Wednesday, June 07, 2000

SULLIVAN: Reds manager

Settling the question of succession

        Before we proceed with the idle speculation, let us first stipulate the undeniable facts:

        The man most likely to manage the Cincinnati Reds in 2001 is the same guy calling the shots right now. Jack McKeon is the National League's reigning Manager of the Year, and he has defended his title by maneuvering his club into first place during an all-points-bulletin for Ken Griffey Jr.'s missing bat.

        McKeon has made do without the ace of his starting rotation, Pete Harnisch, and despite significant down time by Barry Larkin and Sean Casey. He has coped with a prolonged slump by Dante Bichette, the high-wire relief act of Scott Williamson and the persistent shortcomings of Steve Parris.

        Jack McKeon is in line for a raise, not a replacement.

Griffey Sr. steps out
        That said, the Reds' long-term succession plan has undergone some revisions recently. Ken Griffey Sr., perceived as McKeon's heir, has told club officials he no longer is interested in managing the club. Johnny Bench continues to express qualified interest in taking command of the lineup card.

        Griffey's decision serves the Reds on several fronts. It quashes the conspiracy theories that had cast McKeon as a lame duck. It eliminates management's concerns about the appearances and potential conflicts of having the club managed by its star's father. It defuses the potential powder keg of passing over Griffey Sr.

        Griffey Sr. always said he would never use his son as leverage to get a job. In proving it, he may have made himself more attractive to other clubs. Only a man of substance would turn his back on a career shortcut.

        Now the race to succeed McKeon becomes harder to handicap. With McKeon bearing down on his 70th birthday, it's a story that won't go away. Is Bench serious? Even he can't say for sure. Still, one well-placed Reds source is willing to wager that No. 5 will fill the club's next managerial vacancy. It still says here that Bob Boone is McKeon's most likely replacement, but Bench could be as formidable a candidate as Colin Powell (and as hard to fire as J. Edgar Hoover). “I'm not going to comment on it,” Reds general manager Jim Bowden said Tuesday. “I've never talked to Johnny about managing.”

New interest
        “I'm not politicking for any jobs,” Bench said before Saturday's Big Red Machine reunion. “But I'm more interested than I was in the past. My back is so bad that I'm not going to be very good at golf.”

        Senior golf has not been a windfall for Bench so much as a lesson in humility. He still makes a nice buck between personal appearances and motivational speeches, but the work rarely allows for a long homestand and lacks the competitive component of playing chess with Tony LaRussa. “It's intriguing,” Bench said of managing. “But every time I think about it, I think it's eight months of 24-7. When I'm ready to leave after the game, those guys are still at it. I'd like to phone it in from the golf course — call in the lineup and tell them, "I'll be there at 5:30.' ” Davey Johnson has succeeded at every stop without putting in as many hours as some of his peers. Jim Leyland lived in the clubhouse when he managed Colorado, only to find he had lost his enthusiasm.

        “Nobody could say who could be a good manager,” Sparky Anderson said Saturday. “That is one place where there are no rules.”



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- SULLIVAN: Reds manager
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