Baseball survived 'crisis' of 2000

Yankees batter Alex Rodriguez reacts after striking out against the Tigers at Yankee Stadium in New...

Yankees batter Alex Rodriguez reacts after striking out against the Tigers at Yankee Stadium in New York, N.Y., Oct. 6, 2011. (MIKE SEGAR/Retuers)

BOB ELLIOTT, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:31 PM ET

TORONTO - The lights were shining brightly inside.

Yet, it was a dark, dark day for baseball.

Everyone said so.

Sandy Alderson, executive vice president of Major League Baseball, was admittedly “stupefied,” inside the Loews Anatole Hotel in Dallas at the 2000 winter meetings.

It was 11 years ago that Alderson said that free-agent contract numbers were “beyond alarming,” and the industry was “in crisis.”

The Colorado Rockies signed lefty Mike Hampton to an eight-year $121-million US deal.

Two days later, the Texas Rangers gave Alex Rodriguez that 10-year, $252-million deal.

“In two days, we’ve doubled the highest salary,” Alderson told reporters. “I don’t like the exponentiality of that. It’s a straight upward trend and doesn’t augur well, at all. Every club will be affected.”

As if on cue, Arlington, Tex., was hit by a freak ice storm — the wrath of Walter Johnson, Ty Cobb, Joe Jackson and all those other Field of Dreams guys? — as Rodriguez and the Rangers left the Ballpark at Arlington where the official signing was announced.

The ice storm, meanwhile, took most cabs off the road and those on it were doubling the fare on the metre — A-Rod specials.)

Owners of the other 28 teams left Dallas predicting doom, a work stoppage and the end of the industry.

Most of the same owners, agents and executives — including Alderson, now general manager of the New York Mets — arrive at the same hotel, now the Hilton Anatole, this weekend.

There are 1,606 rooms in the Anatole — and likely three trade rumours for each one — which sits on 45 acres in south Dallas.

The GMs and the agents find the game in better shape than ever: A new Basic Agreement earlier this month ensures 21 consecutive years of labour peace since the end of the 1994-95. This after the NBA had its season reduced to 66 games and the NFL pre-season was disrupted by labour strife.

They find that, since 2000, only two contracts have been worth more than Rodriguez’s $25 million: His own $32-million extension and Vernon Wells of the Los Angeles Angels ($26 million).

They find that the average player salary has climbed from $1.998 million in 2000 to $3.305 million this season.

The industry, which had $3.4 billion in revenue in 2000, is now up to $7 billion.

Nolan Ryan, the first million-player in the game, is now president of the Rangers.

His team will be paid $1 million per game by FOX Southwest in 2015, the start of a 20-year contract extension, proving once again that they do things big in Texas.

Will Ryan spend some of that cash to retain lefty C.J. Wilson, the top free-agent starter on the market? Jays scouts were at eight of his starts this season. Or will the Rangers pursue first baseman Prince Fielder?

Where will White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle? The Jays are one of 14 teams in the hunt.

The week of the winter meetings is always a giddy one if you are following your team.

Years ago, Arizona Diamondbacks executive Roland Hemond, now 82, told us what the week of the winter meetings meant to him as a youngster counting the days until “pitcher and catchers report.”

“It’s great to be a ball fan this week,” Hemond said. “I can remember running home from school to read the paper about what my team was trying do, then reading different proposed trades in the other paper and then going outdoors to argue with my friends which would be the best move to make.”

Nothing has changed.

IT’S 1995 AGAIN

Will this be an off-season similar to 16 years ago when the Blue Jays lost both Al Leiter and Devon White — the first time they ever lost a free agent they wanted to keep — to the Florida Marlins, who went on to win the World Series in 1997?

Besides signing former San Diego closer Heath Bell on Friday, the Marlins have made offers to shortstop Jose Reyes, plus first baseman Albert Pujols and Buehrle as they prepare to move into their new stadium.

NO OMAR

Omar Minaya, no longer being paid to be the general manager of the New York Mets, and ready to work again, had discussions with the Jays. Yet, the former GM of the Montreal Expos where Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos learned to scout, won’t be joining the Jays. Reports indicate Minaya will be hired by San Diego Padres as a vice-president of baseball operations.


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