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.