Colorado's Jerry McMorris is a giant in the trucking industry and one of the most respected of baseball's newer generation of club owners. Yet he might as well be an unkempt door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman for all the pitch time his colleagues are willing to give him.

McMorris has come to realize he is selling the one product the vast majority of team owners don't want: A new commissioner."There have been some owners who didn't want a search from the beginning, who didn't feel a search was necessary," said the Rockies' owner, who was put in charge of such a search 18 months ago. "But we don't always have assignments to do what we'd like to do."

McMorris accepted the task at the behest of acting commissioner Bud Selig, the Milwaukee Brewers owner who has chaired the ruling Executive Council since Sept. 9, 1992. McMorris resisted initially, believing it would take too much time away from his business affairs. Eventually, he relented, swayed by Selig's apparent sincerity in wanting to find a qualified, independent steward for the game.

So McMorris spent untold hours interviewing candidates targeted by an executive search firm contracted by Major League Baseball. He worked diligently to evaluate nominees, maintain confidentiality in the process and eventually pare the list to a handful of names he is ready to present for owners' consideration.

Whether the search seems to matter to colleagues, McMorris said, "It does (matter) to me. It became my responsibility to try to help find the best group of candidates, and I think I've done that.

"We have a certain group of owners who feel strongly that we should keep Bud in place. I feel strongly that it's time to get a decision made and move on."

Selig's power base has solidified as the game slowly healed from the damaging 1994-95 players strike. Fellow owners are sometimes frustrated by the slow pace of his decisions but generally have been pleased by Selig's pet projects such as the wild-card playoff berth, interleague play and revenue sharing.

The hiring of former Toronto Blue Jays' chairman Paul Beeston as baseball's president and chief operating officer has eased Selig's workload and provided direction in the New York headquarters. And even Beeston wants Selig to take the job.

"He's commissioner," Beeston said. "Let's call him that and get on with it."

Selig appears to be creeping in that direction. For the first five and a half years of his reign, he denied interest in keeping the job permanently. This week, in what for Selig was a dramatic new stance, he simply refused to elaborate on his ambitions.

"I just don't have any comment on that," Selig said. "Whatever else other people are saying now, I'll just have to let that stand for the time being."

HE SAID, HE SAID: Looks like Mike Piazza and Pedro Martinez won't be exchanging Christmas cards this year.

The two superstars spent last week trading verbal shots after Martinez hit Piazza on the left wrist in the first game of the New York Mets series against the Red Sox in Boston.

Piazza, who was forced to miss two games with a bruised and swollen wrist, accused Martinez - a former teammate in Los Angeles - of deliberately throwing at him.

Martinez blew up when he heard Piazza's comments, telling a Boston Herald reporter: "(Expletive) Piazza! (Expletive) Piazza! And you can put that in the paper. I could care less."

Piazza shot back by saying of the pitcher, who signed a $75 million contract, "It shows you that all that money can't buy you class. Maybe he should invest in some lessons on etiquette."

To which Martinez countered with: "He wants to talk about class, well, he was a millionaire since he was a kid. He's not a better person than me. You can make your own judgment."

The two aren't scheduled to see each other again this season, but a matchup in the All-Star Game in Denver next month is a real possibility.

SCOREBOARD WATCHING: His Devil Rays had beaten the New York Mets in 11 innings at Shea Stadium the other night, but Tampa Bay general partner owner Vincent Naimoli still wasn't satisfied.

Naimoli stormed into the team's clubhouse irate over the fact that the scoreboard in right-center field read: TAMPA instead of TAMPA BAY.

"The correct name is Tampa Bay, not Tampa," Naimoli shouted, "and if they can't fit eight letters on the board to spell Tampa Bay, I'm going to file a protest with the league."

Since it was an interleague game, which league Naimoli was referring to was unclear. And apparently the Mets didn't get the message.

On Wednesday, the scoreboard said: RAYS.

CAUGHT SHORT: Neifi Perez found himself putting on shinguards, a chest protector and mask for the first time since Little League the other night. He hopes it was the last time.

The shortstop got pressed into duty as Colorado's catcher against the Anaheim Angels when Jeff Reed was forced to leave in the ninth inning after a home-plate collision cut open his face.

Rockies manager Don Baylor had already used emergency catchers Greg Colbrunn and Jason Bates (pinch-hitter), and Reed had pinch-hit for starting catcher Kirt Manwaring before being injured.

Baylor looked around to see how could catch, and Perez seemed like a perfect candidate.

"You're looking for somebody with good hands, and Neifi came to mind," Baylor said.