- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 5, 2002

The Baltimore Orioles began formal interviews for vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift's replacement yesterday, even though Thrift continues to hold his current title and has not been informed of his future status.

Al Avila, an assistant general manager with the Detroit Tigers, interviewed with Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos, the first of several GM candidates expected to meet with Angelos.

Former Montreal Expos GM Jim Beattie is scheduled to interview today, with more to come later this week. Other potential candidates include Arizona assistant GM Sandy Johnson, who has been given permission to interview by the Diamondbacks; former Chicago White Sox GM Ron Schueler; and former Anaheim Angels GM Bill Bavasi.

Retired Orioles legend Cal Ripken has publicly expressed his interest in the job and has held informal discussions with Angelos. But Ripken and Angelos have planned no formal interview, and sources with the Orioles and close to the Iron Man are questioning whether this is the right time for him to start a new career as a major league general manager.

Former Orioles pitcher and current broadcaster Mike Flanagan remains a candidate, though yesterday he interviewed with the Boston Red Sox, who are considering the left-hander for GM and other front-office positions.

Baltimore's commencement of the interview process clearly indicates that Angelos plans to make a change in his baseball operations department. Even Thrift has acknowledged on several occasions that he does not expect to return in his current role. However, the 73-year-old vice president has been working in his normal capacity and plans to continue so until told otherwise.

"I'm still running the same race, still operating the same way I've been for last three years," Thrift said yesterday. "I know what has to be done. You focus on your job. I have no control over those things."

Since the end of the season, Thrift has renegotiated a new contract with pitcher Pat Hentgen and passed several players through waivers to clear space on the Orioles' 40-man winter roster.

He will attend baseball's general manager meetings next week in Tucson, Ariz., after which a replacement could be named and he could be reassigned within Baltimore's front office before December's winter meetings.

Thrift said he hopes to continue working for the Orioles, in any capacity, and said he will do what he can to help ease his potential replacement into the role.

"I'm happy to help with the transition," he said. "I wouldn't want to make anyone uncomfortable. That's what I'm trying to do, do what I can to help make this the best organization that I can."

Avila, 48, is considered a long shot to take over the Orioles' front office. This is the first time he has officially interviewed for a full-time general manager's position with a major league club, putting him at a disadvantage against some of the more experienced candidates.

Born in Cuba, Avila served nine years with the Florida Marlins in several capacities, including briefly last winter as interim GM. He left the Marlins in January to become a special assistant to Pittsburgh Pirates GM Dave Littlefield, then rejoined former Florida GM Dave Dombrowski in Detroit in June as an assistant.

Given their previous experience, Beattie, Schueler and Bavasi would have to be considered front-runners for the job over Avila. Beattie spent six years as GM of the Expos before resigning; he came back last season to serve as a special assistant to first-year GM Omar Minaya, who was appointed by Major League Baseball to run the troubled franchise.

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