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Hale ready in on-deck circle

Coach no stranger to the organization

While Terry Francona remained the candidate to beat, the Red Sox last night cleared a lane for another contender in their managerial derby, inviting Rangers first base coach DeMarlo Hale to interview for the job Monday.

Hale, 42, a widely respected former player and manager in Boston's farm system, will become the fourth person -- and first minority candidate -- to interview for the opening created by Grady Little's departure after the jarring loss to the Yankees in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series.

The Sox also are considering asking former Astros manager Larry Dierker to join the competition, even as they continue weighing the credentials of the current contenders. While Dodgers third base coach Glenn Hoffman's star has fallen amid Francona's rise, Anaheim bench coach Joe Maddon remains in contention. He is scheduled to conduct a follow-up interview by phone over the weekend, with Sox president Larry Lucchino expected to play a prominent role.

Maddon, who interviewed last week with general manager Theo Epstein during the GM meetings in Phoenix, said the potential exists for him to visit principal owner John W. Henry in Florida, as Francona did Monday.

"It appears they really know what they want in a manager and are taking their time because they don't want to make any mistakes," Maddon said. "That's fine. That's to their credit."

Hale, who interviewed with the Rangers last year for the managerial opening that Buck Showalter filled, would become the first African-American manager in Sox history. He left the Sox organization after the 1999 season when he was passed over for a promotion to Triple A Pawtucket despite winning Minor League Manager of the Year honors from Baseball America, The Sporting News, and USA Today's Baseball Weekly for leading Double A Trenton to a first-place finish in the Eastern League with a record of 92-50.

Hale managed a number of future Sox players on the '99 team in Trenton, including Shea Hillenbrand, Tomo Ohka, Sun Woo Kim, and Paxton Crawford, none of whom remain with the organization. The team also included David Eckstein, who won a World Series ring with the Angels in 2002, and Adam Everett, who was traded to the Astros for Carl Everett.

A 17th-round pick out of Southern University in 1983, Hale played first base and outfield for four seasons in the Sox system, rising as high as Double A before he finished his playing career with a brief stint in Oakland's system in 1988. From there, Hale ventured into enemy territory, working from 1989-92 as an instructor at the Bucky Dent Baseball School in Florida.

The Sox hired Hale as a Double A coach in '92 and launched his managerial career at Single A Fort Lauderdale in '93. He spent three seasons managing Single A teams, then three more years at Trenton before former GM Dan Duquette hired Gary Jones to manage at Pawtucket in 2000 despite Hale's outstanding season in '99. At that, Hale joined the Texas organization, managing their Triple A affiliate for two years.

In all, Hale posted a 634-614 record in nine minor league seasons before he joined the Rangers in 2001 as first base coach for manager Jerry Narron. Francona was Narron's bench coach. Narron, who served last year as Little's bench coach, has not been asked to interview for Boston's managerial opening and remains in limbo with third base coach Mike Cubbage, waiting to hear if they will be retained under the new manager.

Pettitte on hold

The possibility of Yankee lefthander Andy Pettitte signing as a free agent with the Sox appears even slimmer than Texas superstar Alex Rodriguez winding up in a Boston uniform. The Sox weighed preliminary plans to meet with Pettitte's agents to explore a possible fit, but the plan quickly faded as the lefthander's hometown Astros made a strong push for his services and the Yankees remained poised to counter almost any offer. A major league source said any meeting between the Sox and Pettitte's representatives "appears unlikely." The Sox also have no interest in meeting the lofty prices that two other top free agent starters, Bartolo Colon and Kevin Millwood, are expected to command.

Protective measure

Protecting one of their prized prospects from next month's Rule 5 draft, the Sox added third baseman Kevin Youkilis to their 40-man roster along with Triple A catcher Andy Dominique and Double A righthander Jerome Gamble. Youkilis, 24, who reached Triple A last season, has posted a .451 on-base percentage in his first three years in the Sox system. Dominique, 28, split the 2003 season between Double A and Triple A, batting .319 with 16 home runs and 78 RBIs, while Gamble, 23, went 8-4 with a 3.81 ERA in 19 outings at Single A and Double A . . . The Sox also continued to restock their farm system by claiming righthander Edwin Almonte and lefthander Phil Seibel off waivers from the Mets and signing lefthander Tim Hamulack, who spent last season in Seattle's farm system. Almonte, 26, made his major league debut last season for the Mets, logging an 11.12 ERA over 12 appearances. He led the International League with 26 saves in 2002 and the Southern League with 36 saves in 2001. Seibel, 24, is 27-23 with a 4.06 ERA in 85 games over three minor league seasons, and Hamulack, 27, is 22-14 with a 3.31 ERA over eight years in the minors. All three were added to the 40-man roster, bringing the total to 35 . . . The Sox do not plan to tender a contract to Jeremy Giambi, who would be eligible for arbitration after earning $2 million in an unproductive, injury-wracked season.

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