A rookie takes on the 2010 baseball winter meetings
Here's a little fact about me: I like making lists and I like checking items off those lists. I am the OCD Chick after all, so this shouldn't come as a surprise. As I prepared for my first MLB winter meetings, I made a list of a four main things I hoped to accomplish: 1. covering an event as a credentialed writer for the first time since college, 2. being in the media workroom when news of a big free agent signing broke, 3. networking in the hotel lobby, and 4. seeing at least one reporter with a fedora. Why a fedora? Check out my winter meetings preview post. I checked the first three off the list by the end of the third day thanks to Carl Crawford's mega free agent deal with the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately, finding a reporter with a fedora proved more difficult than expected. Where was my ironic baseball writer when I needed him? As the hours on the last day ticked away, I started to give up hope. Until after lunch, when in walked a guy wearing a fedora, and wearing it pretty confidently I might add. Yes! I could check off the last item and write this winter meetings wrap-up post with a real sense of accomplishment.
In addition to the items on my winter meetings checklist, this past week I attended the annual awards luncheon, interviewed the 2010 Rawlings Woman Executive of the Year Award honoree, attended my first in-person press conference with Yankee manager Joe Girardi, sat in on the third annual Working Women in Baseball conference and connected with beat writers, broadcasters, bloggers and baseball executives from all over the country, live-tweeting everything along the way. Here are several other observations during this year's winter meetings:
Cliff Lee rumors. Hey, have you heard Cliff Lee is a free agent? This year's winter meetings should have just been renamed "As the Cliff Lee Turns," there were so many rumors circulating during the course of a day. At one point, the Nationals were in on a seven-year deal, then they were out. We heard reports of not one but two mystery teams in pursuit, in addition to the Yankees and Rangers. It was a cautionary tale in the fleeting nature of information in the age of technology and Twitter. Also: Cliff Lee Cliff Lee Cliff Lee Cliff Lee Cliff Lee Cliff Lee Cliff Lee.
Packs of reporters on the prowl. I pictured the media descending on general managers, managers and agents like cheetahs on the hunt. This happened on a daily basis after every press conference. I first witnessed this phenomenon on Monday morning, the first day of the meetings. One of the first major off-season trades was confirmed: Adrian Gonzalez went from the Padres to the Red Sox for minor league right-hander Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and outfielder Reymond Fuentes. After taking questions from the media at the podium, Padres' General Manager Jed Hoyer stepped off the dais and was immediately encircled by reporters.
Carl Crawford craziness. I couldn't wait for the first big free-agent signing or trade to take place. Although I now know that the winter meetings encompass much more, you think of deals when you talk about the winter meetings. The Gonzalez trade didn't count because it was made on Sunday and the meetings didn't officially start until Monday. While I had selfishly hoped it would be Lee to the Yankees (is it so wrong to want the best pitcher in baseball on your team?), we got the big free agent signing story of this year's meetings on Wednesday night at 11 p.m. Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe broke the news via Twitter that free agent Rays outfielder Carl Crawford had agreed to terms with the Red Sox on a seven-year, $142-million deal. Within minutes, the media workroom was buzzing. Most reporters were already down in the lobby bar, so dozens of them came racing back up to file their stories. "Carl Crawford to the Red Sox!" "I was sure he would sign with the Angels!" "Holy cow that's a big contract for a lot of money." "Should the Nationals have waited on Crawford instead of spending all their money on Jayson Werth?" A buzz filled the room for the next hour as word of the deal traveled, exactly as I pictured it would.
Minor league baseball is major. The major league free-agent deals and trades get the headlines, but at the event itself, minor league baseball is big time. The winter meetings are the biggest annual event for minor league baseball, and yet many of the events honoring minor league baseball accomplishments don't get publicized, most notably the awards luncheon. The room was filled with over 1,200 people from minor league baseball clubs at all levels. Until I attended the meeting and sought out stories beyond the headlines, I did not know about this component to the meetings.
Brotherhood of the traveling scribes. It's no surprise that baseball remains largely an old boys' club. Though efforts have been made at the team and league level to help change this through events like the Working Women in Baseball networking conference, there is still much progress to be made. This is also true on the media side. Though there were several female reporters on site, the media presence was overwhelmingly male. In a room with hundreds of credentialed media, there were no more than 20 women. I saw many other women during the winter meetings, many of them working for minor league teams or in an official league capacity. However, in the media workroom, women were decidedly in the minority.
The lobby bar is the heart of the meetings. Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying that all deals get done over drinks or that the winter meetings are basically a five-day party. Far from it. This is an intense week filled with a lot of business behind closed doors. The lobby bar is where you have a chance to really talk to people outside the confines of the media workroom or, in the case of the executives, the conference rooms. If you're a reporter, manager or general manager, when you finish whatever it is you've been doing, you head down to the lobby bar. For people watching, networking and just pure schmoozing magic, it's all about the lobby bar. A friend of mine who used to be a baseball beat writer in a different city sent me a note: "You've unraveled the secrets of MLB winter meetings so quickly. Once you've seen [Tampa Bay Rays' manager] Joe Maddon with his goblet of wine it all changes." I did see Joe Maddon but no goblet of wine; I feel cheated.
Bruce Bochy's giant head. It's well-known that San Francisco Giants manager Bruce Bochy has one of the largest heads in the game. It's so big (and no it hasn't gotten bigger since he managed the Giants to a World Series title this season) he requires a custom size 8⅛ hat. I saw Bochy in person for the first time and can confirm that his head is, for lack of a better term, giant.
It's a Twitter world. I'm a Twitter addict so it's great to see Twitter has taken over the baseball world as the immediate means of communicating news and information. Every person in the media workroom, whether a blogger or beat reporter, had Twitter open on their laptops as they wrote stories. During lobby socializing, everybody had their BlackBerries, iPhones and Droids out, constantly checking Twitter. Even though we were in the building where many deals were taking place, we often learned of them via Twitter (Abraham's Crawford tweet is a perfect example). People sitting next to each other or in the same row were communicating via Twitter. This is a good thing when the information is accurate, but a word of caution: rapid syndication of Twitter content also results in unfounded rumors gaining traction much faster than they should.
Complete exhaustion. Five days of networking, writing, transcribing and tweeting is tiring. I have a terrible cold and haven't slept in days (coincidence? I think not), and yet I wouldn't trade this week for anything. I'll never forget my first winter meetings. I'm already looking forward to my next, assuming I can get healthy before next December. I'd better get started on another list.