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December 5, 2012

The Lineup Card

9 Winter Meetings Memories

by Baseball Prospectus

‚Äč1. The 2002 Winter Meetings
My personal introduction to baseball's Winter Meetings was in 2002. The event was held in Nashville's Opryland Hotel, which is hosting the Winter Meetings this year for the fifth time in the past three decades. The venue is massive—the arboretum, indoor rivers, and glass elevators reminded me of a Las Vegas hotel, minus the ringing slot machines or the smoke-filled card tables. I was a college student at the time and a lifelong resident of California who had never set foot east of the Mississippi River, but I made the trip based on sage advice that I received from founding father Gary Huckabay during a BP pizza feed. What I found in Nashville was a media circus of red carpet proportions, but I relished the introduction to the baseball universe.

My goal was to speak with some industry insiders in order to pick their brains as to how a college kid with a non-playing future can carve out a career in a big-league front office. Zealous members of the press fueled the chaos of the main floor, and unfortunately, my lack of credentials kept me from getting within reasonable earshot of the famous heads. I did have some invaluable conversations, from fellow baseball junkies who were on similar missions to trailblazers in the game who shared their paths. The highlight was my 10 minutes with BP alum Keith Law, who had recently taken a position in the front office of the Toronto Blue Jays, and who echoed Gary's words that I better be willing to “work long hours for peanuts” if I wanted to get my foot in the door. Keith also mentioned that his trail was blazed as much by luck as it was perseverance, a reminder that my own journey into baseball was just beginning. —Doug Thorburn

2. Brad Mills' Off-the-Record Beat Writer Lunches
As a beat writer responsible for breaking news, the Winter Meetings were easily the worst part of a very enjoyable job. You never want to stop to eat—what if a move is made? You wander the lobby just hoping to happen into something.

Yet for about an hour each year, there was no need to stress out. The highlight of Day 3, and really, the whole week for the beat writers, was a luncheon where a table consisted of one team’s manager, beat corps, the media relations staffs, and the team’s manager. The best part: it was totally off the record. No phones were allowed out, and nothing said ever left the table. One year, Astros manager Brad Mills even talked about (redacted).

OK, so it wasn’t a lot of juicy "recorders-off" tidbits. It was about where we were from or what we were doing over the winter, or for those lucky enough, kids and grandkids. It was an oasis of normal human interaction in a four-day stretch of sub-human conversation interrupted by checking one’s phone.—Zachary Levine

3. The Year the Marlins Didn't Have a Fire Sale
At this time last year, we all heard some variation of "The Marlins are getting a new stadium and are ready to spend on players to fill it!" Every time I heard this, I'd roll my eyes and silently say, "Suuuuuuuure. This is Jeffrey Loria's team we're talking about. He'd sooner buy a player at market rates as he would pay for his new stadium." As it turns out, I was dead wrong. First, the Fish signed Heath Bell to be their closer, giving him a bloated three-year, $27 million contract. "Wow," I thought, "This must be a one-time thing for Miami." Nope. On Dec. 5, the day the Marlins finalized Bell's pact, they announced the signing of shortstop Jose Reyes to a six-year, $106 million contract. "Whaaaaaaaa?" seemed to be the general consensus. Who were these Marlins, and what were they doing doling out these big-money deals?

But their shopping list wasn't complete. Two days later, the Marlins reeled in another big fish from the free-agent market: left-hander Mark Buehrle, on a four-year, $58 million contract. By that time, I'd given up guessing what was in the water in Miami, and wondering whether Loria had been given the world's largest sleeping pill while GM Michael Hill swiped his pocketbook. This was, by far, the strangest Winter Meetings activity I'd ever seen, simply because I never expected the Marlins to make headlines for anything other than a fire sale. Oh... wait... never mind. —Stephani Bee

4. Fernando Perez is Still in Baseball
This is the first time I've attended the Winter Meetings, so my favorite Winter Meetings memory is from yesterday morning. Does that count? Fernando Perez is here in Nashville looking for work, on the field or off, and he had an interview Monday with just-departed BP scouting guru Kevin Goldstein, who is now the Astros’ pro scouting coordinator. Some variation of this news reached Peter Gammons, who tweeted:

Wonderful, though not true. The position offered to Perez was an entry-level scouting job in the Gulf Coast League. (You’re welcome to start any rumor you like.) And I think Perez himself would agree that he’s not among the all-time greats—although he is among the all-time fastest. —Adam Sobsey

5. The Mayor of Las Vegas Makes an Appearance
Some great things happen at the Winter Meetings. Many of them occur late at night in the lobbies and bar of the host hotels. Unfortunately, most of my favorite stories can't be retold for fear of embarrassing a baseball person, a media member—or me. However, one memorable moment that happened in broad daylight, in view of everyone, came during the 2004 meetings at the Anaheim Hilton. Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman showed up in the lobby with a showgirl on each arm in an attempt to tout Sin City as a destination for either an expansion team or a relocated franchise. Goodman's idea never gained much traction, but his sales were certainly memorable. —John Perrotto

6. The 1989 Winter Meetings
I'm cheating a bit here, since I don't actually remember these events as they happened, but I've been fascinated with the winter of 1989-'90 since I learned about it while compiling the complete history of the highest-paid player in baseball. Flush with money after a new television rights deal, the owners went into the offseason looking to spend—and spend they did. On November 17, Bret Saberhagen became the highest-paid player in baseball history with a contract that gave him an average annual salary of $2.97 million. On November 22, Kirby Puckett bested him with an AAV of $3 million. Rickey Henderson matched that on November 28, but they were both beaten on December 1 when Mark Langston signed a deal worth $3.2 million annually.

The Winter Meetings began a couple of days later, with this massive spending spree hanging over everyone's heads. No one topped Langston's deal during the week, but it wasn't for lack of trying. The biggest news out of the Gaylord was the trade that sent Joe Carter from Cleveland to San Diego for prospects Sandy Alomar and Carlos Baerga. As part of the trade, Carter was given a three-year deal worth $9.2 million, the largest contract ever for a position player (but, at $3.06 million annually, less than Langston). For the Twins, Kent Hrbek re-signed with the club that week for $2.8 million annually.

That was it for the Winter Meetings, but the spending didn't stop that offseason. The Monday after the meetings, reigning NL Cy Young winner Mark Davis became the highest-paid player in baseball history with his deal worth $3.25 million annually. In January, Dave Stewart took the crown with a $3.5 million AAV before Will Clark beat him five days later at $3.75 million annually. It was a wild winter. —Larry Granillo

7. Enter #MysteryTeam
Perhaps it is the fact that last year is so fresh in my memory, but I believe it is more. My favorite Winter Meetings moment came last year with the Twitter ramblings of the #MysteryTeam. Coverage of the Winter Meetings had expanded with MLB Network, and also with social media. I was reluctant to join the “Twitterverse,” but the Winter Meetings and signing speculation helped draw me in. For that reason, the #MysteryTeam will always hold a special place in my heart. —Josh Shepardson

8. The Time That Guy Fell in the Pool
Before 2012, I hadn't been to the Winter Meetings. So when this happened last year, it immediately became my most enduring visual memory of the event: —Ben Lindbergh

9. Christina Kahrl and Will Carroll Join the BBWAA
Back when I mistakenly thought it was about scouts vs. stats, I also thought it was about the BBWAA vs. the people I read every day on my lunch break. Bartolo Colon Cy Young aside, it really wasn’t that way. No organization as large as the BBWAA can contain just one sort of person, and within the BBWAA’s membership there were many philosophies, and many writers who knew way more than I’d have given them credit for at the time, and who were more willing to listen to competing ideas than I was. That’s a thing I’ve learned since 2008.

But in 2008, when Christina Kahrl and Will Carroll (and Keith Law, and Rob Neyer) were admitted to the BBWAA, it felt like a pretty big deal. It felt that way even though the writers who were admitted said the real effect on the way they did their jobs would be minimal. I thought at the time it was about, I don’t know, taking over the BBWAA or something. Like that … well, I don’t really know. I don’t know what I thought the end result was going to be, if I thought that Johan Santana would be retroactively awarded that Cy Young or what, but it felt like a victory in a war. But there was no war. Many, perhaps most, of the writers just mingled like it was no big thing. That’s what was important about including Kahrl, Carroll, Law, and Neyer: It showed that there was no war. There were just a lot of writers, some good and some lousy, some who did things differently, certainly some who mistakenly thought there was a war, but all of them pretty interested in baseball for most of the same reasons. A lot of my favorite writers are beat writers, and plenty of our ProGuestus pieces on this site have been written by beat writers. Before 2008, I would have been surprised by that fact, in part because the ProGuestus didn’t exist so I’d never heard of it. —Sam Miller

1 comment has been left for this article.

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