Piniella Rules Out Nationals

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 10, 2006

OAKLAND, Calif., Oct. 9 -- In the midst of being besieged by hypotheticals and what-ifs regarding the manager's position of the New York Yankees Monday afternoon, former big league manager Lou Piniella spoke in vagaries -- except when one issue arose. He will not consider managing the Washington Nationals.

"You know, they've got a team that's going to be building for the future," Piniella said at McAfee Coliseum, where he will serve as an analyst for Fox during the American League Championship Series. "That's a situation that's really not for a guy like me. I think they're going to go for a young manager -- and rightfully so."

That pronouncement came on the same day that, according to a source with knowledge of the search, the Nationals interviewed Houston Astros bench coach Cecil Cooper and Chicago White Sox third base coach Joey Cora, two former major leaguers without managerial experience. The Nationals also asked permission from the Yankees, and were granted the permission, to speak with the first base coach Tony Peña, a former manager of the Kansas City Royals.

General Manager Jim Bowden and President Stan Kasten have not commented on the search since Frank Robinson was ousted after five seasons in the position.

Piniella, 63, is at the center of the offseason managerial carousel because he is coveted by at least three of the teams with openings. The Chicago Cubs, San Francisco Giants and the Nationals all have inquired about Piniella's services, and he spoke with Bowden last week about the Washington job.

"It went well," Piniella said. "Jim's a personal friend."

But Piniella's experience with a rebuilding club in Tampa Bay didn't go well. He grew impatient with losing, and it apparently made him wary of other rebuilding franchises. He spoke in platitudes Monday about the Giants and the Cubs; the Nationals' opportunity was the only one he outright shot down.

And now, Piniella may have a chance to manage the team that, year in and year out, has the best chance to win a championship. In the wake of the Yankees' second straight loss in the division series, there is rampant speculation in New York that Manager Joe Torre's 11-year reign will end in his firing by owner George Steinbrenner.

That's where Piniella's future gets murky. Piniella's first managerial job came with his old team, the Yankees, from 1986 to '88, and one source who knows him well said this summer that it has long been Piniella's dream to return to the Bronx.

When asked about the Yankees on Monday, Piniella said, "I don't want to get into that subject." He said he has had no contact with the Yankees, and stressed that Torre is still employed by the club.

It's unclear where Cora, 41, who has three years' experience managing in the minors, and Cooper, 56, who managed two years at Class AAA, fit in the ever-expanding pool of Nationals' job candidates. The leader likely will former Marlins manager Joe Girardi -- who, sources confirmed over the weekend, interviewed last week -- but it also includes strong candidates such as former Cubs manager Dusty Baker and Atlanta Braves hitting coach Terry Pendleton, who might be the next to interview.

Peña, 49, managed just more than three years with Kansas City, and while he was widely regarded as doing as splendid job early on, he was roundly criticized for quitting early in the 2005 season. Bowden tried to hire him as a coach for the 2006 season, but the Yankees swooped in.

"I think it would be something I might be interested in," Peña said over the weekend in Detroit, where the Yankees were eliminated by the Tigers. "But I don't know what will happen."

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