All I wanted was one rumor.
There are reasons for a baseball writer like me to be at the Winter Meetings, I promise. I'm not connected, not a beat writer, not someone who breaks news, but there's the networking. Putting faces to names. Interacting with colleagues and peers. Those are all different euphemisms for "drinking," sure, but it's all valuable professional experience.
I also wanted to be the person releasing a caged rumor out into the wild. It didn't matter if it was Max Scherzer signing with the Blue Jays or David Huff signing with the Orix Buffaloes. I wanted to be the first one to tweet something like this:
Because what's the point of the Winter Meetings without getting your very own scoop? It's like spending the week at Disneyland without going on a single ride. I sidled up to an agent in a bar on Sunday night-- scouts say I'm a 60 sidler, 70 potential -- and told him my dream. If a minor deal fell into his lap, he agreed to consider the possibility of maybe texting me, no promises. Walking back through the lobby, there were reporters zipping around, furiously pounding out texts and tweets.
I wanted to be one of those rumor jockeys. I wanted the rush of adrenaline that comes with knowing that Baseball Twitter is wildly scurrying around like confused ants -- tweet-antennae rubbing against other tweet-antennae before they all scurry off to repeat the process indefinitely.
All I wanted was one rumor.
Here's what I got instead: A room of 288 chairs and weapons-grade overhead lighting.
The lights from above met the light from the collective laptops and opened a portal through time. I couldn't go through the portal, though. I had to stare at TweetDeck. Lookin' for rumors.
Jon Lester is leaning toward the Cubs.
Jon Lester is leaning toward the Giants.
Jon Lester is leaning toward the Red Sox.
Jon Lester is leaning toward the Greenwich meridian. Says it "calms him."
Jon Lester fell over. Because of the leaning.
Source: Multiple people helped Jon Lester get up.
Again, 288 chairs and long, long tables, about 80 percent of the seats filled with writers during peak hours. That's not including the scores and scores of good folks who work for MLB.com and are sequestered in their own area. We're all watching the same accounts manically, with all the rumors careening off each other into space.
The air conditioning system would periodically shake as if Mothra were attacking the hotel -- literal trade rumblings. The people sending the best rumor tweets are within a square mile of the room, but that's about the only difference from what I'm used to. I'm not the one working hard to get the rumors. I'm dependent on the slow trickle of rumor nectar.
Rumors are nonsense. Rumors are life. The best part about instant gratification is that it comes right away.
Here's what baseball rumors used to look like:
The trading deadline passed with B.J. Surhoff being the biggest name to move on Monday. But there was nearly a four-team blockbuster that transpired. The trade that almost was took work and creativity. "And," added a fifth general manager who wasn't in on the entanglement, "it took the usual suspects -- Jim Bowden, Billy Beane, Dan O'Dowd and Gord Ash. They, Steve Phillips, Brian Cashman, Doug Melvin and one or two others are in on everything."
That came from the master, Peter Gammons. If you haven't been through his archives in a while, it's a fun jaunt:
The Tigers have discussed right-handed reliever Matt Anderson in talks about Johnny Damon, but they would prefer holding on to Anderson.
Can't believe that Tigers team fell on hard times.
Rumors used to be something to savor. Here's the archive. Now look for the one from the day of the trading deadline. It's not there. The best whisper-catcher in the business back then didn't have 53 posts the day of the deadline. He had rumors after the fact, and more than a few before the fact, but it wasn't pure saturation. Just as good were the rumors in the various Baseball Weekly columns that would live next to your bed (or, you know, toilet) for a week. The rumors wouldn't change, but you would keep going back to them.
Basically, I had to walk uphill in the snow to get my rumors, and you punk kids can't appreciate them the same way.
The agent never texted me. Probably should have just sent that Zito tweet out, just to be sure people saw it.
You want to know the truth? I got tons of scoops. That's the worst part.
Within an hour of getting to the bar on Sunday, I met someone reputable telling me of an offer the Nationals supposedly made, involving two excellent players, four major leaguers total, that was rejected by the other team. It would have been a helluva rumor. It would have been something I could have written 2,000 words on with a big ol' smile on my face. It could have been a tweet that would have made ripples for five, maybe six, minutes. Can you imagine?
Except it was off the record.
"You can't say anything because it will get people fired."
"Who? Do I know them?"
"Seriously, you can't."
"Are the people who would get fired nice people?"
Everything is off the record. I heard about players who were probably traded because their teams didn't want to deal with a 50-game suspension in the middle of next season. I heard about players who really, really liked to smoke weed (from one of their agents). And I heard Lester to the Cubs about 600 times before it happened.
I mentioned to one rumormonger that I'd just finished a pair of Lester pre-writes -- one with him signing with the Giants, and one with him spurning them -- and he said I should just save time and delete the former, then change all the (team) placeholders to the Cubs and all the (terms) to six years, $155 million in the latter. This was about two hours before the story broke. A tweet that read as much would have picked up a little traction. There would have been endorphins involved. It would have been sweet, sweet instant gratification.
The second you violate that trust, though, you've only hurt your own reputation. I'm not good at this stuff. I'm a tourist. I don't want to be known as the noob with the itchy tweeter fingers. So I shut up with everything. You would, too.
Which makes you realize that the rumors that escape are usually the ones that are supposed to escape. That doesn't have to be cynical -- there are probably more than a few "What's the harm?" leaks, more than a few "I respect this writer, so here's a favor" leaks. But there are also "I have clear ulterior motives" leaks. It's just good business, on both sides. An agent who represents a client getting zero interest might let it slip that he's getting interest from three teams, hoping to construct his own reality. A team frustrated with a target's asking price might let it slip that, well, it doesn't matter because they have interest in several other free agents at the same position, even if that's not quite true.
You know this. I know this. We all retweet the juiciest rumors anyway.
What's the allure of a rumor? Why do we need several hundred of them a day? Why did MLB Trade Rumors become a phenomenon and industry staple?
I have a couple theories, and they aren't mutually exclusive.
The first one has to do with being first, having the scoop, knowing the things that other people don't. It's an odd form of power. If I had to guess, this would be the category that excites the new wave of rumor zygotes. The idea of being first, of making news, combined with growing up a baseball fan, is a powerful combination.
The second theory is the one that more applies to me. It's where I'm going to guess you are, too. This is where each rumor becomes a window into an alternate baseball universe.
Take something that Bill Shaikin wrote about the Dodgers outfielders earlier this month. The Giants get an incidental mention.
What teams are looking for outfielders?
The Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles and San Diego Padres, are all linked to Kemp, and maybe the San Francisco Giants if they cannot sign Headley to replace Sandoval at third base.
With that mere fragment of association, my mind starts racing. Kemp on the Giants. Kemp in AT&T Park. How's the defense going to hold up? How much ground would he have to cover? He's a strong enough hitter to make the park something of a non-factor. What about the contract? Would the Dodgers eat money? Would the Dodgers even trade with the Giants? How old is Kemp? What sort of knee problems did he have again? Let me see those second-half stats again.
It's not like there's baseball to distract me.
Assigning new homes for 7 remaining free agents
With Jon Lester off the market, everything else is about to fall into place. We saved you time and assigned remaining free agents to their new teams.
The scenarios start spreading out like fractals, permutations of what my favorite team will or will not be. The more rumors, the better. A team with 50 active rumors is a team with fans surfing on the multiverse. Everything is possible. Everything is possible.
Rumors make you think about the baseball that could happen. The baseball that will happen. You're taking your own opinions, your own biases, and you're writing your own script. Here's how baseball will go if this move goes down. Here's what will happen. It's a Dead Zone-flash of precognition prompted by 140 characters.
It's easy to be dismissive when you're in the middle of Lester to the Giants to the Cubs to the Red Sox to the Dodgers to the Yankees to the Cubs. But we're rumor addicts for a reason. This is all the baseball we have right now. We do it in the middle of the season, too. At the end of July, fans of the bad teams are thinking about the ways this rumor leads to the sunny pastures of the distant future. The fans of the good teams are thinking about the confetti-strewn pastures of the near future.
It's not as fun when I'm ⌘-tabbing ⌘-tabbing ⌘-tabbing between browser windows, switching between tabs, desperately waiting for something I'm not sure exists, hunting for something as frivolous as the next trade rumor. But when a rumor makes me stop and think about baseball, well, that's kind of the point. And it'll do until the real baseball gets here.
The first day, I stalked the lobby, shy as all heck, but confident because I smelled like the ginger-tea shampoo that my hotel gave me. Maybe that's why everyone is so confident around here. I smelled delightful. I saw people, met people, and hoped to hunt down my precious rumor. My precious scoop.
When I got back to my room, I found out that my uncomfortable khakis still had the "32x30 PLAIN FRONT" sticker from the store. It was stuck right on my ass. I'm not good at this.
Luckily other people are. Rumors are the worst. Long live rumors.