I'm told that covering baseball's Winter Meetings - which convene tomorrow in Dallas - is a lot like my maternal grandfather's time-tested method for telling whether a pot of boiling spaghetti has reached the peak of tenderness - al dente, as the culinary whizzes among us like to say. Pop would literally pluck a few noodles from the rolling boil and throw them against the wall. If the pasta had reached the desired doneness, a strand or two would stick to the pale yellow paint - and then he'd quickly wipe away traces of his unconventional test method to keep from incurring the wrath of the kitchen owner.
In other words, you're going to hear a lot - and I do mean a lot - of rumors swirling out of the lobby, ballroom, bar, suites and hallways of the Hilton Anatole until tired baseball executives pack their bags and check out Thursday morning. Baseball's rumor mill will churn out some doozies and at least once in the next few days, you're going to worry that your favorite player is about to be traded or you're going to be on pins and needles because the team you follow is on the verge of doing something really big. Some rumors are going to be true. But most of them aren't going to pan out. It's the nature of the beast.
It's impossible to track down every rumor. Even if you could, you have no way of knowing whether some scheming general manager is feeding you a little disinformation to improve his bargaining power or to act as a smokescreen. Yes, that happens. There's a lot of gamesmanship in force when baseball's power brokers break bread, talk shop and/or hoist an adult beverage. A lot of what's overheard as trusted lieutenants work the lobby, the nuggets that agents parse to the media, scenarios and ideas that reporters toss back and form among themselves to kill time - well, whatever it is, it may or may not be factual. Think of it as a baseball writer's version of "Items in the mirror may be closer than they appear."
A generation ago, when I was a kid coming home from school in a frenzied rush to get the 4:50 p.m. radio sports report to learn what had happened at the Winter Meetings, well, it was a simpler time. No 24-hour news cycle fueled by cable television channels dedicated to the most up-to-date sports news. hard to believe there was a time before the ESPN crawl. Newspapers weren't available online because the Internet wasn't a widespread reality yet; you had to wait until the following morning to have a paper land on your doorstep, or hope dad picked up an evening paper on his way home from work so you could catch what was too late to make the morning edition. No cell phones, either, which nixes the notion of texting. Reporters typed on clunky machines that fed their stories back to their home city (when temperamental phone lines cooperated) or dictated over landlines. Yes, we're talking about the dark ages, technologically - no laptops, air cards or free wireless.
Most importantly, there wasn't anything like Twitter, which encourages the rampant speculation that has come to characterize the Winter Meetings. Just once, I'd like to keep track of reporters' tweets to see what kind of batting average they have for being correct. My guess is that it would be so paltry that it couldn't keep them in the majors if they were, say, a backup catcher or fifth outfielder. Even when they mean to do a comprehensive, accurate job, plenty of writers in Dallas next week will throw the proverbial spaghetti up against the wall and hope a morsel or two sticks. That's what you'll hear about, not the 437 things they tweeted that didn't come to pass.
Good reporting is about being accurate. Yes, there will be speculation, but that shouldn't just be unfounded guessing for the sake of filling up column inches, two minutes on the radio or your allotment of bandwith. At the risk of sounding like I'm encouraging my fellow media members to take a remedial Journalism 101 course, I think it's important to remember that you want to be right, not just first.
So take with a grain of salt all the rumors that will pour out of Dallas for the next handful of days. Don't get too caught up in the unfounded speculation. Here at MASNsports.com, we're going to focus on what we know, and if there's some doubt, we're going to try to find someone to remove it. It's not always possible, so when we go with something that we consider a credible rumor from a good source, it will be presented as such.
The hot stove season is one of baseball's most enjoyable times, for fans and media alike. Dallas will be the center of the baseball universe, 24 hours a day, from the time clubs' contingents start arriving Sunday until the last pick in the Rule 5 minor league draft is made Thursday morning. Executives know it, the media knows it and fans know it. You can't get more baseball-centric. It's my first Winter Meetings, and I'm pretty excited to be in the middle of the madness.
Check back frequently over the coming days so MASNsports.com can keep you up with all the latest Nationals news. You can follow me on Twitter - my handle is @kerzelpete. I arrive in Dallas - Southwest Airlines willing - at 5:25 p.m. Central Time (remember, it's an hour earlier in Texas) this evening. And I can't wait to hit the ground running. We'll have daily briefings and video interviews with Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, we'll check in with manager Davey Johnson and we'll keep track of everything the Nats do - not to mention what they don't do and should have done - at the Winter Meetings.
Follow Pete Kerzel on Twitter: @kerzelpete