Neyer: Free agent signings at baseball’s Winter Meetings

From SABR member Rob Neyer at The National Pastime Museum on December 25, 2017:

When baseball’s 1992 Winter Meetings convened in Louisville, there was panic in the air. In the previous season, attendance had fallen for 18 of the 26 existing Major League franchises. And according to Sports Illustrated’s Tim Kurkjian, “CBS and ESPN can’t wait to be free of their four-year, $1.5 billion commitment to televise baseball, which expires after next season.”

There were bigger problems. Major League Baseball was without a real commissioner, as Fay Vincent had essentially been forced from office a few months earlier, in the wake of various conflicts with his employers (the owners). When the Winter Meetings began, the owners still had not started the process for hiring Vincent’s replacement; in the interim, Brewers owner Bud Selig was serving as de facto commissioner—strictly on a temporary basis (you know how that turned out).

Meanwhile, a labor war seemed to be heating up, with revenues stagnant but salaries continuing their (seemingly) inexorable rise. Lefty relief pitcher Steve Howe, a seven-time violator of MLB’s drug policy, had just received a two-year contract—including a 250 percent raise—after a season in which he totaled 22 innings. And the owners would tell anyone willing to listen that something would have to give.

So Major League Baseball seemed on a collision course with . . . itself. And all the brakes and traffic signals were defective, or nonexistent.

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Originally published: December 28, 2017. Last Updated: December 28, 2017.