By Dan Schlossberg
Just when it looked like the Baseball Winter Meetings would be back this year after a cancellation caused by Covid, the highlight of the baseball off-season could be lost to a labor dispute.
That’s because the current Basic Agreement between players and owners expires on Dec. 1 — five days before the meetings are set to begin at the Disney World Swan & Dolphin in Lake Buena Vista, FL.
Extending the deadline for a week would be a simple solution toward saving the meetings, a business event with highly social overtones.
It’s a time of trades, free agent signings, and posturing by people like Scott Boras, the prosperous but reviled superagent who commands big money for his clients. He always holds court with any reporters he can find, especially in the middle of a hotel lobby where there’s plenty of room for TV cameras.
Managers, two at a time, hold hour-long seminars with reporters, GMs huddle in hotel rooms, and out-of-work executives show up to shake hands and perhaps stumble into a job as a broadcaster (MLB Network is overloaded with them).
All sorts of TV and radio stations, including the New York-based SNY and YES as well as the national MLB Network from Sirius XM Satellite Radio, set up booths outside the press room and reporters sit for hours, patiently waiting for rumors to turn into reality.
News can break at any time and often does. During the days when Ted Turner, George Steinbrenner, and Brad Corbett were calling the shots for their teams, middle-of-the-night deals were not uncommon. The guys would go drinking, come back to the press room after the bars closed, and announce swaps made in various states of inebriation.
Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, to cite one example, was moved in a four-team swap at the Hawaii Winter Meetings in the ‘70s.
There’s also a trade show of new products, from baseball cards to uniform hats, and a slew of award presentations from Topps, Baseball America, and Minor League Baseball, among others. Baseball food, product giveaways, and occasional appearances by current and retired players are also part of the trade show.
During the last winter meetings, at San Diego in 2019, Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg were among those who got new contracts or extensions.
Major-league managers have a luncheon, baseball writers have a meeting, and various Veterans Committees of the Baseball Hall of Fame announce votes that this year could put Gil Hodges into the gallery after a way-too-long wait.
The Baseball Winter Meetings are good for the game because the publicity puts baseball back in sports page headlines in the middle of the winter. For teams, they help sell season tickets. Fans are not allowed in but they gobble up the news like leftover Thanksgiving turkeys.
Let’s hope Rob Manfred, Tony Clark, and their respective minions don’t kill the golden goose by rattling their sabers rather than negotiating in good faith.
Baseball hasn’t had a work stoppage in 26 years but fans still remember the 232-day strike that killed the 1994 postseason and the start of the ‘95 campaign. A lockout or a strike would be devastating at a time when the game is fighting against football, basketball, and hockey for the right to call itself the national pastime.
The only strikes should be the ones thrown by pitchers — not by a bunch of crybabies not satisfied with seven-figure salaries and perks too numerous to list here. That applies to lockouts too.
Should the game stop, this winter would be the coldest since 1994-95, with the winter meetings cancelled, spring training threatened, and even the end-of-March openers uncertain.
A delay for Covid was understandable; a delay for greed is unforgiveable.
Baseball will have only itself to blame if fans stay away in 2022.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is weekend editor of Here’s The Pitch and contributor to forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Ball Nine, and Sports Collectors Digest. E.mail him at email@example.com.