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Devil Rays are near tough decision

The Devil Rays are expected to introduce their first manager at a news conference today, and it appears it will be one of these three _ Tigers bench coach Larry Parrish, Marlins pitching coach Larry Rothschild and Indians scout Ted Simmons.

Rays officials concluded the second round of interviews Thursday night when they met with Marlins bench coach Jerry Manuel at Tampa International Airport. The other finalist was Orioles batting coach Rick Down.

As he left the airport, general manager Chuck LaMar said he would think about the choice on his drive back to St. Petersburg and then again this morning. The decision is his to make and he will inform managing general partner Vince Naimoli sometime after arriving at his Tropicana Field office at 10 a.m.

After Manuel's interview, Naimoli, LaMar, vice president/general counsel John Higgins and vice president/public relations Rick Vaughn huddled for 2{ hours for what LaMar said was "a very frank and honest discussion" of the five candidates.

When they emerged from the post-midnight meeting, LaMar said a decision had not been made.

"We're to the point where I'm going to go home and sleep on the situation and hopefully make a decision as soon as possible," LaMar said.

"It's the first time we've had a chance to sit down as a group and discuss one candidate at a time and talk about the pluses and minuses of each candidate, how they fit into the organization and the community, whether we felt like it was somebody we could grow with as he grows in our manager's role.

"We have all the information . . . and it's time to make the decision."

Team officials were tentatively planning a news conference for late this afternoon.

After Manuel's interview, Rays officials went back into an airport conference room at 10 p.m. and did not emerge until 12:30 this morning.

Naimoli said the Rays began the managerial search with more than 100 names on their candidates list. They interviewed 10 during the last month and narrowed the field to five on Sunday.

"We had 10 great candidates and five super-great candidates," Naimoli said. "It's tough. It's really tough."

Of the five finalists, none has managed in the major leagues. Rothschild and Simmons have never managed.

All the candidates said Thursday they were anxious for news. Parrish's wife Jenny said they were told they would hear something by noon today.

"I'm not expecting to hear anything tonight," Simmons said Thursday evening from his St. Louis home. "I've done everything I need to do."

While the Rays were paring choices, another big-name manager surfaced. A day after the Rays dismissed Davey Johnson as a potential candidate, Jim Leyland's name came up in Miami where the impending sale of the Florida Marlins was announced.

But like Johnson before him, Leyland will not figure into Tampa Bay's plans. LaMar said Thursday night's discussion was limited to "strictly our five finalists."

Leyland has a clause in his five-year, $6-million contract allowing him to leave if the team is sold. He indicated he may exercise it if the team is stripped of star players in cost-cutting moves. He left Pittsburgh because he did not want to labor through a rebuilding process.

But Leyland also has said repeatedly that he will manage no team but the Marlins in 1998. Taking a year-long sabbatical has been mentioned as another possibility.

Manuel, meanwhile, stated his case before Rays officials after traveling for eight hours from Sacramento, where he attended his father's funeral a day earlier.

"It's been an emotional roller coaster," Manuel said. "I guess I'm more exhausted than anything else. I'm kind of relieved. In two weeks, I went through my first World Series, I buried my dad and I came for my first and second interviews to be a manager."

Manuel, 43, spent 80 minutes with LaMar, Naimoli and other team officials Thursday night.

"I think the second interview was a lot easier because I did know what to expect," Manuel said. "I felt I was able to articulate what I would do and how I would be and what type of manager I would be."

Simmons played 21 years with the Cardinals, Brewers and Braves. He retired in 1988. Since then he has not put on a uniform.

Simmons was a farm director in St. Louis and the general manager in Pittsburgh. A heart attack led to his resignation as GM. He's since been a special-assignment scout for the Indians.

Parrish, 43, has long been considered a rising star in managerial circles. A two-time All-Star in his 15-year career with the Expos, Rangers and Red Sox, Parrish has risen through coaching ranks since his playing days ended in 1990.

He has managed parts of four seasons in the minors and before joining Buddy Bell's staff as the bench coach this season.

Rothschild, 43, has been Florida's pitching coach since 1995. He spent eight years with the Reds and one with the Braves as a minor-league pitching coach and a major-league bullpen and pitching coach.