It was no surprise that free agent Dave Parker (right) bolted the Pirates for a two-year, $1.6 million contract with the Reds. What was surprising was Parker himself: When he showed up at baseball's winter meetings in Nashville last week, he was clean-shaven for the first time in years, having removed his beard voluntarily. That was symbolic of Parker's joining the game's most conservative outfit, one that in recent years has been long on short hair and short on the long drives it hopes he'll provide.
"They'll have no problems with me," said Parker, who had had more than his share of controversy in Pittsburgh. As for the red carnation in his lapel, the Cincinnati-born Parker said, "It's to show my jubilation about coming home."
While Parker spoke at a press conference, President Bob Howsam beamed. For Howsam, signing the cleanup hitting rightfielder was an affirmation of his willingness to loosen the team's double-knotted purse strings and relax its starchy image. Said Howsam, "Dave's more mature, and I've become more realistic."
Twins owner Calvin Griffith wants to move his team to Tampa, but other baseball executives have nixed the idea. They've also decided that relocating any franchise is out of the question, mainly because of the lawsuits such moves would provoke.
In Nashville the owners accepted the recommendation of the Long-Range Planning Committee that strong consideration be given to expanding to 32 teams. Although no timetable was suggested, nor any specific locales, fans in at least a dozen cities had their hopes raised for acquiring a major league franchise. The best bet is that two teams will be added to the AL as early as '85 or '86, giving the league 16 teams and simplifying scheduling. The NL would also go to 16, adding two members at a time and completing its expansion by '92.
Though getting Mike Easier from the Pirates gave the Red Sox a much-needed lefthand-hitting DH-first baseman, the price—Pitcher John Tudor—was high. Tudor was Boston's biggest winner the last two seasons (13-10 and 13-12). He was also one of only five AL lefties who pitched 200 or more innings in 1983 and gave up less than a hit an inning. With a shift in home parks from Fenway to Three Rivers, Tudor should be an even bigger winner. However, he must become more aggressive about pitching inside to righthanders now that he won't have to worry about Fenway's Green Monster. Easier, meanwhile, must adjust to the unfamiliar DH role and prove he can consistently hit lefthanders.
Near the end of the Cubs' 1983 highlights film is a shot of a homer by rookie First Baseman Carmelo Martinez, with Announcer Harry Caray shouting, "Carmelo Martinez, mellow Carmelo." Indeed, some felt that expression would be heard often in years to come. It may be, but not by Chicago fans. Martinez, 23, was one of three players the Cubs traded to the Padres. In exchange, Chicago got Scott Sanderson (6-7, 4.65 ERA), whom San Diego had just obtained from Montreal to set up this triangular trade.
Los Angeles also dealt away a pitcher of promise. In a deal with the Mets for Utility Man Bob Bailor and lefthanded Hawaiian Reliever Carlos Diaz, the Dodgers gave up lefthanded Hawaiian Sid Fernandez. L.A. needed a utility man and, with Steve Howe's career possibly ended because of drug use, had to strengthen the bullpen.
The. Dodgers rarely err in evaluating talent, and there are indications that they may be right again, even though they surrendered the pitcher with the most dazzling strikeout record of any minor-leaguer in recent years: 560 whiffs in 402‚Öî innings. But Fernandez, as of now, has three strikes against himself. Strike One: He's an immature 21-year-old who dropped out of winter ball recently because he was homesick. Strike Two: He's always packed a lot of weight on his 6'1" frame and now is a hefty 240 pounds. Strike Three: His erratic control has gotten even worse, and he's gone from an average of 4.7 walks per nine innings in '82 to a 5.6 in '83.
Yogi Berra is still owner George Steinbrenner's choice to replace Billy Martin as manager of the Yankees. Steinbrenner's reluctance to comment publicly on the matter in Nashville was believed to be related to the state of Martin's health.
Novel in Nashville were the half a dozen White Sox officials who broke off conversations in midsentence, said "Gotta go" and then scurried off. Explanation: They were responding to walkie-talkie messages coming through earplugs. The messages they received couldn't be overheard, and they could stay in constant contact to summon one another for trade talks, advice—or lunch.
Former Yankee Third Baseman Bobby Brown (1946-52 and 1954, .279 career average) was elected to succeed Lee MacPhail as AL president, commencing Jan. 1. There's one hitch. Brown, 59, is a cardiologist in Texas and has obligations to his patients that will prevent him from assuming the job until perhaps July 1. In the interim, his chief aide, Bob Fishel, executive vice-president of the league, will handle most of the work.
"This looks like a very irrational act by a rational man," Brown said. "I've been in practice 26 years in a tough speciality. You deal with the worst types of catastrophic medical emergencies. I reached the point in my life where I had to decide how much longer I could effectively do this. For me to continue into my 60s was unrealistic. I wanted to make a change."
As a "baseball purist," Brown is not fond of the designated hitter rule, though he said diplomatically, "That doesn't mean I'm advocating a disenfranchisement of the designated hitter." He takes office at a propitious time. A joint American League-National League committee is to recommend a DH rule for both leagues. If the NL owners and the new AL president have their way, the DH era could be over after the 1985 season.
One of the best things about a gathering of baseball men is the old stories that are swapped. Here are two of the best heard in Nashville:
•Executive Vice-President Buzzie Bavasi of the Angels recalled a long bargaining session he had at the 1952 winter meetings with John Quinn of the Boston Braves. "John came to the suite about 6 p.m. and said he wanted to trade for Andy Pafko," said Bavasi, who at the time was the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers. "I told him it would take $150,000 and two players. We talked and talked. His last offer was $150,000 and Roy Hartsfield. About 1:30, I went into the bedroom and put on my pajamas. John came in and started undressing. 'What're you doing?' I asked. 'I'm getting in bed with you until I get Pafko,' John said. I told him, 'You've got him.' "
•"I guess I can tell this now that the player is out of the game," said former Pittsburgh General Manager Joe L. Brown. "It was in the ninth inning of the seventh game of the '79 World Series, we were ahead 3-1 and had the bases loaded. Bill Robinson [of the Pirates] tried to get out of the way of an inside pitch. Tony Bartirome, the trainer, ran out. Bill whispered to him, 'It didn't hit me.' Tony said, 'The hell it didn't' and dug a fingernail into Bill's finger until he cut it. Then Tony showed the mark to the umpire [Jerry Neudecker], who sent Bill to first and forced in a run." Pittsburgh went on to "nail" down that 4-1 triumph.
Commissioner Bowie Kuhn said it was "the old warhorse" in him that prompted him to sidetrack his own plans and agree to a second and final extension of his term, until March 1, 1984. In a sense, he was again victimized. "I'm not frustrated," said Kuhn, who appeared more at ease than at any time during his 15 years on the job. "I probably chuckle a little bit over the whole process, for reasons you can probably figure out."
As for what he'll do when he finally steps down, Kuhn said there "is still a candle in the window" at the New York law firm where he worked before becoming commissioner. He has also stated that it's possible "in the near term" that he'd be involved in the ownership of a baseball team.
Meanwhile, the search for a new commissioner goes on. One of the two leading candidates to surface last week, White House Chief of Staff James Baker, no longer seemed interested. The other, Peter Ueberroth, the head of the LAOOC, hinted he'd be available only after the Olympic Games end in August.
A newcomer with a fresh-faced approach.
TRADER OF THE WEEK
JOHN McHALE: In a three-way deal that sent Scott Sanderson (6-7, 4.65 ERA) to Chicago, the Montreal president obtained lefthanded Reliever Gary Lucas (2.87 ERA, 17 saves) from San Diego.
BASEBALL'S MEMBERS IN GOOD STANDING
Some of the most important people at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville last week were the hotel lobbymen, the folks who spend hours casting about for someone to trade with, swap info with or merely chew the fat with.
"It all starts right here in the lobby," said Director of Player Personnel Gene Mauch of the Angels. Mauch is the most graceful of all lobbymen, shifting almost dancerlike from foot to foot. "That's how you move within range of conversations you want to pick up," he explained. "You also have to know when to talk to people. Some are a.m. guys. Some are p.m. guys. Study how people blink. You can tell if they're telling the truth or lying by how they blink. As a lobbyman, when you stop getting butterflies you know it's time to get out of the game."
"Establishing your territory is the most important thing," said Royals General Manager John Schuerholz as he stood next to a 16-foot Christmas tree made of 400 tiered poinsettias. "If you're always in the same place, people know where to find you. This is my spot."
"Learn to scan the whole lobby by moving only your eyes, never your head," said White Sox Scout Jerry Krause.
"You must have good balance," said Cedric Tallis, veteran baseball executive and now managing director of the Tampa Bay group that's after a major league team. "Your look must be not lascivious, but eager."
"Stamina is essential," said Bob Fontaine, the director of player personnel and scouting for the Giants. "I don't have it this year because I came here with a case of the turista. So I have a new rule: If you must scout in South America, do it after the meetings."
"The first thing that goes on a lobbyman is his knees, so always stand on the carpet, never on the tile or brick," said Peter Bavasi, a former baseball official who is a consultant for a St. Petersburg group in its quest for a franchise. "Lobbymen need an association, a pension plan, special Mizuno shoes, a wing in the Hall of Fame."
"The commissioner's office is stronger than it's been in years now that the Player Relations Committee and the promotion corporation are under him," says Oakland President Roy Eisenhardt, co-chairman of baseball's restructuring committee. "It's up to the new commissioner to lead, not follow, the owners. We have to get behind him."