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POST '87 SCRIPTS : DODGERS: After Downhill Slide, O'Malley Faces a Rebuilding Job

October 05, 1987|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

It was only the second game of the season, but the Dodgers already were a mess. All the portents of a bleak Dodger future were quite evident that early April night in the Houston Astrodome.

Al Campanis, the club's longtime vice president, had questioned the inherent ability of blacks to manage in baseball during a nationally televised interview the previous night. He would be fired the next morning. Speaking of lacking the necessities, the team itself was in the process of recording the second of what would be 89 losses.

Peter O'Malley, the Dodger owner, was enduring this organizational crumbling from his seat in the first row. At one point, he turned to an acquaintance and said: "I think it's going to be a long year."

Long and ignominious as it was, the Dodgers' season of futility has ended. Now, O'Malley will access the considerable damage from the club's first consecutive losing seasons since 1967-68 and make several critical management and player decisions that will alter the future, and perhaps fortunes, of a once-dominant franchise gone bad.

O'Malley's most important and difficult decision will be the choice of a new leader. Vice President Fred Claire, Campanis' replacement, says he wants to keep the job. Manager Tom Lasorda also wants the job, and speculation has raged that Lasorda will leave the organization for another as a general manager if he is not promoted to the front office.

All sorts of solutions to this intriguing dilemma have been circulating in recent months, but only O'Malley has the answer. He said recently that he will make a decision some time in October, perhaps as early as this week.

"I'm not going to speculate in the meantime," O'Malley said. "I will not respond to any rumors. . . . The most important thing is that we have all the right pieces in the right places and have them in place at some time. I'm not locked into any particular date."

One resolution would have Claire and Lasorda share the authority, though it is believed Lasorda would balk at such an arrangement. Or maybe O'Malley will look outside the organization and hire an experienced general manager, though he denied an earlier report out of Toronto that Blue Jays' Pat Gillick will take command in 1988.

What is apparent is that Lasorda, 60, has grown tired of managing after 11 seasons with the Dodgers, the last two being quite taxing. He insists he still bleeds Dodger blue after 38 years in the organization, but a transfusion of Philadelphia red or Chicago Cub blue or Yankee pinstripes might not be painful if any of those clubs offer him front-office power. The Cubs and Yankees have already asked O'Malley for permission to talk to Lasorda, according to one report from East Coast sources.

Over the weekend, Lasorda said he has not talked to representatives from any other team. Lasorda, signed to manage the Dodgers through the next season, said he will not think about going elsewhere until his status with the Dodgers is determined.

"I have a contract for one more year," Lasorda said. "I have to obligate that contract. I'm hoping and praying (the Dodgers) want me and keep me."

Asked if he would want to remain with the Dodgers strictly as manager and without any front-office authority instead of seeking a better arrangement, Lasorda said:

"If that's what he (O'Malley) wants, that's what he gets. I'm loyal to him."

There are other, less high profile, management decisions to be made. Bill Scheweppe, the club's 73-year-old minor league operations administrator, has retired. O'Malley has been interviewing candidates since early summer and is expected to announce a replacement soon. Rumors also persist that scouting director Ben Wade, who turns 65 in November, will be eased into retirement because of the widespread criticism that department has received this season.

Once the front-office maneuvering has been completed--or maybe even during that process--the purging of the Dodger roster will begin. Not only will the Dodgers rid themselves of many of the veteran fringe players Claire brought in to try to plug holes, they also figure to make a few significant trades.

Claire has said there are no "untouchables" among Dodgers players, and O'Malley said he will consider all alternatives. Claire has talked about building the club around speed, defense, pitching and youth, prompting speculation that such notables as Mike Marshall and Pedro Guerrero will be made available to interested teams.

Among the players that the Dodgers figure will be available to them via trades, for a steep asking price, of course, are New York Yankees center fielder Rickey Henderson and Baltimore Orioles first baseman Eddie Murray.

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