BASEBALL / ROSS NEWHAN : Despite His Denials, Some Expect Selig to Become Commissioner

Despite pressure from other owners, interim baseball commissioner Bud Selig continues to insist he has no interest in retaining the job.

He has stated his position so often and so strongly that his credibility rating would be zero if he reversed it. Some believe he still will, however.

The speculation is that he will put his Milwaukee Brewers in trust and announce at a January owners' meeting that he will remain as commissioner at least through collective bargaining negotiations, possibly longer.

"I am as firm now as at any time since September," he said, referring to September of 1992, when he became chairman of the executive council after the forced resignation of Commissioner Fay Vincent.

Selig said he has "absolutely and unequivocally" no interest in staying on, that he appreciates the thoughts and support of other owners but "it will not change my mind."

He said that despite media cynicism, the search committee continues to narrow its choices and that "There is no reason to deviate from the belief that they'll have a recommendation by the end of the year."

However, the chairman of the search committee, Bill Bartholomay of the Atlanta Braves, is believed to be among those who would like to see Selig stay on through what one owner said is a "sensitive and transitional time."

"Some of us are concerned that no matter who we bring in, the learning curve will be very steep at what is a very difficult time," the owner said, alluding to realignment, the new television approach and the clubs' quest for a new compensation system through collective bargaining.

Of course, 11 months after voting to reopen collective negotiations, those negotiations are in limbo because the owners can't agree on a revenue-sharing formula among themselves.

They have yet to vote on the long-completed reconstruction plan for the commissioner's office and have yet to reach agreement with the union on postseason compensation, leaving 1994 realignment in doubt.

Selig, however, paints a positive picture.

"The thing I'm most pleased about is that we've at least confronted all of our problems and involved all of the owners in the process of constructing solutions," he said. "We have a better idea of where the game should be headed. The new commissioner will at least have a road map, whether he uses it or not."

Selig has governed by committee and consensus, but acknowledged that until a commissioner is hired, the public perception is probably that of a ship adrift.

"We had a fabulous year with attendance and an exciting playoff and World Series, but it's in our best interest to hire a commissioner and move on," he said. "Baseball needs a strong commissioner. I've said that from the start."

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Have Jim Bronner and J.D. Dowell, the agents for Rafael Palmeiro and Jody Reed, respectively, overplayed their hands?

By rejecting the Dodgers' reported offer of $8.5 million for three years, and prompting Fred Claire to make his dynamite acquisition of Delino DeShields, Dowell and Reed have been left in second-base limbo, facing a narrow and uncertain market in which they may have trouble duplicating the Dodgers' offer.

The same can be said for Bronner and Palmeiro, who rejected a five-year, $26.5-mllion offer from the Texas Rangers, prompting the Rangers to sign Will Clark for $30 million over five years. Bronner had told Texas President Tom Schieffer that he would have to match a standing offer of $36.5 million that Palmeiro had received from another club.

Which club? Palmeiro's market also seems to be a narrow one. The New York Yankees are interested, possibly even in using Palmeiro as a right fielder, although Palmeiro's arm is only adequate at first base. The Baltimore Orioles are interested, but new owner Peter Angelos also seems intrigued with the idea of bringing back Mr. Personality, Eddie Murray, which is sending shivers through his baseball department. Angelos also ended negotiations with Clark at $27.5 million, which is considerably short of $36.5.

Palmeiro, meanwhile, took some serious shots at Clark, his former Mississippi State teammate, and the Rangers.

"He had 14 homers and 73 RBIs," Palmeiro said of Clark. "That's nothing, and they gave him $30 million for that.

"I mean, I had 37 homers and 105 RBIs, but they signed a lesser player for $4 million more than they offered me."

Clark responded diplomatically Tuesday, saying he respected Palmeiro as an athlete and person, and that he was entitled to his opinion.

Was that opinion just sour grapes? Clark was asked.

"That's pretty much it," he said.

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Sources say the Angels have given Mark Langston and agent Arn Tellem permission to talk to any club they desire, not just the Yankees, in attempting to work out a contract extension that might lead to a trade.

Tellem refused to comment, saying only that Langston's preference is to remain with the Angels.

His second choice, though, is the Dodgers, and Claire confirmed that he has talked with Angel counterpart Whitey Herzog about Langston. He downgraded the likelihood of a deal, though, considering that the Dodgers would have to meet Langston's multiyear terms and satisfy the Angels with a package of young players.

Claire also said it was doubtful the Dodgers will be able to fulfill their goal of adding a left-handed starter, although he is still pursuing a left-handed reliever. The Dodgers recently signed veteran Drew Hall, and Claire said he has some interest in what would be a conditional signing of Norm Charlton, who is coming off elbow surgery and is not expected to pitch until midseason, at the earliest.

Claire said that outfield prospect Billy Ashley had returned from the Dominican Republic to undergo X-rays after his left shoulder popped out on a swing, and said of Darryl Strawberry: "He still has a lot of work to do on his image, (but) I'm assuming he's going to be a productive player (in 1994)."

Claire, of course, has to put a good face on the Strawberry situation because attempts to trade him have been fruitless.

Of Strawberry's tenuous physical situation, he said: "I don't think we're without a fallback position. The foundation of the ballclub's future has taken a more definitive turn. We have more quality young players than we've had in many years."

At 26 next April, Eric Karros will be the oldest among DeShields, Mike Piazza, Jose Offerman, Dave Hansen, Ashley and Raul Mondesi.

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