RANDOLPH, Vt. -- New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman thinks baseball needs more instant replay, new Chicago Cubs president Theo Epstein says nobody could party like the 2004 Boston Red Sox and Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington wishes he had never traded Jason Bay.
Those were some of the soul-baring thoughts the three men shared with a few hundred people during a candid 90-minute discussion held Saturday night at Vermont Technical College in Randolph. But the juicy question-and-answer session took a backseat to the event itself.
The gathering was part of a fundraising effort to benefit Vermont farms damaged by flooding from Tropical Storm Irene. The event was organized by ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney, who grew up in the area.
The discussion was followed by an online auction of baseball memorabilia donated by players and teams. The funds raised will go to the Vermont Farm Disaster Relief Fund, set up by the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and The Vermont Community Foundation. The organization already had raised $1.8 million for flood-damaged Vermont farms before Saturday's event.
Much of the spotlight fell on Epstein, the former Red Sox general manager who bolted Boston last month to become president of the Cubs. The Massachusetts native spoke openly about the difficulty of leaving Boston after leading the Red Sox to two World Series titles in his nine years as its GM.
"It's a part of me, it will always be part of me. I'm not going to try and fake it," Epstein said. "I think we're all allowed one (American League) team to pull for."
Epstein talked about his former team's historic September collapse, in which it went from having the best record in the AL to missing the playoffs altogether.
"How do you describe a death spiral?" he said. "We knew we had issues going into September (even though) we were on pace for 100 wins. We just couldn't stop bleeding. A lot of things happened at the same time. We lost a few key guys to injury, a few guys had a significant downturn in their performance, and all of a sudden we looked up and we didn't have enough pitching."
Epstein also addressed reports of Red Sox starting pitchers drinking beer, eating fried chicken and playing video games in the clubhouse during the team's disastrous September.
"There weren't players getting drunk during games. And it wasn't widespread -- it might have been one, two, three guys," Epstein said.
He acknowledged that some of the Red Sox players "didn't respond to adversity well," but said reports of the team's clubhouse debauchery were exaggerated.
"If you compare the 2011 team to the (World Series champion) 2004 team, they were a bunch of choir boys. The difference is we won the last game in '04."
Epstein wasn't the only panelist who had to answer questions about a new contract. Cashman just signed a new three-year deal to remain the Yankees general manager -- known as one of the most demanding jobs in sports.
He was asked what persuaded him to remain in the Bronx.
"I'm working on that with my therapist," Cashman joked. "I stayed because I love the game, I love baseball. If they keep saying 'yes', if I have the energy, I'll keep going."
Cashman said he expects this offseason to be relatively quiet for the Yankees -- a rarity for baseball's biggest spenders.
"We've gotten better at adding patience into the franchise," he said. "I'm pretty happy with our offense. I don't feel any need to make changes there. But I'm not satisfied with where we are pitching-wise. We're the Yankees. We're going to get connected to every (free agent) out there. But it will probably be a conservative winter."
Now that Epstein is no longer with the Red Sox, Cashman said he looks forward to potentially making deals with the new Cubs team president in the future.
"We don't really deal with the Red Sox, they don't deal with us. You don't see Yankees and Red Sox doing business too easily," Cashman said. "Unless it's for something like this."