The 2012 season has brought an important change, and not one for the better, as sportswriters are no longer allowed to talk with ballplayers in a team’s clubhouse following batting practice. Apparently this stipulation was agreed upon between Major League Baseball and its players association in their new contract.
Less access makes it more difficult for an independent press to gather information for the public. It also makes it a lot harder to establish informal relationships with players. In life, most things are dependent on relationships.
Scott Hairston, the thoughtful Mets outfielder, defended the new policy by saying that it gave players more time to study film, do exercises, and other things to get ready for a game.
What Scott neglected to say, though, was that the media was always required to leave a clubhouse one hour before a game and that no one forced players to make themselves available to reporters even during the post-BP period.
Michael Weiner, the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, is a very intelligent man and someone I greatly admire. He certainly realizes that the attention that the sporting press lavishes on his members is a very big reason for the high compensation that they receive. Without it baseball players would be in the same economic class as their lacrosse counterparts.
Unfortunately too many players fail to make that connection and view the press as meddlesome intruders. With the exception of Chipper Jones and Jamie Moyer, none of them were around during the 1994 lockout. If they were, they would understand that cutting off access to media benefits management, not labor. Weiner knows this too but he understandably has to follow the wishes of his constituency.
Blame has to fall as well on the once mighty Baseball Writers Association of America. The BBWAA never understood the notion of safety in numbers. The organization limits membership to sportswriters from the daily newspapers and has failed to keep up with the times.
Both MLB and the players union have noticed the number of dailies that have folded and how the survivors have cut back on reporters. That’s why their access has steadily declined over time.
I have spoken with a few BBWAA reporters about allowing reporters from weeklies to join as “associate members.” Associates would not get to vote for the Hall of Fame or year-end awards but would have an advocacy group to represent them. The BBWAA would get more dues revenue. A win for all. According to my sources, however, influential members of the old guard will never allow their arcane bylaws to be amended.
Mets manager Terry Collins was not in the best of moods on Sunday even though his team had just swept the Braves as he had to watch two near-collisions, one in the outfield and the other in the infield, in the last three innings of the game. “Those balls belong to the centerfielder and to the shortstop,” Collins said along with some choice salty words. “We work on pop-up and fly ball drills during spring training and I guess we’re going to have to do it in-season as well,” he added.
Centefielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis made his Citi Field debut and he had to deal with the swirling winds of Citi Field. I asked him if his tenure with the Brooklyn Cyclones, whose ballpark is nestled right up against the Coney Island boardwalk, prepared him for Flushing. “Not really. The winds there tended to come from one direction, off the ocean,” he replied.
Kirk admitted that he had butterflies in his stomach in first major league at-bat as Jair Jurrgens struck him out on three pitches. He did wind up getting two hits later in the game.
Relief pitcher Bobby Parnell had a rough time last year as a closer and his role in 2012 is to be a set-up man. He has developed a decent curve ball to go along with his blazing fastball which should keep hitters off stride. He doesn’t seem to be too down about not being called on to pitch the ninth inning. “You have to be able to close any inning in which you pitch,” he told me.
That’s good advice for all facets of life.