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Leyland an Angel Possibility?

Tuesday's game: Manager to leave Pirates, but California management takes wait-and-see stance.

September 19, 1996|JOHN WEYLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pittsburgh Manager Jim Leyland, frustrated by the cash-strapped franchise's cost-cutting moves, Tuesday announced his resignation effective at the end of the season. Leyland said he will seek a position with a team that has an interim manager and doesn't face a long rebuilding process, leaving the Angels and the Florida Marlins as favorites.

Leyland, 51, is a two-time National League manager of the year who led the Pirates to three consecutive Eastern Division championships from 1990-92. He is considered one of the most astute bench managers in the game and surely is high on both teams' list of candidates.

General Manager Bill Bavasi declined to comment about the Angels' interest, citing baseball's tampering rules, despite an announcement that Leyland had been granted permission to pursue other managerial jobs.

"The only thing I can say is that we have a long list [of candidates]," Bavasi said. "I've heard they gave him permission to talk to other clubs, but unless something comes from the league office, you're asking us to tamper. He's still under contract to them."

Angel President Tony Tavares said only: "We do not discuss candidates for the managerial job. We'll announce a manager when we have a done deal."

The Angels may not be actively wooing Leyland, but they better start soon, because the Marlins apparently have the inside track.

Marlin owner H. Wayne Huizenga said he will contact Leyland as soon as the season ends and Leyland has been a good friend of Florida General Manager Dave Dombrowski since the 1980s when both worked for the Chicago White Sox. Leyland has also told friends in Pittsburgh that he would prefer to remain on the East Coast and in the National League.

Marlin President Don Smiley, a golf buddy of Leyland's, also indicated the team would talk to Leyland about taking over for John Boles after the season. Boles, who replaced Rene Lachemann this season, is a long-time front-office employee who had no big-league managing experience and has yet to decide whether he wants to remain as manager.

"Nobody knows what's going to happen," Boles said. "But I think Jim Leyland will be flying to a lot of places. He's an outstanding baseball guy and a great person. I think teams with managerial openings, and those without, will be talking to him."

It's highly unlikely the Angels' list includes many candidates with a track record or the baseball acumen to rival Leyland, who is in his 11th season with Pittsburgh, the longest current tenure with the same team of any major league manager.

If it's the chance to win in 1997 that Leyland seeks, the Angels aren't doing much to show their potential in the final weeks of the season. Tuesday night, they lost their seventh game in a row as Oakland right-hander Ariel Prieto tied his career high with eight strikeouts and the A's rolled to a 5-1 victory in front of 17,827 at Anaheim Stadium.

The Angels have dropped 16 of their last 20 games, but Bavasi believes they will be in a better position after the off-season to attract a manager of Leyland's caliber.

"Provided we do the right things, get pitching and more production out of the lineup, the manager of this ballclub can win here next year," he said.

Leyland, who led the Pirates to the playoffs five seasons after they lost 104 games in 1985 under Chuck Tanner, apparently isn't interested in another rebuilding process. Pittsburgh lost 98 games in Leyland's first year, but improved to an 85-75 record two seasons later. Only seventh-game losses to Atlanta in 1991 and 1992 denied the Pirates trips to the World Series.

After the run of playoff appearances, however, the team failed to re-sign stars such as Barry Bonds and Doug Drabek. Leyland stayed with the team, even though it sank to the bottom of the division, and his resignation comes after he signed a contract a year ago when it appeared that new owner Kevin McClatchy was ready to increase the payroll.

Instead, McClatchy--whose club may lose a reported $8 million this year--ordered trades involving the team's higher-priced talent such as pitchers Denny Neagle and Danny Darwin and third baseman Charlie Hayes.

"It tugged at me," Leyland said. "It's not really a tough decision but it's a sad decision.

"I just think it's time. I think it's a good move for the organization. I think it's a good move for me."

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