|Friday, March 8
Updated: April 17, 5:55 PM ET
Case of the Missing Computers
By Jayson Stark
VIERA, Fla. -- They took the computers. They took the VCRs.
They took the TVs. They took the cell phones.
They took 10 years' worth of scouting reports. They even took the radar guns.
When Jeffrey Loria did his David Copperfield act last month and made the entire Montreal Expos organization magically reappear in Florida, it seemed as if he and his crew packed up pretty much everything in Montreal but the AstroTurf at Stade Olympique.
So when the new Expos management team showed up in Jupiter this spring to try to run a franchise, this was a group that wasn't just starting from ground zero. It was starting, essentially, 20,000 leagues under the sea.
It isn't easy to run a baseball team with virtually no employees, virtually no minor-league staff and virtually no equipment. But that was how the new state-run Commish-spos started their life-after-contraction season.
"At least they left the players here," chuckled manager Frank Robinson. "And they left some darn good players here."
Over the last couple of weeks, as word began to circulate of all the modern necessities the new Marlins brass took with them from Montreal, we've heard one baseball person after another rant and rave about Loria and his stepson, executive V.P. David Samson.
But as it turns out, those fingers might be pointing at the wrong people. The people most responsible, it now appears, were the men at Major League Baseball who allowed this to happen when they negotiated this deal.
"I have a problem with people saying we 'took' these things," Samson said. "We didn't 'take' anything. We were negotiating with Major League Baseball to buy and sell a team simultaneously. All of that equipment was part of a negotiated contract -- a very long negotiated contract. ...
"It's a 200-page agreement. You can go through every line, and it discusses a value and a price for every item. For the price we paid for the Marlins, we got certain assets. For the price we got for the Expos, they got certain assets. They didn't get others."
You may have noticed that the Expos haven't accused Loria and Samson of doing anything illegal, although the Expos did take action to get access to their old minor-league reports. Why? Because they, too, understand it was all legal, all negotiated.
"What they took with him was what was in the deal," said Expos GM Omar Minaya. "I don't know exactly what the deal was. But I've been too busy to worry about the little details. The things they may have taken belonged to them legally."
No one we've talked to, however, can remember any sale of a franchise in which the former owners packed the computers and scouting reports on the moving van. So the question some members of the Expos' staff keep asking privately is: How could Major League Baseball have negotiated a deal that left its own franchise in such disarray?
"It may have been negotiated," grumbled one Expos staffer. "They may not be doing anything illegal. But it's a preposterous thing. The only conclusion we can draw is that they (MLB) didn't care if we operated or not."
Bob DuPuy, MLB's chief legal officer, didn't return a call seeking comment. But whatever the explanation, this Case of the Missing Computers just adds one more chapter to a story so bizarre, you couldn't make it up.
It is the story of the Expos and Marlins, two teams that sometimes feel as if they wandered into a giant Cuisinart this winter -- and came out all mixed up.
Those two teams met Monday for the first time this spring, in the Marlins' soon-to-be-former spring home in Viera. It was quite a scene: Expos' players wandering around the Marlins' clubhouse looking for their fomer coaching staff. Marlins' coaches strolling down the hall to hug Expos' players. Even the trainers and equipment men (who switched places) felt as if they were in the wrong locker room.
"It was definitely strange," said Expos utility man Mike Mordecai. "Here we come walking into this ballpark, and our whole staff from last year -- from top to bottom, major-league and minor-league -- is over here. Geez, you feel like you're in the wrong uniform.
"I'll tell you the true test of what's taken place between the Expos and Marlins," Mordecai theorized. "They took our whole staff. They've got all our reports. So they've definitely got a book on us over there. It will be interesting to see, at the end of the season, how they did head to head against us. We'll find out what all that stuff really means."
The players, naturally, have heard the tales of the great computer-napping. And they've got their own theories on Loria's computer motives.
"Who knows?" laughed one Marlins player. "Maybe they don't like Dells. Maybe they prefer Gateways."
With or without computers, though, the games will go on. And Minaya vows the Expos will overcome anything and everything.
"You know, there was a time in this game when nobody had computers," the GM said. "So we'll be OK."
They'll just have to get creative. That's all. So this week, Minaya convinced former Expos GM Jim Beattie to return as a special assistant for pro scouting.
"Hey, we don't have computers, we don't have the scouting information, that's OK," Minaya said. "I'll just hire Jim Beattie. He's got the information in his head."
As philosophical as their leader may be, some of the Expos staffers down in the trenches are more conspiratorial. They still aren't convinced the former Montreal owners didn't want to try to place the team they left behind at a competitive disadvantage. What other reason, they ask, would Loria and Samson have had for taking minor-league reports and scouting reports?
But when told of that competitive-disadvantage theory, Samson denied it vehemently.
"Not at all," he said. "And I'll tell you why. If you talk to people in baseball, generally scouts don't want to rely on other scouts' reports. They want to do their own reports, because it's their job on the line. Our scouts (who went with this group from Montreal to Florida) did those reports. That's why we took those reports. ... I'm sure they (the Expos) will want to assemble a new group of scouts and use the reports from their own people."
And that's exactly what Minaya is doing. Then again, what choice does he have?
"We just keep working," he said. "We can't sit here complaining. We've got too much to do to waste time complaining."
Yes, these are the crazy, mixed up ripple effects of a crazy, mixed up winter. We still see them.
We see them in Red Sox camp, where general managers and owners get fired in the middle of spring training. We see them in Twins camp, where players talk of winning the World Series so Bud Selig can present them their trophy. And we see them everywhere we look in the Marlins' and Expos' camps, where two worlds have turned upside-down.
"I keep thinking about something Bud Selig said at one of his press conferences," Mordecai said. "He said that when you're making changes in baseball that are unparalleled, certain things will happen that have never happened before. And now they're happening. Every day's a first.
"In baseball, you know how you always hear that expression, 'Just when you thought you'd seen it all, you see something you never saw before?' It used to be we'd say that about stuff on the field. Now we say it about stuff off the field."
"We use them for charities," Samson said. "We use them for raffles, for all sorts of things. At the end of every year, the players get a set of uniforms and the team keeps the set. And the team is Jeffrey and his partners. Believe me, there are no secrets in baseball. So everything we do is by the book."
But one NL executive says the Braves at least made an inquiry about Red Sox first baseman Brian Daubach. And it's sure notable that manager Bobby Cox says that if something should happen to one of his five starters this spring, next in line are Damian Moss (no big-league wins in eight professional seasons) and 36-year-old Chris Hammond (out of baseball 2½ years before resurfacing last year in the International League).
"He's got to be in the top five. I don't know who else is in it: Bonds, Piazza, Sosa, A-Rod. But there's a select few in the game, and he fits right into that. In fact, there's not an element of our team that doesn't say they feel better with this guy in the lineup -- the guys who hit before and after him, the guy pitching that day, the guy managing him and the guy sitting up in the booth watching and hoping he made a good deal."
That means it's going to take a lot of patience on both the team's part and Hamilton's part. And Hamilton is clearly running out of patience.
"He's probably lost a year with this," said manager Hal McRae. "But what we have to tell him is that he can make up that year quick, because he has the talent. And we'll be happy to take him here as quick as he comes."
A couple of years down the road, McRae envisions an all-superstar outfield of Hamilton, Carl Crawford and Rocco Baldelli. "But the vision is the easy part," the manager laughed. "The execution is the difficult part."
"They lost a lot of offense," said one AL scout. "But they're still going to be real good, because their pitching is tremendous."
"You never know," Robinson said. "We might be together. I can't say that during the season, I'm not going to get run. If a situation presents itself, then hey, if I get run, I get run. It's not whether you get tossed that matters. It's what you say or do after it.
"If I get run, I get run," Robinson chuckled. "And then I'll throw myself on the mercy of the court: 'Bob, Bob, you've gotta understand.' "
Fox can sign them, and they can fight it out in the bout right after Tanya Harding-Paula Jones.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.