Week In Sports Reviewed

Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis talks about baseball's off-season, whether the economy will hurt players seeking free-agent contracts and the latest poster boy for athlete recklessness: Plaxico Burress

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Finally, this hour, we're joined by sportswriter Stefan Fatsis, who joins as most Fridays. And Stefan, we cannot leave the topic of the NFL without mentioning the biggest story in all of football this week, the player who shot himself in the leg.

STEFAN FATSIS: Plaxico Burress of the New York Giants, yeah, the latest poster boy for the reckless athlete. Burress, the Giant's wide receiver, he was carrying an unregistered and loaded Glock in his pants that he accidentally triggered inside of a nightclub, shooting himself in the thigh. The team has suspended him for the rest of the season, and the NFL, which has cracked down on player behavior, in this case, finds itself under scrutiny over whether its own security officials failed to inform New York City police about the incident.

NORRIS: And he was already injured before this happened.

FATSIS: He was. And the Giants are 11 and one, though, and on the road to the Super Bowl. We'll see if this is a distraction.

NORRIS: OK. Now that we've got that out of the way, Stefan, we had planned to talk about baseball, so let's get to that. Baseball's winter meetings begin next week, and the overhanging issue is, as with everything, about the economy.

FATSIS: Yup. It's been a very slow free-agent market so far. Only a handful of 171 free-agent players have signed new contracts. Baseball writers have made a show of blaming that on the economy, and no doubt it is playing a role. All sports are facing huge uncertainty. You know, baseball even brought in the former Fed chairman Paul Volker to address the owners a few weeks ago.

NORRIS: Are there other factors that might explain this?

FATSIS: Yeah. The World Series was late this year; top free agents - who will get their money, by the way, they haven't signed yet, and that often creates a domino effect. The tension that we're seeing is whether teams will use the economy as an excuse to reduce spending on players.

NORRIS: So, look into your crystal ball, will they or won't they?

FATSIS: Well, they need to be very, very careful. I was talking to Don Fehr, the head of a players' union today, and he said that the union will be watching owner behavior very closely. Remember, owners were found guilty of colluding not to sign free agents back in the 1980s; the union has a very powerful tools like travel damages to guard against the recurrence of that today. But it is way too early to draw conclusions.

NORRIS: You know, some teams look like they're doing just fine. The New York Yankees have told a free-agent pitcher that they're going to pay him $140 million to join the team and play for them. Who is this pitcher?

FATSIS: Yeah. CC Sabathia. He ended up last year with the Milwaukee Brewers. And he is terrific. And the Yankees are in need. They didn't make the playoffs last year, which is heresy, of course, in New York. And they're moving into this new stadium in the spring. Now, especially in this economy, the Yankees need to give fans good reasons to pony up even more cash than they used to for the privilege of watching the team. The Yankees have to pay down debts on a $1.3 billion building. They spend more money, so they need more money. And the amazing thing is that Sabathia is taking his time mulling the offer.

NORRIS: The other big-name player on the market is slugger Manny Ramirez. He finished last season with the Dodgers. Any bids on Mr. Ramirez yet?

FATSIS: Well, if you ask his agent, Scott Boras, there is a vigorous market for Manny's services. And the Dodgers this week offered him arbitration. If Ramirez accepts that, it will lock him into a one-year contract, a one-year contract that could be as worth as much as $30 million. But Ramirez would prefer a long-term deal, and this might be an interesting test case of the market. Caution by teams may come in the form of refusing to lock players into five- or six-year contracts, and then second here in mid-level players are the ones that might take the financial hints. But whatever they get, it's going to be a lot.

NORRIS: Stefan Fatsis talks with us on Fridays about sports. Thanks, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.

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Correction Dec. 8, 2008

In some versions of this interview, we said N.Y. Giants player Plaxico Burress had shot himself with a "40-millimeter Glock." We should have said .40-caliber.

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