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A look inside the War Room
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06/04/2002 9:29 pm ET 
A look inside the War Room
By Tom Singer /

The draft gets underway inside the War Room at MLB headquarters. (John Ralph/
NEW YORK -- The curtain parts on Oz Tuesday afternoon, revealing a room of organized routine, not a chamber of chaos.

Rest assured, the command center at MLB headquarters for the First-Year Player Draft is not called a War Room because emotions and hostilities flare during five hours and 22 rounds.

But the name applies because of the precision with which everything is arranged and executed during the most influential afternoon on the baseball calendar.

"Most of the work for this day is done long before we get here, beginning in April," says Jeff Pfeifer, MLB's Manager of Baseball Operations.

It shows.

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On the first Tuesday of June, Conference Room D on the 31st Floor of MLB's Park Avenue digs is transformed into The War Room. In name only. The room and the row of surrounding offices maintain the quiet dignity of the other 364 days.

Do not mistake this for the draft circus staged by football and basketball. There is no stage, no audience, no premier prospects sitting by for their first bows.

There aren't even any general managers on hand, or any representative of the 30 Major League clubs. Since shortly after its onset in the mid-'60s, this draft has been conducted by conference phone call.

Thus, in the MLB War Room, there is no outward sentiment because there are no rooting interests

In the early morning, the only tip-off that a draft is about to take place, that in the next two days more than a thousand of names will be called out in life-changing 20-second sound bytes, are the tools covering much of the glossy 25-foot conference table.

In front of Roy Krasik, MLB's Senior Director of Baseball Operations, sits the centerpiece, a complex program written by MLB programmer Aaron Becher that simulatenously logs and verifies each selection. Into the spreadsheet will be entered the selections as they are made -- not to the accompaniment of rolling drums or blaring horns, to be sure.

The table is dotted with several other laptops, in front of each of which sits another key cog in the MLB talent development machine, such as Rick Oliver, Asst. Director, Major League Scouting Bureau.

Also present are three long cases of filled-out index cards, and another file of blank cards. Index cards are the currency of the draft.

The filled-out cards contain information on about 1,600 previously-drafted players, the "re-drafts" to which selecting clubs often refer. They are split into alphabetical thirds, each presided over by someone who will frantically rifle through his stack when the name of a player in his range is called out. Others will complete the blank cards, just as hastily, for first-time draftees.

It is 10 minutes before the first pick, and the room is void of tension. There's a calm air of expectancy, as Conference Room D is filled by various department heads and other MLB employees from throughout the 31st Floor - draft lookie-loos who will all be long gone even before the selections reach the double-digit rounds.

With no fanfare, the Pirates get the draft going by selecting "Re-draft number 0090, Bryan Bullington, right-handed pitcher from Ball State University."

The guy with the A-J box gets his fingers busy.

Before he can retrieve Bullington's card, two more selections are made. These guys don't waste time. No 15-minute mulling period between picks. No commercial breaks. No idle time.

On this first five-hour day, the machine will go through the 22 rounds plus two supplemental rounds. Factoring in 10-minute catch-your-breath breaks after every five rounds, that breaks down to 2 1/2 selections per minute.

During one of the breaks, trays of snacks are delivered and placed in the middle of the table. A young lady enters the room and leans over a plate of baked goods, intently studying the spread. She announces to no one in particular, "Bob DuPuy asked for a brownie."

Clearly, MLB's President & Chief Operating Officer has made his own draft selection.

In club War Rooms throughout the continent, there doubtless are flashes of emotion. Elation if a wish-list entry is still available when it is the club's turn to pick. Perhaps, even anger when a desired player has to be erased from the club's Big Board.

Here in Conference Room D, however, business proceeds with cold efficiency, as it must if the process is to unfold without snags. Only the flat voices of club officials coming through the squawk box, and that of Krasik repeating each pick, pierce the quiet.

The proclamations of choices are bland, of the rank-name-serial number variety. Exceptions are made for players with established baseball genes.

The respective farm director strays from the script to proudly declare, "The Cardinals select outfielder Matt Lemanczyk, son of former Major Leaguer Dave Lemanczyk." Or Prince (Cecil) Fielder, Nicholas (Steve) Swisher, John (John) Mayberry, Kris (Bryan) Harvey, Brad (Ron) Hassey or any of the many other big-league sons who are tabbed.

Otherwise, only one voice from the box is filled with color, not blandness. It belongs to Tommy Lasorda, a Los Angeles vice president announcing the Dodgers' selections. Lasorda's pep and energy contrast the decorum in the room and is a welcome change every 10 minutes or so.

But even Lasorda sounds as if he is beginning to fade when time comes for him to declare the Dodgers' 17th-round selection: Sambu Ndungidi, a French-speaking outfielder from St. Georges High School in Canada.

Lasorda tries. "Sambu Na...Nid-an-giddy. . . try spelling thatname. The guy's an eye-chart."

The draft selection goes even faster than anticipated. MLB had hoped to get in 20 rounds on this first day, and leave the final 30 for Wednesday. But since no one is asking for extra time to make a pick, the process zips by the 20-round mark.

Although Roy Krasik bails out after 15, turning the moderator's job over to Jeff Pfeifer. After having echoed nearly 500 selections, Krasik's throat needs a break.

It should be duly noted that when the chips were down and he had to follow Tom Lasorda, Pfeifer aced "Sambu Ndungidi."

Tom Singer is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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