Several years ago the Chicago White Sox put in a new press box down the right field line and turned the old one — right behind home plate — into luxury seating. This angered a lot of the working press who, for understandable reasons, like to be behind home plate to do their jobs of covering baseball games.
When the stink arose, Bud Selig told the Baseball Writers Association of America that he heard them loud and clear and that no team would be allowed to do that again. Since then the Angels, the Blue Jays and a couple of others have moved their press boxes out to the outfield and turned the former press boxes into luxury seating.
I know, I’m as shocked as you are that Bud Selig’s word was not kept. I’m not sure what to believe anymore!
Add one more team to the list. The Cincinnati Reds:
As you can read above, the Reds are adding a fun, ironic twist: actually branding the new seating “The Press Club,” thereby monetizing a romanticized, throwback idea of the “press” while moving the actual working press out to left field. It’s like one of those new urban in-fill developments that knocks down a block of apartments and storefronts to build new “mixed-use” buildings with high-end condos, expensive restaurants and mobile phone stores and talks about how they’re, finally, bringing housing and retail to the city’s center.
Now, before you go asking me why anyone who is not a member of the working press should care about this, allow me to say that, no, no one who is not the working press should care about this. Indeed, even if I don’t — as at least a nominal member of the press — approve of this, I’m shocked more teams haven’t done this frankly.
The baseball press corps is smaller than ever. Some cities only have one newspaper reporter, the MLB.com person and the visiting press at some games. And, as you may have read this week, not all clubs have a high opinion of reporters. In contrast, they certainly care a lot about high-revenue seating areas and clubs with expensive drinks. Moving the shrinking press corps to a less prominent location and turning their couple of rows of desks, seats and plugs under fluorescent lighting into a high-end bourbon bar serves a baseball team’s interests quite well.
Moreover, as someone who has covered games from “auxiliary press boxes” (i.e. places way out in the far reaches of the ballpark where they put non-BBWAA-accredited people for high-profile events like the World Series and All-Star Game) I can tell you that it’s quite possible to cover a game from the cheap seats. You have your laptop with real-time, data-laden updates. Most of the time you have video monitors to see what happened on the field up close. Team media relations hands you stacks of printed out sheets with stats, facts, and other key in-game information. The part that the BBWAA will tell you that is most important — pre and postgame access to players and managers — will not change. It’s doable, even if the sight lines are not as good.
Still, it’s worth observing this change and reminding ourselves that baseball teams are in the profit-making business. They are not governmental or quasi-governmental entities or public trusts who, at least when acting properly, care all that much about the press or the part of the public that doesn’t fork over money at the ballpark. And that’s the case even if they act like they’re public trusts when it comes time to get those new ballparks that, in the future, will no doubt have press boxes placed way out in the outfield as a matter of initial design as opposed to subsequent renovations.