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Yankee Panky #34: The Winter Schmoozings

Representatives from all 30 teams are gathering in Nashville for this year’s Winter Meetings, and with a weak free agent class, there’s sure to be plenty of trade discussion.


Previewing storylines is always fun as the meetings get under way. The Yankees’ pursuit of Johan Santana will not only dominate the local coverage, it will be the hot-button issue from the mouths of Karl Ravech, Peter Gammons, Buster Olney, Tim Kurkjian, Ken Rosenthal, Jayson Stark and anyone else who claims to be an expert. The difficulty, as always, will be separating truth from rumor, as access to numerous sources provides an exponential increase for baseball gossip mongers.


I saw this first-hand when I covered the 2003 Meetings in New Orleans, a year when no Yankee representatives attended the extravaganza. (Had I had advance knowledge of this, I wouldn’t have gone. On the day I arrived, there was still talk that at least Brian Cashman would come, but he never did. It was like a journalistic version of “Waiting for Godot.”) The day before the meetings started, Andy Pettitte held his Houston Astros press conference and immediately rumors swirled regarding Roger Clemens’ fate. He came to New Orleans for an event, and reporters fled the Marriott to chase him down and initiate an impromptu press conference, but didn’t make his move until long after the meetings concluded.


How do the meetings work?


Reporters from thousands of outlets set up camp in the large conference/ballrooms at the designated hotel location. Team reps hole themselves up in their rooms and arrange meetings, phone calls, etc., away from the snoops. Reporters, if/when they stay in the conference room, are working the phones trying to get angles into what’s happening on the floors above. A lot of events happen on the fly. Cash might say to a reporter that he’s willing to talk to reporters at 3 p.m. He’ll tell one reporter and it’ll filter down to everyone else, and there will be an informal gathering at the designated time to briefly discuss what did or didn’t happen in his Johan Santana talks with the Twins.


The bulk of the action occurs in the lobby. That’s where you can scope the area and if you’re quick, catch a quick one-on-one interview and perhaps scrounge up some information that no one else has, and get it posted first. Many team reps will try to hide themselves within the throng of reporters, interns and prospective job applicants to discuss team business amid the chaos.


A fair amount of reporters interview each other, too. In some cases, writers from other markets are the “sources familiar with the situation.”   


One of the coolest and most educational elements of the Meetings is the manager conferences. Reporters get to speak with all 30 managers on an individual basis at times designated by MLB. Without having access to a Yankee rep, interviews with Bobby Cox and Jim Tracy enabled me to craft stories on Gary Sheffield, Kevin Brown and Paul Quantrill, who were entering their first seasons in New York.


The Meetings are also a key spot for college grads looking for jobs in baseball. Many will have interviews already set up before arriving, but those who don’t hang in the lobby and work the room.


More than anything, the Winter Meetings are a social gathering mixed with a business element. Four years ago, two major free agent signings were announced — Miguel Tejada to the Orioles and Keith Foulke to the Red Sox – the Yankees issued a press release finalizing the Kevin Brown acquisition for Jeff Weaver, Brandon Weeden and Yhency Brazoban, and it was an opportunity for new managers like Lee Mazzilli to introduce themselves to the writers in a different setting. Those announcements seemed to be a break in the three-day schmoozefest.


Perhaps this week, the Yankees will engineer a blockbuster trade that will make the schmoozing worthwhile.


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"This ain't football. We do this every day."
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