Yankees still playing musical chairs in dugout; Royals' trade bait

Most big league managers who win consistently don't get fired, except for Billy Martin, who tends to self-destruct via his incessant off-the-field scuffles. So despite another outstanding job in terms of wins and losses, Martin has been let go by the New York Yankees for an incredible fourth time. After Martin replaced Yogi Berra as pilot 16 games into the season, the Yankees had a 91-54 record -- best in the majors during that period. Billy had more than done his job, straightening out the club's pitching and getting the Bronx Bombers moving at a time when they seemed disorganized. This was why owner George Steinbrenner had brought him back, and he had to be encouraged.

But encouragement turned to frustration late in September when Martin made headlines with back-to-back hotel lounge altercations that involved at least one of his players and an injury to himself.

Having gone through this situation with Billy several times before, the Yankees decided to return him to the front office job he holds under a long-term contract and replace him with Lou Piniella, the team's batting coach.

The club says that this time Steinbrenner left the matter entirely in the hands of his top exexutives, but other reports have it that George was the ultimate decision-maker, as he usually is. According to this version, the owner told General Manager Clyde King that he wouldn't change his mind even if the Yankees outlasted Toronto in the American League East (which they didn't). Thus the die may in fact have been cast several weeks ago, even though the announcement was withheld until after the World Ser ies.

Piniella, a popular Yankee player for more than 10 years and a coach the last two seasons, has frequently been mentioned as a potential manager. Nevertheless, Steinbrenner surprised some people by not at least asking the San Diego Padres for permission to talk with Dick Williams about the current post. Williams has impressive credentials (he has led three different teams to the World Series) and it was common knowledge that the Yankees were interested in him on at least one earlier occasion. Furth ermore, my sources say Dick would gladly have made the switch at this time, and that the Padres, properly compensated, would have released him.

What the Yankees are getting in Piniella is a well-liked, hard-core baseball man who has never managed in the majors before, but is familiar with all of the game's pressure situations, and hopefully how to deal with them.

When Lou was a player, pitchers never liked to see him come up in the clutch. The press will like his openness and honesty, but the key will be how he handles a pitching staff that seems woefully in need of balance.

Even though Kansas City won the World Series, Manager Dick Howser says he may deal one of his five starting pitchers during the winter if he can get an established power hitter in return. Safe beyond any reasonable doubt are Bret Saberhagen (the Series MVP), plus Charlie Leibrandt, Danny Jackson, and Bud Black. Since 23-year-old right-hander Mark Gubicza, who won 14 games during the regular season, was not used once in the Series, he probably would be the one to go. There would be more reluctance to part with someone like Gubicza, however, if the Royals didn't currently have three kids in their farm system who they are sure will be pitching in the big leagues within two years.

Howser, who certainly deserves serious consideration for Manager of the Year, knows that his is a bottom-line occupation in which winning is the principal yardstick of success: ``The only credibility you have as a manager is winning and losing. If you have a reputation as a teacher who is good with young players, that might keep you around for a while. But eventually you have to win or get fired. Any new manager who doesn't get himself a five-year deal is probably making a mistake, because it tak es at least that long to get a losing team straightened out.''

St. Louis coach Red Schoendienst, who managed the Cardinals for 12 years including 1967 when they won the World Series, is looking for another dugout he can call his own. ``Until recently I have always said I would never manage again, that coaching was good enough,'' Schoendienst told me during the World Series. ``But I'm starting to change my mind.

``In the past two years I've been approached at least six times with offers, including before the start of the 1985 season and again halfway through the campaign.''

Schoendienst says his preference would be to stay in the National League, because he knows every team's personnel so well, but that if the situation was right he'd also listen to an American League proposal.

Because Chicago White Sox catcher Carlton Fisk (a career-high 37 home runs in '85) wants to test the free-agent market, the White Sox and Yankees weren't able to complete a recent deal that would have put Fisk and pitcher Tom Seaver in New York in 1986. In exchange for these Windy City batterymates, the White Sox would have gotten slugger Don Baylor and catcher Ron Hassey from New York, plus at least one young pitcher. Yogi Berra reportedly turned down the manager's post at Houston, but said he would sign on as a coach with the Astros if Don Zimmer were given the job.

Rod Carew, released by the California Angels, will probably have to cut his salary demands by two-thirds if, at 40, he expects the Minnesota Twins to sign him.

Toronto says the reason it hired third-base coach Jimy Williams as its manager after Bobby Cox left to take the general manager's job with Atlanta, was to maintain the team's inner continuity. Williams has been with the Blue Jays for six years and knows the players, both in Toronto and in the farm system.

The Milwaukee Brewers were so pleased with the play of rookie Earnest Riles at shortstop in 1985 that they plan to keep Robin Yount in the outfield again next season, partly to protect Yount's injured throwing arm.

At the moment, the new owners of the Pittsburgh Pirates can't seem to decide whether they want Joe Torre or Jim Fregosi as their manager.

The Texas Rangers are interested in Milwaukee first baseman Cecil Cooper, who probably will accept the trade if it's made. Coop lives in Texas during the off season.

Either the Chicago Cubs, Atlanta Braves, or New York Yankees are going to make a rich man of free-agent relief pitcher Donnie Moore of the California Angels, who are not expected to give him up without a fight. Moore and Detroit outfielder Kirk Gibson are considered the top prizes in this year's free-agent draft. New Chicago White Sox General Manager Ken Harrelson will talk trade with the Red Sox regarding his old friend Jim Rice, but nothing is expected to come of it.

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