Following Monday’s game against the Cardinals, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Major League Baseball would follow the practice of the NBA and NHL of closing the clubhouses to the media, fearing spread of the coronavirus.
It was a precaution, they said. Baseball had already instituted a policy to keep fans from contacting players by not allowing autographs and the Twins had roped off areas of the complex which normally allowed the general public to come within inches of a passing player.
Separating players from the gen pop was one thing but restricting access to the clubhouse could draw the ire of the ink-stained wretches.
In recent history, there has been a cat-and-mouse dance between teams and the credentialed press regarding access to the clubhouse. Baseball’s clubhouse has long been a sanctuary for players. There is camaraderie, bonding, goofing around. There are poker games and practical jokes. There are discussions with trainers and coaches.
Media members working the room, if the proper professionalism and tact is not taken, can be viewed as an intrusion. Plus, from the team’s perspective, they benefit by controlling the message under their terms.
Many insiders felt that baseball would favor transitioning to a system similar to other major sports where certain players are brought in to a press conference room rather than host scrums in front of their lockers. For their part, baseball’s writers felt that by revoking the clubhouse access, you lose valuable insight and stories that would not otherwise see the light if writers were not working the room on a daily basis.
As someone who attends camp to get insight on mechanics, systems and new developments — topics that don’t play well in the scrums — the clubhouse shutdown was a small blow to my plan. To be honest, my strength is not to provide game reports or stories that the beat writers thrive at.
During group interviews, you could almost see them construct their stories through precise questions. These well-trained, well-seasoned writers are extremely good at their jobs. They ask questions to get a specific answer that flows into their story. I ask questions simply to learn more about baseball.
Heading into Florida, I had planned on interviewing multiple pitchers and coaches on the Twins’ study of and use of biomechanics. It was here, during the looming shutdown, when I realized the question of what new pitch someone was working on or what piece of technology the team was using to measure hip speed was beyond trivial. Maybe even more so than usual.
On the ground in Fort Myers, the overall concern seemed muted. Players ribbed reporters, jokingly saying they were part of the unwashed masses. There were cruise ship jokes. Others admitted the absurdity of the practice. (If media members could bring the virus into the clubhouse, players could certainly do the same).
At the time it felt like a minor inconvenience. MLB’s clubhouse restriction was one decision that came from a conference call among all the owners.
The other portion of the call, more ominously, was the report that the owners were looking at potentially starting the season’s opening series in alternate markets.
Tomorrow: Four Days, Day 2 - Scrambling for access and hand sanitizer
Four Days, Day 0: Business As Usual