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Ross Newhan / ON BASEBALL

Evans Has Been Left on the Job, Straining

January 31, 2004|Ross Newhan

There is no reason to consult the seamheads at the Society for American Baseball Research.

There is no need to scour the Baseball Encyclopedia or call the Elias Sports Bureau or e-mail Bob Costas to see if he has an opinion on this, too.

No matter what Casey Stengel said, this is one you can't look up.

It's a mind-boggling first -- beyond recall, at least.

One day after officially taking the Dodger reins, Frank and Jamie McCourt wrapped them around Dan Evans' neck.

No, they didn't fire him, but they might as well have.

What they did was to inform him that they were beginning a search for a new general manager and that he would be part of that search.

In other words, a candidate to succeed himself.

How ridiculous is that to believe?

Well, the McCourts may have made the former used car salesman who now serves as baseball commissioner proud with that spiel, but that was only part of this amazing equation.

Evans apparently bought it.

Instead of resigning on the spot, he told people in the organization that Frank and Jamie regard him as a strong candidate and he would continue to do the best he could under the circumstances.

Casey may have been wrong, but P.T. Barnum was right.

There's a sucker born every minute.

I mean, why would the McCourts, only three weeks away from the start of spring training, be conducting a search if they already have a strong candidate in house?

Under what illusion is Evans operating?

And, of course, what in the world are the McCourts thinking?

While obviously lacking a ready replacement, do they really think Evans can pull off a miracle and acquire the hitter they have pledged to acquire before the opening of spring training?

Do they really think that's possible considering they have undermined his status and damaged what credibility he had left after three months of a winter in which he failed to land that hitter and improve the offense?

"Dan has been in an awkward position for a period of time now [due to the pending change in owners]," Frank McCourt told The Times' Mike DiGiovanna and Jason Reid. "I don't think a whole lot changed today. He's the GM. I'm not taking anything away from him."

There appears to be a serious question about that, however.

It was learned that a high-ranking Dodger official was instructed this week to contact free agent pitcher Greg Maddux in an effort to gauge his interest in joining the Dodgers.

It is believed that Evans was unaware of the contact.

Scott Boras, who represents Maddux, wouldn't discuss specifics but said, "The Dodgers have expressed to me and Greg their interest. When the time is right we'll address the situation."

Whether he meant that the time would be right only when the Dodgers have a GM with clear authority wasn't certain, but a GM search merely feeds the tenuous environment that has developed around Evans during his inactive winter.

Perception and respect are pivotal in the role.

"The GM has to feel confident in his position to do the best job he can," San Diego Padre GM Kevin Towers said.

"If your asking me how I'd feel if [what is now happening to Evans] happened to me, I'm sure it would be tough to do my job."

Why wouldn't Evans quit?

Well, naively or not, maybe he really thinks he is a strong candidate and has a chance to retain the job.

Maybe he would rather be fired to retain his 2004 salary of $500,000.

Maybe he didn't want to further disrupt a weekend in which he is hosting out-of-town relatives attending his daughter Sarah's Bat Mitzvah.

The McCourts had proclaimed Thursday that this was the start of a new era.

Suddenly, however, it has the appearance of the chaotic previous era.

The GM search figures to overshadow everything leading to the club's departure for Florida. McCourt wants it completed by the start of spring training, but how many viable candidates are there at this point on the baseball calendar? And maybe Evans is banking on that as well.

Pat Gillick showed little interest when contacted Friday, and Oakland owner Steve Schott has said he won't give the Dodgers permission to talk with General Manager Billy Beane.

Former Boston general manager Dan Duquette may be a possibility given the Boston-based McCourts' familiarity with him, and Montreal General Manager Omar Minaya, looking for a more stable situation, is another possibility.

Several assistant general managers with promising futures could surface in the search. Among them: Ned Colletti of San Francisco, Paul DePodesta of Oakland and Grady Fuson of Texas.

A key factor could be salary.

With their highly leveraged purchase, how much are the McCourts willing to pay while paying off Evans?

Their Thursday revelation that they are prepared to maintain a payroll in the top fourth of the rankings has already created industry skepticism.

Schott, the A's owner who served on a committee that researched their purchase proposal and financial viability, told the San Francisco Chronicle that the major-market Dodgers are strapped.

"The way this deal was structured, they don't have a lot of room to spend additional money," he said. "They're really locked in budget-wise."

Who do you believe?

Well, who would believe a GM search while the GM is still on the job?

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