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Look Back: 91′ Winter Meetings

By Mike Silva ~ December 16th, 2009. Filed under: NY Baseball Memories.

I came across an old article by Tim Kurkjian, then of Sports Illustrated, from December 16th, 1991 that previewed the 1991 MLB Winter Meetings in Miami Beach.

For all the time that’s passed there was a common opening theme: a big market team throwing the game’s salary structure into chaos. I am not talking about the Yankees, but the team across town: the New York Mets.

Then general manager Al Harazin signed two big bats for the Mets lineup. Bobby Bonilla and Eddie Murray inked deals for a total of $36.5 million dollars. In 1991 dollars that paid for a starting first baseman and outfielder. Today that will get you Randy Wolf and his career 4.13 ERA.

Concerns about free agents haven’t changed very much in two decades. There is also a good amount of “anonymous” sources cited throughout the piece so for those fighting for rumor mill legislation please stop reading now.

One former Pittsburgh teammate had these words that foreshadowed Bonilla’s tenure in New York:

“He’s no Darryl Strawberry,” says a former Pittsburgh teammate. “He won’t hit 35 homers and carry a team. Bobby’s a good player; he’s probably in the top 20 in baseball. But he’s not close to Bonds.”

On the topic of Bonilla improving the Mets clubhouse chemistry:

“Bobby’s kind of a phony,” the source says. “I almost threw up when I heard him say all he wanted to do was go home [to his native New York City] to play. He went for the money. His contract was all he talked about all last year. We’ll miss him, but in a way we’re glad he’s gone.”

A scout chimed in on the Murray signing citing concerns for his defense and the need to get in better shape. Ultimately he believed Murray was looking to prove the Dodgers wrong for not offering him a multiyear deal. Murray wasn’t exactly a fan or media darling during his two years in Queens, but he put up decent numbers both seasons, including one of his six 100 RBI seasons.

Another interesting piece of dialogue was the rumor mill. The Mets were looking to add pitching and had their sights set on the Royals Kevin Appier. He, of course, would become a Met, but not until after the 2000 season when Steve Phillips signed a 33 year old Appier to replace Mike Hampton in the NL Champs rotation. Funny how an anonymous KC source said they would be willing to talk about their pitchers if the Mets included Jefferies in a deal. They wound up stepping up from Appier and acquiring former Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen for Keith Miller, Kevin McReynolds (and his cumbersome 3 year/$10 million dollar deal), and Gregg Jefferies. If not for the off the field nonsense, people may remember Saberhagen as one of the lone bright spots for the “worst team money can buy.”

I always felt that how bad Jefferies play at second base was overrated. This quote by former Mets executive Joe McIlvaine tells me my memory might be fuzzy:

But he’s a bad third baseman and a horrible second baseman: bad hands, bad feet, bad instincts. “His lower half is not conducive to playing second”

You might be asking where the New York Yankees are. Am I reading a fairy tale of a universe where the Mets are the big spenders and the Yankees are persona non grata? Yes the Mets are the big team in town and the Yankees are in chaos. It appears the main topic in the Bronx is the return of George Steinbrenner from his suspension. We all know how that turned out positively for the Bombers as it gave Gene Michael the chance to rebuild and maintain a farm system that would yield Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, and Bernie Williams.

The Yanks would make news after the New Year signing what could have been the best hitter on the 91′ free agent market: Danny Tartabull. In 91′ Tartabull had an OPS a shade under a 1000 and had better offensive numbers over a five year span than Bonilla. Although his Yankees career gets lost, he was pretty solid until he declined in 1995 and eventually was traded for Ruben Sierra.

Nearly 20 years have passed since this article was published. Ironically we are talking about many of the same issues: economics of the game, overpaying for past prime free agents, clubhouse chemistry, and bloated contracts. You even had anonymous sources in the story, a couple who turned out to be correct. I think the McIlvaine quote about Jefferies is interesting because that probably would be headline news if stated today. I can see it now- “former Mets exec says Jefferies can’t play second base.”

The more things change in the game of baseball, the more it stays the same.

Mike Silva is a freelance writer and radio host since March of 2007. This website is his own personal "digest" of New York Baseball He's also hosts NYBD Radio on Blog Talk Radio and 1240 AM WGBB. Check out his sports media commentary at www.sportsmediawatchdog.com. Check out his official website, www.mikesilvamedia.com
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