NEW YORK, SEPT. 12 -- One of the most nervous men in Chicago the next few weeks will be John Vukovich, who's absolutely, positively guaranteed to be the Cubs' manager in 1988.

Almost. General Manager Dallas Green has all but said that Vukovich is his man, but, in the swirl of personal prejudices, politics and gambles that go into selecting a manager, no situation is more confusing than this one. Green's head apparently tells him Vukovich ought to be his guy.

The problem is that between now and the time he actually decides, his heart might tell him otherwise. One reason is that some of baseball's most prominent managers may be shopping for jobs this winter. Does Green think Pete Rose would look good in a Cubs uniform? Does he think Tommy Lasorda might be good for the ratings on WGN?

The winter managerial derby has started a few weeks early this year, and the names are churning up about one a minute. As of today -- and it changes almost daily -- it appears there could be changes in Toronto, Kansas City, Seattle, Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Atlanta. Additionally, there could be two changes in Chicago and, as always, the man who manages the New York Yankees will have an uneasy winter. Possible total: nine of 26 (35 percent).

The most intriguing possibilities -- the ones that would tempt Green or any other general manager -- concern Lasorda and Rose.

Lasorda hasn't publicly said he'd like to leave the Dodgers, but his friends say he's bitter about being passed over for the general manager's job and has let it be known he's ready to leave. If Paul Owens steps down as the Phillies' general manager, Lasorda may get that job. If George Steinbrenner fires Lou Piniella, Lasorda will certainly get a call. And, no question, Green has thought about Lasorda.

Likewise, the people who know Rose wouldn't be surprised if he left his hometown again, this time because owner Marge Schott seems intent on tearing up what has been a terrific organization the last three years. Stay tuned.

This managerial hire will be the most important one Green has made, mainly because it might be his last. His contract is up after the 1989 season, and he might not want to risk his future on an inexperienced manager. There apparently are easier things in the world than working for him. He has gone through six managers in six years as Cubs general manager, and the franchise still has only one winning season to show for it.

Vukovich, who has known him for years, realizes this. "He's a demanding guy," he said. "I tell him just because he's louder doesn't mean he's right."The Look of Winners

It's beginning to look as if the Detroit Tigers are destined to win the AL East. Their closest competitors are the Toronto Blue Jays, but at the worst possible time Dave Stieb can't throw strikes. He is in the bullpen after walking 10 of 31 hitters in his last two starts and says he wants to pitch for another team.

Doyle Alexander knew he was in a different world when the Tigers scored 44 runs for him in his first six starts. That's only 13 fewer than the Atlanta Braves scored in his 16 starts there. Most amazing is that in his six starts, the Tigers have been ahead or tied in every single inning. With 93 runs and 92 RBI, Alan Trammell could become the first Tiger in 26 years to have 100 of each in the same year. Both Rocky Colavito and Norm Cash did it in 1961. Amazingly, the Tigers have more complete games than saves (27 to 25). The last first-place team to do that was the '82 Angels (40 to 27) . . .

Then there's the Yankees. Just as they left for a crucial series with the Blue Jays this weekend, they found that Ron Guidry, 37, will be sidelined for a week or so with a sore elbow and shoulder. He had never had arm problems, and a doctor told him the injury is a combination of "lots of work and lots of old age." Rick Rhoden's right shoulder is sore, and the Yankees may resort to rookie Al Leiter in their most important series . . .

It appears Houston's Nolan Ryan (246 strikeouts) and Mike Scott (214) will finish first and second in strikeouts in the NL, something that hasn't been done by teammates since the Dodgers' Sandy Koufax (232) and Don Drysdale (216) in 1962. If Ryan wins the strikeout title, he'll be only the second to do it in both leagues. He did it six times in the AL. Rube Waddell led the NL in 1900 with Pittsburgh and the AL six times with Philadelphia . . .

When the Astros remember what went wrong with their season, they may remember Pittsburgh and San Diego, where they lost 12 of 14 to last-place teams . . . Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog says the Padres have both the NL rookie of the year and sophomore of the year. The top rookie is Benito Santiago (.292, 16 homers and 68 RBI) and the sophomore is John Kruk (.320, 18 homers, 82 RBI) . . .

Oops of the week: California Angels announcer Ken Brett said: "Willie Wilson is not a great base stealer. He has great speed, but he never learned to get a good jump." Before this year, Wilson's success rate was 84 percent, the best in AL history. He holds the league record by once stealing 32 bases in a row. This year, his 47 steals are second to Seattle's Harold Reynolds . . . California's Bob Boone entered the weekend having caught 1,913 games and should become the all-time leader sometime next week. Al Lopez leads with 1,918 . . .

The Braves drew 2,701 and 2,501 on consecutive nights this week and, in their last 39 September home dates, have drawn better than 10,000 only three times . . . Add scuff balls: Expos Manager Buck Rodgers says San Diego's Ed Whitson is the worst he has seen. "We've got some balls it looks like he used a bottle cap on." If he's doing it, he's either not very good at it. He's 10-10 with a 4.70 ERA and has allowed 33 homers . . . Cubs catcher Jim Sundberg has played for 16 managers in his 14 years in the majors . . .

The Dodgers traded Greg Brock to the Brewers because they believed he couldn't hit left-handers. He's hitting .285 against them. He also has a career-high 70 RBI. The man the Dodgers got in exchange, reliever Tim Leary, is 3-11 . . .

Milestone: With 31 passed balls, the Rangers' Geno Petralli is only two away from the major league record of 33 by J.C. Martin of the 1965 White Sox.

Add milestones: Pittsburgh's Sid Bream is the only NL first baseman to have more errors (15) than home runs (11) . . . In Cincinnati, they're blaming General Manager Bill Bergesch for not acquiring pitching help. But a pitcher wouldn't have helped Dave Parker, who's hitting .217 with four homers and 33 RBI since the all-star break . . .

The Expos have gotten 25 victories and 39 saves from a bullpen of Tim Burke, Andy McGaffigan, Bob McClure, Jeff Parrett and Randy Sinclair. They're 15-3 in games started by Dennis Martinez. Tim Wallach (.309, 111 RBI) could snatch the MVP award from Jack Clark.

Quote of the Week

"I could tell the difference between a fastball and a curve in total darkness. A good fastball would raise a welt about eight inches, a curve only two inches." -- Milwaukee announcer Bob Uecker.