Thursday, Dec. 11, 2008 | 2 a.m.
While trying to make sense of the better part of a Tuesday spent at the Baseball Winter Meetings at the Bellagio, David Letterman’s voice kept popping into my head. “Is this anything, Paul?” I mean, it sure looks like something. But once upon a time, Sports Illustrated put Clint Hurdle on the cover — when he was playing baseball, not managing it. That looked like something, too.
I thought my business, the newspaper business, was hurting. But you wouldn’t know it by the number of laptop computers that were set up in the media center, a ballroom in the mazelike convention area that would make the cavernous center field at the old Polo Grounds look like a terrarium.
According to a spokeswoman at the official MLB office, more than 1,000 official Baseball Winter Meetings credentials were issued to the (sort of) working press, the majority of whom were out doing something else while their laptops were being guarded by screen-saver pictures of their family German shepherds. Maybe they were chasing news of a blockbuster trade in one of the casino bars, which is where they must have been transpiring, because there was no report of them in the official media center.
In fact, when I arrived, the one guy there not dressed in the official uniform of the Baseball Winter Meetings — shirt open at the collar, navy blazer, khakis or pressed jeans, tasseled loafers (or cowboy boots, if you represent the Diamondbacks or one of the Pioneer League teams) — was standing near the podium. He was holding a maple bat, which was barely recognizable because it was still in one piece, and using esoteric expressions that would have blown Yogi Berra’s mind, such as “slope of the grain.”
“I’m off to see if I can find a sandwich for under $45,” said one of the baseball writers, who must have been representing the Pioneer League, too, or he wouldn’t have been worried about the Bellagio’s sky box prices for a ham on rye.
You could barely navigate the casino because there were little groups of baseball people huddled in conversation blocking every main passageway to where they were making the $45 sandwiches. They looked like the manager, the battery and a couple of middle infielders deciding if they wanted to pitch to Manny, or walk him and take their chances with Andre Ethier. The Bellagio should have hired Bruce Froemming to break things up.
At the Baccarat Bar, I saw a guy I assumed to be a reporter because he was scribbling in a notebook, chatting with a guy I assumed to be a baseball executive because he was wearing a navy blazer and pressed jeans. Maybe this was Slap Maxwell, getting the scoop on this year’s Brock-for-Broglio trade. Or maybe he was just confirming the number of bobblehead giveaways or fireworks extravaganzas, because then I noticed the reporter was wearing a backpack, like they do in the Pioneer League.
I saw Russ Langer, the fine Las Vegas 51s radio broadcaster, standing in front of a pretentious shop with an Italian name, craning his neck left and right, as if he had just swiped a candy bar from the newsstand and was keeping an eye out for security — or Bruce Froemming. Actually, this is what baseball people call “networking.” A lot of them were doing it.
After lunch, I saw Ozzie Guillen, the colorful White Sox manager from Venezuela, holding court in the back of the media room, because this is what Ozzie does. His hands and arms were flailing like a third-base coach during a late-inning rally. He said he didn’t like the idea of the Chisox moving their Cactus League digs from Tucson to Glendale, Ariz., because his wife could get a direct flight from Miami to Phoenix, and that it was going to cost him $30,000, because his wife will fly only first class. He was saying it like only Ozzie can, which made it funnier.
I saw the baseball writers refuse to ask Dodgers manager Joe Torre a single question during his “informal” news conference, then descend upon him like a horde of locusts when he stepped from the dais. This is what baseball writers do. They don’t want to share the skipper’s answers to their compelling questions with other baseball writers, so they form a rugby scrum around him, holding their little tape recorders in the air from the back of the pile, hoping they might somehow pick up a sound bite that nobody else will use.
I saw a young man named Mark Sherfey, who traveled alone all the way from Bowling Green, Ky., wait more than an hour for the rugby scrum around Torre to break up so he could collect his autograph, which seemed a little extreme, until you consider that Mark is a senior at Western Kentucky, whose mascot is a hand waving a towel.
And I saw the joy in an old man’s eyes when he retold the story of a chance meeting with his boyhood idol on Monday. Robin Roberts is 82 now, but the two old men talked for 15 minutes about how today’s players don’t respect the game, and although the first old man knew that, hearing it from No. 36 on the Phillies made it seem like a revelation.
I was beginning to think the Baseball Winter Meetings aren’t such a waste of time after all when a booming voice said the Orioles and the Phillies would “announce something” in 15 minutes.
Is this anything? It sure sounded like it.
It was a trade. Ramon Hernandez, described as a veteran catcher, for Ryan Freel, described as a utility infielder, and two minor leaguers, described as minor leaguers.
They would have been better off announcing where to get a sandwich for under $45. Now that would have been something.