NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Bad weather around the country may have delayed what would have been a mass deluge of people into Gaylord Opryland. But the resulting steady trickle of baseball folks was in full force by Monday night, and the 106th annual Baseball Winter Meetings was finally in full swing with thousands of members of all levels of the professional baseball workforce scattered among the twinkling lights and fountains of Opryland.
While the big-league side waited breathlessly for the rumored trades of Johan Santana (never happened) and Miguel Cabrera (who went, with pitcher Dontrelle Willis, in an eight-player blockbuster deal to Detroit on Tuesday night which sent fans reeling and then scurrying to find more about the six top prospects heading to the Sunshine State), there was no lack of action on the Minor League side.
As is traditional, the official event kicked off Monday morning with the Opening Session, at which each league's Executive of the Year was honored and speeches were given on the state of the Minors.
That session was highlighted, though, by the farewell address delivered by outgoing Minor League Baseball president Mike Moore, who stepped down after 16 years at the helm. Moore took the podium to a standing ovation from a standing-room-only ballroom at Opryland, and he departed to the same.
In between, the 10th president in the 106-year history of the Minor Leagues shared how "humbled and honored" he has been to be one of that number.
During Moore's presidency, the Minors have enjoyed unprecedented growth and success, with record attendance figures each of the last several years, including 42.8 million fans passing through the gates in 2007.
Before Moore's speech, the group was addressed by his right-hand man Pat O'Conner, who was officially elected unanimously two days later as the 11th president of Minor League Baseball.
O'Conner reminded the crowd how far the Minors have come since Moore took office. And as he said, the results speak for themselves: attendance rising every year to an all-time high in '07, a two-fold increase in net income between 1994 and 2006, labor peace in the sport and more than 100 new stadiums with more on the horizon.
But O'Conner urged everyone to look to the future to maximize the possibilities even more, and he looks forward to leading that charge.
"Respecting the past, we will not rest on our laurels," he said. "We will continue to vigorously pursue marketing opportunities at the league, classification and national levels while we look to capitalize on our popularity, affordability and appeal on Madison Avenue."
While there was no shortage of trades, both of the blockbuster style of the Cabrera/Willis deal and smaller more utilitarian swaps, the biggest single change-of-address-fest came early Thursday morning at the annual Rule 5 Draft.
It was a pitcher-heavy affair in which only four of the 18 players selected in the Major League phase were position players, and there were just two in the first round.
Both of those first-round hitters came from the loaded Cleveland Indians organization, as 2002 first-rounder Matt Whitney, who had 32 homers and 113 RBIs at Class A Lake County and Class A Advanced Kinston this past season, was taken by the Washington Nationals, while high-ceiling power-speed package outfielder Brian Barton, whose recent knee surgery probably kept him from going with the first overall pick, was taken 10th by the St. Louis Cardinals, who released veteran outfielder So Taguchi the day before in order to clear a roster spot for Barton.
Overall, including the Minor League phase of the draft, 60 players were selected.
The first pick made was pitcher Tim Lahey, a catcher-turned-reliever from the Minnesota Twins organization officially taken by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who then dealt him to the Chicago Cubs in a prearranged deal for cash considerations.
Six of the 60 players were taken from the Twins organization, who led the draft in players selected.
Throughout the four-day extravaganza, while business was getting done, players were being signed and trades were getting made (and not made), there were honors being bestowed around the industry as the presence of thousands of baseball's executives at all levels congregated to give just due to their colleagues and co-workers at different levels.
Among the awards handed out:
The Arizona Fall League waited a few weeks after the end of the season to give its Joe Black Most Valuable Player award to Chicago Cubs outfielder Sam Fuld. Fuld, who also received the league's Dernell Stenson Award for leadership, hit .402 and led the league in hits (43), doubles (11), on-base percentage (.492), slugging percentage (.626), OPS (1.118) and extra-base hits (16).
Kansas City Royals farmhand Craig Brazell received a trophy and a check for $7,800, $200 for each of the Minor League-leading 39 homers he blasted en route to the Joe Bauman Round-Tripper Award after leading the Minors with 39 homers. Ironically, Brazell followed up that award by receiving something of a round trip (or at least a halfway-around-the-world trip) ticket to Japan, signing with the Seibu Lions of the Japanese Pacific League. Last year's Bauman winner, Kevin Witt, also headed to Japan in the subsequent season.
Four scouts were honored by their peers as Scout of the Year at the 24th annual award ceremony for that fraternity: Sandy Johnson of the New York Mets received the group's Director Award; Tom "T-Bone" Giordano was named East Coast Scout of the Year; Jim Walton of the Major League Scouting Bureau was named Midwest Scout of the Year; and Ed Sukla, also of the MLSB, was the West Coast Scout of the Year.
Shari Massengill, the general manager of the Kinston Indians, was Rawlings' Woman Executive of the Year; given annually since 1976 to the woman executive who made an outstanding contribution to her club, league or to baseball.
The "big three" awards were handed out at Thursday night's closing banquet.
The Class A West Michigan Whitecaps (Tigers) received the Larry MacPhail Trophy for promotional creativity in the community.
The Double-A Midland RockHounds received the coveted John H. Johnson Award for overall excellence, sort of the "Best in Show" award for a team.
And finally, John Henry Moss of the South Atlantic League received the Warren Giles Award given annually to an outstanding league president. Moss, like Moore, is stepping down at the end of the calendar year, in his case after 60 years as league president.
The esteemed pair of Moore and Moss also was honored Tuesday night at a reception hosted by the Office of the Commissioner at Nashville restaurant Sambucca. In a moving speech by Jimmie Lee Solomon, executive vice president for baseball operations, who credited both gentlemen with helping him learn the ropes when he joined the organization, announced both men had received lifetime passes for themselves and guests for any Major League games they chose to attend. Hopefully, with plenty of spare time in their respective retirements, they will be able to kick back and enjoy games without looking at them as work.
As the participants straggled out Thursday night, heading to their cars or the Nashville Airport with their "goodie bags" full of promotional items from the huge trade show for them and their kids, there was a definite anticipatory sense when they said farewell to their friends with a "See you next year!"
In 2008, for the first time in the event's 107-year history, the Winter Meetings will take place in Las Vegas.