Signs and Signings: Astrologist handicaps free agent market
Into the hotel lobby sweeps Andrea Mallis, with a purple velvet dress and a flowing mane of hair that is as out of place among the baseball executives and player agents as a World Series banner above Fenway Park.
She has come to baseball's annual bazaar offering her credentials as a sports astrologer, uniquely qualified to discern what's in the stars for the stars, the only one among those assembled more likely to ask ''What's your sign?'' than ''Where do I sign?''
New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya listens politely to Mallis' pitch without offering her a retainer. At $125 an hour (two-hour minimum), she is a bargain when weighed against the cost of one bad signing.
''Literally, I could save teams millions of dollars,'' she says. ''Baseball and astrology run in cycles. And timing is everything.''
Already they are off to a bad start.
''I would never schedule a winter meeting on a dark-moon Mercury retrograde,'' she said in mid-December at baseball's winter meetings in Anaheim, Calif. ''Whoever does the scheduling obviously doesn't consult with an astrologer.''
Well, that goes without saying.
In deals conceived during this particular Mercury retrograde, Arizona gave Russ Ortiz $33 million over four years, even though he faces, as Mallis could have told the Diamondbacks, ''difficult Saturn aspects.'' Jon Lieber got $21 million from the Phillies for three years despite a low-energy cycle looming over two of them.
And don't get her started about what Neptune has in store for new Red Sox pitcher Matt Clement.
Grabbing a seat in the media work room, Mallis lowers her books onto a table where reporters hunch over laptops cranking out news of the latest multimillion dollar deal.
''I can smell the testosterone in here,'' she says.
And I notice the patchouli oil that wafts in Mallis' wake.
''How are you?'' she says, extending a hand.
''You tell me,'' I respond, and soon enough Mallis had the date, time and location of my birth for a personal chart. A Sagittarius, I am optimistic and happy-go-lucky ''with a revolutionary spirit.''
''You can be a bit of a workaholic,'' she says, running her fingers through a dog-eared book of charts.
It's like she's known me all my life.
Mallis grew up in New York and moved to California in 1983. Six years later, she set up shop in Berkeley as a certified astrologer.
''I hate to be a walking cliche, but I'm afraid I might be,'' she concedes.
A baseball fan since the Mets went to the 1973 World Series, she didn't turn to sports astrology until 2001 after going to an Oakland Athletics game and seeing a program feature about Barry Zito's interest in yoga and meditation.
''I was out of baseball for a while,'' she explains. ''I kind of went in cycles.''
Now she is back, offering her planetary prognostications on ESPN and the A's radio post-game show and for the game programs of half the teams in the major leagues.
Like any baseball analyst, some of Mallis' insights are more of a hit than others.
She warns that Nomar Garciaparra a Leo full of pride is injury prone, but no one in Boston needs to be reminded of that. Randy Johnson has a ''terrible transit of his Saturn to his Mars'' and thus a ''high risk of injury to bones, knees, teeth and joints, back''; he's 41, but showing no need for Fosamax.
She expected big things for Jeremy Giambi that's Jeremy, not Jason in 2003, a year that he spent in disrepair and disuse before missing the '04 season and getting caught up in a steroid scandal. She misspelled ''Carleton'' Fisk on her Web site.
But Mallis has had her successes as well.
She predicted that the Super Bowl halftime show ''should be rather ethereal, filled with the exotic, bizarre and glamorous'' and added a week before Janet Jackson's oft-viewed wardrobe malfunction that ''confusion can reign; lots of replays may be needed when strange alignments occur.'' She guessed that the outcome would be in doubt, and the New England Patriots won on a late field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
Mallis also predicted a bad cycle for Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, writing last January he would learn that ''money can't buy love or world championships.'' That came true when New York's nemesis, the Boston Red Sox, won eight straight games to knock the Yankees out of the playoffs and win their first World Series in 86 years.
Mallis doesn't expect a team to ditch its radar guns for retrogrades, but only to use her advice in combination with traditional baseball scouting techniques. ''I'm saying this is a supplement for everything they're already doing,'' she says.
They're not so different, the stat crunchers and star watchers. Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein used similar logic when, to the scorn of baseball purists, he supplemented the team's scouting with statistical analysis.
But what if he had known, as Mallis could have told him, that there would be a lunar eclipse the night of World Series Game 4, with a portentous red glow emanating from the moon as the Red Sox beat St. Louis' Cardinals in the clincher?
''It signified a very important, auspicious occasion,'' she says.
Ever tightlipped, Epstein could not be lured into a comment on whether Mallis might have something to offer the team, saying only, ''I hope this is a good winter meeting for Capricorns.''