BOSTON -- Hello there, Lou Gorman. Here's a simple question.
When's the last day you are absolutely certain went by without a conversation with an agent?
"Um, I'd have to say . . . Christmas Day. No, wait a minute. New Year's. That's it. New Year's Day."
The man is totally serious.
"Before that," ponders Gorman, "you'd have to go back to October sometime. November was heavy. December was very heavy."
Agents are Lou's life. Requests. Demands. Proposals. Counter-proposals. The Red Sox general manager finds himself immersed in the tedium of negotiation, casually throwing around figures that once upon a time would have had no real meaning either to the little baseball-mad boy who grew up in Providence or to the former farm, personnel director and general manager of the Orioles, Royals, Mariners and Mets. The tenor of his daily business life has changed dramatically even since he came into the employ of the Red Sox, seven frantic years ago.
Increments in baseball were once in the hundreds of dollars. Then it was thousands, followed by tens and hundreds of thousands. In 1991, thanks largely to arbitration or the threat of arbitration, good-but-not-great players can get raises of more than $1 million from the previous year. Now Lou has personally negotiated the Big Enchilada of all baseball contracts -- for the time being (the excited voice in the background belongs to Doc Gooden). Red Sox senior vice president and general manager James (Lou) Gorman has represented the Red Sox' interests in the Roger Clemens case.
"It is personally difficult to relate to those kinds of dollars," he said of the deal that could pay Clemens in excess of $26 million over five years. "My hand shook."
The money is beyond all our comprehension, of course. Some people have expressed outrage, as if it had come from their pocket. Others will always express moral objections to the salaries paid athletes and entertainers. Gorman lives in the Real World, however. He's got a job to do, and he did it. That's the way he sees it.
"If Clemens had walked away and all we got in return was a high school draft choice," he says, "people would have hung both ownership and me in effigy." And in this particular case, Effigy may very well have been a section of Newton.
You think it was fun, haggling with the Brothers Hendricks over a franchise player? You think there weren't moments when Lou Gorman, among the most decent and affable of God's creatures, wasn't prepared to junk it all and join forces with the Trappists, maybe learn how to make some jelly and a little vino? It most certainly was not fun. In fact, that three-letter word has almost been expunged from Gorman's consciousness. This job is now officially horrible. It is the Raymond Bourque, the Larry Bird the, yes, Roger Clemens of ulcer-carriers.
"The Clemens negotiations were tough," Gorman acknowledges. "We pounded it out, starting in early November. It was a big, big relief to get it done. People questioned whether or not we were truly committed to winning. They can't say that now."
And no sooner did he get it done than the industry sniping began. According to other team executives, Lou and the Red Sox have gone mad. "I can't worry about that," Gorman says. "I can only worry about the Boston Red Sox."
Was San Francisco's Al Rosen concerned about Lou when Rosen inked Bud Black, who has had a career of mediocrity, to a four-year, $10 million deal while Gorman was on the verge of reeling in the valuable Mike Boddicker ($4.7 million for two sitting on the table)? Yeah, right. Rosen was looking out for numero uno.
Fun? It's where you find it, and what little is left Lou finds on the field. "The game will always be the fun," he points out, "and watching young kids become big league players is one of the best parts. But making it happen has taken away the fun, because this has become such a hard business, a grinding business."
Used to be that making trades was fun, but who makes trades now? "In the last three weeks, I've had maybe two conversations involving trades," sighs Gorman. "The rest has all been with agents over contracts."
Each deal is a mental bloodletting. "In the old days, no one knew what anyone else made," Gorman recalls. "Now everyone knows everything. Fans know. Players know. And, boy, do agents know. They know every clause in every contract. Every bonus. Every incentive. They even know clauses you had in somebody else's contract five years ago. And suppose you did a poor job in the past somewhere. Then you'll hear, 'I'm not going to let that happen to my guy.' "
You get the numbers down, and then it's the language, which means more faxes and more nit-picking. It never ends. Lou Gorman had three days vacation in 1990, which didn't do wife Mary Lou much good since he admits to spending the mornings on the phones. Hey, but she always had Christmas. And New Year's.
They joke about Lou because he talks and talks and once in a while says things he lives to regret. "Friends tell me I should stop being so open," he says. "Be like other GMs. Don't take calls from reporters at home. But I'm a people guy. I like talking to them. I can't change."
So he eats. More jokes. Meanwhile, the team he has built has won three divisions in five years. It doesn't just happen.
Once, it really was fun. Now? "This is my 31st year in the business," he says. "If I were a kid starting out now, knowing what I do, I wouldn't want this job, no matter what it paid."
With that, Lou Gorman says he must go. He has 14 phone messages to return. You never know. One might even be from another general manager.