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About Jon
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1) using profanity or any euphemisms for profanity
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Winter Meetings Diary: On a Clear Day You Can See Everything and Nothing
2004-12-11 23:20
by Jon Weisman

Sometime between 9:30 and 10 p.m. Saturday, fog enveloped heavily street-lit Convention Way in Anaheim like a glow-in-the-dark cocoon, shrouding the exterior of Major League Baseball's Winter Meetings in a dramatic air.

Perhaps we'll learn today this marked a transition, as up to that point there was no inherent drama to Saturday's events. Eleven hours earlier, as clear, 75-degree December weather redefined the real reason some people find the Happiest Place on Earth to be in Southern California (although I'll take last week's 50ish days anytime), I joined the gathered throng in the lobby of the Anaheim Marriott and found people mostly speculating on what might happen, rather than learning anything of profound significance had happened. Nary a dramatic gasp to be heard.

Not that drama was on my agenda. I drove down to the Winter Meetings, having fought for and won special dispensation to be excused from that day's wife-and-childcare duties, simply to meet people. Meet colleagues on the Internet with whom I had in most cases only corresponded on e-mail or phone, meet friends from my newspaper past long not seen, and meet new acquaintances, at once testing and promoting the reputation of Dodger Thoughts.

DANGER: Much of the following will be more about me than the Dodgers. Those interested in actual news, proceed with caution.

What became immediately clear to me was an overriding sense of in-betweenness: It wasn't that I had no right to be there, but I can't say I had every right to be there, either. If I had, I would have been up chatting with some executive in their hotel room or hallway or some such, instead of being limited to the most public space. The lack of need for me to be in Anaheim for any reason other than myself fed some amount of insecurity. Standing in the lobby, I wasn't quite sure where I stood.

Among the first people I talked to were Tim Brown and Steve Henson of the Times, the paper's new national baseball and Dodger beat writers. These are both guys I met in 1990, just after I became full-time at the Daily News - we were all covering high school sports back then for one paper or the other, writing about 17-year-olds who grew up to become the subjects of this weekend's meetings, people like Russ Ortiz and Mike Lieberthal. While I bailed out in 1992 to find a way to succeed in life without scoops, these guys stuck it out. So while it would be one thing if I just ran into them on the street, you can understand my being a little wary having to explain why, 12 years removed from full-time sportswriting, I was at this particular venue reintroducing myself.

Well, they were cool. They both read this site, and I didn't have to re-prove myself to them. We just caught up on the intervening years. Both Brown and Henson look forward to their new assignments, each wishing the Times had more space to run the many stories they already had to offer, although Brown did admit to wondering how he could drop straight from the crazed Laker beat into steroid hysteria. ("This stuff just follows me around.")

For that matter, I had the opportunity to introduce Henson to some friends of this site - Alex Ciepley of The Cub Reporter, Peter White of Mariner Musings and Jay Jaffe of The Futility Infielder - and the conversation was as relaxed as you could want. Pure baseball talk. And this is part of what I'm trying to get at about the lack of drama - just as Saturday failed to deliver any jolts to the baseball world, it also failed to deliver any jolts to my self-worth. All was well.

With that, I was able to enjoy the company I was keeping. It was very good to meet the fellas. In addition to the above-mentioned guys, I also hung with Baseball Prospectus writer Will Carroll (who, if there was going to be any drama, was determined to be the one to find it) and Rich Lederer of Rich's Weekend Baseball BEAT, who seemed to be lining up interviews with baseball's most notable each time someone turned his head. (Believe me, you're going to be enjoying Lederer's site in the coming days and weeks.)

Later on, there was BP's Jonah Keri and Joe Sheehan, Rob McMillin of 6-4-2 and Voros McCracken, inventor of DIPS, the Defense Independent Pitching Statistic. I'm underselling by saying what a good group it was - everyone very sharp and very funny.

Indeed, comedy triumphed over drama in Anaheim - though just barely at times. The first such moment came when we spotted a suit-and-tied Matt Williams, the former third baseman, in the center of the crowd. Talk turned to Williams' famous ex-wife, Michelle Johnson of the near-Oscar-nominated Blame it on Rio. I wondered aloud whether Williams should exchange notes with Chuck Finley, the no-longer-happily-married husband of vixational Tawny Kitaen, not realizing that Williams had moved from the center of the lobby to a spot about eight feet behind me. The fact that I'm alive to write about it now would indicate that, thankfully, he was out of earshot.

Not an hour later, there was another close call when, during a conversation about the Hall of Fame, someone (not me, this time) remarked how the election of Tony Perez lowered the bar as much as anyone voted in by the baseball writers. A minute later, cue Tony Perez, walking through the lobby. Hey there, Tony! Looking sharp! (Whew.)

In the evening, I found myself in a conversation with former Dodger general manager Fred Claire. For the most part, I listened, but then Claire turned to me and asked my thoughts about the Dodgers, specifically Steve Finley. Without denying that Finley perhaps should have been offered salary arbitration, I offered my theory about why the Dodgers didn't: The fact that he settled for $14 million over two years from the Angels, compared to the nearly $10 million he might have won for a single season in arbitration from the Dodgers, indicated that he might well have accepted the Dodger offer - thus hampering their pursuit of Adrian Beltre, catching and/or pitching. Now, as my life goes on, I'm going to tell myself that the following was a coincidence, but I will say that it appeared to many that immediately after my pontification, Claire politely but quickly excused himself from the group, you know, the way you might excuse yourself from a crazy homeless person you accidentally found yourself too close for comfort to. (I should make it plain that Claire couldn't have been more gracious to me. I really think it was just funny timing.)

Though I met Claire and another former Dodger general manager, Dan Evans, current GM Paul DePodesta was out of sight my entire time there. However, I did see both owner Frank McCourt and manager Jim Tracy, among others. (Tommy Lasorda was everywhere.) Carroll urged me to go talk to McCourt, but I'll cop to a moment's hesitation there. On the other hand, I pursued Tracy as quickly as I could while he walked out of the lobby, but he ducked into a car before I had a chance to try myself out. With better planning, I might have been able to give you some actually relevant material as opposed to this preponderance of ompholoskepsis, but what can you do? This is why they pay me the big non-bucks.

If there was a single highlight to the day, it was running into - in the first 10 minutes, no less - a good friend of mine from college whom I hadn't spoken to in more than 10 years, Robert Portnoy. Portnoy is now a broadcaster for Milwaukee's AA team, the Huntsville Stars, and I'll say this - there's no doubt in my mind he's a good bet to work the major leagues. (I told him to get himself in the Dodger booth while the gettin' was good.) Hearing the story of his eight years of dedicated toil in the minors, and sharing with him my career misadventures, was alone worth the journey to Anaheim.

As for Saturday's journey, it ended in a fog, literally and figuratively. I have no great insight into the future of the Dodgers, nor of Dodger Thoughts.

We each just move forward, waiting to see where we'll end up when the skies clear.

(Postscript: And so comes the drama - Oakland pitcher Tim Hudson may be a done deal to the Dodgers for Edwin Jackson and Antonio Perez, according to Hudson's agent and the Contra Costa Times.)

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