Thursday, November 30, 2006

Winter Meetings Not The Same

Next week is the first week of December. It's a time for shopping, letting out the waistband after another Thanksgiving feast, and praying for little or no snow (unless you operate a ski resort).

But there was a time when the first week of December meant the Annual Baseball Winter Meetings.

Oh, they still have them -- and always someplace warm, of course. But it's somehow not the same. In a simpler time, circa the 1960's and 70's, the Winter Meetings meant staying up to watch the 11:00 p.m. news and slogging thru the first 18 minutes until the sports anchor came on the tube. You had to wait till then to find out whether the Tigers swung a trade. This is before the Internet and sports talk radio. Or, if you nodded off, there was always the morning paper to clue you in.

There just seemed to be more player movement back then. Today, it's so much about contracts and other intangibles that get in the way of a simple handshake in a hotel lobby between two (or more) GMs. That handshake would turn into a telephone call to the league office, officially announcing the trade(s). This is before faxes, too. Then, the reporters would get the word, although many of them used to hang out in the bars and lobbies and had an inkling of what was going to occur before it officially did. And they were sure to write about what they thought might happen, and reading about it was part of the joy of Winter Meetings week.

If a trade was made, especially a major one, you'd try to imagine the new Tigers player in his creamy white, Old English D home uniform. There would be no spring training for over two months. This was also before press conferences announcing the trade, along with the requisite trying on of the new jersey.

The Tigers shipped away lefty Mickey Lolich -- imagine that -- in December, 1975. Mick went to the New York Mets, for DH/outfielder Rusty Staub. Also in the deal was OF Billy Baldwin (to the Mets), and pitcher Bill Laxton (to the Tigers). I couldn't fathom a Tigers team without Mickey Lolich, just as I couldn't picture Le Grand Orange -- Staub -- in a Tigers uniform. And I had to wait till the following February to see the images of that beamed into my television from Lakeland, Fl.

Lolich, by the way, played one season in New York, then retired. The Big Apple killed baseball for him. He ended up sitting out one year and playing for the Padres at the end of his career. In San Diego, with their brown and orange duds, Lolich looked like a giant taco.

Trust me, he did.


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