Every day during the winter meetings, usually just before dinner time, general managers set aside 30 minutes or so for the writers who cover their teams.
If nothing else, and it often is, this is the lone opportunity for those writers to stand up or move around or sit on a comfortable couch in someplace different. They are invited to their team’s suite at the appointed hour, then stand in a dimly lit hallway for 10 minutes past the agreed upon time, then the PR guy opens the door wide enough to fit his face and says it’ll be five more minutes, because world peace or something is just wrapping up.
Once inside, there will be about four good questions and, generally, one-and-a-half good answers. There will be wretched silences, broken up by observations that begin, “Soooo ….” Nothing of value ever comes after “Soooo ….” At 20 minutes, the general manager would like the writers to leave, the writers would like to leave, but there’s the issue of those 10 minutes still, lying there like the last Oreo in an Avengers lunch box. So everyone stares at the Oreo.
Occasionally someone will remark, “Helluvan Oreo right there.”
“Mmmhmm,” someone else will agree.
Man, I’ll miss that.
The winter meetings are those 10 minutes, spread over four days. Some years they’re Double Stuf, some years they’re Mint, some years they’re Lemon, actually many years they’re Lemon, and some years they’re Golden. Still, at the end of the day, staring at Oreos.
The other 23 ½ hours are when general managers actually get things done, or try, except for this year, because the winter meetings are canceled due to the pandemic and, apparently, the Dallas hotel running out of fried chicken strips and Chex Mix party bowls.
I’ll miss the Rule 5 draft, which is held on Thursday morning. It is the week’s one event when an organization might appear in public together, the general manager with assistants and advisers and scouts and analytics guys, all to recognize the hours put in by those who identified the player they’ll draft and then probably give back in three months. I like the honor in that.
I won’t miss browsing the gift shop for lunch. And dinner.
I’ll miss the young men and women who walk in on Monday morning with their eyes wide and walk out on Friday morning with a summer job that will have them work 18 hours a day for almost no money and be thrilled for it. I’ll miss the team executives who remember being that young and that hopeful and therefore making time for them.
I won’t miss browsing the gift shop for breakfast.
According to baseball records, the first winter meetings were held in 1876. They became an annual affair 25 years later. In the mid-20th century, a Christmas tree was placed in a hotel lobby as a pleasant backdrop for an address by super agent Scott Boras. The tradition endured until this week, until 2020, and so the winter meetings are a virtual event, which means everyone stayed home and nobody knocked on the door.
So, we asked baseball operations executives what they would miss and what they would not miss about the winter meetings. None mentioned Oreos. Their responses:
Derek Falvey, chief baseball officer, Minnesota Twins
I will miss: “The chance to see people from other clubs, agents, and the dinners with our group. Especially those you’ve had longstanding relationships with. During the year you don’t get a ton of face time with agents and other teams to catch up and connect in person to lay the groundwork for future discussions. It’s a fun part of the meetings to connect in person in ways we don’t often have the chance to.”
I won’t miss: “Honestly?
“The schedule. We jam pack our days with agent and team meetings that start as early as 8 a.m. and often conclude well after midnight. By the time you get to Day 4 you’re a little spent with the schedule.
“The other thing is the daily rumors about what our team is just about to do and it’s news to us! It’s so funny when you read about being connected to a player just because an agent happened to leave your suite five minutes before. Sometimes there’s a nugget of truth in the connection but a lot of it is conjecture down there [in the lobby]. I know it’s what makes it fun so you don’t want to lose that, but I do laugh sometimes when it’s a little out of left field.”
Chaim Bloom, chief baseball officer, Boston Red Sox
I will miss: “Baseball stealing the sports spotlight in mid-December. Team bonding. Seeing old friends who are now competitors. And finding out how different people are once they have a few Scotches in them!”
I won’t miss: “Everything else.”
Mike Chernoff, general manager, Cleveland Indians
I will miss: “Things like this:
“More serious note: I’ll miss the connection with the dozens of people around the game that we so rarely get to see in person but that we get to bump into at the winter meetings when we’re all in the same place.”
I won’t miss: “The hundreds of handshakes in the lobby [especially with what we know about pandemics now], and I will not miss the strange feeling of traveling to another city but essentially not stepping foot outside of the hotel to which we’ve traveled for four straight days — no fresh air and no sunlight for four days does strange things to your ability to make good decisions!”
Jed Hoyer, president/baseball operations, Chicago Cubs
I will miss: “Being with our scouts and seeing friends from other teams for a few days.”
I won’t miss: “Ninety-six hours without sunlight.”
Kim Ng, general manager, Miami Marlins
I will miss: “Watching the traveling scrums of front office executives cross the lobby to go to dinner. Seeing and catching up with people who I have not seen in a long time.”
I won’t miss: “The toilet seat in the team suite being left up.”
Jerry Dipoto, general manager, Seattle Mariners
I will miss: “The time spent visiting and talking baseball with the people we don’t get to see face to face very often. I will miss the inevitable fun story that arises from group outings or think-tank sessions.”
I won’t miss: “Fearing the gauntlet that can often be the journey from one end of the lobby to the other.”
John Mozeliak, president/baseball operations, St. Louis Cardinals
I will miss: “Seeing people I may not see during the year is always something I look forward to.”
I won’t miss: “Long nights, long lines and all the rumors!”
Mike Elias, general manager, Baltimore Orioles
I will miss: “Late-night trades and contracts.”
I won’t miss: “Spending $120 a day on crappy food.”
David Stearns, president/baseball operations, Milwaukee Brewers
I will miss: “Sprinting/power walking through the lobby. The best cardio I get all year!”
I won’t miss: “The smell of our team suite after a few days.”
David Forst, general manager, Oakland A’s
I will miss: “Having so much of our baseball ops staff gathered in one place to hang out and spend time together.”
I won’t miss: “Everything else.”
Ross Atkins, general manager, Toronto Blue Jays
I will miss: “What I’ve missed most this whole year – spending time with people. The format of the winter meetings provides a chance to connect with people you don’t normally see in person. There’s a pretty strong tradition of our group getting together with several teams after a long day, to just banter and unwind over a few beers together.”
I won’t miss: “Being inside a hotel for 4 1/2 days while we reminisce about past winter meetings in our brief moments of downtime. Even still, I am missing those moments this year, but I am grateful for the virtual opportunities and how creative the Blue Jays have been in trying to replicate those interactions.”
Nick Krall, general manager, Cincinnati Reds
I will miss: “Personally, I enjoy most aspects of the winter meetings. It’s mostly because of the people. Former colleagues, both major league and minor league are great to see and this is in many cases the only time during the year that you get to see them.”
I will not miss: “Not being able to walk through the lobby, especially at lunchtime and at night.”
Rick Hahn, general manager, Chicago White Sox
I will miss: “The camaraderie of having much of our baseball staff in one place talking baseball will be particularly missed this year. I think one of the byproducts of what we’re all living through is realizing how important even simple, personal interactions are to our well-being. As a result, I very much look forward to next year returning to the normalcy of once again telling [assistant to the GM] Billy Scherrer he can’t smoke in the suite.”
I won’t miss: “Going on live TV when coming off of no sleep. Every year I warn our VP of Communications, Scott Reifert, that he’s playing with fire when putting me on the MLB Network a few days into the meetings. The fact that I’ve somehow managed to not completely embarrass myself nor run afoul of FCC regulations during one of these ‘live shots’ is a minor miracle.”
Mike Hazen, general manager, Arizona Diamondbacks
I will miss: “Trying to beat Peter Gammons and Chris Antonetti to the workout room.”
I won’t miss: “The amount of eating that takes place from the moment you wake up until you leave the suite.”
Thad Levine, general manager, Minnesota Twins
I will miss: “The accidental connections with the wealth of dynamic people who work in baseball from team employees to members of the media, agents, MLB workers, those affiliated with minor league teams, vendors, job seekers and the occasional player.”
I won’t miss: “Day 4 of staring helplessly at a hotel in-dining menu that seemed starkly limited on Day 1.”
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