Thursday, September 07, 2000

Just slip out the back, Jack

        Jack McKeon has been told nothing, which tells you everything.

        The Cincinnati Reds' manager has received neither a contract proposal nor a vote of confidence nor the courtesy of a phone call to advise him of his team captain's season-ending surgery.

        McKeon is being kept in the dark, presumably, because there's nothing sunny left to say to him. He is the National League's defending Manager of the Year, but no one pretends he's a candidate to be running the Reds in 2001. The handwriting on the wall might as well be in neon.

        General manager Jim Bowden, once a regular visitor to McKeon's office, now keeps a distance more appropriate to infectious diseases. He has left his manager so far out of the loop lately that Reds announcer Marty Brennaman wondered Wednesday, and on the air: “What kind of class is that?”

        McKeon has seen enough to be able to read the signs without his spectacles. He knows enough to keep his mouth shut. Who are the candidates?

        “The ball's in their court,” he said Wednesday, following the Reds' 11-8 victory over the New York Mets. “It's not in mine.”

        If the Reds knew the identity of their next manager, McKeon might be gone already. But if there is any consensus on that subject within the executive offices at Cinergy Field, it is well-concealed.

        Bowden is said to favor the high in profile. Chief operating officer John Allen is likely to lean toward the low in cost. One Reds source said Wednesday that at least three different people — third base coach Ron Oester, bench coach Ken Griffey Sr. and special assistant Bob Boone — have been led to believe they will succeed McKeon.

        All bets are off.

        Several management types believe Oester is the strongest internal candidate. Despite a lack of managing experience, he has managed to establish a reputation as demanding and direct. Some question whether Oester is too confrontational for command — one colleague compares him to Ray Knight — but others see him as a welcome antithesis to the mellow McKeon.

        Complicating Oester's candidacy are political considerations. Major League Baseball will want the Reds to consider minority candidates, and there's no overlooking Griffey Sr. He is the Reds' bench coach, has apprenticed in both the Arizona Fall League and winter ball and, not incidentally, fathered the club's most famous player. When is "right time'?

        While at least one Reds executive fears the fallout if Griffey is passed over in favor of a fellow coach with less experience, others in the organization fret the fallout should Senior manage Junior.

        If the coach's son does not set an exemplary example, he creates the dangerous perception of a double standard. Each time Ken Griffey Jr. fails to run hard to first base — however tender his hamstrings — he unwittingly undermines his dad's career.

        Where to turn? Should Felipe Alou lose his job in Montreal, he would meet every criterion except cost. In the unlikely event Dusty Baker leaves San Francisco, he should be hired without hesitation. Should neither of those scenarios materialize, though, the Reds might want to consider the status quo. McKeon has won more games than any Cincinnati manager since Pete Rose.

        “You want the stock answer?” Allen said when asked about McKeon's future. “At the appropriate time, we'll sit down and evaluate this year.”

        Perhaps this is not the appropriate time. Speculation, however, knows no season.



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