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Could Ripken Run the Nats in 2007?

If the Washington Nationals brass do what baseball front offices almost always do—fire the manager after a losing season— Frank Robinson’s replacement will be in the dugout at RFK stadium next April.

Will the new skipper be the same commanding presence as Robby? Who will it be?

As the Nats’ 2006 season wound to a close, the front office wasn’t talking. Here’s the speculation around baseball.

“The name you hear is Davey Johnson, ” says one Baltimore baseball man. Johnson had a long playing career, most of it with the Orioles, plus a managing career with the Mets, Reds, O’s, and Dodgers. He was hired midseason by the Nats as a “consultant.”

Says a Nats source: “The name you hear around here is Lou Piniella. ” That would be “Sweet Lou,” the clutch-hitting outfielder (mostly for the New York Yankees) who retained his fiery nature when he became the Yanks’ manager in 1986. Piniella managed in Cincinnati for three seasons—winning the World Series in 1990—then for ten years in Seattle before leaving for Tampa Bay, where he enjoyed little success. Both Johnson and Piniella have a relationship from their Cincinnati days with Nats GM Jim Bowden.

So do other potential candidates, including Nats first-base coach Davey Lopes and third-base coach Tony Beasley.

Suppose the Nats look outside their comfort zone? Baseball people are high on Indians bench coach Joel Skinner and Angels pitching coach Bud Black. Former stars Orel Hershiser and Joe Morgan are killing time in the broadcast booth. Third-base coaches Ron Washington (Oakland), Glenn Hoffman (Los Angeles), and Fredi Gonzalez (Atlanta) are one interview away from managerial jobs. The entire Braves coaching staff—assembled by Stan Kasten before he came to Washington as team president—is composed of potential managers.

Also on the radar screen are successful minor-league skippers Torey Lovullo in Buffalo and former Kansas City Royals star Frank White in Wichita. So are former Orioles Rick Dempsey and Eddie Murray.

Next summer is when Cal Ripken Jr. gets voted into the Hall of Fame. Do the Lerners have the chutzpah to poke that particular stick in Peter Angelos’s eye?

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