Keeping news quiet at the winter meetings until announcement time is pretty near impossible. Once more than one person knows, news travels like a wild fire.
30 years ago we dominated the news at the winter meetings that were held in Orlando. It was a Tuesday and the date was December 5, five days after we announced that Pete Rose wouldn’t be coming to the Phillies via free agency (reported $2.1 million over 3 years).
As Rose was leaving Philly, we had presented him with 2 dozen red roses for his wife, Phillie Phanatic dolls for their children and a Phillies jersey #14 with Rose on the back. Rose continued on to Atlanta, Kansas City and St. Louis listening to offers.
Bill Giles, then our Executive VP, came up with a plan for a fourth year, believing that ticket sales and TV revenue would provide the dollars. Rose verbally agreed to the deal.
The night before the big announcement, my phone rang and rang in the room with media inquiries about the rumor that we were about to sign Pete. Cell phones and e-mails didn’t exist back then. I know, that’s hard to believe in today’s world of instant communication.
Finally, exiting the room was the only way to escape the constant ringing. I took a back stairway, rather than the elevator. Didn’t want to make an appearance in the lobby but felt the stairway would lead to a more private location on the ground floor. Perhaps I could hide in the ladies room.
Upon opening the door, Al Meltzer, then the sports director of WCAU TV in Philly, surprised me, “Fancy meeting you. Any truth the rumor?” I don’t recall my response.
The next day Rose was at the winter meetings for a jam-packed press conference. Pete had agreed to a 4-year, $3.2 million contract (New York Times, 12/6/78), making him the highest-paid player in the game. Pete, in his own way, described the money: “You could stack the money up and a show dog couldn’t jump over it.”
Rose’s $800,000 contract pushed our 1979 payroll to $4.2 million, then a major league record. How the times have changed.