Each day, three men stay near their phones -- one in New Athens, Ohio, one in Rochester, N.Y., and the third in Baltimore.

Each is waiting for the call he hopes will bring news that he has been picked to succeed Earl Weaver as manager of the Baltimore Orioles.

Each day, the three men -- Ray Miller, Joe Altobelli and Cal Ripken -- have the same perplexing problem on their minds. What's taking so long?

Baltimore General Manager Hank Peters said the choice probably will be made "by Thursday or Friday" of this week. "There won't be any surprises," Peters added by way of confirming that only these three long-time Orioles organization men are in contention. Team owner Edward Bennett Williams says his deadline for making a choice isn't until Nov. 15.

However, as Miller pointed out yesterday, "It seems like every week for a month they've pushed back the decision until the next week . . .

"I've fixed or painted everything within hearing distance of the phone," added Miller, also a leading candidate for the vacant Oakland A's managing job. "But I haven't touched the yard. I can't hear the phone ring out there. My mind's been spinning for three weeks. There are a multitude of pressures and worries . . . nobody (with the Orioles) has been all that communicative."

"I talked to Hank Peters prior to the World Series and he said he'd get back to me, one way or other, after the Series," said Altobelli, a Yankees coach but, for years, an Orioles AAA manager at Rochester. "I honestly haven't heard anything since. I was hopin' it was Hank on the phone when you called."

Ripken said he's painted his whole house and done every chore his wife can concoct. But he hasn't heard from the Orioles in nearly a month. "I think about it. I wonder where we stand. But I don't get shook up about things," he said.

The most probable reason for the procrastination is that, because of an impressive interview with owner Williams two weeks ago, Miller has moved into the center of the managerial picture. Until that face-to-face meeting, all indications were that Altobelli had the inside track.

Now, the Orioles fear they'll lose Miller, who, after Weaver, was the savviest baseball mind in their clubhouse. Miller spent two days in Oakland last week "meeting everybody from the board of directors to the clubhouse man. Yes, it's at a serious stage."

Before Oakland entered the picture, the Orioles could hire Altobelli without ruffling feathers while keeping Miller, 37, as an insurance policy.

By their delays, the Orioles have put Miller in a tough spot. He's moved much closer to getting the A's job; but, on the other hand, Oakland can't wait indefinitely to decide. Every day that Baltimore delays puts Miller and the A's in more of a vise.

Miller, loyal to the Orioles, doesn't want to play one club against the other. Still, as he enters his 20th season in pro ball, he also wants his shot at managing.