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NEW GM EVANS IS THE DODGERS' BACKSTOP.

Byline: STEVE DILBECK

So you tell him, all serious and everything, that despite having one of the most significant jobs in the Los Angeles sports scene, he's still very much under the local radar, and Dan Evans laughs.

``I'm only 5-8, I'm always going to be low to the radar,'' Evans says.

Then you look at the 41-year-old, boyish-looking Evans and try to envision him as a diminutive catcher at Lane Technical High in Chicago with a student population of almost 9,000. Must have been scrappy.

``I loved catching,'' he says. ``I was in the middle of all the action. I was calling the pitches. It was a great experience for me. I always enjoyed being a catcher because the game was always right in front of you.''

And now here is is, the game still very much in front of him, right in the middle of all the action, albeit on a significantly grander scale.

Evans is the Dodgers' latest general manager, the latest in the front office merry-go-round that has left fans uneasy and suspicious of anyone calling the shots from Chavez Ravine. In a little more than three years, five different men have been entrusted with leading the Boys in Blue from on high, either full time or on an interim basis _ Fred Claire, Tommy Lasorda, Kevin Malone, Dave Wallace, and Evans.

It's proved to be a chaotic and disappointing time. Now another GM arrives with an administrative background, talking about reshaping the front office, improving the farm system, the great Dodgers tradition.

It sounds very familiar, like a lot of the GM-speak sheriff Malone arrived with before forced out in a sea of self-inflicted verbal gaffes and a bloated payroll.

``I'm not going to compare myself to the previous gentleman,'' Evans says. ``It's too early for there to be anything for you to point to, because we're in the early stages of my first offseason as a general manager. The first month or so was spent entirely on trying to add personnel. The offseason really didn't start until 10 days ago.

``We've already made a trade that helped our ballclub in terms of depth with Omar Daal. I just ask people to review me after the first couple of years and take a look at what I've done to impact this ballclub, and what our staff has done.''

Now you're hoping to the baseball heavens that Evans, on the job less than two months, doesn't have to point very long to acquiring a mediocre left-hander like Daal as the shining moment of his regime.

But Evans is confident he has a plan, a philosophy for leading a team that won 86 games last year to the next level, to turn the Dodgers into a perennial contender.

The son of a retired Chicago fireman who ran a communications dispatch system and a life-long baseball fanatic, Evans was a 19-year-old intern from DePaul University when he started working with the White Sox and creating an impression.

He became their assistant general manager at 27 _ ``A ridiculously young age,'' he says. ``I wasn't ready for it.'' _ and began to visualize his professional future.

``I spent one night at the winter meetings talking to a bunch of GMs at a cocktail party, and started to recognize that many of the things they were talking about were things that I was focused on, or on the periphery.''

Evans hired ex-Angels GM Bill Bavasi as his director of player development, ex-Marlins manager John Boles as his senior adviser and former Angels/Astros manager Terry Collins as a minor-league field coordinator. Wallace remains as a senior vice president.

``What I've learned is that really good general managers surround themselves with the best people,'' Evans says. ``They allow those people to be creative, to be aggressive.

``We're going to improve the Dodgers because we've improved ourselves in the front office.''

We've heard all this before, but you give Evans the early benefit of the doubt. Signs are he won't get caught up in the agent game, the one that Scott Boras played so well with Malone he was dubbed the team's defacto general manager.

There's been no early offer thrown at Chan Ho Park to be shopped around by Boras, no early plunge into the free-agent market. Evans appears to carefully weigh all options.

``I don't worry about what's happened here in the past,'' he says. ``It's been made very clear to me that the Dodgers baseball operations are going to be run by me.

``I have a lot of experience with agents. I have no problem conversing with them, but the people who will influence me are the people who are wearing the Dodger logo and working for the Los Angeles Dodgers.''

Evans has all the enthusiasm of someone excited about a new venture, you just hope it isn't with the accompanying naivete of a first-time GM. He's not just calling the pitches now, he's calling the shots.

``We're going to have a really good thing here,'' he says. ``Not that it isn't already good, but it's going to get better. We're going to be one of the best franchises in the game, there is no doubt in my mind.''

Evans already has been in contact with every major-league team. He is confident he has a feel for every team's need. Says he has formed his plan to improve the club and broken it down by priority. He notes the World Series-champion Diamondbacks finished only six games ahead of the Dodgers.

He has a local home in escrow and plans to move his wife, Susan, and two daughters, Sarah (11) and Andrea (7), from Evanston, Ill., in January.

And despite being height challenged, he doesn't want to remain this officious-sounding, anonymous front-office administrator dipping under the radar.

``I want people to know me as a person, not just as the Dodger general manager,'' he says. ``I want to invest time in here. This is where I want to live. I love it here.

``I knew after a few weeks of living out here, that this could be a really special place to live. I know that I'm in a situation here, where this could be not only special as a franchise, but special as a quality of life as well.''

He'll get special scrutiny, too. There's a short honeymoon in this business. Yet like a catcher, right now it's all before him.

CAPTION(S):

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Photo:

DOUG EVANS

``We're going to be one of the best franchises in the game, there is no doubt in my mind.

- Dan Evans, Dodger's GM
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 23, 2001
Words:1099
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