Happy Anniversary to “Operation Shutdown”

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Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of one of the more unusual endings to a major league career. And easily one of the greatest spring training moments of all time. On March 18, 2002, Pirates outfielder Derek Bell announced the commencement of Operation Shutdown.

What was Operation Shutdown? It was Bell’s declaration that, despite playing only 46 games the previous season and despite hitting only .173/.287/.288, he was not expecting to compete for the Pirates’ right field job:

“Nobody told me I was in competition. If there is competition, somebody better let me know. If there is competition, they better eliminate me out of the race and go ahead and do what they’re going to do with me. I ain’t never hit in spring training and I never will. If it ain’t settled with me out there, then they can trade me. I ain’t going out there to hurt myself in spring training battling for a job. If it is [a competition], then I’m going into ‘Operation Shutdown.’ Tell them exactly what I said. I haven’t competed for a job since 1991.”

Bell left spring training and was released by the Pirates less than two weeks later. The Pirates ended up paying him $4.5 million for the 2002 season, in which he lived on his 58-foot yacht. Which prompted a Pittsburgh columnist to quip that Bell had become “the ultimate Pirate” in that he “lives on a boat and steals money.”

The 2002 Pirates featured Craig Wilson in right field. Wilson hit a respectable .265/.355/.443 with 16 homers and the Pirates, while still mostly in the wilderness, won ten more games without Bell than they did with him the previous year. As for Bell? He never played baseball again. The last couple of times Bell made news it was for drug-related arrests. Which suggests some serious time in the wilderness for him too. 

But if he does nothing else with his life from here on out, he at least gave us Operation Shutdown.

Police are keeping reporters away from owners at the owners meetings

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The owners meetings are going on in Arlington, Texas right now and something unusual is happening: the owners are using police to shield them from reporters seeking comment.

Chandler Rome, the Astros beat writer for the Houston Chronicle, attempted to talk to Astros owner Jim Crane at the hotel in which the meetings are taking place. Which makes sense because, duh, Rome covers the Astros and, if you haven’t noticed, the Astros are in the news lately.

Here’s how it went:

This was confirmed by other reporters:

To be clear: this is a radically different way things have ever been handled at MLB meetings of any kind. Reporters — who are credentialed specifically for these meetings at this location, they’re not just showing up — approach the GMs or the owners or whoever as they walk in the public parts of the hotel in which they’re held or in the areas designated for press conferences. It’s not contentious. Usually the figures of interest will stop and talk a bit then move on. If they don’t want to talk they just keep walking, often offering apologies or an excuse about being late for something and say they’ll be available later. It’s chill as far as reporters vs. the powerful tend to go.

But apparently not today. Not at the owners meetings. Now police — who are apparently off duty on contract security, but armed and in full official uniform — are shielding The Lords of Baseball from scrutiny.

We live in interesting times.