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DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Meetings used to have more meat

Is Manny finally, truly on his way out? Is J.D. Drew on his way to Fenway? And what about the prospect of Julio Lugo at short? Why do the Red Sox love him so much?

A couple of these questions could be answered this week as Sox executives gather at the annual baseball meetings. Staying warm as we wait by the hot stove, here are some winter meetings minutiae to feed your hardball hunger . . .

Jerry Remy came to the Red Sox in a trade consummated at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel at the baseball meetings in Honolulu in December of 1977. A native of Somerset, Remy played the first three seasons of his big league career with the Angels, but at the urging of Boston manager Don Zimmer, the Sox traded pitcher Don Aase for the man who would become a cult hero as Fenway's one and only RemDawg.

Those were the days when the winter meetings were fun. And busy.

In the not-too-distant past, every manager and GM would attend the meetings. It was a hardball festival of executives and job-seekers, and many a deal was done at the hotel bar after midnight. In the wake of hard-earned free agency, player agents came into the picture in the late '70s and things changed dramatically. Today teams sometimes consider contracts more than hits, runs, and errors, and deals are done with an eye on payroll more than performance.

The meetings are still a job market. Former executives, managers, coaches, and ballplayers can be found stalking the hotel headquarters in search of employment. Recent college grads also use the meetings to break into baseball, but today those young people are most likely stat geeks with new formulas to evaluate performance. Worshipping at the almighty altar of OPS, they all want to be the next Theo.

Former Red Sox manager Joe Morgan remembers the hungry years when he went to the meetings as a minor league manager.

"I went to Cincinnati in 1970 or '71," said Morgan. "I was shopping around trying to find a big league job. I was just looking around, throwing my name out there, but there really wasn't much to be had. Years later, when I was a big league manager, I went a couple of times and it's changed a lot. All it is now is asking questions and trying to figure out who wants what and what they'll possibly give you. Not too much seems to happen."

A central, expansive lobby is crucial to a good winter meeting (a lobby bar helps, too), and our intrepid Nick Cafardo reports that the lobby at the Swan and Dolphin resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., is conducive to deal-making. Nothing kills the winter meetings more than a hotel with no obvious meeting ground. The meetings need a place where you can bump into anybody, accidentally or on purpose.

Hall of Fame Orioles manager Earl Weaver participated in some memorable moments at the baseball meetings. Earl resigned (temporarily) at the Hawaii meetings in 1977 after GM Hank Peters made a couple of deals that Weaver found objectionable. Clearing the decks to make his trades, the savvy Peters had Seattle manager Darrell Johnson and Montreal manager Dick Williams escort Earl to a liquid lunch sponsored by a baseball card company. While the managers were swapping stories, Peters traded 18-game winner Rudy May to the Expos for Don Stanhouse, Joe Kerrigan, and Gary Roenicke. At the same time, Peters dealt a young pitcher to the Mariners for Carlos Lopez. Earl hit the roof when he learned of the trades, then hit the road. He was talked into coming back within 24 hours.

On Dec. 8, 1987, the Red Sox sent Al Nipper and Calvin Schiraldi to the Cubs in exchange for closer Lee Smith. "The Red Sox just traded two ponies and got a horse," said Frank Robinson.

Frank knows a thing or two about winter meeting news. It was at the 1965 meetings that Cincinnati executive Bill DeWitt decided Frank was "an old 30" and dealt him to the Orioles for the immortal Milt Pappas. Filled with rage, Frank won the triple crown and the MVP for Baltimore a year later, leading the Orioles to a World Series win over the Dodgers.

The 1988 meetings were held in Atlanta and that was the week the Red Sox ultimately lost free agent lefty Bruce Hurst. In response to the Sox' handling of the Hurst matter, Roger Clemens gave his infamous "luggage" interview on the front lawn of his home. With Christmas lights twinkling in the background, Clemens talked about the conditions in Boston, mentioning, "We have to carry our own bags." Life was never the same for Clemens in Boston.

A couple of weeks after he became the youngest general manager in baseball history, Theo Epstein went to the baseball meetings in Nashville in December of 2002 and traded for a lefty DH named Jeremy Giambi. Giambi ultimately lost the job to David Ortiz. Last year Theo was on the sideline while the gang of four carried out Boston's business in Dallas.

The meetings came to the Hub in 2001 and it's hard to believe that just five years ago the Sox were still owned by the Yawkey Trust and had GM Dan Duquette and manager Joe Kerrigan running the shop. That was the year the Indians dealt Roberto Alomar to the Mets in an eight-player blockbuster.

Big trades at the meetings are rare these days. The hot stove gives off a lot of hot air, but not many mega-deals. Bet Manny is still here when they all come home Thursday and Friday.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

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