The first places most folks look for when they are on the road and far from home and need a little action are the bars and/or the hotel lobby. Everyone knows what goes on in a bar so there isn't much need for explanation there, but the hotel lobby - specifically if it also has a bar - is like Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras, Times Square during rush hour, and Broad Street during a parade.
At least that's the way it is during the baseball winter meetings.
Essentially, that's what the winter meetings are... it's like Spring Break only no one goes topless. Or, it's like the South by Southwest Music conference in Austin, Tx. only not cool. Come on, think about it - how cool could it be? A convention in at a resort that bumped Tony Orlando (but not Dawn) so a cavalcade of baseball writers, general managers, those hep cats from ESPN, and a bunch of job-seeking wannabe baseball flaks all under one roof... do we have to get into why that's the epitome of uncool?
First there are the baseball writers, who easily are the angriest and most frustrated group of people on the planet. They're all burnt out from long hours spent at the ballpark and ridiculous travel itineraries for eight months. Better yet, the best way to really drive one of those guys crazy it to say: "Hey, at least it beats a real job, right?"
As far as the hipness factor goes, I can only speak reasonably knowledgably about the Philadelphia crew and let's just say TMZ.com doesn't have a group of photogs staking the gang out. For one thing, one of the guys used to be an actor in Renaissance Faires and, no, he wasn't even something somewhat cool as the knight on horseback in the joust ring. Nope, he was a pawn in the chess game and it wasn't like the chess game in Mel Brooks'History of the World Part I.
But, scarily enough, it gets much worse than that. But in the interest in protecting the guilty... aw, forget it. The geeks love online poker, one dork is into long-distance running, another went by the stage name "Todd Cougar," and still another is pining for a long-ago shorn mullet.
What sane person would agree to spend a summer surrounded by a group like that? But there they are -- trolling the lobby in Opryland listening to the tall tales and truth stretching that goes on whenever baseball folks get together. Actually, it's really not all that different than any other time spent during a summer afternoon only there isn't a game to be played later in the evening and no one has to drive anywhere, which heightens the stakes a bit. Think about it - who goes to Spring Break and rents a car? Probably no one.
So if the plan is to get the scribes, GMs, job seekers and hangers on all under one roof it will lessen the load for the local law enforcement and make the scene into how it must have been to cover the Mint 400 motorcycle race in the desert around Vegas in the early 1970s.
If Raoul Duke and his Samoan attorney roll into the lobby at Opryland, everyone should leave - or keep tabs on the grapefruits.
Anyway, the GMs are the reason why everyone gets together for the week. Really, what other reason is there? In a baseball organization, the GM is where the proverbial buck stops. Actually, it's better than that. The GM is where the information originates and information (not knowledge) is the commodity everyone has traveled to Nashville and camped out in Opryland for. Think about it - is there another resource more important than information. It's better than gold and almost as good as oil and it's the reason why ESPN and Yahoo! are snapping up all the top hunter/gatherers in the info set for a premium. It's also why ESPN has set up something of its own little Green Zone inside of Opryland - information.
It's the king.
That means the GM-types are the kingmakers. And like any good crowner of things that get crowned, the GM is coquettish as all get-out. You know how the scribes like to cite "sources" in all those rumor mill-type stories folks wolf down like hamsters and their pellets? Well, apparently those "sources" have access to the inner sanctum. They might actually know the GM well enough to collect crumbs of information here and there before running off to feed it to the gluttonous writer-types and their panting public.
Yet even though the general managers from all across baseball are making the scene at Opryland, it's not as if their presence boosts the hipness factor. Actually, unless one thinks those Hawaiian/Tommy Bahama-type shirts are "cool," then rollin' with the GMs is the way to go. After all, this is a set of people who take their cues on coolness from Spuds McKenzie.
Imagine that... instead of covering South by Southwest where one could hang out at the hotel and talk shop with Deerhoof, the writers are left to chase down old men who look as if they just got in from the hunt. Instead of Elvis Costello they get a guy dressed like Elvis.
Incidentally, why is that Elvis impersonators are usually always the fat Elvis?
Apparently, though, there is one GM who is considered cool, but that's because at 33, Theo Epstein is approximately 40 years younger than all of his counterparts. Epstein is also considered cool because he plays guitar in a cover band called Trouser or something ambiguous like that. Come to think about it, the band's name could be the most undetailed thing happening with Epstein. After all, a name like Trouser (if that is, in fact, the name) doesn't befit a devotee of Sabermetrics. Sabermetrics, of course, is the baseball philosophy that likes to take all the life and intrigue out of a sport and assign it cold, hard spots on a sheet of graph paper or an excel spreadsheet. Enough of the thinking, they say, give me data.
Nothing ambiguous like human nature... we need undeniable information!
Nevertheless, Trouser is a cover band that plays cover songs of cover songs, which, frankly, is about as low on the musical food chain as one can go. In fact, it's the Renaissance Faire of the musical word - the pawn in the chess game instead of the knight in the phony joust.
But really, the baseball winter meetings are all just a phony joust. Oh sure, actual work gets done and trades/deals are made. In fact, Pat Gillick, the GM of the Phillies, says he hopes to leave Nashville and Opryland with a pitcher to add to the roster. Meanwhile, a few of the scribes hope to leave Opryland with one of those Hee-Haw girls.
In doing some research last night I learned that the television program "Hee Haw" was taped at Opryland. Actually, it was just accidental research - I was really looking for pictures of the famous "Hee Haw girls."
I didn't find those pictures, but then again I didn't look too hard. I guess I was struck by the idea that Roy Clark, Buck Owens and Minnie Pearl strutted their so-called "stuff" in the general vicinity where the Tigers traded for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, thus knocking the balance of power in the AL Central completely off kilter.
But Hee-Haw... come on. Back when we had only 12 channels, Hee-Haw was on one of them. That means someone must have liked it. Someone in Kornfield Kounty was doing something right.
On an unrelated note, I listened to an interview by Terry Gross with John C. Reilly this morning on the ol' podcaster and it was revealed that Reilly viewed a lot of adult-themed movies in preparation for his role in Boogie Nights. Reilly then cleared up the facts and pointed out it wasn't just for Boogie Nights that he watched a lot of adult-themed films. In fact, he joked (was it?), he watched a lot of those movies to prepare for every role he played.
These days though, Buck, Roy and Minnie don't have the run of Opryland. At least until Thursday, the world of organized baseball is the talk of the complex. And in that regard, there is a lot of interest amongst the baseball establishment in what kind of stunt the Phillies and general manager Pat Gillick will pull off next. So far the Phillies have left a bit to be desired in the pursuit to bolster the club for another run at the NL East in 2008. They whiffed on Mike Lowell and Randy Wolf and then pulled the ol' "blessing in disguise" guff afterwards.
That's mostly because the "I know you are but what am I," schtick didn't apply. Hey, that's about all they have to work with.
In regard to Wolf, though, the Phillies comments/behavior seems especially childish, which for our purposes is fantastic. When Wolf spurned both the Phillies and his ex-GM Ed Wade and the Astros in order to sign an incentive-laden deal to sign with the San Diego Padres, Gillick took a little backhanded swipe at the fan (and media)-friendly lefty.
"Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. We went after him a couple times, and it didn't work out last year and this year. So, it's pretty evident that he doesn't want to play for our team. If someone doesn't want to be part of the team, it's better if he plays somewhere else."
Frankly, Gillick sounds like a spurned teen-aged boy who after a good-looking girl tells him gently that, "I'm sorry, it's not going to work out. Your ballpark is much too small and I have my ERA and sanity to look out for," in turn calls the girl, "ugly."
So which is it, dude? I thought you liked her (or in this case, Wolfie).
It also seems that Gillick was more interest in his needs and desires and not what someone else might want or need. If a person is genuine and compassionate, they would understand that Wolfie needs to be in San Diego. After all, he is a Southern California kid whose mom can easily make the trip south from Los Angeles to see her son pitch in San Diego. Plus, the Padres have a starting rotation that has Greg Maddux, Jake Peavy and Chris Young. That's five Cy Young Awards and definitely one Hall of Famer. Warming up for the ninth is Trevor Hoffman, who is known to blow a few from time to time, but he's saved at least 37 games in every complete season he's pitched since 1996. That adds up to 524 saves, which is more than everyone ever.
Should we continue on about San Diego? No, well we're going to anyway. In San Diego it's a sunny 70 degrees every stinkin' day of the year. In fact today, as the snow and wind whipped around and made travel and outdoor activities miserable, it was sunny and nearly 70 degrees in San Diego.
Forget the fact that the Phillies' ballpark is slightly larger than the one in Williamsport, San Diego's park was the toughest in which to score a run in during 2007. It was also the most difficult to get a hit in and the second most difficult in which to club a homer.
So there's that, too. But listening to the Phillies it sounds like they are tired of people telling them, "No way... not in that ballpark."
Or are they?
Apparently the Phillies and Tadahito Iguchi met up at the ice cream parlor the other day. It also seems as if those kids had a few things to discuss, too. The Phillies, badly in need of a third baseman (as well as a pitcher or two and a center fielder), could be willing to make a deal with Iguchi for 2008 and beyond. Iguchi, for his part, hit the open market and learned that all the second base slots for the good teams were spoken for. But third base in Philadelphia looks wide open.
But it's not as easy as it sounds. Because the Phillies released Iguchi after the season (as he wished) and did not offer him salary arbitration or sign him to an extension by Nov. 15, Iguchi would not be able to play for the team until May 15. Iguchi's agent, Rocky Hall, believes the parties can find a loophole and some juggling and wrangling in order to get by the rule, but then there is that whole collective bargaining thing.
If Iguchi does it, then someone else will do it and then everyone will do it and all we'll have is anarchy. Is the destruction of labor-management practices in the United States worth all of that just to allow Tadahito Iguchi to play third base?
Sure, the Phillies need a third baseman better than Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs, but I'm siding with the American way.