Lost in the MLB Off-Season Shuffle

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Robert Siegel talks with Stefan Fatsis, sportswriter for The Wall Street Journal, about the ever-changing crop of Major League Baseball's general managers, free agents and players who aren't charged with perjury.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Baseball's general managers gathered in California this week for their annual winter meetings, but a couple of the most celebrated GMs weren't there, because they're out of a job. And joining me now to talk about winter ball is sportswriter Stefan Fatsis of The Wall Street Journal.

Welcome back, Stefan.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (The Wall Street Journal): Hi, Robert.

SIEGEL: Thirty-one-year-old Theo Epstein stepping down as GM of the Boston Red Sox. What happened? After 90 years, they won the World Series, and it's, `What have you done for me lately?'

Mr. FATSIS: Pretty much. Epstein wouldn't trash management, but clearly there were differences of opinion about the job and the future of the job, and he chose to turn down a three-year, $4 1/2 million contract and continue doing a job that he has said he had wanted to do since he was a kid.

SIEGEL: At least he had a choice. Thirty-two-year-old Paul DePodesta of the Los Angeles Dodgers was fired. These guys were in their early 30s and already out of jobs.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah. They're part of this younger generation of highly educated baseball executives. Epstein went to Yale; DePodesta majored in economics at Harvard. And the new breed didn't necessarily play or coach or scout baseball, and they're best-known of course for incorporating more statistical analysis into the job of GM.

SIEGEL: Well, as the resume of the general manager changes, do the functions--does the role of the baseball GM actually change?

Mr. FATSIS: It does, particularly if these guys are younger. They don't have as much autonomy as GMs had in the past. They really do have to report up the line. GMs are under greater scrutiny than ever, and they have to spend an enormous amount of time dealing with the media, which is also hard to do if you don't have much experience. Epstein privately has said that he spent as much as a quarter of his time on media issues.

SIEGEL: Well, one of the big tasks for a baseball general manager is signing free agents. What does the crop of baseball free agents look like this year?

Mr. FATSIS: It is a very thin crop at all positions. The biggest name among position players is Paul Konerko, the first baseman for the World Series champion Chicago White Sox. Among pitchers, the big guy is A.J. Burnett of the Florida Marlins, and he had a .500 record this season. Roger Clemens of the Houston Astros, who also were in the World Series, declared for free agency yesterday, but it's not clear that he'll even play in 2006--he might retire--or, if he does play, whether he'd go anywhere but Houston.

SIEGEL: Good news for one 41-year-old free agent, Rafael Palmeiro. The news is he won't be charged with perjury for his testimony in which he said he didn't use any steroids when he was before a congressional committee.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, and Congress looked into it because Palmeiro was suspended for testing positive for steroids after that congressional testimony. Panel issued a report yesterday, and it's really just stunning. In it, Palmeiro blamed his positive test on a possibly contaminated shot of a vitamin, B12, but the report found no evidence that it was contaminated. Palmeiro said he was given the vitamin in injectable form by his teammate on the Baltimore Orioles, Miguel Tejada. The vial was labeled in Spanish, but Palmeiro didn't ask a team trainer or a doctor to check it out, which really is just stunningly stupid, giving new testing in baseball, the general climate in sports about drugs and supplements. Palmeiro then said that his wife injected him with the vitamin, and she had no medical training but she had given her dog allergy shots.

SIEGEL: And someone questions this story?

Mr. FATSIS: (Chuckles) Well, everything's questionable here. Why take B12 at all? Allegedly players say it gives them a little energy boost. But a baseball physician said there's no evidence that B12 does anything for anyone except people with a rare form of anemia. Tejada, however, told investigators he'd been taking B12 since he was five or six years old in the Dominican Republic. Another player on the Orioles said he injected Tejada 70 or 80 times over the past two seasons. And you might wonder why teams don't just administer it themselves, because it's just a vitamin, right? Taking a B12 injection without a prescription in illegal in the United States.

SIEGEL: Well, Stefan, you've gone too long. Would you like to do your Terrell Owens impression right now?

Mr. FATSIS: I apologize to my teammates, my coaches, my owners, my fans.

SIEGEL: And we'll invite you back next week for that apology. Thank you very much.

Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis of The Wall Street Journal, who talks with us on Fridays about sports and the business of sports.

(Credits)

SIEGEL: I'm Robert Siegel, and you're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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