In the first decade of his life, our son was really afraid of bees, to the point that the sight of one plump bumblebee lazily meandering from flower to flower would cause him to run inside as if he was being chased by a grizzly bear. Over time, he came to believe what I said to him over and over: Bees really aren't worthy of the fear he attached to them — he's not allergic to them — and if he actually does get stung, the pain quickly goes away.
That's sort of how the MLB Players Association leadership might want to start thinking of the media before pushing for further restrictions on reporters' access to players in the negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement.
The other day, union chief Tony Clark said the association is not interested in taking away reporters' access to the clubhouse, before uttering words perceived to be something of a threat. From Evan Drellich's story:
"Unfortunately, what's happened over the last 48, 72 hours as a result of somebody offering something that wasn't true, is players are talking more about it than they were prior to it being offered because they knew it wasn't on the priority list and they knew there were a number of other things that they wanted to work through. So, I have no interest in cutting access to the clubhouse. If another article pops likes the one that popped 72 hours ago, whatever to-do list we may have that it's not on now, it may move on to it as a result of players getting more uncomfortable about what and how — what level of professionalism the media has. So, it's unfortunate what came out."
Until the union actually gets into negotiations with Major League Baseball, we really won't know exactly what stance the union will take with regard to media access. But there is an expectation among management officials that the topic of limiting the players' obligations will be pushed for, in some form, by the union.
And this would be like my son rushing into the house at the sight of a bumblebee.
The media's clubhouse access has already been slashed dramatically in recent years. When I started covering the Padres in 1992, reporters were allowed into the clubhouse about 3 ½ hours before each game, and were permitted to remain until about 45 minutes before the first pitch. From that range of 2 hours and 45 minutes of access, clubhouse availability has been hacked to about an hour of pregame time for reporters, and let's be clear about the nature of this access: Players are not required to be at their locker for the hour. They can talk or not as they so choose. And a lot of teams will schedule the managers' daily pregame sessions with reporters right in the middle of the open clubhouse time to strategically draw media away from the players.
Most players usually take the time to swing through the clubhouse or even sit at their locker and chat, but some players don't. If a reporter can't find a player, she or he can ask someone who works in media relations to forward a request, but there are no rules mandating that the players actually answer questions from reporters. As a reporter, I never really cared when a player chose to not talk; I just hoped that they would be consistent in their choice while understanding that by not talking, they forfeit the right to have their perspective included in a subsequent report.
On a typical day, maybe 10 to 12 players on a team, at most, are approached by reporters. Relievers will tell you that their interviews are intermittent — often postgame after blowing a lead — and starting pitchers mostly talk right after their outings. Catchers almost certainly lead the majors in media access, as they address and assess pitching. For a star player such as Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, the requests come daily, which the teams help to manage. My experience is that just about all of the players are great in making themselves available, and the majority of them probably enjoy the byplay. In other words: It's part of the job, and just not that big of a deal.
But somehow, the level of player responsibility seems to be greatly exaggerated when the topic of clubhouse access comes up. Like the impact of a bee sting.