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Analysis : Wanted: Decisive Moves

Times Staff Writer

On the winningest, happiest, best San Diego pro baseball team in couple of years, it has come down to this:

Tim Flannery walking circles in front of his locker and talking about lying awake in bed all night.

“How can any of us find out about our futures here if our own manager, and some say even our club president, don’t know about their futures?” Flannery repeatedly asked Friday, wondering out loud if the club will pick up the 1989 option year in his contract. “For some of us, there’s nowhere to turn. Who do we ask?”

Your historic Padres: They could wind up as a second-place team without the first idea about where they are going.

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Twenty eight games from today, the Padres will be facing 1989 without a manager, their two best pitchers or their two shortstops. And all with a club president--judging by how he has acted on those matters--without a clue.

The verbal agreement with the manager (Jack McKeon) ends. Contracts expire for the shortstops (Garry Templeton, Dickie Thon) and top pitchers (Eric Show, Andy Hawkins). And a decision needs to made on infielder Flannery’s option.

President Chub Feeney said he would take care of all matters in September, which is here. Feeney is not. He won’t be available to meet with the team until Sept. 9.

OK, so commotion always has followed these guys around as if it wants a baseball signed. At least in the past it has always been organized commotion.

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Chris Brown knew where his fist was going. Mark Grant knew whose shoelaces he was going to light. Larry Bowa knew who was listening.

The current commotion is different. The current commotion has plunged this team into the dark. They want to fight, but they can’t see where to punch, and for whom.

Such blindness can initially pull a team together and through it they can roll off a string of victories. But eventually, it only confuses. The average tightly wound player is most quickly disabled not with a sore arm or pulled hamstring, but uncertainty. If teams play in the dark long enough, they end up fighting themselves.

Somebody needs to clear some things up. Somebody needs to try something new--save next season before the middle of next season. Be able to brag about having the best record in the National League since April 6 .

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The only person who can facilitate this new beginning is a rich lady from La Jolla named Joan Kroc, who is nice enough but whose phone needs a feature known as Call Returning.

Because of the owner’s repeated refusals to talk on the subject of her Padres, somebody else needs to take charge of suggestions.

Thanks; thought you’d never ask.

--Chub Feeney should retire. Yesterday.

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It has nothing to do with his age (67) or the fact he forgets a few players’ names. He can’t help the first, and we’ve all been guilty of the second.

It’s nothing Feeney is or has done. It’s what he hasn’t done.

It now appears that his inactivity this winter might have cost the Padres a legitimate shot at the pennant. Example: He didn’t listen when Padre officials inquired about signing free agents Jack Clark or Chili Davis. They sign one of them, and Vin Scully is announcing their Saturday afternoon games.

His inactivity this summer might have cost the Padres thousands of dollars in the re-signing of free agents. Example: Hawkins and Show want to play here, but with every fine performance that passes, their price rises and hurts the Padre pockets, which could keep them from signing other free agents.

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Finally, Feeney’s current inactivity has apparently cost him the trust of his team and his owner. One guesses that with the heaps of criticism that have stuck to Feeney like wet leaves, Kroc would want to jump in and shake him off. She has not. She has remained mum and aloof, and hidden deep beneath her silence remains Feeney’s only life-preserver.

“There’s a chance Chub might not be here next year?” asked one not-so-silent team member the other day. “We can only pray.”

Who do you hire to replace him? Not a baseball man, a business man. Somebody who can learn baseball from Jack McKeon and keep McKeon honest about the ways of business. The Padres recently made this kind of non-baseball hire when they picked up San Diego-area Coca-Cola boss Bill Adams as their ticket manager.

--Jack McKeon should be given a three-year contract to manage, while keeping intact the final year on his general manager contract. If, after he has spent an entire season in both jobs, he can’t handle the general manager’s job (as Feeney has suggested), then both parties have an easy out to hire a new GM. But at least give him a chance.

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Just so long as McKeon manages. The single most devastating thing that could happen to this club is not Feeney staying upstairs, but McKeon leaving the bench.

The team believes in him, plays hard for him and, most of all, respects him. Since taking the job May 28, he has had just two clubhouse meetings. Any player could repeat every word from both.

Why a three-year deal? Because it is the only way he will do it. He won’t leave the security and future opportunities that has has earned as a general manager just for one or two years in a uniform. Ensure that he will have a chance to succeed on the bench as he did in the front office, where he helped the Padres to the 1984 World Series five years after he joined the organization.

If McKeon is not given three years, he will return to being strictly the general manager, finish out the remaining year on that contract and be gone. Bet on it.

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--Make immediate plans to sign a free agent power-hitting outfielder such as Dodger Mark Marshall, go after an unhappy power hitter such as Kansas City’s Danny Tartabull and sandwich them around Tony Gwynn in center field.

This done, John Kruk can either be traded or moved back to first base, and Carmelo Martinez can be moved to . . . third? Sure. He has been seen taking grounders there during batting practice, so something must be up McKeon’s sleeve. And if it will keep the talented Martinez in the lineup, fine.

Granted, Randy Ready should be given a shot at playing third every day. But if McKeon isn’t giving him that shot now, with Chris Brown almost certainly in his final month as a malcontent Padre (look for a trade or release), you think Ready will get that shot next year? With Martinez at third, Ready would be free to fill in there, at second base, in left--anywhere the Padres want a lot of bat and heart.

Where does all this leave Keith Moreland? Well, don’t look for both him and Kruk to be on the team next year. The Padres need both, but both play the same position, and one can command enough in a trade that to keep them would be a luxury.

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Who knows, maybe you trade both and pick up disgruntled New York Yankee Don Mattingly. Who else do you trade? For one, minor league catcher Sandy Alomar Jr.--do not trade Benito Santiago. In big league terms, Santiago has done it, Alomar Jr. has done nothing. Case closed.

To get a top player, the Padres will also most certainly have to trade reliever Lance McCullers. They might have to also trade one of the starting pitchers.


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