Bite club: Baseball lifers reflect in roundtable

Morris, Phillips, Zduriencik and Duquette share stories in lively discussion

February 7th, 2017

Baseball people love talking baseball. That sounds obvious, yes, but it's truer in baseball than in just about anything else I know. Sure, football people love talking football, actors love talking acting, politicians love talking politics, comedians love talking comedy. But baseball people, well, it's insatiable. They can talk baseball all day, talk baseball over dinner, talk baseball over drinks, talk baseball in the hotel lobby after the bars have closed. I've been lucky enough to be in on a few of those talks through the years.

I always wished that I had recorded them to share with everybody.

Once, a few years ago, I listened to a couple of scouts tell story after story. They told a great story of a young man who wanted to get into scouting. So he went out to his first game and watched a young shortstop play. The kid had a great arm, he ran like the wind, he hit home runs.

"Hey," the young man said, "this scouting business is easy!"

Well, sure. They had sent him out to see a young .

That night, the baseball scouts also talked about a ballplayer you almost certainly have never heard of, a ballplayer named Earl Cunningham. As it was, I covered Cunningham when he was a high school baseball player in Lancaster, S.C. He had legendary power. He used to hit home runs that would sail over light towers, over the street and carry into a shopping center parking lot. Sometimes there would be kids there, sitting on a stoop in that shopping center, watching like it was a fireworks show.

Cunningham was a first-round pick of the Chicago Cubs in 1989 -- eighth pick overall, taken way ahead of John Olerud and Jeff Bagwell, among others -- but it never worked out for him. Cunningham gained a lot of weight, and he couldn't make enough contact (in 1992, he struck out 152 times in just 97 games of Class A and Class A Advanced ball). The game is filled with stories like that.

And the game is filled with people who will talk late into the night about Earl Cunningham -- stories, legends, regrets.

This is the idea of our roundtable: Let's just get a bunch of baseball people together -- a few general managers, ballplayers, scouts -- around a dinner table, a little food, a little wine, and let's just talk baseball. Here's former All-Star Jack Morris talking about baseball overvaluing pitcher velocity. Here's former general manager and scouting legend Jack Zduriencik talking about when he saw pitch for the first time. Here are former GMs Steve Phillips and Jim Duquette talking about how close the New York Mets came to getting Ken Griffey Jr.

Baseball people never run of these things to talk about. Trades that almost happened. Players who should have been great. Players who turned out better than anyone expected.

The best part of the experience happened the night before we recorded this. We all met at a restaurant just to plot things out. But instead of plotting out anything, the baseball people just talked, told stories, argued about various players. At some point, one of the producers said, "Don't waste all the good stuff." But this is the great thing about talking baseball.

You never run out of good stuff.