As you probably know, in the wake of a slow offseason in which nearly 100 free agents still remain unsigned, the Major League Baseball Players Association is holding a training camp in Bradenton, Florida for free agents. The idea: let players get into playing shape so they do not fall behind signed players, thereby making it even harder to find work.
Today Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe observes that the union is not allowing media access to the free agent camp:
I can see a possible argument for the MLBPA not allowing the media in. The reason has its roots in the last free agent camp the union put together.
The players went on strike in 1994. As spring dawned in 1995, the players were still on strike and the owners opened their camps with replacement players — scabs they figured could help them break the strike. They couldn’t break it and, at the end of March, the strike ended with a little help from the federal courts. Union players reported to camp.
At least most did. There were still over 100 free agents who had not found jobs due to the signing-freeze imposed by the strike. Some quickly found work, but many did not, and they were in a bad place as March turned to April and the season’s beginning quickly approached.
The MLBPA addressed this by putting together a camp in Homestead, Florida, where unsigned players could get to work. Not a lot of players attended the camp — around 60 or 70 depending on which report you read — but enough did to where the camp could function more or less like a normal camp. Like the 2018 version, which is being run by Bo Porter, it was run by a former manager, Jackie Moore.
The media was invited to the 1995 camp, but the coverage that came out of it was not flattering. Most of it focused on the desperation of the unsigned players and was rather sad in tone. There was an element of hopelessness in lot of that coverage given that it focused on the reality that these were guys whose careers may be ending. And many careers did, in fact, end in the spring if 1995. Looking back on those stories it was a reminder that, though the union won the 1994-95 strike by almost every measure, there were casualties.
I believe there are good reasons for the MLBPA to allow the media in to their new free agent camp. For one thing, I’m a journalist, and I think that coverage should always be allowed. I’m sort of selfish that way. Less selfishly, I think that hearing the stories of some of these players would be good. There’s this myth out there that all of the free agents are guys turning down big offers because they’re deluded. Maybe that’s the case for some of them at the top, but I suspect the vast majority of them haven’t gotten offers at all and have some interesting stories to tell about the curious way the 2017-18 offseason has unfolded. I think the MLBPA would do its members favors if it allowed such coverage.
But I do understand why they’d be wary. Players almost ALWAYS hate having to talk to the press, so any sort of spring training situation which does not involve a bunch of reporters roaming their clubhouse is a rare luxury. More importantly, though, I suspect the union does not want its free agents being the subject of sad stories in which they’re cast as hopeless or pathetic or facing the end of their careers.