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Devil Rays' manager search comes down to a best of 5

The five finalists for the Devil Rays' managerial job seem to have just one thing in common: None has managed a major-league game.

The Rays cut the field from 10 to an interesting and somewhat eclectic final five Sunday: Orioles batting coach Rick Down, Marlins bench coach Jerry Manuel, Tigers bench coach Larry Parrish, Marlins pitching coach Larry Rothschild and Indians special-assignment scout Ted Simmons.

The five will be brought back for additional interviews starting tonight, when Down is scheduled to meet with managing general partner Vince Naimoli, general manager Chuck LaMar and other Rays officials. Rothschild, Simmons and Parrish will be in Tuesday and Manuel, whose father died last week, will visit Thursday night. An announcement is likely Friday or Saturday.

"It's going to be exciting," Naimoli said Sunday night. "I think it's an excellent field. Unfortunately, we can only hire one. There are five eminently qualified candidates. Unfortunately, four won't get the job, but I think we'll see some of those four as managers of other clubs."

The finalists are a contrasted group. Down, Manuel and Parrish managed in the minor leagues, including Triple A; Rothschild and Simmons never have managed. Rothschild worked with and for Devil Rays general manager Chuck LaMar in Cincinnati and Atlanta, and Down worked for Rays player personnel director Bill Livesey with the Yankees; the others have no connections. Simmons and Parrish were major-league star players; Manuel and Rothschild had limited big-league careers, and Down never played in a major-league game. Parrish and Manuel played together in Montreal in 1980-81. Manuel and Rothschild coached together this season.

The list of finalists did not include any major surprises. The biggest news may have been who was not included _ Red Sox bench coach Grady Little, who for months had been rumored to be the leading candidate primarily because he worked for LaMar in the Braves' system.

The others eliminated were Yankees hitting coach Chris Chambliss, Cubs Triple-A manager Tim Johnson, Phillies batting coach Hal McRae and Expos bench coach Jim Tracy.

Rothschild said he viewed Sunday's announcement as a continuation of the decisionmaking process. "Until it's done you just keep going on with it," he said from his New York home. "I didn't know if there was going to be a second round, so I didn't have any expectations."

Rothschild said the integral issue is familiarity.

"I don't look at it as selling myself," he said. "I think it's important for both sides to become familiar with each other. That's the only way it's going to work. It's important information gathering for them and important for me also. The most important thing in the process is that they get to know me."

Down, a finalist for the Angels' job last year, said he thought last week's interview was a good start toward letting the Rays know what he was about. "You're a little closer, you're still in the running, so that's exciting, but you don't know if you have one foot on the banana peel and the other in the grave," Down said from his Las Vegas home.

"But any time you get called back it's flattering. It's all you can ask for."

Parrish said his best strategy is simply to be himself. "That's all I can do," he said. As for making the second round, "It's a preliminary thing, but at least it's a chance."

Manuel and Simmons were not available for comment.

McRae, the only candidate who has managed in the majors, said he was not surprised to be left off the list. "Experience has something to do with it, but mostly it's according to what the organization has in mind for the job and that's something you just don't know," McRae said from his Bradenton home. "I'm happy I was part of the process. I was considered for the job and now I turn the page."

LaMar, who said at the start of the process he would select diverse candidates, was impressed with the field.

"This being my first time through the managerial interview process, I was overwhelmed by the quality of the candidates as baseball men and as people," LaMar said in a statement. "All 10 are a credit to themselves and their organizations. With that we have no doubt that we will be extremely pleased with whomever we select from among our five finalists."

LaMar, Livesey and assistant general managers Bart Braun and Scott Proefrock handled the first-round interviews, which lasted about three hours and included psychological testing.

The second-round interviews are scheduled to last about two hours each and will include Naimoli, LaMar and several other top team executives.

Naimoli is looking forward to getting involved. "I've got my own list of questions, but I'd rather keep them to myself," he said.

Naimoli said the decision is a big one. He has heard talk from fans at a number of public appearances over the past week and is eager to bring the process, one he termed "thorough and exhaustive," to a conclusion.

"I've been through this in different capacities for different companies before with some of our industrial companies and I've been through it with our general manager," Naimoli said. "Getting a manager is a real milestone. I'm as excited about this one as I was for the general manager situation when we hired Chuck."