SPORTS BEAT – MLB LIMITS PRESS ACCESS

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 (BP). Apparently this stipulation was agreed upon between Major League Baseball (MLB) and its players association as part of their new collective bargaining agreement.

Less access makes it more difficult for an independent press to talk to newsmakers and 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 all 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 today’s players 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 who obviously don’t see the big picture.

Blame has to fall as well on the once mighty Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). The BBWAA never understood the notion of safety in numbers. The organization has only allowed 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. A few years ago the BBWAA lost the right to talk to players around the batting cage and now they are losing a good chunk of their pre-game access.

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 now have an advocacy group that would 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.