Padre Notebook : Freeman Is Interim Replacement for Feeney

Times Staff Writer

Call it the reorganizing before the reorganizing. Acting as quickly as Chub Feeney did in resigning, the Padres began their search for his replacement Monday by naming Dick Freeman as interim president and assigning top baseball consultant Tal Smith to find their new boss.

All of this happened on a day when Feeney, who is no longer negotiating with the Padre free agents or performing any other important club duties, nonetheless reported to work and occupied his office. Later, he watched the Padres play the Dodgers from his usual spot in the owner's box.

Feeney officially will not leave his post until Oct. 3, when Freeman, now in charge of the club's business operations as the executive vice president and chief executive officer, will take over until a new president is found.

That president will come from a recommendation by Smith, a veteran of three decades in pro baseball and the former president and general manager of the Houston Astros. He is now an adviser to several major league teams and a respected baseball man who has been offered more than a dozen big-league president and general manager jobs, turning them all down to remain in his lucrative consulting business.

Smith had been a close Padre consultant under former president Ballard Smith. Then, when Feeney arrived, his services were terminated.

"Tal is hard-working, conscientious, respectable, a good man for the job," Manager Jack McKeon said after the Padres' late-afternoon announcement.

While owner Joan Kroc would not comment, a line in the club's late-afternoon release read: "Mrs. Kroc also indicated she expects the search for a new president to be extensive and the decision will not be made hastily."

Thus, it could take until baseball's winter meetings in December. Although there certainly are no candidates yet, a couple of names have already surfaced.

Syd Thrift, Pittsburgh Pirates general manager, reportedly has expressed interest. Seattle Mariners President Chuck Armstrong, respected throughout baseball despite being financially handcuffed by owner George Argyros, reportedly could be persuaded to return to an area where he once served Argyros as a real estate lawyer.

Any thinking that Freeman might become team president has changed because of the hiring of Smith. The feeling is, if the Padres wanted Freeman, why spend thousands of dollars to search for somebody else?

When asked if he would take the job if offered, Freeman said, "I probably would. But I will do whatever they ask me."

Wherever the search leads, the change in command is in effect now. That was confirmed Monday when McKeon met with agent Jerry Kapstein Monday to discuss potential free-agent pitcher Andy Hawkins, scheduled another meeting with Kapstein today and is setting up a meeting with agent Steve Greenberg to discuss potential free-agent pitcher Eric Show.

Freeman confirmed that while he is the boss, McKeon will do the negotiating.

"Jack will do that job," Freeman said. "I will make contact with people, and will have input, and will help as best I can, but that will be Jack's job."

Said McKeon: "We'll both work together. . . . I just hope they (the signings) will get done quicker."

Padre Notes

John Kruk dropped by the Padre clubhouse Monday with his left knee immobilized in a thick brace. Although he strained ligaments in the knee Thursday in a home-plate collision in Los Angeles, that wasn't the reason for the brace. He also suffered a deep gash on the knee and cannot bend it for two weeks for fear of breaking the stitches. An examination Friday showed no structural damage to the knee and he should be fine when the stitches come out. "So it's no big deal. I ain't worried," said Kruk, who on Wednesday will return home to West Virginia for the winter, four days before the end of the Padre season.

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