One of Roland Hemond's claims to fame is his performance at the 1970 winter meetings, where he moved 16 players in the first 18 hours. Twenty years later, it's impossible to imagine a trading frenzy of that sort taking place again.
Given the choice, the Orioles' energetic Hemond might try for an encore of his first convention as general manager of the Chicago White Sox, but he'd surely be ignored. It's a different game now, a game in which medical experts and financial analysts often give their input on trades.
The winter meetings? Once they were baseball's version of a flea market, a bustling, rip-roaring affair. Now they resemble a high-priced thoroughbred auction, with agents playing the roles of breeders and owners playing the roles of Arab sheiks.
As for the atmosphere this year, Orioles president Larry Lucchino predicted, "I think it will be a free-agent marketplace. There'll be agents doing a lot of serious shopping. It'll be sort of a convenient mart for them."
A $6 million slugger here, a $10 million pitcher there, Big Gulps for everyone! The meetings begin tomorrow in Chicago and continue through Wednesday. Last year there were 23 free-agent signings and five trades. This year it might be even more of a rout.
Where does that leave the Orioles? Probably on the outside looking in. Granted, they've made offers to two free agents, lefthander Matt Young and first baseman/outfielder Franklin Stubbs. But it's possible neither player will reach his decision at the meetings.
The Orioles' needs are well-documented -- a veteran starter (Young?), a power hitter (Stubbs?) and a hard-throwing lefthanded reliever (who knows?). But club officials recognize they might not accomplish their objectives immediately, if at all.
"You'd like to get things done, get it out of the way, be settled by spring training," manager Frank Robinson said yesterday from his Los Angeles home. "But it's not imperative to do it now."
The Orioles have been trying to swing a deal since the end of the season, but the first two players they sought -- Boston outfielder Mike Greenwell and Philadelphia outfielder Von Hayes -- will be either unavailable or unattainable.
Right now, few clubs are prepared to talk trade, so never mind the extra time for exchanging ideas without the presence of the minor leagues, who are convening in Los Angeles. More than 90 free agents remain unsigned, and another 16 are possible under the collusion settlement.
"In some cases, it's obvious clubs are waiting," Hemond said. "That doesn't mean you don't stay with it, just in case they have a change of heart, or you can get their attention."
Wish Hemond luck.
The Orioles too.
First off, the competition for both Young and Stubbs will be stiff. Young is believed to have several offers from other clubs, including Detroit and Boston. Stubbs has received three-year offers from two teams besides the Orioles; one is believed to be Atlanta.
The Orioles have other free-agent options -- Tom Brunansky and Candy Maldonado instead of Stubbs, Bill Krueger and Don Carman instead of Young. But in the first case, the price might be higher. In the second, the quality would be lower.
All this could develop into a problem because the Orioles lack proven talent, the type necessary to complete impact trades. Shortstop Cal Ripken, of course, is untouchable. So are pitchers Ben McDonald and Gregg Olson.
Everyone else on the staff figures to be available, and second-year righthander Pete Harnisch and setup man Mark Williamson are likely to command attention. The top two starters from 1989, Bob Milacki and Jeff Ballard, will not. Both are coming off arm trouble.
Elsewhere, the Orioles could deal one of their young outfielders (Steve Finley, Mike Devereaux, Brady Anderson) and one of their young third basemen (Craig Worthington or Leo Gomez). But none of those players would yield much in return unless included in a package.
One sure-fire way for the Orioles to acquire a player is in Monday's major-league draft, in which they will select 10th. The club has made selections each of the three years Hemond has been GM (pitchers Jose Bautista and "Texas" Mike Smith and infielder Marty Brown).
None has attained major-league success -- Bautista and Smith spent most of last season at Triple A, and Brown recently was traded to Cleveland. But the draft price is only $50,000, and remember, this is the way Toronto acquired George Bell.
The Orioles, of course, would prefer to leave the meetings with more than simply a player who was left off another club's 40-man roster. But as Hemond said, in classic understatement, "It's gotten a little more complicated the last few conventions."
Of course, there are those who see it otherwise.
"I'm seriously thinking about not going," said agent Craig Fenech, who represents free-agent pitcher Dave Schmidt, a former Oriole. "I don't want to sit on my butt out there and do nothing. I might just stay here and use the phone.
"You know baseball. It's a domino effect. Very few guys step up and do it. They all treat this stuff like it's nuclear physics. It cracks me up. What's so difficult? Either you're interested or not. Either we can make a deal or not."
Right. Just like that.