MLB's Hot Stove: A Personal Take on the Winter Meetings

Posted on December 10, 2013 by Ben Bruno

As we walked through the crowded casino floor of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas looking for an empty blackjack table to sit down and talk, I never imagined this was how my first interview for a position in Major League Baseball would start out. But surprise would be an ongoing theme for the entire weekend. Welcome to the annual Winter Meetings.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Winter Meetings, every December, representatives from each MLB team gather at a venue (usually a hotel) to renew relationships and actually do business. It is here where many player transactions and trades are made. Besides all the general managers, managers, company reps, and press, many players also attend, as well as trade show exhibitors, job seekers, and general gawkers. There is also a Job Fair mainly for positions with one of the more than 160 minor league teams. At any given moment then, the lobby of the hotel hosting the meetings can be packed with a "Who's Who" of the professional baseball world. 

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I attended the meetings in Las Vegas in 2008, and again a year later in Indianapolis, with the purpose of landing a job in the front office of a MLB team. I had set up interviews prior to attending by contacting MLB teams via email ahead of time, and hoped to have even more contacts once I was there. But while I had confirmed interviews, what wasn't certain was specifically where they would take place. Thinking back, I guess I imagined that they would be held in a conference room with some kind of organized setup, but I could not have been more wrong. Interviews took place almost on the fly, wherever there was open space, and this leads us back to the blackjack table.

Usually, I would receive a phone call right about the time of the meeting and was able to find my interviewer this way. "I'm standing by the front desk," he might say. After exchanging pleasantries, the next words usually were, "Ok. Let's find a place to sit down." From there, we would wander until we found two empty chairs or, as in the case with Las Vegas, an empty blackjack table. Having to talk seriously about baseball while also trying to sell myself as best I could, while also surrounded by the excited buzz and bright lights of a casino, was not the easiest thing in the world. Although distracting and more than a little odd, it did, however, lend our back-and-forth a more relaxed tone since we weren’t sitting in a stuffy office or quiet conference room. It was actually pretty cool.

Contrary to what I had imagined, not a single person who interviewed me came off as arrogant or acted like I was wasting his time, even if I had no realistic shot at landing the position in discussion. In point of fact, it's incredibly difficult to secure a permanent position in MLB, and I sensed that the people with whom I interviewed -- who had somehow actually landed such positions -- were not only aware of their luck but also respectful of anyone making a serious attempt to do the same.  Many were not much older than I was.

The people conducting the interviews were not in attendance for that sole purpose and had many other responsibilities as part of their everyday jobs. This meant that time was precious, so I had to jump at any chance I had to meet with a potential employer, regardless of where or when they wanted to meet. For instance, after a long day of interviewing in Vegas, I was asleep in my hotel room when my cell phone rang at about 1 AM. I luckily awoke to the ring and after answering, I was shocked to hear the voice on the other end asking if I could meet for an interview. Without hesitation I said yes, (no opportunity wasted, right?) and threw my crumpled suit back on and went off to the interview with sleep probably still in the corner of my eyes. While this was yet another surprising moment, things were a bit more predictable at the minor league Job Fair.

I found the interview process for MLB to be very different from that of the minor leagues. The vast majority of positions listed at the Job Fair are for employment with minor league teams. Any MLB positions they do list are seldom for positions in the front office or even related to baseball operations, so they didn't interest me. Once however, when I had some down time, I decided to check out the Job Fair and discovered how chaotic it can be. Unlike MLB interviews that are arranged ahead of time, the minor's Job Fair system consisted of candidates literally "signing-up" for a position they were interested in by writing their name down on a list and submitting a hard copy of their resume. Then it was watchful waiting. If an interviewer was interested in you for a certain position, he would call you. Otherwise, nothing but sitting and waiting. I quickly realized that for someone with my interests (MLB), it was a waste of time, so I gave up and headed back to the lobby, which is where all of the interesting action was taking place.

My reasons for attending these meetings were strictly professional, but I could understand why someone would want to go just as a fan. Simply by sitting in the hotel lobby all day you could see some of baseball's glitterati and many highly recognizable faces. "Isn't that Theo Epstein?" And if a large crowd suddenly concentrated in one area, it generally meant there was someone important, or at least newsworthy, in the middle, followed invariably and closely by the likes of Ken Rosenthal, a writer/reporter for Fox and the MLB Network. (Seeing him in person, his listed height of 5'5" seems very generous.) A perfect example of one of these media magnets was Bobby Cox. While attending the meetings in Indianapolis, I remember having to move out of the way of a large group in a circular formation walking toward me. At its center was the Braves manager, who basically had a human ring of people around him as a buffer. I would probably employ a similar tactic if I were being constantly swarmed by media.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Charlie Manuel, on the other hand, didn't seem to have this problem. On one of my last days in Vegas, I had finished all of my interviews and decided to have lunch at the buffet at the Bellagio hotel. As I eyed my food options, I looked up and noticed Manuel standing alone and staring at what I remember to be crab legs. The funny thing about seeing him there is that even a person as tuned into the baseball world as I was almost did not recognize him. He looked like a refugee from a retirement home who was either a) confused about how you eat crab legs, or b) confused about where he was in general. It seemed shocking to realize that this was the man who led the Phillies to a World Series victory that same year, and thinking back on it now, it makes me a little sad that he's not still managing the Phillies today.

Altogether, the Winter Meetings are an exciting time for both baseball fans and individuals interested in obtaining a job - even though the competition is fierce and the odds are slim. While the venue itself changes from year to year, the buzz that accompanies it is always the same, with sightings, signings, trades, and rumors. Weather and location-wise, my first time attending could not have been any more different than my second time, as I went from the warmth of the desert sun and bright lights of Vegas, to the snow, bitter cold, and drab surroundings of Indianapolis.

After Vegas I spent a season in Cincinnati working as an intern in the Reds' Baseball Operations Department and focusing on advanced video scouting, and after Indy I declined some middling offers and moved out of baseball for good. But that's another story. Such is the fate of a wannabe employee in the baseball world, where "entry-level" positions are usually low-paying internships that last only one year. The following year, the cycle of interviewing at the Winter Meetings and finding a new internship is repeated until one day maybe, with a little bit of luck and more connections, something finally clicks.

This month, the Winter Meetings are shifting toward the glitzy side once again, with four days at the Walt Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Florida. But whether glitzy or workmanlike, the locale does not really affect the hopeful energy and excitement that surrounds the Winter Meetings, meaning that baseball will be back in just a few short months.

next up:

Caught Stealing: New York Mets

December 09, 2013

Which of these three players would you want the Nats to steal from the New York Mets?


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