco Bay area and he is active in the local animal rights group. Also, La Russa is big on loyalty and is grateful to the Haas family for investing to build a winner, even to the extent of losing money.

The Haas family has put the club up for sale for $85 million and wants to find a local ownership group. The ownership transfer might not take place until the 1996 season. Would a one-year contract be enough to keep La Russa, who then could become a free agent after next season?

Boston: Red Sox tradition. Fenway Park. Knowledgeable fans. A chance to own the town by leading the Red Sox to their first World Series title since 1918.

Baltimore: Tradition. Camden Yards. Knowledgeable fans. Hemond. Mike Mussina, Ben McDonald, Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro.

Chicago: Close friends in town, including Reinsdorf. Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Wilson Alvarez, Jason Bere.

La Russa has a lot to mull during his family vacation. He is not expected to make any decisions until after he returns from England.

Royals, Cards vary in approach

Missouri's two baseball teams, the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals, have vacancies to fill and will go about filling them in different manners.

Newly appointed Cardinals president Mark Lamping, a corporate climber from the brewery, fired general manager Dal Maxvill. Lamping has made it clear he wants the Cardinals to win now, rather than build for the future. Manager Joe Torre's status is in jeopardy, but before firing Torre the Cardinals will have to ask themselves the same question the Orioles will ask themselves: Do they want to pay two managers without any guarantee there will be one team to manage? Like Oates, Torre is signed through the 1995 season.

In contrast to the Cardinals, the Royals are in favor of a youth movement and are prepared to let several talented prospects from within their system prove themselves.

The Royals interviewed Minnesota Twins third base coach Ron Gardenhire for the managing job and have scheduled interviews with Cincinnati Reds coach Bob Boone and Chicago Cubs coach Tony Muser.

Veteran manager Whitey Herzog, retired but open-minded about managing again, would find the Cardinals' win-now approach more appealing than the Royals' youth movement.

Padres changing hands

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