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The White Rat is the resident genius. Billy's the best brawler. LaRussa and Leyland are, by leaps and bounds, the darlings among the younger set.

Tanner and a couple Toms (Lasorda and Kelly) are tops when it comes to talking turkey with the players.So say some of their charges, 25 ballplayers, past and present with 305 years combined major-league service, when asked to comment on current managers as strategists, handlers of pitchers and molders of men.

What makes some so special? Listen to the players on the Cardinals' White Rat, Whitey Herzog.

"Whitey gets more out of his bullpen and bench than any manager," said Jack Clark, former Cardinals first baseman. Braves coach and Hall of Famer Willie Stargell has been awed by the ease with which Herzog pulls talent out of players. Herzog manufactures offense and is never conservative. "You never know what that sucker will do," ex-Met Rafael Santana said.

Herzog is a force on the field and off. "He has the ability to cast a shadow over his team to where they know what he approves or disapproves," said Stargell. "So you don't see too much getting off-center."

Gene Mauch, who resigned as Angels manager this spring, ranked just behind Herzog in esteem. "Mauch is the only manager I ever saw who forced umpires to change a decision because he knew the rules better than they did," Don Baylor said. "Mauch plays out each game before the players do. He'll play for whatever his team's pulse is that day. `Little ball' one day, `long ball' the next."

Said Dodgers pitcher Don Sutton: "Playing for him is like attending the graduate school of baseball, baseball according to Gene Mauch."

Among the younger set of managers, Pittsburgh's Jim Leyland and Oakland's Tony LaRussa are the most admired.

"Jim's a good motivator and knew how to get those kids ready for a game," Expos third baseman Tim Wallach said.

"He stands up for his team and is hard on his players at the same time," Clark said. "He's a new-era Whitey."

And LaRussa? Baylor said he's second only to Tanner when it comes to communicating. Said new Athletics left fielder Dave Parker, "right away he impressed me with his integrity and honesty."

Jerry Hairston of the White Sox remembers LaRussa's special touch in Chicago's pennant season of 1983. "Being a veteran, at times I could see things brewing under the surface," Hairston said. "He was sharp enough to hold meetings before things grew into monsters. To this day, I take my hat off to him."

On the field, LaRussa reminds both Hairston and Willie Randolph of a young Billy Martin. "He stays within himself and the abilities of his team, but he's not afraid to try things," Randolph said.

Like LaRussa, another young manager is often compared to Martin: San Diego's Larry Bowa. "He's (complaining) all the time, but he's good and he knows the game," Santana said. "If he makes it, you'll see another Billy Martin in a few years."

What of the original? Martin, in his fifth go-round with the Yankees, still excites and intimidates.

"He's the top communicator because he lets guys know where they stand," Athletics third baseman Carney Lansford said. "If you don't do your job, you're gone."

Martin is unpredictable, said Simmons, "because he will try anything at any time, but it's still structurally sound. He has the least regard for the consequences."

Yet Baylor believes that Martin no longer exists. "In 1973, '74, Billy was right up there as far as strategy," Baylor said. "Earl Weaver and Billy were like two chess players. But, I haven't seen Billy like that in a long time. I don't know if the players and the game have gone by him or what."

John McNamara of the Red Sox may have had the modern-day game go by him, too, if his dominance of the most conservative category is any indication. "I don't know, it just seems that he's been around for years and years but he's just kind of there," former major-leaguer Tommy Hutton said. "He doesn't get mentioned with Herzog or Mauch or others of his generation."

"Mac's just like Boston," Baylor said. "Conservative town, conservative manager."

McNamara has avid defenders, however. Sutton listed him as the most under-rated because "he does a good job dealing with a collection of veteran superstars."

Ken Griffey, who played for McNamara in Cincinnati, named him most under-rated, best communicator and best off-the-field manager. Offensively, however, Johnson did not excite Santana. "He doesn't steal or anything," the ex-Mets shortstop said. "He just waits for the long ball."

Reds Manager Pete Rose is another who isn't noted for the hit-and-run or steals.

If there are easy-to-read managers, there are a large number on the flip-side. Martin got a lot of support from more than one resident wit because, as Joe Niekro said, "you never know where he's going to be."