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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Nation still in the news

Baseball's winter meetings start Monday in Dallas, which means that we cannot have enough hot stove stuff in the sports pages. And that is why even though the Jets are here, and Jumbo Joe is gone, and Kendrick Perkins is the new Moses Malone, and many of you are bundling up for high school Super Bowls . . .

It is imperative that we tune in to the latest episode of ''As the (Red Sox) Nation Turns."

Don't expect a new general manager in place by the time the meetings commence. CEO Larry Lucchino wants to hire a new guy sometime this winter, but now indicates it probably won't be before the meetings.

Why not just stay with the old guard (Bill Lajoie, Jeremy Kapstein), new guard (Ben Cherington, Craig Shipley, Jed Hoyer) Gang of Five that worked so well making the biggest baseball trade of the offseason thus far?

''I don't think that's an ideal structure," Lucchino said yesterday afternoon, a couple of hours before Lajoie, Shipley, and Hoyer participated in a conference call to update the media regarding Boston's game plan for the meetings. ''But we are very pleased with the way the guys down there [in the old bowling alley] have functioned."

Lucchino bristles at any characterization that the Sox are in chaos or that former FEMA director Mike Brown and AFTRA's Ben Affleck are the latest to turn down the Sox GM job. ''The notion that there aren't people who want this job is preposterous," said the CEO. ''I'm inundated with candidates. Meanwhile, the work is being done. The business of baseball is being conducted, and we have confidence in the people doing that job."

The late-afternoon conference call did little to clear up the Sox' unusual situation on the eve of these meetings. The parties stated that many teams had inquired about Manny Ramírez, but that the Sox would not be bullied into giving away Ramírez, or David Wells, both of whom have asked to be traded. They said re-signing Johnny Damon remained a priority and indicated that trade talks are already scheduled with 13 teams.

When a reporter asked if there would be a point man in the Sox contingent in Dallas, the 71-year-old Lajoie said, ''There should be a point man. I imagine it will be myself."

He added, ''We go day-to-day with our present system and it seems to be working pretty well. We are working together and getting along."

Not involved in the conference call, but expected to be in Dallas, is Kapstein, a brilliant, likable, veteran baseball man who has offered to succeed Theo Epstein.

This typist strongly doubts the Sox will turn to Kapstein, even on an interim basis, and Lucchino will not comment on the in-house people who might be up for the job. But it has been fascinating to watch the unfolding of the (unlikely) candidacy of Kapstein.

Kapstein's name was first floated by Murray Chass in the New York Times several weeks ago. In the past week, Kapstein publicly raised his hand for the job, and his prospects were advanced by scribes in both Boston newspapers, and by his appearance on WEEI.

Older Sox fans with good memories know a lot about Kapstein. In the mid-1970s, he was baseball's first superagent, a forerunner of Jeff Moorad and Scott Boras. He won the first three arbitration cases in major league baseball history. He corralled almost all of the best players in the early days of free agency, including young Red Sox superstars Fred Lynn, Carlton Fisk, and Rick Burleson. Dubbed ''the Kapstein connection," those three players held out at the beginning of the 1976 season, one year after Boston's World Series appearance. The holdouts set an ominous tone and the '76 Sox never got out of the gate, finishing third, 15 1/2 behind the Yankees. Longtime owner Thomas A. Yawkey died in July 1976, and Peter Gammons later wrote, ''Not long after Yawkey died on July 9, one columnist suggested Kapstein, Lynn, Burleson, and Fisk helped break his heart and were a factor in his death."

''I wasn't aware of the death accusation," Lucchino said in 2003. ''Time heals all wounds. [Kapstein] provides information, scuttlebutt, opinion, and evaluation on baseball matters. He's plugged into a certain vintage group of baseball people and he's highly regarded by many of them. He's part of our intelligentsia apparatus."

Today, Kapstein, 62, might be best known as the man wearing a blue windbreaker (no matter how hot it is) and sitting in the front row directly behind home plate for every game at Fenway. Lucchino put Kapstein in that seat and paid him a small salary to serve as ''senior adviser/baseball projects." As a result, Kapstein gets more NESN face time than Hazel Mae or Tom Caron.

He was born in Providence, the son of the director of the Rhode Island Teachers Association. Kapstein graduated from Harvard (where they dubbed him ''Statstein" because of his love of sports statistics) in 1965, then earned a law degree from Boston College. Working football broadcasts in the early '70s, he befriended sportscaster Keith Jackson, who steered him toward player representation. When free agency exploded on the baseball scene in 1976, Kapstein was ready. He represented 10 of the first group of eligible players, all of them superstars. He was feared by owners throughout the game and he was downright despised in Boston.

''Sure, I'm afraid of him," Twins owner Calvin Griffith told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1976. ''He can decide who wins pennants. He can regulate the structure of baseball."

''I'm not evil," Kapstein told the Globe's Will McDonough shortly thereafter. ''I always had what was best for my players uppermost in my mind . . . This is a new world for baseball. Things have changed."

Said Fisk, ''No one knows more baseball than Jerry Kapstein."

Kapstein was Fisk's agent when Haywood Sullivan was late mailing the catcher's contract in 1980. It was Kapstein who negotiated Jerry Remy's last contract with the Red Sox. He also represented Mike Flanagan, who today is general manager of the Orioles.

Fast forward to 1988, when Kapstein married Linda Smith, the daughter of Padres owner Joan Kroc, wife of the late Ray Kroc, who made billions as the pioneer of McDonald's. In 1989, Kapstein was decertified by the players association after going to work for the Padres. In February 1990, Kapstein was hired by the Padres to oversee all club operations. His main job was to find a buyer for the ball club, and in April he orchestrated the sale of the team to a group led by Tom Werner (there's an interesting name).

Kapstein was still a member of the Padres' board of trustees when Lucchino came on board in San Diego (1995), and the two worked together until Lucchino came to Boston.

In 2002, working for a new Red Sox ownership group that included John Henry, the New York Times Co., and Werner, Lucchino brought several people with him from San Diego, including Mike Dee, Sam Kennedy, Steve Fitch, Glen Geffner, Dr. Charles Steinberg . . .

Plus two other guys: a 27-year-old Yale grad named Theo Epstein, and a veteran baseball man named Jeremy (no longer Jerry) Kapstein.

As the Nation Turns . . . you can't make this stuff up.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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