It’s called “The Hot Stove League”. No one really knows when it became known as such; most likely it harkens back to the days when fans would gather at the general store or in kitchens around “the hot stove” to keep warm during the winter and while away the days of the off-season discussing baseball while awaiting Opening Day.
My memories of The Hot Stove League (let’s just call it “HSL”) in my younger days was that it was a fairly boring time, punctuated by the announcement of the achievement awards (Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, etc.), a flurry of news around the time of the General Managers’ confab and the general Winter Meetings, an occasional trade and some roster moves such as non-tenders, etc. Days would pass with almost no baseball news in the sports section of the newspaper and no mention of the game on the 15-minute TV newscasts on the three or four stations available. Radio was still for music and not for 24/7/365 “sports talk.”
That started to change in the 1970s when modern free agency came to pass. Ironically, the current Veterans Committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame is considering two men who made their marks thanks to free agency, the recently deceased George Steinbrenner, who signed many of the leading free agents of the day and rode them to championships, and Marvin Miller, one of the great labor leaders of the 20th Century who guided the Players’ Union into the promised land of multi-million dollar long-term contracts. I hope that Miller gets the 12 votes he needs; he is 93 and it would be wonderful to see him alive for his enshrinement in Cooperstown. I am not holding my breath, however.
Today we have the Internet, too many baseball discussion sites to count, plus the ESPNs, the regional cable sports networks of Fox and Comcast, and of course MLB Network itself, where nightly at 6PM Eastern Time Hot Stove and its companion program Front Burner discuss the free agent movements, trade possibilities, non-tender candidates, and of course provide on-site coverage of the GM Meetings next week and the Winter Meetings in December. Later in November we will have teams making (or not) arbitration offers to their free agents so they can obtain draft picks in compensation. In January other arbitration-eligible players will either be non-tendered, signed, or offered arbitration.
In other words, baseball has truly become a year-round pastime where the four months without action on the field are filled with action in front offices and back rooms. It is true that the wealthiest franchises tend to attract and sign the biggest-name free agents, but it long ago the richest teams managed to have the best players, too. If nothing else, today the process is more transparent, and certainly more in the interest of players.