Baseball has few heroes these days. It is no wonder that in a recent ESPN survey of 100 children aged 10 to 12, only six named baseball as their favorite sport, and only four named a baseball player as their favorite athlete.
3) Yankee general manager Gene Michael left the winter meetings to return to New York, where he spent the day driving free-agent pitcher Greg Maddux around New Jersey suburbs, showing him golf courses and houses; that evening Michael wined and dined Maddux, entertaining him with a Broadway show, all the while silently pleading with Maddux to accept $34 million from New York.
Two days later Maddux signed a five-year, $28 million deal with the Braves. Maddux, this year's National League Cy Young winner, said he wanted to play for a contender, not the Yankees, a common sentiment among the 1992 free-agent class. "I think the chaos in the front office there is self-explanatory," free-agent pitcher David Cone said upon signing with Kansas City after spurning the Yanks.
4) Bill White, the National League president, looked like a player caught in a rundown as he raced from one conference room to another on Dec. 7. In order to attend a meeting concerning the tangled issue of the ownership of the San Francisco Giants, White ran out of the owners' meeting that was considering the sticky issue of an early reopening of the current labor agreement, as provided for under the four-year contract the owners signed with the players in 1990. (The owners ultimately voted to reopen negotiations, which raised the specter of a possible lockout before the '93 season.)
White hates this kind of stuff. He accepted the job as league president in 1989 because he thought it was a baseball job, and he loves baseball. Instead, he found that it's a frustrating, powerless, paperwork job. That helps explain why White can't wait for his term to end in March 1993, at which point he will resign.
White isn't the only one in the upper reaches of baseball's hierarchy who is fed up with the politics of the game. "I feel like a punching bag," said an official from the commissioner's office. "Every time I get up from a hit, I get smashed again."
5) On Dec. 7, at 11:25 p.m., the Milwaukee Brewers announced that they had offered free-agent infielder Paul Molitor salary arbitration. The announcement offered hope that the Brewers could re-sign Molitor, who had played all 15 of his big league seasons in Milwaukee and has been a hero and a community leader there. Brewer general manager Sal Bando was briefing the media about Molitor's situation when representatives of the Toronto Blue Jays blew through the door and announced that they had signed Molitor to a three-year contract for $13 million. All color vanished from Bando's face as the Blue Jays walked off with his best player. The Brewers' best offer had been a meager one-year, $2.5 million contract.
This was a prime example of a wealthy, big-market team overpowering a struggling, small-market team. Molitor said last summer that if he were ever to win a world championship, "I want it to be in Milwaukee. Any place else just wouldn't be the same." But the Brewers couldn't afford to keep him. Contenders last year, they won't be in 1993.
6) At two in the morning on Dec. 8, in the lobby bar at the Gait House, Dennis Gilbert, the agent for Bonds, and Larry Baer, the executive vice-president from the ownership group that is buying the Giants, were frantically running in and out to make copies and send faxes. They were finalizing a deal that would pay Bonds $43.75 million over the next six years, the largest contract in baseball history.
Deals used to mean trades, but now they usually mean free-agent signings. In Louisville there were five trades (most of them small potatoes) and 36 free-agent signings to contracts totaling more than $230 million. Agents seem to be running baseball. "I hate to say this about a fellow agent," said one player representative, "but I just rode down in the elevator with Bonds and Gilbert. I think I'm going to puke. But I still have my wallet."