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COMMENTARY : Herzog Is Solution for Angels

TIMES STAFF WRITER

We know Whitey Herzog is out there, fishing, hunting, waiting, available.

We know Gene Autry has spent at least one afternoon this summer doing lunch with his old friend Whitey.

We know neither one raised a glass to toast the Angels’ current lot in the American League West standings.

Since then, we’ve only been able to guess.

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Is Whitey coming to the Angels?

Possibly.

Could Whitey help the Angels?

Definitely.

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As Doug Rader’s replacement?

Hardly.

Mike Port’s replacement?

You know, you might be on to something.

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When it comes time to parcel out the blame for this latest Angel mess, few stones should be cast in Rader’s direction. As of Sunday, Rader had the Angels right at .500, 60 wins and 60 losses. A year ago, Rader got 91 victories out of them.

The man’s a miracle worker.

Rader’s first baseman, and best player, is on the disabled list. His second baseman of the future just got waived through the league, winding up in Cleveland as the player-to-be-named-later in the momentous Ron Tingley trade. His shortstop has seven RBIs. His third baseman is in Edmonton.

In the outfield, Rader has two left fielders who can’t field, a center fielder who can’t hit and a right fielder who’s 38. His designated hitter is 40. Or at least his main one. Rader has been given a designated hitter for every day of the week.

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Rader has caught criticism for being too much the juggler and not settling in with one day-in, day-out lineup. OK, you find a set lineup in this Ellis Island of a baseball team. Wally Joyner, Dave Winfield, Lance Parrish . . . and then?

If this was poker, Rader would have folded his hand long ago. But the game is baseball, so Rader keeps on plugging and waiting for help from the dealer.

What he needs most is a new dealer.

Right now, the Angels are in worse shape than the collection that assembled in Mesa, Ariz., in the spring of 1988, just before Gene Mauch called it quits. The popular view is that Mauch retired for health reasons. Partially, this is true. After a couple of glances around the practice field, Mauch knew right away that any more managing in Anaheim would be a definite hazard to his health.

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But at least then, Jack Howell, Dick Schofield, Devon White and Mark McLemore still had potential. At least then, Angel youth still made up a movement.

Now, it just needs to be moved.

And to move it, the Angels need someone willing to take some risks, make some trades, dump some dogs and do it quickly.

In other words, someone other than Port.

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We have seen where Port’s caution-first approach leads: on the road to last place. Port has never seemed truly comfortable with his position--a baseball general manager who doesn’t like the spotlight, the trade table or the traditional banter with the media. Imagine an outfielder who doesn’t like to run or a designated hitter who doesn’t like to hit.

Hmmm. The Angels have had some of those, too.

This is what the Angels need to do:

Kick Port upstairs and into the background, where he can quietly negotiate contracts and work to his strength--watching the bottom line. As long as the Autrys own the team, there will always be room for Port. He saves them money.

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Then, bring in Whitey and give him carte blanche . Just don’t make him spell it. Put him in charge of player personnel and see if he can find some.

Whitey can probably tell you that Rickey Henderson is a player you should try to get. When the Yankees were shopping Henderson around last summer, Port backed off because the Angels already had Chili Davis in left field and he didn’t want to disturb “team chemistry.”

Whitey can probably tell you that Tim Wallach-for-Dick Schofield, a hot rumor a couple of years back, is a trade you should make.

Most likely, Whitey knows that Joe Carter-for-Devon White-and-Johnny Ray is another good deal, regardless of whether you have or haven’t already signed Robin Yount.

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Whitey also realizes that Ellis Burks-for-White-and-Kirk McCaskill is a gamble--McCaskill might become a big winner in Boston--but realizes, too, that Burks is the real thing and pennant winners aren’t delivered by always taking the safest course.

Whitey helped assemble three of them in St. Louis during the 1980s. He knew how to get the Cardinals to the World Series--and he knew when it was time to get out. That’s another reason why he shouldn’t manage these Angels. If the Cardinals turned Whitey’s stomach, think of what the Angels could do.

Besides knowing baseball, Whitey talks baseball. This would be a big advantage over the Angel incumbent, who talks Port-uguese: At this point in time, I submit to you ... This is one reason why the Angels don’t make more trades. Most of the time, the other team’s general manager isn’t sure if Port wants one of his pitchers or wants to take him to court.

The overhaul of the Angels is long overdue. If Whitey is to come aboard, put him in the right spot, in the front office, where he could aid the Angels where they need it the most.

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Then let’s see what Rader might be able to do with a real team.


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