HEN I'M King of the World

. . .

Gerry Hunsicker will be in play when Dave Montgomery launches the process of hiring general manager Pat Gillick's successor.

If you think the remarkable blossoming of the serially moribund Tampa Bay Rays is due to the genius of 31-year-old Andrew Friedman, a relative baseball newbie, think again.

Hunsicker was the leading candidate to replace fired Ed Wade until Gillick expressed interest. But Montgomery's admiration for the man who turned the Astros around before resigning in 2004 after a falling-out with billionaire owner Drayton McLane is genuine. Gerry is a local guy from Collegeville, and a Saint Joseph's graduate. He has excelled at every executive level of the game and has operated seamlessly behind a young Rays management team that has turned around the long-running nightmare of the Vince Naimoli and Chuck LaMar blunder years.

Hunsicker has done everything but put fannies in the seats of the least-appreciated team north of Miami. In one of those Old Boy's Club moves, Gillick hired LaMar and appointed him director of professional scouting. LaMar is an excellent scout. Period. Ruben Amaro Jr. and Mike Arbuckle are the in-house candidates. Gillick assistant Charley Kerfield is said to have Gillick's ear. It is time to avoid slipping back into the outhouse by going out-of-house.

When I'm King of the World . . .

Penn State will never, ever, sink so low as to schedule another Coastal Carolina.

When they put the Chanticleers on the schedule, I wondered, what the hell is a Chanticleer? So, what's next for JoePa in his dotage, picking wings off flys, adding Rowan to his pre-Big Ten gantlet breather schedule? Oh, I remember: A chanticleer is a friggin' rooster . . .

Speaking of birds, I never, ever, thought I would write this during my career, but here goes anyway. This is the most athletic and talented Temple football team since the Wayne Hardin era. OK, it was only Army, a football program three wars removed from its glory years. But Al Golden's slick and energetic team - still young enough to improve a lot - went into Michie Stadium, a hallowed house where Heisman trophies were won, the scenic place where Earl Blaik coached and Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis were Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside while capturing the national imagination. Now, all the Owls need is about 50,000 bodies to upholster the Linc seats for those gripping MAC scrums against unnatural rivals located in the Midwest . . .

Anthony Hewitt update: The Phillies' first-round draft pick continued to struggle with live pitching in the rookie Gulf Coast League. Hewitt finished the regular season with a 2-for-32 flourish festooned with 16 strikeouts. The pride of Salisbury School finished with a .197 average. He had one homer, nine RBI and 55 strikeouts in 117 at-bats. One scout's terse opinion: "Overmatched." Amaro's more soothing comment: "Patience." Even at professional baseball's lowest entry level, hitters don't see many grooved batting-practice fastballs. The good news is that the Phils' GCL enty, dominated by players from last year's strong Dominican Summer League team, won the North Division and then the playoff championship series.

No such luck for last-place Lehigh Valley, 34 games under .500, last-place Reading, 36 under and fifth place Clearwater, 12 under. Lakewood finished second in the Sally League North and led the SAL once more in attendance with a tremendous 425,166 showing. It is the eighth straight season the Blue Claws have drawn more than 400,000 fans. The fourth-place Williamsport Crosscutters are 36-33 as the New York-Penn League season winds down. Clearwater's miserable season under manager Razor Shines was highlighted by massive outfielder Mi-

chael Taylor stepping up to the high-Class A level without skipping a beat. The small forward-sized Stanford product finished his season yesterday batting a combined (Lakewood/Clearwater) .346 with 170 hits, 39 doubles, four triples, 19 homers, 89 RBI and 15 stolen bases.

When I'm King of the World . . .

Sports Illustrated NFL guru Dr. Z will stop shocking us like this . . . OK, the headline says, "Sports Illustrated Picks Eagles To Win NFC Title." But then you read the actual piece and it's only prediction-challenged Paul Zimmerman. Paul misses enough NFL picks in his weekly piece to join the crack Daily News selectors. He's one of these guys so immersed in the sport that he suffers from a serious information overload. Such men have a wonderful feel for the game but wind up playerwise but outcome foolish . . . Vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin was a top athlete. Alaska's governor was skilled at hoops, was a Triple A sled-dog racer and is the best shot since Annie Oakley. She also is said to be fond of burgers made of moose meat. In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt split from the Republican Party and founded the Bull Moose Party. Maybe Sarah Palin will found the Eat Moose Party. *

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