Why are reporters in the Reds’ clubhouse anyway?

38 Comments

Why are reporters in the Reds’ clubhouse anyway?

Yes, I know they’re there because that’s their job. Unlike a lot of my media rants, this is not about reporters, really. It’s about the teams and the leagues and the arrangement in place in which, despite their clear annoyance with having to answer to the press, they open up their facilities to the press every day. And, barring some Bryan Price-style meltdown, at least go through the motions of answering their questions. Why does that arrangement persist?

This question occurred to me a bit ago when HBT reader and excellent baseball author Mark Armour asked me why the reporters-in-the-clubhouse model was so important. He — citing my reference to Barry Bonds as “an entertainer” this morning — wondered why entertainers like, say, Bob Dylan don’t let the press on their tour bus in the morning to tell them how the set is shaping up for that evening. How, after the show, Dylan doesn’t sit down in a media scrum and answer questions about why he changed the pronoun in the second verse of “Tangled up in Blue” from “I” to “she.” Why he doesn’t get a “talk about the key change in ‘Girl From the North Country,’ Bob” non-question. I mean, that’d be really bizarre, right? So why do we assume that’s the default model with entertainers who play shortstop instead of a guitar and a harmonica?

On a basic level they do so mostly out of custom and habit. It’s what has always been done. There are rules and agreements in place with the league and entities like the BBWAA. And, of course, it’s a relationship that doesn’t usually cause problems, yesterday’s blowup notwithstanding. Certainly not the kinds of problems that would occur if, tomorrow, the Cincinnati Reds said they’d no longer make anyone available to non-team-affiliated press. It’d be a headache and a half. And the leagues would get mad too, fining people and the like.

But rules could be changed. Agreements with the BBWAA could be tossed out or be allowed to expire. Even though we rarely question the source of today’s sports and media landscape, the fact is that it’s not carved in stone that it has to be like this. If the teams and the league and the players truly got fed up with having to answer to the outside press — and they are clearly more and more annoyed with having to do so — they could change the whole relationship. But they don’t. Why?

I don’t think it’s “because the press gives the teams and league publicity.” Sure, once, long ago, there was an unspoken agreement: the teams used the press for publicity and the press used sports news to sell papers. But that model has been disrupted a a great deal. Teams and leagues  have their own websites and p.r. departments and TV networks and can produce content to stoke interest in the fan base in orders of magnitude greater than comments to an independent reporter can manage. The newspapers’ part is much weaker than it used to be and they depend on the sports content — and advertising — more than they did 100 years ago. It’s gone from a symbiotic relationship to one of dependence in a lot of cases. So what is it?

Beyond habit, I think there is an underlying benefit that sports leagues and teams get from this relationship. One that Bryan Price and most players likely don’t think about but that commissioners and their attorneys and the visionaries they hire to make grand plans think about from time to time. That benefit: they get to appear as if they are quasi-public trusts, not private, for-profit businesses. And that’s really, really good for sports leagues and franchises.

The Reds got a sweet stadium deal several years back. So sweet for them and so, so bad for the taxpayers of Hamilton County, Ohio. They didn’t get that by virtue of a grassroots campaign which convinced the local government to do so. Most of the heavy lifting had already been done. Done in the form of more than 100 years of the Reds and, for a shorter period of time and lesser extent, the Bengals, posing as civic institutions rather than private, family-owned companies that are, functionally speaking, no different than a used car lot. Just one with more customers.

Sure, a lot of this posing developed naturally, as the role professional sports played in civic life was very different years ago than it is now, but it’s a pose that works to the Reds’ favor when it comes to things like that stadium. Or having its security operation outsourced to local police. Or any other number of ways that the clubs benefit from having a the city’s name before its nickname as opposed to having some corporation’s name on it like some European football club or Japanese baseball team.

With that benefit comes some minor costs. Some are social, such as appearing in parades if and when they win something (the car dealership doesn’t do this if it has a big year). Some are philanthropic and no doubt well-intentioned, such as leading charity efforts. On an MLB-wide scale, it may involve coming and answering to Congress whenever scandals erupt in order to hold on to that antitrust exemption that baseball gets, in large part, because it was once and still sort of is seen as a public good. For the NFL it’s to maintain it’s crazy-favorable tax status. And, finally, as to the topic at hand today, one cost teams and leagues incur is the necessary annoyance of holding press conferences to give the illusion of accountability, just like any other public entity has to do.

I don’t think any of these things leagues and teams do are calculated schemes — again, custom and tradition are of primary importance here — but taken altogether, a whole lot of how sports function in our society can be explained in terms of for-profit businesses acting as if they are fourth branches of the government or, at the very least, public trusts or public goods. They’re treated differently and more preferentially than any other old business is, both in practical terms and in their standing and popularity, and they’re not eager to do things to mess that up, such as blatantly antagonizing the press.

Yet, increasingly, they are antagonizing the press, at least from the point of view of the press. Access is being curtailed and competition to the traditional press is being underwritten by teams and leagues. Players are increasingly loathe to give the press their time. This Reds/Price stuff can be seen as contempt for the press and shock that it dare not be the club’s lapdog. It’s kind of crazy, really.

I’m sort of agnostic about all of that. I am of the view that fans don’t care too terribly much about what goes on inside the clubhouse or what players and managers have to say. They care about the games on the field way, way, way more than they care about anything else.  I have argued that the press should largely cede the business of reporting commodity news like injuries, lineups and stuff to the clubs. I think that the best reporting one usually sees comes from reporters talking to athletes and sports figures away from the clubhouse or, at the very least, outside the confines of general media availability. The best analysis I see comes from people who allow themselves to be a step removed from the club itself and who allow themselves to be critical and unconcerned with upsetting sources. A world without that traditional team-media interaction would be weird if the dynamic changed tomorrow, but it’d work just fine I bet.

Most of the time I am inclined to think it’d be good for that dynamic to end. And I hope — perhaps naively, but I hope all the same — that if that dynamic ended we’d also see the end of society’s viewing of sports as a public trust. The end of the illusion that sports are somehow not businesses and are somehow subject to a greater deference and privilege than any other business. The end to baseless and indefensible subsidies and the end to the deification of sports figures — especially sports executives — as something greater and more noble than they are. Yes, I think I’d rather like it that way.

But if that dynamic does not end — if teams and leagues continue to go through the motions of appearing responsive to the press and if they seek the benefit of being seen as quasi-public entities — they had best not simultaneously pretend that they’re not at least superficially accountable. Accountable to the press, their fans and the public at large. Such accountability is all something of a charade, I imagine, but asking professional sports to keep it up, even in a half-hearted manner should not be too much to ask.

Blue Jays clinch 1st playoff spot since 2016, beat Yanks 4-1

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Leave a comment

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) Barred from playing in their own ballpark this year because of COVID-19, the vagabond Toronto Blue Jays have found a home in the playoffs.

The slumping New York Yankees, meanwhile, look likely to play on the road in the postseason, where they’ve struggled all year.

Hyun Jin Ryu pitched seven shutout innings and the Blue Jays clinched their first postseason spot since 2016, beating the Yankees 4-1 Thursday night and further damaging New York’s chances of hosting a first-round series.

New York lost for the fourth time in five games following a 10-game winning stretch and remained two games behind the slumping White Sox for the fourth seed. Chicago lost 5-4 at Cleveland, its fifth straight defeat.

“We’ve got to get it rolling again, obviously, if we’re going to get to where we want to go,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I’m confident we can do it.

New York went 21-7 at home this season but was 11-18 on the road. Boone said he’s not concerned about that split even as a potential road playoff series looms next week.

“We’ve got to get ourselves in order and start playing really good baseball if we’re going to give ourselves a chance,” Boone said.

Toronto secured at least an AL wild-card spot and ensured its eighth trip overall to the postseason. The Blue Jays had endured three losing campaigns since their previous playoff trip, going 67-95 last season.

“I’m just so proud of my club and everything we’ve gone through all year,” second-year manager Charlie Montoyo said.

Canada’s federal government refused to allow games at Toronto’s Rogers Centre this season, citing the closed Canada-U.S. border and the travel risk associated with the pandemic. Stuck on the road to start the season, the Blue Jays eventually ended up at their Triple-A ballpark, Sahlen Field in Buffalo, but didn’t gripe about their fate.

“They never complained,” Montoyo said. “They had their mind set on getting to this moment right now.”

Blue Jays players embraced after Rafael Dolis struck out Aaron Hicks to end it, donning blue T-shirts that said “Respect Toronto.”

“This is something we want to make an every year thing,” infielder Cavan Biggio said. “For us, we’re happy, we’re excited we’re able to put ourselves in this position, but this is only the start of hopefully something special for a long time.”

The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by two games for second place in the AL East. Both teams have three games remaining. Toronto hosts Baltimore in Buffalo this weekend while the Yankees host the Marlins.

New York failed to hit a homer for the fourth straight game, matching its longest streak since June 2016. It’s the first time the Yankees have failed to homer in a four-game series since doing so at Texas in July 2013.

“I’m concerned with the way we’ve played recently,” outfielder Brett Gardner said. “Any time you’re not playing your best baseball and the postseason is right around the corner, something needs to be corrected rather quickly.”

New York loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez flied out to deep center, where Randal Grichuk made a leaping catch at the wall.

“It’s good to see him get a really good swing off in a big spot,” Boone said of Sanchez. “Just unfortunately, that short.”

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered for Toronto, his eighth.

Ryu (5-2) scattered five hits, walked two and struck out four. Luke Voit and Hicks hit back-to-back singles to begin the sixth but Ryu struck out Giancarlo Stanton, got Gleyber Torres to fly out, and retired Gio Urshela on a groundball.

“He’s an ace and he did what an ace does,” Montoyo said.

The left-hander lowered his ERA from 3.00 to 2.69.

Dolis got four outs for his fifth save in six chances.

Guerrero opened the scoring with a solo homer off left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2-3) in the second.

The Blue Jays extended their lead when Biggio and Bo Bichette hit back-to-back, two-out doubles in the third.

Toronto made it 4-0 in the sixth. Grichuk chased Montgomery with a single and Guerrero singled off Adam Ottavino before rookie Alejandro Kirk hit a two-out, two-run double.

Montgomery lost for the first time in four starts. He allowed three runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.

The Blue Jays finished 5-5 in their 10-game regular season series against the Yankees.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson (elbow) was activated off the injured list and RHP Wilmer Font was designated for assignment. . RHP Jordan Romano (strained right middle finger) will throw a second bullpen session Friday.

Yankees: Aaron Judge came on as a pinch-hitter but is expected to start all three remaining regular season games, Boone said.

SHARED DUTY

Boone said he expects to use both Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka at catcher in the postseason. Higashioka has hit well while working with ace Gerrit Cole, while Sanchez has struggled with both offense and his defense down the stretch.

SEVEN UP

Ryu became the first Blue Jays starting pitcher since Aug. 22, 2019, to pitch into the seventh. It had been an MLB-record 88 games since RHP Jacob Waguespack pitched into the seventh at Dodger Stadium last year.

UP NEXT

Yankees: LHP J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.25) starts Friday as New York returns home to begin a three-game series against Miami. RHP Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.12) starts for the Marlins.

Blue Jays: RHP Taijuan Walker (4-3, 2.86) starts Friday in the opener of a three-game series against Baltimore. The Orioles have not named a starter.