Last week's duel between 48-year-old New York Met Julio Franco and 44-year-old Yankee Roger Clemens was the oldest batter-pitcher matchup in the major leagues in nearly 75 years.
Had their field bosses been the same ages, though, the matchup would have been among the game's youngest. Managing is that rare job where most guys hit their stride right around the same time the only other career choice is to become a greeter at Wal-Mart. The Baltimore Orioles would do well to keep that in mind as they start sifting through candidates to put a halt to nearly a decade-long slide into mediocrity.
The slumping Orioles fired Sam Perlozzo on Monday and replaced him with interim manager Dave Trembley. Both are 55. Considering what's at stake and based on the admittedly scant evidence of one game, Baltimore might want to go grayer still. The Orioles lost for the ninth straight and 14th time in 16 games Tuesday night to San Diego in Trembley's first outing.
More than just Trembley's interim tag, though, might be hanging in the balance on a road swing that keeps the Orioles out of town until next week. Attendance at Camden Yards is nose-diving, and more troubling, lackluster play by veterans like Miguel Tejada and Melvin Mora suggests Perlozzo lost the club and his successor might not find it easy to win that support back.
Reports peg 42-year-old Joe Girardi, who spent a season in charge of the Florida Marlins, as the clear front-runner. Yet also rumored to be on the short list are Davey Johnson, 64, who led the Orioles when they last had a winning season, in 1997, and former Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker, 58.
``I don't know what age you're at your best and I'm sure it's different for everyone,'' said Dick Williams, who won two World Series titles in Oakland during one of a half-dozen managerial stints. ``But the way the game is played anymore, managing is going to be more and more a younger man's racket.
``Almost nobody plays the game the way I was taught and I'm 78 now, so I don't have anywhere near the time or patience to teach 'em. But a lot of guys 10 years younger than me don't either.''
Whether Williams is correct about the future, managing still isn't even a middle-aged man's game.
Washington's Manny Acta, at 38, began the season as the youngest manager in the major leagues. On the other hand, Tony LaRussa, the defending World Series champion is 62. So is the man he beat last fall, Detroit Tigers skipper and close pal Jim Leyland.
The manager with the most glittering Series resume, the Yankees' Joe Torre, will be 67 in July. Yet he was so unproven barely a dozen years ago that one of the New York tabloids greeted his November, 1995, hiring with the headline ``Clueless Joe.'' One guy he's outfoxed a few times in October, Atlanta Braves counterpart Bobby Cox, turned 66 last month.
How much longer any of them plan to keep working is something only they know. Lou Piniella, who is 63, said in a recent interview that he decided to take over the Cubs because he ``wanted one more challenge in my career,'' but even he has limits.
``I don't want to be doing this at 70,'' Piniella added.
But he might change his tune. Jack McKeon, the third-oldest manager ever behind Casey Stengel, 74, and Connie Mack, 88, took over the Florida Marlins during the 2003 season at age 72. Almost as unique as his feat of turning the sub-.500 ballclub he inherited into series champions was the reason he got fired: too abrasive for some players and management.
And while there's little evidence the old dog is willing to learn new tricks, McKeon is also rumored to be interested in returning to the bench to manage.
``One danger with guys of a certain age - if they're going down, their attitude is, 'I'm going to go down my way.''' Williams said during a phone interview Tuesday from his Las Vegas home. ``If you set a program and you get players to buy into it, fine. If you set it and they don't, that's fine, too.
``Today, you've got 150-pound guys routinely swinging for the fences. I wouldn't put up with that. The way things are,'' he chuckled, ``I wouldn't last a week.''
But Williams doesn't presume to speak for all of his contemporaries.
Some worry they won't know when to get out. Others can't wait to get back in. Almost all of them are resigned to the knowledge the decision will be made for them by somebody else.
Stengel, nicknamed ``The Old Professor,'' won 10 pennants and seven World Series titles for the Yankees. But three days after Pittsburgh's Bill Mazeroski hit a dramatic ninth-inning home run to deny the New Yorkers an eighth during Stengel's reign, co-owners Dan Topping and Del Webb instituted a mandatory retirement age of 65.
``I'll never make the mistake of being 70 again,'' Stengel quipped.
And a year later, Stengel came out of retirement to manage the expansion Mets.
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Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitkeap.org

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