This article was written by Daniel R. Levitt
This article was published in the
Despite the picturesque setting of Honolulu, baseball’s owners were a largely dispirited lot as they headed into the 1982 winter meetings. They were a year and a half removed from a brutal strike in which they had failed to achieve their main objective of direct player compensation for free agents; many teams were losing money; and a minority of frustrated owners had just blocked the reelection of Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. Moreover, the animosity created by the battle over Kuhn’s contract renewal had temporarily poisoned some of the relationships among the owners, vitiating the opportunity to implement several long-studied, proposed organizational changes.
In his final state-of-the-game opening address to the convention, Kuhn listed in bullet-point fashion all the unique and appealing reasons he loved the game. He also offered up his “certain commandments, certain articles of faith which should be viewed as imperatives for baseball.” Not surprisingly for Kuhn, his first imperative was “protecting the integrity of our game.” This was followed by deference to the permanence of the playing rules; improvement in the relationship between players and owners; high-quality ownership that respected the game and its fans; the need to modernize baseball’s administrative operations; and a strong commissioner’s office. In recognition of his service and his heartfelt remarks, Kuhn received a standing ovation at its conclusion.1
Business and Administrative Items
Many of the more far-ranging administrative proposals and initiatives that various study committees had been working on were only halfheartedly considered at the winter meetings, as the owners debated what they wanted in their next commissioner. Over the previous year a significant minority of owners had been campaigning against renewal of Kuhn’s contract, which was scheduled to expire on August 12, 1983. Since the commissioner needed at least a three-quarters majority in each league for reelection, the anti-Kuhn faction had considerable clout. On November 1, 1982, despite considerable lobbying from the pro-Kuhn forces, he was formally not renewed — the AL voted 11 to 3 in favor, but the NL vote of 7 to 5 fell two votes shy.2 Just over a month later at the winter meetings, considerable bad feeling remained between the pro- and anti-Kuhn ownership factions.
The controversy over Kuhn negated much of the effort by the restructuring committee to “bring baseball’s superstructure into the Twentieth Century.”3 Co-chaired by Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley and A’s owner Roy Eisenhardt, the committee had presented its preliminary findings to a generally positive reception at the summer meetings. The recommendations included items such as creating an eight-man executive committee; incorporating the league offices, the Player Relations Committee, and the Baseball Promotions Corporation under the auspices of the commissioner’s office; and eliminating the division of the umpire staffs by league.4
The minimal restructuring that did occur consisted primarily of forming some new ownership committees, including Finance and Budget, Employee Relations, and Audit. The owners also agreed that for certain matters, they would count votes in aggregate rather than each league voting separately. To balance out league membership, each NL member’s vote would count 11/16 of an AL member’s vote.5
Despite a strong rebound in attendance after the 1981 strike, club financial viability remained a concern. For internal presentation, the clubs divided the teams into thirds: the eight most profitable, the middle ten, and the eight at the bottom. According to their internal figures for 1980 (the most recent year for which all teams had reported their financial results), the top eight teams had an aggregate operating income of $14.7 million, the middle 10 had aggregate operating loss of $8.9 million, and the bottom eight lost $19.8 million.6
To solidify the financial viability of the clubs, the owners agreed to require all franchises to “have a ratio of assets to liabilities of not less than sixty (assets) to forty (liabilities).” Penalties for violating this financial covenant ranged from having a team’s share of distributions from the Central Fund held in escrow to be counted as an asset in the calculation all the way to the appointment of a custodian to manage the financial affairs of a franchise. The severity of the penalty would depend on how much the team missed the financial covenant by, the reasons for missing the financial target, the previous history of noncompliance, and how hard the team was working to get back into compliance.7
In another initiative to bolster the weaker clubs, the owners had put forward various revenue-sharing arrangements in the months leading up to the meetings, but in the end all they could agree on was to share all League Championship Series revenue once each participating club had received $300,000. The other revenue-sharing proposals were tabled.8
Because the national TV rights package would be expiring at the end of the 1983 season, the owners also spent considerable time discussing the forthcoming negotiation. For this latest round of talks, the owners wanted more direct control of the process, and as a result baseball’s chief TV and radio broadcast negotiator, Tom Villante, resigned in the fall, effective December 1. Instead of bringing in a new executive to lead the negotiations, at the winter meetings the baseball magnates named two of their own, Phillies President Bill Giles and White Sox co-owner Eddie Einhorn, as lead negotiators for MLB’s next TV deal. Before leaving, Villante highlighted the intensifying pressure from ownership to increase national TV revenue without limiting the opportunities to also maximize local TV income.9
The owners also consented to some nominal amendments to the National Agreement, including extending it by its traditional five years; prohibiting anyone connected with club ownership from acting as a player agent; clarifying some minor-league rehab assignment guidelines; and approving an increase in the caps on player college tuition assistance.10 Elsewhere, several NL owners and the Yankees’ George Steinbrenner proposed removing the $400,000 cap on the cash consideration that could be included in player transactions, but they failed to garner the necessary support.11
Player Movement Overview
Teams remained aggressive in their pursuit of free agents to the detriment of trading activity. Winter meetings trades continued their secular decline since the introduction of free agency, novel contract innovations complicated the art of making trades, and the spring interleague trading period gave teams another window in which to make deals. In particular, several teams shied away from the trading mart because they thought they were in the running for two of the key remaining free agents, left-hander Floyd Bannister and coveted first baseman Steve Garvey, neither of whom ended up signing during the winter meetings. In 1982 only 22 players were traded in eight separate deals, down from 36 in 16 in 1981, 59 in 18 in 1980 (a one-time uptick as the first CBA came to an end), and 30 in 11 in 1979.12 As a further comparison, in 1977 there were 53 players involved in 22 trades, in 1973 there were 58 in 26, and in 1972 there were 68 in 19.13
In the Rule 5 draft the Blue Jays selected right-hander Jim Acker with the fifth pick; Acker would go on to a respectable 10-year career, mostly in the bullpen. Other selections who went on to useful major-league careers included Dann Bilardello, who spent eight years as a backup catcher, and pitcher Odell Jones, who had a nine-year career, mostly working out of the pen.
As usual, George Steinbrenner was active and uncompromising in the free-agent market. Prior to the winter meetings he signed DH Don Baylor, and then during the meetings landed two more: lefty Bob Shirley (four years, $1.5 million) and outfielder Steve Kemp. Kemp was one of the more coveted free agents, and Steinbrenner outbid the White Sox and Orioles by offering $5.45 million over five years. Both runners-up were unhappy. “We never even got to make an offer,” complained Orioles GM Hank Peters, who had talked with Kemp’s agent and had scheduled a follow-up. Owner Edward Bennett Williams was more philosophical: “If Steinbrenner’s giving the kind of numbers I think he is, well, you just have to stop somewhere. I don’t know what he’s trying to do. It’s like he’s stockpiling nuclear weapons with all those outfielders — and if somebody doesn’t take some of them off his hands, he’s going to die with them.”14
The White Sox responded just after the meetings ended by landing southpaw Floyd Bannister, coveted by the Yankees, for $4.5 million over five years. A spurned Steinbrenner labeled White Sox co-owners Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn “the Abbott and Costello of baseball” for the lavish contract, particularly the clauses that called for an optional additional three years and a payment to the pitcher if the White Sox did not renew him for his option years. “Those two guys come into the league meetings and they never say the same thing. They keep it lighthearted, make us laugh. But I forgave them because they’ve given me the only laugh in baseball I’ve had in years.” Regarding Bannister, Steinbrenner continued: “Floyd didn’t want to tackle the pressures of New York. As far as I’m concerned, his signing with the White Sox is fine.”15
Reinsdorf responded: “What’s the big deal? That’s not going to make him the highest-paid pitcher. George doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He’s probably paying Ron Guidry more than that. Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton are at a million a year, or over. George is just upset because he didn’t sign Bannister. After he gets the facts, he’ll calm down and everything will be okay. I don’t care if he calls us ‘Abbott and Costello’ or ‘The Katzenjammer Kids.’ I think it’s silly and he ought to stop. But so long as he doesn’t call us Hitler and Mussolini, I don’t care.”16
In another notable free-agent signing during the winter meetings, the Astros landed speedy Pirates center fielder Omar Moreno. When Astros GM Al Rosen released Moreno’s compensation as $3.25 million over five years, Pirates GM Pete Peterson claimed his offer was only $125,000 less and called out Moreno’s agent, Tom Reich, complaining “that he didn’t do a good job handling the negotiations.” He added that he was also “disappointed in some people in the Houston organization for some things that happened.” Reich responded that the contract was for $3.50 million with the ability to earn annual performance bonuses on top of that.17 In one more winter meeting move, Milwaukee re-signed left-hander Bob McClure for $1.75 million over three years.
Oakland and Boston found a match early in the meetings. Oakland wanted a third baseman and Boston had a star in Carney Lansford, set to become a free agent at the end of 1983 and looking for a contract beyond what the Red Sox wanted to pay. Moreover, Boston had youngster Wade Boggs ready to step in at third. For their part, next to a number-one starter, Boston wanted a power hitter to bat behind Jim Rice, and Oakland outfielder Tony Armas was one of the league’s top power threats. Additionally, from Oakland’s point of view, shedding Armas (along with catcher Jeff Newman) freed up payroll that could be used to try to re-sign Lansford. In a swap that also found Boston parting with outfielder/first baseman Garry Hancock and minor-league pitcher Jerry King, Armas for Lansford was the first big trade of the winter meetings.18
With Moreno on board, Astros GM Rosen had sufficient outfield depth to trade Danny Heep to the Mets for pitcher Mike Scott, who several years later turned into one of baseball’s most dominant pitchers (he won the NL Cy Young Award in 1986). The Mets also reacquired veteran all-time great Tom Seaver from the Reds, though the deal would not become official until several days after the winter meetings when the two sides agreed to new contract terms.19
No one orchestrated these winter meetings like Phillies GM Paul Owens, however. In late November he publicly let it be known that he craved Indians outfielder Von Hayes, a young, left-handed outfield bat, and that he was willing to surrender star second baseman Manny Trillo to get him. Moreover, if he pulled this off, Owens acknowledged, Giants second baseman Joe Morgan would make a nice replacement. 20
Presented all the negotiating leverage by Owens’s public remarks, Indians President Gabe Paul and GM Phil Seghi drove a hard bargain for Hayes. They extracted five players from the Phillies, rebuilding their keystone combination with Trillo and top shortstop prospect Julio Franco, plus landing reliever Jay Baller, outfielder George Vukovich, and catcher Jerry Willard. Of the final three, Baller was the key piece for the Indians, viewed as one of the better pitching prospects in baseball. This represented quite a haul for Cleveland despite Trillo’s having only one more year on his contract.21
The Yankees and Blue Jays also engaged in a noteworthy swap, one Toronto GM Pat Gillick later called one of his favorite deals. The Yankees desperately sought Toronto’s relief ace Dale Murray, and after several rounds of negotiations, Gillick agreed to take outfielder Dave Collins and pitcher Mike Morgan in exchange. Gillick initially negotiated with Bill Bergesch, the latest general manager in the Yankees’ ever-changing and chaotic front office. But like any savvy trader, he wanted an additional prospect, particularly one with power. Gillick and his scouts liked 18-year-old first baseman Fred McGriff, still in Rookie ball, but didn’t mention him right away for fear the Yankees would ask for more. Instead Gillick mentioned outfielder Dan Pasqua and first baseman Don Mattingly, two prospects he knew the Yankees didn’t want to surrender. Finally, Steinbrenner stepped in and called Gillick, telling him that he would have to take McGriff as the third player in the deal or there wouldn’t be one. Gillick coyly responded that he needed to check with his scouts and would call back in 15 minutes. When he did so, he got the player he wanted all along.22
Near the end of the meetings, Owens swapped righty starter Mike Krukow and two minor leaguers (including southpaw Mark Davis, who would later blossom with the Padres) to the Giants for second baseman Joe Morgan and lefty reliever Al Holland, who became the team’s closer. (The Yankees also wanted Al Holland, but the Giants turned down their offer of catcher Butch Wynegar23.) The trade could not be announced until after the meetings because as a condition of the trade, Morgan needed to wrap up a new contract with the Phillies. In addition to landing a key reliever, Owens thus neatly backfilled his second-base hole after losing Trillo in the Von Hayes deal.24 “Before we went to the winter meetings in Hawaii,” Giles said, “we wrote down the names of the players we wanted most. Those players were Von Hayes, Joe Morgan, and Al Holland, Now, we have them all.”25 With their three new players, the Phillies would win a surprise pennant in 1983.
Texas GM Joe Klein wanted to add pitching and was willing to surrender one of his three coveted position players: third baseman Buddy Bell, catcher Jim Sundberg, or outfielder Larry Parrish. “We would like to add a quality starter,” Klein said. “We’ve got a good list of pitchers who are in competition for starting jobs and I’d feel confident picking two of them. I’m satisfied with Danny Darwin and Charlie Hough and we think we can pick two out of a list that includes Mike Smithson, Frank Tanana, John Butcher, Steve Comer, Rick Honeycutt, Jon Matlack, and Jim Farr. But rather than pick a fifth starter out of that group, I’d rather get a number-one or number-two starter in a trade, depending on what we can concoct.”26
And he almost did. Despite having two proven catchers on his squad in veteran Steve Yeager and youngster Mike Scioscia, Dodgers GM Al Campanis wanted a defensive stalwart behind the plate. “In this league, a catcher has to be able to throw well,” Campanis said. “A catcher can save you a lot of games. We’re not just going for a bat, we’re going for a lot of things.”27 Sundberg fit Campanis’s requirements perfectly, and Klein concocted a great deal: for Sundberg, Texas would receive right-handed pitchers Burt Hooton and Dave Stewart, plus another righty, Orel Hershiser (then in the high minors) and a minor-league outfielder. Unfortunately for the Rangers, Sundberg had some contractual stumbling blocks: he had a no-trade clause requiring a $250,000 buyout; he had the right under the collective-bargaining agreement to demand a trade after the 1983 season; and he wanted to renegotiate his contract, consolidating payments from the later years into a shorter term. Sundberg, the Rangers, and the Dodgers could not come to a mutually satisfactory solution, and the deal fell through.28
Klein was also working on a deal to send third baseman Buddy Bell to the Cardinals. St. Louis reportedly offered outfielder George Hendrick, pitcher Steve Mura, and third baseman Ken Oberkfell, but after several days of negotiating, no swap could be finalized. Frustrated Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog complained, “It’s amazing that a team can lose 100 games (Texas actually lost 98) and won’t make a deal. I feel sorry for people in baseball who have a million-dollar investment and don’t know what to do. You mean all these guys are content to go the same way next year? You go to the World Series and teams say, ‘Let’s wait for free agency before we make a deal.’ You go to the winter meetings and they say, ‘Let’s wait until the interleague trading period in the spring.’ They all think they’ve got pennant winners. I can’t believe they won’t get off their butts.”29
As always, a number of other almost fully-baked deals fizzled. The Reds hoped to land a big right-handed bat at the meetings, preferably San Francisco’s Jack Clark, but couldn’t work out a trade despite offering hurler Frank Pastore, second baseman Ron Oester, and outfielders Mike Vail and Duane Walker.30 The Mariners had apparently agreed to send second baseman Julio Cruz to Cleveland for first baseman Mark Hargrove before Cleveland landed Trillo in the Von Hayes blockbuster.31 Dodgers third baseman Ron Cey, whose contract would expire after the 1983 season, was also mentioned prominently in several rumored trades, but none came to fruition.
1 Bowie Kuhn Papers, Baseball Hall of Fame, S3-SS3-B6-F1; Stan Isle, “Kuhn Cites ‘Imperatives’ for Baseball,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 2.
2 Clifford Kachline, “Baseball Shocks Doomsayers, Attains New Popularity Heights,” Official Baseball Guide for 1983 (St. Louis: The Sporting News), 6.
3 Kachline, 8.
4 Kachline, 9-10.
5 Joint Meeting of the Major Leagues, December 9, 1982, Kuhn Papers Baseball Hall of Fame, S3-SS2-B2-F4; Dave Nightingale, “Owners Soak Up Sun, Spin Their Wheels,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 2.
6 Bowie Kuhn Papers, Baseball Hall of Fame, S1-SS1-B2-F8.
7 Joint Meeting of the Major Leagues, December 9, 1982, Kuhn Papers Baseball Hall of Fame, S3-SS2-B2-F4.
8 Ibid.; Dave Nightingale, “Owners Soak Up Sun, Spin Their Wheels.”
9 Nightingale, “Owners Soak Up Sun, Spin Their Wheels”; Kuhn Papers, Baseball Hall of Fame, S3-SS3-B5-F7.
10 Kuhn Papers, Baseball Hall of Fame, S3-SS3-B5-F7.
11 Joint Meeting of the Major Leagues, December 9, 1982; Kuhn Papers, Baseball Hall of Fame, S3-SS2-B2-F4.
12 Murray Chass, “Moreno Signs With the Astros,” New York Times, December 11, 1982.
13 “Honolulu Plays Host to Baseball,” Washington Post, December 5, 1982; “Yawns Replace Trades at Baseball Meetings,” Washington Post, December 12, 1982; Bill Conlin, “A Ho-Hum Session in Hawaii,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 50.
14 Jim Henneman, “O’s Plans Collapse as Kemp Escapes,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 52.
15 Jerome Holtzman, “Yankee Boss Pans Sox ‘Comedy Act,’” Chicago Tribune, December 15, 1982.
17 Charley Feeney, “Peterson Seething at Reich, Astros,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 59; Charley Feeney, “Agent Defends Work for Moreno,” The Sporting News, January 3, 1983: 32.
18 Kit Stier, “Lansford Plugs A’s Biggest Gap,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 53; Peter Gammons, “A’s, Bosox, Tribe Deals Look OK,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 50.
19 The Mets sent right-hander Charlie Puleo and two minor-league utilitymen — Lloyd McClendon and Jason Felice — to the Reds. Jack Lang, “Mets Tab Seaver For 10 to 15 Wins,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 59; Earl Lawson, “Puleo Could Win Reds Starting Job,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1982: 41; Jack Lang, “Exile Ends; Mets Welcome Seaver,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1982: 40.
20 “A Cracker Jack Replay,” Washington Post, December 1, 1982.
21 Peter Gammons, “A’s, Bosox, Tribe Deals Look OK”; Hal Bodley, “Hayes to Give Phillies Muscle,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 56.
22 Author interview with Pat Gillick, October 2, 2012.
23 Murray Chass, “Moreno Signs With the Astros,” New York Times, December 11, 1982.
24 “Morgan, Holland Go to Phillies,” Los Angeles Times, December 15, 1982; “Phils Fill a Void in Deal for Morgan,” Chicago Tribune, December 15, 1982.
25 Hal Bodley, “Phillies’ Wishes All Come True,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1982: 40.
26 Jim Reeves, “Rangers May Deal Parrish or Bell,” The Sporting News, December 13, 1982: 57.
27 Gordon Verrell, “Sundberg Trade for Hooton Off,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 58.
28 Ross Newhan, “Dodgers to Trade Hooton Plus 3 for Sundberg, Maybe,” Los Angeles Times, December 10, 1982; Jim Reeves, “Sundberg Swaps May Be Revived,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1982: 43; Jim Reeves, “Rangers May Deal Parrish or Bell”; Gordon Verrell, “Sundberg Trade for Hooton Off”; Jim Reeves, “Collapse of Deal Jolts the Rangers,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 54.
29 Rick Hummel, “Herzog Annoyed by Timid Traders,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 56.
30 Earl Lawson, “Reds Fall Short in Bid for Clark,” The Sporting News, December 20, 1982: 59.
31 Tracy Ringolsby, “M’s Are Seeking a Lefthanded Bat,” The Sporting News, December 27, 1982: 45.
Prior to the 1982 winter meetings, Oakland A’s President Roy Eisenhardt opined on the likelihood of trades: “There are two variables affecting trading, and they work in opposite directions. First, the complexity of trading has increased geometrically. You can’t sit down and talk trade anymore without a lawyer, an accountant and an interpreter. The other variable is the climate, literally, of the winter meetings. In Hawaii, there is a loose, easy-going climate. It’s a little different from the tension of sitting around during three rainy days in Dallas. It’ll be more relaxed, and that will have an effect. Honestly, the single factor most conducive to trading might be rum — mai tais and piña coladas.”1
Previous meetings in Hawaii resulted in plenty of action — 68 players involved in 19 trades in 1972, and 53 players involved in 22 trades in 1977.2 However, the 1982 meetings resulted in under 10 trades,3 consistent with the meetings from the previous year, which resulted in just 16 deals.4
1 Associated Press, “Baseball Winter Meetings Open Monday in Hawaii,” Shreveport (Louisiana) Times, December 5, 1982: 7.
3 Associated Press, “Seaver Heads Back to Mets,” Pensacola (Florida) News Journal, December 11, 1982: 13.
4 “Baseball Winter Meetings Open Monday in Hawaii.”
No Big Deal
While much excitement was taking place with the major leagues, John H. Johnson, president of the minor leagues, indicated that he didn’t expect much drama during the minors portion of the meetings. “There isn’t much legislation on the minor league side,” he said. “It’s the slimmest I have seen in a long time. Either things are going very well or we are in serious trouble.” He added, “We don’t have any restructuring problems that the major leagues have. We have just a few adjustments to make — you might say minor matters in the minor leagues.”1
1 Ferd Borsch, “Minors’ Business Won’t Take Long,” Honolulu Advertiser, December 1, 1982: 105.