Sports

SKIRTING BASEBALL'S REAL FRONT-OFFICE PROBLEM

Red Sox president Larry Lucchino last week made Theo Epstein, 28, the youngest general manager in history. Big whoop. What's notable about baseball's fresh-faced new GMs—Kevin Towers, Billy Beane, J.P. Ricciardi, Brian Cashman—isn't their youth, but their gender: MLB's front offices are as much a men's club as Augusta National. Without on-field experience, women may be unqualified to coach or manage (though since many female athletes tower over the 5-foot-7 David Eckstein, we wonder why softball segregation exists). Still, while women can't play baseball, there's no reason they can't run it. Where GMs once were retired players, such as scouts or managers, they now come straight out of the front office. Epstein didn't even play college ball; his credentials were business savvy and smarts. (Lucchino admits he's surrounded the neophyte with a "brain trust" of sports veterans, as the Yankees did with Cashman.) GMs analyze scouting reports, negotiate with agents and other GMs, and deal with the media—tasks that female CEOs, lawyers, consultants, etc., have handled for years. So why exclude them from baseball?

A look at Epstein's meteoric rise shows the old-boy (or not-so-old-boy) network in action. The wunderkind began as a college intern in the Orioles' PR department, impressing then team president Lucchino. When Lucchino moved to the Padres, he took Epstein along (and also raised Towers from obscurity to be his GM). Epstein spent two years in public relations and three in baseball operations before Lucchino, now with Boston, crowned him assistant GM last year. We can't help thinking, pace Virginia Woolf, that had Epstein had a sister (Thea?), she'd have remained stuck in PR—the rare area that women like BoSox communications chief Kerri Moore have penetrated—without a powerful mentor promoting her to operations. The lack of opportunity for women in MLB comes as no surprise when its presidents and owners are exclusively men. (Failed ex-Brewers' prez Wendy Selig-Prieb, who was appointed by her daddy, Bud Selig, hardly improved things.) The lords of baseball aren't just all male, but all white—they'd never hired a Latino GM until the Expos' Omar Minaya in 2001 (and only two black GMs ever). But that's a whole other story . . . —J.Y. Yeh


LOSING THEIR RELIGION

A street-corner evangelist who made Gate D at Giants Stadium his pulpit before New York's 32-29 OT loss to Tennessee last Sunday was all but ignored by fans approaching the turnstiles. Just as the Giants are ignoring their higher power. Coach Jim Fassel's preaching of "mistake-free football" is falling on deaf ears. Big Blue blew an eight-point lead to the Titans in the final two minutes on Sunday, and running back Tiki Barber specifically pointed to the error of their ways: "missing tackles and assignments" on defense.

Cornerback (in name only) Jason Sehorn set the tone early with loose coverage on Titan wideout Derrick Mason, which allowed the latter room to roam. On a six-yard Tennessee TD pass in the second quarter, for instance, Sehorn, with the Giants in a zone, let Mason take his route inside unchecked. But the DBs weren't the only sinners. After linebacker Michael Barrow was knocked out of the game with a concussion in the third quarter, his mates failed to maintain containment lanes on QB Steve McNair. Hobbled by a toe injury, McNair made two big runs on Tennessee's two fourth-quarter scoring drives, including the one that tied the contest with nine seconds left. "We played like shit," linebacker Brandon Short, one of the prime suspects, admitted after the game. The media horde, meanwhile, is seeking to crucify Fassel. "A lot of people will put the blame on the head coach, but it's the guys on the field who are responsible," said a clearly dejected Barber. Amen, brother. —Brian P. Dunleavy


THIS JERSEY DOESN'T QUITE FIT

Well, it's not quite the start the Nets planned, is it? Sure, they can beat the bad teams, especially at home. More often than not, they can also beat good teams—at home. But if the road, especially those grueling West Coast trips, are the true test of an NBA squad's championship DNA, then the Nets may well be in for a very frustrating season.

New Jersey has won only four of its first 10 road games, and only two of those victories have come against teams over .500. Even more disturbing, Jason Kidd & Co. were able to win only one game out of four on their first West Coast tour. Granted, the three games they lost were all close, all winnable, and two of their starters, Dikembe Mutombo and Kerry Kittles, were hurt and out of the lineup.

The Nets supposedly made themselves better with off-season trades. But did they? So far, obviously, the answer is no. Keith Van Horn, a role player with a superstar salary, probably had to go, but the Nets have not been able to replace his ability to score. Kidd is being forced to carry the burden for now, but the point guard supreme should not be the leading scorer. What coach Byron Scott really needs is for Kerry Kittles, Lucious Harris, Richard Jefferson, or Kenyon Martin to average 18 or 20 points a game, but none of them have shown that they're capable of doing it. Rodney Rogers was supposed to provide sharpshooting instant offense off the bench, but so far he's only making one-third of his shots and is out of sync—and out of shape. And while the Nets didn't get Mutombo for offense, they certainly expected more than six points a game.—Charles Paikert

 
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