Winter Meetings

2013 Baseball Winter Meetings held at the Dolphin Resort in Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Among other things, there was also a job fair and trade show, an important time of year for many in the industry who are looking for advancement. It runs from Monday morning to early Thursday afternoon and its usually set in a different city every year. Headlining Monday morning was the news that Pitcher Roy Halladay would retire. There was also a press conference to announce the Hall of Fame induction of Bobby Cox, Joe Torre, and Tony La Russa, a combined 93 years of managerial experience. They were elected by a special “Expansion Era Committee.”

Bobby Cox played a couple of years for the New York Yankees as a backup infielder. He found his real calling while managing in the Yankees minor league system and in Venezuela. He was a first base coach for the 1977 World Champion New York Yankees. That all set the tables for his first MLB Manager job in 1978 with the Atlanta Braves. 32 years later he would lead his teams to 16 Division Titles, 5 Pennants, and 1 World Championship.

Joe Torre was a player for 18 years and was an All-Star, a Gold Glove, an MVP, & a Batting Champion. But, never anything in the post season. He actually started managing as a player manager for the New York Mets in 1977. Ironically, his second manager job was to replace a fired Bobby Cox with the Atlanta Braves. 28 years later he would lead his teams to 13 Division Titles, 6 Pennants, and 4 World Championships. His legendary run with the New Yankees gave him something he never had as a player.

Tony La Russa played between 1962 and 1977. I good part of that time was spent in the minors as he injured his shoulder early on while playing a game of softball. His last Major League appearance was one game in Chicago with the Cubs in 1973, where he scored a run. His first Manager job was also in Chicago with the White Sox in 1979. 33 years later, he led all organizations he managed to the post season with 12 Division Titles, 6 Pennants, and 3 World Championships.

 There were also wild card births that all three managers took advantage of in post season competition. The expansion era of baseball is marked from 1973 to present. And, when you talk about the changes of the games since, it’s impossible to leave these three names out of the conversation. Frank Thomas, Greg Maddox, and Tom Glavine were added to this Hall of Fame Class of 2014 a couple of weeks later (January of 2014) through the regular ballot voting.

A buzz was in the air from the schedule of events and the big names in baseball roaming around. Owners, front office executives, general managers, and coaches from all 30 MLB teams were all on hand here. You know you’re at the epicenter when you see baseball insiders John Heyman and Ken Rosenthal zipping through the hallways of the lobby.

CBS Sports Writer Mike Axisa reported the deals listed below on Wednesday December 11, 2013.

Extensions

  • Pirates: Signed RHP Charlie Morton to a three-year, $21 million extension. The contract includes a $9.5 million club option for a fourth year.

Signings

  • Mariners: Agreed to a one-year deal worth $5 million with 1B/OF Corey Hart. He can earn another $8 million or so in incentives.
  • Mets: Agreed to terms with RHP Bartolo Colon. It’s a two year $20 million deal.
  • Pirates: Agreed to a one-year deal worth $5 million with RHP Edinson Volquez, adding to their pitching depth.

Trades

  • Astros: Acquired RHP Anthony Bass and either a player to be named later or cash from the Padres for a player to be named later or cash, the team announced.
  • Mariners: Acquired 1B/OF Logan Morrison from the Marlins for RHP Carter Capps.
  • Nationals: Acquired LHP Jerry Blevins from the Athletics for minor league OF Billy Burns.
  • Yankees: Acquired minor league RHP Kyle Haynes from the Pirates as the player to be named later in last week’s Chris Stewart trade, the team announced.

Overall, this was a relatively quiet meeting of the minds, nothing earth shattering or game changing. Yahoo Sports reported on a fight in the parking lot outside between a couple of agents that got into a scuffle over a player, one accusing the other of stealing a prospect. A small 22 second video clip from the phone of an witness showed the two taking their swings. It briefly went viral but was not enough to identify them. According to witnesses, one even threatened to burn the other’s house down. With a slow week came a side-story with more excitement on the parking lot outside then in the hotel reservations.

Reporting for Camp

Spending the day in Champion Stadium at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. Atlanta Braves position players were reporting for Spring Training 2013. Soon, the NBA will be in “The Bubble,” (somewhere near this field) to resume the 2019-20 basketball season. We shall see. And, so we shall see about the MLB season. There was no admission to see the players report to camp. But, I managed to have access. I will leave names out to protect the innocent. As of last year, the Atlanta Braves no longer train here. They did so from 1997 to 2019.

The team now trains at CoolToday Park (Sarasota, Florida). Technically, it opened for the last spring training game of 2019. But, 2020 was to be the inaugural year. Atlanta Braves partnered with Sarasota County in a $140 million venture. They signed a 30 year lease to develop the organization in the 6200 seat capacity complex, bells and whistles included. In a related story, the Florida Fire Frogs (Atlanta Braves Advanced-A Affiliate), were also expected to move from Osceola County Stadium (Kissimmee, Florida) to CoolToday Park starting Summer of 2020. Regardless of any pandemic, labor, or minor league issues, MLB will no longer play in Central Florida. The nearest facility is now Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium (Lakeland, Florida) where the Detroit Tigers have had spring training since 1934. Its a bit of a stretch. But, I guess you can say the Tampa Rays are part of Central Florida. Its ironic that, with the exception of rain, an environment ideal for baseball is not necessarily a viable business model.

Through out the year, there are multi-sport tournaments or events at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex. On this day, there was also a girls soccer tournament nearby. Most of the foot traffic was attributed to that. Here at camp, everything started with stretching-calisthenics. You never want to get hurt. But, that’s especially true when players are trying to hold a job. The trainer had a small meeting to tell players how to hold on to the stretch-out straps because they will “slip, snap back, and take an eye out,” good to know. “That’s all I got,” he said. The training went on to some running and more stretching, defensive drills, then breaking up into smaller groups. Watching the team lining up for calisthenics is the same as a high school team would do. At every level, its still the same universal game. Grown men playing a little boy’s game, as they say.

Among the coaching staff were some familiar faces from baseball in the 1990’s. Third Base Legend Terry Pendleton is a permanent fixture in the organization. Coach Doug Dascenzo (former Chicago Cubs player) worked with the outfielders, hitting fungos. Ron Gant patrolled left field for the Atlanta Braves. But, on this day, he was getting an interview in for his broadcasting job. At the start of the 2013 regular season, Atlanta Braves were projected to have the best outfield in MLB, Justin Upton in left field, his brother B.J. Upton in center field, and Jason Heyward in right field.

The Upton brothers were newly acquired. Chances of two brothers playing together on the same MLB team are slim. Some 20-pairs of brothers have done so. There was some sort of side-game competition with missed or overthrown balls while the new Braves brothers played catch. B.J. was disputing a point that Justin was scoring and Jason Heyward was holding the jury while both sides pleaded their case. The point counted. Was it sibling rivalry or just a competitive drive? I’m guessing all of the above.

Opening Day Amid COVID-19

Yesterday was Opening Day. It was a beautiful day for a ball game. But, “there was no joy in Mudville.” For anyone who looks forward to Opening Day every year, this has to be a surreal feeling of suspense deferred. Although we’ve been without Baseball for a couple of weeks now. On Wednesday March 11, “USA Today” reported The World Health Organization declared that the spread of COVID-19 has become a pandemic after the disease was first detected in China during December and quickly spread to more than 100 locations around the world.

Within 48 hours, virtually every major sports event, concert, and every other mass gathering in the U.S. started to announce postponements. As MLB made its news the following afternoon, there were three 1:05 PM games underway. Adding to the suspended animation were announcers that didn’t really acknowledge suspended regular season and there were players doing elbow bumps in the dugout, instead of hand shakes and high fives.

Vin Scully was the voice of the Dodgers for 67 YEARS (1949-2016), starting very young in Brooklyn and outlasting so many others in Los Angeles. He came back with a message with “LA Times” on You Tube. After hearing his perspective on what we’re all living today, you can’t help walking away with a sense of hope. In the mean time, the game of life is playing itself out on the bigger stage. Something as minuet as a virus has taken hold of every aspect of our daily lives.

We’re sorting through this new day that has us rethinking what essential is, discovering what vulnerable means. Its ironic that we watch athletes and artists perform and at the highest level in a test of the human spirit. Now, the spectator is tested in social distancing as an act of saving others, a more significant test of the human spirit.

No one really knows when Baseball resumes. The COVID-19 will tell us. Of course, the quarantine leaves a lot of room for speculation. ESPN’s Jeff Passan first reported yesterday of an agreement with some guidelines for the 2020 Season. Players would be given credit for a full season. The length of the season will entirely depend upon recommendations from the both sides. They hope to play a minimum of 100 games. Weekly doubleheaders, regular-season games in October and neutral-site World Series games in November, COVID-19 permitting.