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Managerial hot seat warming up for some

Special to

August 12

Some have had their coaches fired from beneath them, as is the case with the Expos' Felipe Alou. Others have no contracts for next season, though Bobby Valentine's Mets are putting up their fourth straight good season, Lou Piniella's Mariners may be the best team in franchise history and the Reds' Jack McKeon is the reigning Manager of the Year.

Not that the lust of a managerial honor lasts through the next squall. Consider this: the Red Sox have the best ERA in the majors, have allowed the fewest runs per game of any of the 30 teams and their starters have thrown the fewest innings of any team in either league.

"That's a virtual impossibility," says Twins general manager Terry Ryan. "That Jimy Williams is one heckuva manager."

Buck Showalter
Showalter: No dice.

So much so that with such efficient starting pitching and a lineup that has only two players -- Nomar Garciaparra and Carl Everett -- better than the league average production for their positions, the talk show ravens are roasting Williams and several people close to GM Dan Duquette believe that if the Red Sox don't overcome their brutal September schedule, Williams is toast.

"Believe me," says another AL GM, "if Jimy Williams gets fired, he won't be out of work long, and there will be a lot of people laughing at the Red Sox."

Consider this: the Diamondbacks were two out in the NL West through Friday, have the fourth-best record in the NL and are on a pace to win 89 games and be the first expansion team to have winning records in their second and third seasons. And, believe it or not, there are calls for manager Buck Showalter to be fired.

What's interesting is that while there have been nine coaches and a GM axed thus far, this is the second year since World War II that we reached the 100-game mark, and/or the Ides of August, without one manager being fired. The other? 1999, when Tim Johnson was dishonorably discarded in Toronto before the season and everyone else lasted until September. "I think there are two basic reasons for that," says one GM. "The first is that the smaller-market teams have realistic expectations. The second is that with the July 31 trading deadline and the wild-card, half the teams believe they have a chance come the first of August."

There are at least a dozen managers who aren't sure where they'll be next season. Jim Bowden has resolutely remained silent on McKeon, but few believe that Trader Jack will be back next season. Gene Lamont, Terry Francona, Larry Dierker (after three first-place finishes) and Larry Rothschild hear the guns of August and sit and wonder. Davey Johnson, meanwhile, has had a lot of the Dodger trash left in his office, while Jim Fregosi's tenure in Toronto has been in question ever since Dave Stewart replaced Rick Langford as pitching coach against Fregosi's wishes.

Even Dusty Baker is without a contract, although Giants officials believe that he will eventually agree to a new deal and stay in San Francisco for numbers closer to what Bobby Cox -- who for all he's won in Toronto and Atlanta just reached seven figures for the first time this season -- is making. Baker's departure would be a shock, slightly more than if Alou were to leave Montreal. And, believe it or not, Alou thinks that may happen. The Great Spiritualist told another NL manager that when owner Jeff Loria fired his close friend Luis Pujols and respected pitching coach Bobby Cuellar, that it was an indication that ownership wanted him to quit, which he refused to do because Alou's never quit anything in his life.

Now, enter Showalter. "I guess it comes with the territory," says Showalter, whose team was 27-42 since May 14 (through Friday). "I was a little hurt initially, and my daughter got to the paper before I could and got very upset. But it's something a manager has to live with. We're not playing as well as we did last season."

One Phoenix columnist blamed the D-Backs' malaise entirely on Showalter, although Matt Williams has just 15 RBI, Jay Bell has dropped off from his big 1999, Tony Womack has a .301 on-base percentage batting out of the leadoff spot, and several other players have been injured. The gist of the reason for firing Showalter is that his rules and rigidity have stymied the players. Is Buck rigid? Yes. But some of the rules blamed on him are either league or player kangaroo court rules. Can Buck come down too hard on relief pitchers? Yes, much like the majority of major-league managers do.

If the D-Backs finish 8-to-10 games back of the Giants or Dodgers most media people around Arizona feel Showalter could get shown the door. To start with, there are rumblings throughout the game that the franchise has cash-flow problems, so much so that another owner claims some of Jerry Colangelo's partners have met with Bud Selig, which in turn quashed any thought of Arizona acquiring Sammy Sosa, because of financial problems.

But while the veteran team hasn't played as well as last season, Showalter's problem may not be managing players and games, but trying to manage non-baseball issues. Mesa Tribune columnist Scott Bordow cites clashes with non-baseball executives -- team president Richard Dozer and marketing director Scott Brubaker, who is Colangelo's son-in-law -- over what many would consider trivial matters. Bordow related an incident in which Showalter tried to keep the AL home run leaders from being flashed up every night on the scoreboard because Tony Batista is one of them. Media critics also claim that Buck has clashed with broadcasters.

These, of course, are side issues that a strong corporate boss like Colangelo can work out. There are some who feel that the managerial broadsides are a way of alerting Showalter that there are those who'd like to see him back managing in Oneonta, N.Y.

But look at this: Boston's leading RBI producer at third base is Wilton Veras with 14, and he's not even starting regularly at Triple-A Pawtucket because of someone named Freddy Garcia; in case you're wondering, Manny Alexander is next with nine. And all of their third basemen combined have 34 RBI. Meanwhile, Toronto's once-vaunted pitching staff now has Steve Trachsel and Frank Castillo as their second and third starters.

And sometime soon someone will have to pay for this.

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