Tracy Ringolsby

Classic trades, tales born in Winter Meeting lobbies

Before cell phones became popular, general managers mingled in hotel halls

Classic trades, tales born in Winter Meeting lobbies

In the corner of the lobby at the Anatole Hotel in Dallas, Reds manager John McNamara was chatting with Angels counterpart Jim Fregosi and a writer about the lack of activity during baseball's 1980 Winter Meetings. .

A smiled crossed McNamara's face.

"Let's start a rumor and see how long it takes to get back to us," he said. "The Giants need a manager. Start mentioning you've heard Alvin Dark is getting the job."

Less than two hours later, near the entrance to the hotel, Giants general manager Spec Richardson had team owner Bob Lurie cornered, upset over the hiring of Dark without him being informed, and threatening to resign.

Lurie, of course, was caught off guard. He finally convinced Richardson that Dark was not hired, and the storm had calmed.

So much for the sources.

Major League and Minor League officials will meet this weekend for the annual winter gathering, and times have definitely changed.

Back in the days before cell phones, text messaging and e-mails were common, the heart and soul of the Winter Meetings was the hotel lobby.

During the 1975 Meetings in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., the American League approved the sale of the White Sox to Bill Veeck, and within minutes Veeck and general manager Roland Hemond went to work setting up a table in the Diplomat Hotel lobby with a sign that read "Open for Business."

And Veeck was serious. To feed anxieties of potential dealmakers, Veeck took phones calls at the lobby table, discussing trade offers with "callers," who were in reality White Sox media relations director Buck Peden, acting under orders from Veeck.

In the next three days, the White Sox made six trades that involved 22 players.

How important was the hotel lobby back then? So important that in 1985 -- the most recent time the event was held in San Diego -- the host hotel was the Town and Country, and it did not have an expansive lobby. Proud of the Southern California weather, the hotel management felt the solution was to set up a series of bars and seating areas around the swimming pools.

One problem: It rained every day of those Meetings.

Not that it matters anymore.

Most general managers no longer even stroll through the lobby, choosing instead of stay in the so-called team "war room," relying on the modern-day means of communication to kick tires on potential deals.

That doesn't mean the general managers aren't still doing whatever it takes to get the job done.

Former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry, in fact, finalized the signing of free agent Ted Lilly at the 2006 Winter Meetings on the phone from his hospital bed, having been rushed the day before to the hospital, where he underwent an angioplasty.

It's not as much fun as the old days.

The late Buzzie Bavasi loved to tell the story about the 1953 Winter Meetings, when John Quinn of the Milwaukee Braves was trying to make a deal with Bavasi, then general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, for Andy Pafko. Bavasi was tiring. He told Quinn he was going upstairs and would talk to him later. Quinn asked if he could walk with Bavasi and continue the conversations on the way to Bavasi's room.

Next thing Bavasi knew, Quinn was in Bavasi's room, and as Bavasi got ready for bed, Quinn did, too, much to Bavasi's surprise.

"I'm getting in bed with you until we get the deal done," said Quinn.

The Dodgers eventually sent Pafko to the Braves for Roy Hartsfield and $50,000.

Twenty-six years later, as general manager of the Angels, Bavasi worked out a deal to acquire pitcher Craig Swan from the Mets for shortstop prospect DIckie Thon. On the elevator downstairs to announce the deal, Mets owner Lorinda de Roulet killed the deal because Thon, 21, "is so young."

An exasperated Bavasi looked at her and explained, "you want an older shortstop? Well, I've got Bert Campaneris. He's 37. You can have him."

She didn't like that any better. The deal was off.

Jack McKeon probably could have salvaged it if he had been in the deal.

He is, after all, known as "Trader Jack" because of his willingness to wheel and deal.

During the 1983 Meetings in Nashville, McKeon, as general manager of the Padres, approached Cubs counterpart Dallas Green and said he'd heard that Green had run into trouble in an effort to acquire right-handed pitcher Scott Sanderson from the Expos. McKeon assured Green a Sanderson deal could be made.

And it was.

McKeon shipped left-handed reliever Gary Lucas to the Expos for Sanderson, and then sent Sanderson to the Cubs for outfield prospect Carmelo Martinez and left-handed reliever Craig Lefferts.

The Cubs won the National League East in 1984, then lost in the NL Championship Series to the Padres.

"That's how it's supposed to be," said McKeon. "You are making trades because you want to win."

And, besides, it's the deals that give life to the annual Winter Meetings.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.