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GM: A distaff position?

Dodgers may have a candidate in Ng

Is Major League Baseball ready for its first female general manager? Kim Ng, the assistant GM of the Los Angeles Dodgers, has been quietly assembling an impressive resume that should make her a legitimate candidate sooner rather than later.

"I'm probably over the hill," the 34-year-old Ng cracked when it was noted her background is not dissimilar to the 29-year-old Theo Epstein: elite educational pedigree (University of Chicago), first job as an intern (in baseball operations for the White Sox), and on-the-job training for more than one team (assistant GM for the Yankees and White Sox, too).

"That's a question for others, not necessarily for me," Ng said when asked whether she was GM material. "I don't mean to sound coy, but I don't want to speak out of turn, either. I've been extremely fortunate. I've worked for three large-market clubs, and one of them [the Yankees] has had tremendous success.

"There have been people in this game for a long time who haven't had the opportunity to be a general manager. Am I going to say, `This is my time, I deserve this?' Absolutely not. As an assistant, I have so much to know and learn. I'm very happy with where I am right now."

Ng has had some terrific mentors: She worked for Ron Schueler and Danny Evans with the White Sox, Brian Cashman and Gene Michael with the Yankees, and has been reunited with Evans with the Dodgers. Most of her experience has been on the business side. With the Yankees, she was part of the team that negotiated contracts for Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Paul O'Neill, and one of her first assignments with the Dodgers was pairing with Evans to sign Hideo Nomo as a free agent when he left the Red Sox.

With the Dodgers, Ng has become increasingly involved on the baseball end and in talent evaluation, traveling with the major league club and dealing with manager Jim Tracy and his coaches, while maintaining regular contact with the team's scouting and player development heads and minor league personnel. That is a different course from that of Elaine Weddington Steward, the lawyer who was an assistant GM with the Sox under Dan Duquette but this year was moved out of baseball operations into the team's legal department.

"I want more experience at the grass-roots level, having to deal with the game itself, evaluating talent," Ng said. "My development in that area will make me more well-rounded in the future. Everyone here has embraced that idea. We're all on the same page."

Ng, originally from New York, grew up a Yankees fan. Asked if becoming a GM was her ultimate goal, Ng said, "This is such a hard game. To say I deserve this or deserve that, I'd be remiss in saying that. Different ownership groups are looking at different criteria in a general manager."

In this age of $2 million average salaries and $180 million payrolls, the job has grown far beyond the ability to make trades and sign players. Ng's lack of a direct baseball background is no different than Epstein's. The Sox GM, when he was in San Diego, was given intensive training in talent evaluation by Kevin Towers, an experience Ng has not had. But Epstein still relies on other trained observers, like Bill Lajoie and Craig Shipley, when formulating his opinions, and there's no reason Ng couldn't surround herself with similar aides.

But whether there will be an owner enlightened enough to take a chance on a woman remains to be seen.

Glaring at Rocket

Dispatch from the Left Coast: Kevin Hench, TV producer and comedy writer, Foxborough native and passionate member of the Nation, offers these thoughts on Roger Clemens: "Over dinner last week, my fellow University of Vermont alum Kirk McCaskill suggested that Roger Clemens may just be the greatest pitcher of all time. I had to explain. Clemens made eight postseason starts for the Red Sox and managed one win, putting him right behind Steve Crawford on the team's all-time playoff win list, tied with Rich Garces. Not exactly Bob Gibson's seven wins in nine World Series starts, now is it? Clemens went 152-72 in his first nine seasons with the Sox and has gone 113-48 since leaving. In the bizarre, four-year, mid-career decline phase in between, as you all know, he went 40-39. Clemens was 30 at the start of the '93 season and 34 at the end of '96. No other 300-game winner has won so few games between those ages. It will be those four years in the wilderness, Blistergate in Game 6 of the '86 Series, and the Terry Cooney ejection in yet another postseason loss to the A's in 1990 that, for me, will define Clemens's career in Boston. His post-Boston defining moments? Drilling Mike Piazza in the head and throwing a shattered bat at him in the World Series. The interesting thing about Clemens's 40 wins from ages 31 to 34 is that the stat really vindicates Dan Duquette's offer. Bill James can say in retrospect that power pitchers last longer, but the fact is that nothing in the history of baseball suggested Rocket's twilight would be quite so bright. In 100 years of baseball, no pitcher had ever been so mediocre over such a protracted period in his early 30s and gone on to turn it around like Roger. I hope they slap a Blue Jays hat on Clemens's bust in Cooperstown because that is the only team he ever chose to play for when the decision was entirely his. He wasn't drafted by the Blue Jays. He wasn't traded to the Blue Jays. There were no other factors involved, just Roger, a pile of money and his terrible sense of geography -- since, after all, he moved on only to be close to his family."

Beck answers call

In Boston, he may be remembered most for the home run he gave up to Bernie Williams of the Yankees in the 1999 ALCS, depressing evidence that Rod Beck was getting by on smoke, mirrors, and an elbow that less than two years later would require yet more surgery. But in San Diego, Beck has regained the respect and admiration he once enjoyed in his stints with the Giants and Cubs, even if he's lost 8-10 miles per hour on his fastball. Beck came into the weekend having converted all 19 of his save opportunities with the Padres, and had allowed just 1 hit in 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position. "It's hard to give adjectives on what he's done," Padres manager Bruce Bochy said last week. "He's really given this team a sense of confidence. He's been flawless. He's just done so much for this ball club." Beck was not invited to any big league camps last spring, but the Sox showed mild interest in signing him to a minor league deal . . . The Giants are honoring the memory of Bobby Bonds with a 30-by-20-foot banner hanging from the clock tower in Willie Mays Plaza outside the ballpark, and with another banner bearing his initials draped on the right-field wall. Bonds's playing career was dwarfed by that of his son, but there's no shame in that: Bonds is on his way to dwarfing that of Ted Williams, too, which may require a reassignment of the title "greatest hitter who ever lived." Barry Bonds has had five seasons of at least 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases; father Bobby had four. No one outside of the family has had more than three . . . Angels shortstop David Eckstein's season looks like it will end the way it began -- in pain. Eckstein, whose spring training problems were just the beginning of a series of injuries, remains on the disabled list with a nerve irritation in his right hamstring that causes pain in his lower back. The Angels have been looking at shortstop prospect Alfredo Amezaga in Eckstein's absence . . . The upside is considerable to the Padres' trade for Pirates outfielder Brian Giles, whose arrival gives another big bat to a lineup that already includes Ryan Klesko, Sean Burroughs, Phil Nevin, and Mark Kotsay. But giving up Oliver Perez cost the Padres not only one of their better arms, but also a guy who had the potential to be a magnet for drawing more fans from Mexico to the Padres' new ballpark next season. We're not talking Fernandomania here, but the Mexican-born pitcher would have been a nice marketing tool . . . The Dodgers, mindful of how difficult it is to see in the twilight shadows at Dodger Stadium after pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii sustained a fractured skill when hit by a line drive last Sept. 8, have taken steps to ensure better visibility for games that start in late afternoon. They designed canvas covers for upper-level areas of the ballpark to reduce shadows near the mound.

A candidates debate

The best candidate for MVP on the Red Sox, to compete against Jason Giambi of the Yankees, Frank Thomas of the White Sox, and Bret Boone or Ichiro Suzuki of the Mariners? At various times this season, you could have made a case for Jason Varitek, Bill Mueller, or Manny Ramirez. But entering the season's last month, Nomar Garciaparra has emerged as the most deserving choice. His run production has been consistent, he is in the running for another batting title, he has played day in and day out, and he has elevated his defense to outstanding in the season's second half. Carlos Delgado of the Blue Jays and Alex Rodriguez of the Rangers are having big years, but the also-ran status of their clubs eliminates them as MVP candidates. A sleeper is Royals center fielder Carlos Beltran, who last season set an American League record for most extra-base hits by a switch hitter and this year is on pace for 100 RBIs and 100 runs, which would be the fourth time the 27-year-old outfielder has pulled off that feat. He entered the weekend batting .364 with runners in scoring position, and had stolen 30 bases in 33 attempts . . . The Twins retain hope that lefthander Eric Milton, who has been out since having knee surgery in the spring, might pitch for them in September. Milton, who had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, is throwing in Florida and getting closer to being sent out on a minor league rehab assignment . . . It's hard not to root for the Expos in their improbable bid for a wild-card spot. Since July 30, they have gone 14-1 in Olympic Stadium, outscoring the Phillies, 39-17, in a four-game sweep, and in their last two games there drew crowds of 20,000-plus. But of the Expos' last 26 games, only six will be in Montreal. They have a six-game "homestand" in Puerto Rico against the Marlins and Cubs . . . While many have conceded the National League Rookie of the Year award to Florida phenom Dontrelle Willis, he's just 2-4 since the All-Star break with an ERA over 6, and Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, who has had a 17-game hitting streak and was batting over .300 in 66 games entering the weekend, is making a late bid for consideration. The switch-hitting Reyes last week became the first Mets rookie to homer from both sides of the plate in a game.

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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