In a surprising move that could pave the way for his return to the Dodgers as their manager when Tom Lasorda retires, bench coach Bill Russell was named manager of the triple-A Albuquerque Dukes Sunday.
Dodger owner Peter O’Malley warned against connecting this move with Lasorda’s contract, which expires after next season.
But both O’Malley and Lasorda said Lasorda’s managing future is undecided.
“Do not make any assumptions here, do not read anything into this. . . . The important thing about this is that Bill Russell will be managing Albuquerque,” said O’Malley, who is attending the World Series here. “This will have no impact on Tommy’s future.”
However Lasorda, who will be 65 when his contract expires, admitted for the first time that his future is uncertain.
“I have not made a decision yet. I don’t know how long I’ll go,” Lasorda said after appearing on CBS’ pregame show here. “I know I don’t want to do it too long. . . . But when the time comes, I’ll answer that question. That time is still far away.”
O’Malley said the future has not been discussed.
“I have not talked about it with Tommy, we will discuss it when the time comes,” O’Malley said. “But for now he looks good, and he still wants to manage, and we want him to manage.”
Russell, who has been Lasorda’s closest confidant for five seasons and Lasorda’s choice as a replacement, leaves the Dodgers with no promises.
“But I’ve done everything else here. I’ve played, I’ve coached, the only thing I haven’t done is manage,” Russell said from his Oklahoma home. “I figure, if I want to manage somewhere, I need to have that on my resume.
“Hopefully,” Russell added, “when they are looking for Tommy’s replacement, I would be considered.”
Lasorda acknowledged that the move will increase Russell’s value when Lasorda retires while teaching him how to be a manager.
“This will enhance his chances, certainly,” Lasorda said “He will find out if he likes managing, and they will find out what kind of manager he will be. He’ll be running his own ship.”
Said O’Malley: “Bill (Russell) will certainly be considered as our next manager. . . . As others will be considered.”
Lasorda would go further than that.
“When it comes time to select the next manager, if they ask my opinion, I will recommend (Russell) highly,” Lasorda said.
Another candidate would be scout Phil Regan, a trusted advisor of Vice President Fred Claire. Regan has managed some of the organization’s top prospects for several years in the Venezuelan winter league.
As for filling Russell’s vacancy, one possibility is for coach Joe Ferguson, who helped position the outfielders for the last two seasons, to become the first base coach while Ben Hines moves into the dugout.