The king of this year’s baseball winter meetings in Las Vegas is an 81-year-old scout for the Kansas City Royals named Art Stewart. He is barely 5’7″, and he never played at a level higher than semipro in Chicago, but he’s the Sinatra of the baseball bat pack, the chairman of the hoard, the guy behind the guy behind the guy. He has been coming to the winter meetings for 45 years, going back to his scouting days with the New York Yankees, back when he signed the outfielder Norm Siebern by throwing in a working stove for Norm’s mother. Art knows everybody, and everybody knows Art, and he will admit that the game has changed, the money has changed, even the baseball people have changed. But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed, one rule that never changes, and it is this: The secret to the winter meetings is to stand on your own piece of carpet.
“Don’t stand on the bare floor,” he says. “You have to protect your feet.”
You laugh? Don’t laugh. See, it’s midnight at the Bellagio, and what’s happening? All those people who did not find their place on the carpet, all of those eager baseball men who have spent the last five or six hours downing drinks and recalling ballplayers who haven’t played in 20 years and proposing deals and standing on the marble floors, well, now their feet hurt. Look at them shifting back and forth. “They’re dropping like flies,” is how Art puts it, and he adds that over his many years, he’s seen countless good guys make bad baseball trades simply because their feet hurt.
“There are tricks to the trade,” Art says. “You bet. Tricks to the trade.”