'Fourth-Grade Diet': Welcome to the Winter Meetings, the Unhealthiest Week of the Year

Ever wonder how everyone at the Winter Meetings finds time to eat? They do it on the job. A lot of fatty dinners and ubiquitous snacks.
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SAN DIEGO — Mike Rizzo was intrigued. The Nationals GM was on the phone with Scott Boras, and the agent seemed out of breath. It had been 24 hours since Boras client Stephen Strasburg had re-signed with Washington, and as far as Rizzo knew, fellow Boras client Anthony Rendon had not decided on a team. But Boras’s gasps got Rizzo’s attention.

“I thought he had a big deal or something that he was panting over,” Rizzo said.

Rizzo later learned that the explanation was much simpler: The legendarily high-motor Boras finds the fatty dinners, ubiquitous snacks and interminable meetings of baseball’s annual convention vexing, so he walks five miles each morning, conducting negotiations over AirPods. (Rendon agreed to a seven-year deal with the Angels Wednesday night.)

Welcome to the winter meetings, the unhealthiest week of the year. Hundreds of executives and agents descend upon a hotel—this year, the Manchester Grand Hyatt—to commodify thousands of professional athletes. They do so with a smartphone in one hand and a Dorito in the other.

“We have about $1000 worth of snacks in here,” said Rockies GM Jeff Bridich. “Do you want to see it?”

Reader, the Colorado snack setup is stunning. The bar is barely visible beneath bags of beef jerky, pretzel crisps and Hershey’s miniatures; cartons of Clif bars, Lays variety packs, trail mix snack packs and Goldfish; and tubs of animal crackers, peanut M&Ms and peanut butter pretzels. The shelves beneath hold more Red Bulls than one organization can possibly imbibe, as well as a LaCroix seltzer variety pack: razz cranberry, berry, tangerine. The sink area holds the coffee station. The team refers to this as the Target section, although the three-man snack committee procured the provisions at Costco. An adjacent wall is lined with the Whole Foods section: clamshells of croissants, a lot of apples, bags of bananas and countless Cuties, also from Costco. You can guess which section is more depleted.

“I’ve gained at least six pounds,” Rockies assistant GM Jon Weil said on Tuesday.

“It’s gotta be seven by now,” reported Colorado manager Bud Black on Wednesday.

Most people lean into the process of becoming less lean. And they are delighted to discuss it. “This is the most important thing I’ve done all day,” said Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto.

Padres GM A.J. Preller described his organization’s taste in snacks as “fourth-grade diet”: Cheez-Its, Doritos, Oreos, Fruit by the Foot. Seattle offers nuts and granola bars … and also Uncrustables. The Rockies staff complained vociferously about the frosted animal crackers—"too childish,” said baseball operations director Domenic Di Ricco—but ate them anyway. (“Our research and development director went to the mat on that one,” he explained.)

They all eagerly note the selection in opposing teams’ suites. The Phillies’ spread a few years ago was so delicious and well-arranged that Bridich complimented GM Matt Klentak. (Klentak could not be reached for comment, but one Philadelphia official said the recent addition of peanut butter and honey crackers has been very well received.)

Cubs skipper David Ross was hired only in October but quickly learned the customs. “I’ve had two bags of Doritos today,” he said proudly. “Nacho Cheese. That’s how I start that manager body I’m creating.”

Even attempts to eat well often go awry. Yankees GM Brian Cashman realized as Monday night turned to Tuesday morning that he had not had dinner. He scurried to the lobby, where he bought a turkey sandwich whose age he could not determine. Dipoto ate so many peanut butter pretzels on Monday that he skipped lunch. Three or four peanut butter pretzels is fine, he says; unfortunately, it’s impossible to eat three or four peanut butter pretzels. He is considering requesting that his staff no longer purchase peanut butter pretzels.

Braves GM Alex Anthopoulous has essentially banned snacks from his suite, more out of concern for cleanliness than for health. But the baseball bingers will not be denied: His assistants smuggled in peanut M&Ms on Monday.

The Hyatt is within walking distance of a few restaurants, which has helped somewhat. Rumor has it that last year, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Mets GM Brodie Van Wagenen, elbow deep in trade proposals, refused to leave the suite for dinner. Finally, COO Jeff Wilpon, sent the entire staff out, leaving Van Wagenen little choice but to accompany them. (Van Wagenen laughed and declined to comment.) Preller left the Mandalay Bay once: for McDonald’s.

You can mitigate a bad diet with a good exercise regimen. Virtually no one at the winter meetings does.

“You’re afraid to leave the suite,” said Dipoto, who has managed to sneak in a workout each morning around 6 a.m. “You’re afraid of what will happen when you’re in the lobby.”

Bridich does a bodyweight circuit in his room. “The days that you have to go down and do MLB Network [help with the step count],” he said.

“I walk from here to Starbucks,” said Van Wagenen. 

Even this level of activity can sometimes prove too much. The Mariners brought a football to toss around while they talked. Within half an hour of the first pass, Dipoto had a bloody nose.

And forget sleep. It’s a lucky executive who shuts his or her eyes for more than five hours. Low-level officials are deputized to prowl the hotel bar, searching for actionable intel. Employees of East Coast teams go to bed on PST and wake up on EST. The Padres and Rays have found that they do their best work with one another after midnight.

So these men and women spend four days trying to keep their weight down while they try to get the better of one another. But despite all that divides them, they can come together and agree on one thing: that their first meal when they get home will be a salad.