SportInside story of the Astros, Verlander and a newspaper
Baseball world reacts to Verlander's latest no-hitter
Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander is an absolute freak of nature. Even at the advanced age of 36, the future Hall of Famer continues to awe onlookers.
It was avoidable and inexcusable.
Astros block Free Press from Justin Verlander’s postgame media session
The Houston Astros blocked the Detroit Free Press from interviewing Justin Verlander following the team's loss to the Tigers on Wednesday.
The Houston Astros knowingly violated the, which actually is designed to protect ballplayers, when the from entering their clubhouse with Houston media on Wednesday night.
Justin Verlander, arguably the greatest pitcher in Tigers history and now the Astros’ ace, refused to talk to any reporters with Fenech present.
Players have no obligation to talk to media members in a postgame scrum. They can ignore questions. Or give non-answers.
But the league says reporters must have equal access.
The Astros know this.
Theexists to protect credentialed media from such backlash and retribution. And so does the CBA.
Justin Verlander ejected by umpire Pat Hoberg for complaining about calls
Justin Verlander was ejected during the sixth inning of Tuesday’s Houston Astros-Tampa Bay Rays game after taking issue with umpire Pat Hoberg’s strike zone. Verlander was leading 9-0 and facing Tampa Bay’s Tommy Pham with one out. On a 2-2 count, Verlander thought he had struck out Pham on a pitch just off the outside corner. Hoberg called it a ball. Justin Verlander thought he had rung up Tommy Pham on pitch 5. On pitch 6, Tommy Pham hit a double. Verlander went straight at Pat Hoberg after the hit was struck and yelled at him. Hoberg tossed him. pic.twitter.
Verlander and Fenech have a checkered past. But that isn’t the issue. Or at least it shouldn’t be.
Yet in the interest of clarity and transparency, it’s important to explain how the relationship ultimately soured. And how the Astros’ decision to block access ultimately became a story.
In a tweet Thursday, Verlander said Fenech showed “unethical” past behavior.
It stems primarily from two incidents, Fenech says.
The relationship began to deteriorate on Aug. 22, 2017, when Fenech joined a conversation Verlander was having with Al Kaline in the Tigers' clubhouse at Comerica Park. Fenech had just finished an interview with Verlander a few minutes prior, and Kaline's name had come up. Fenech began talking to the two men.
During the conversation, which was casual in nature, Verlander talked about his experiences travelling to Tennessee and watching the solar eclipse on Aug. 21. Fenech posted two tweets about the exchange,:
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"Justin Verlander watched the solar eclipse from the Path of Totality. 'It was the most beautiful thing I've seen in my life,' he said."
Justin Verlander watched the solar eclipse from the Path of Totality. "It was the most beautiful thing I've seen in my life," he said.— anthony fenech (@anthonyfenech)
"Verlander, an admitted astronomy enthusiast, traveled to Nashville to watch the eclipse in its fullest totality, he said."
Verlander, an admitted astronomy enthusiast, traveled to Nashville to watch the eclipse in its fullest totality, he said.— anthony fenech (@anthonyfenech)
That night, a Tigers media relations official told Fenech that Verlander was unhappy with the tweets. The next day, Verlander ripped Fenech in a profanity-laced rant inside the Tigers dugout in front of coaches, saying that his conversation with Kaline was private.
The next time they spoke, in a postgame media scrum on Aug. 25 in Chicago, Verlander told Fenech, “You should stop,” in response to a question about theafter a brawl with the New York Yankees on Aug. 24. When Fenech asked a follow-up question, Verlander walked out of the scrum.
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The next issue came on Sept. 12, 2018, during an interview that went on and off the record and ended with a disagreement about the context surrounding the exchange of a phone number.
Fenech had been assigned to ask Verlander aboutpublished Aug. 9, 2018, in which Verlander said the Tigers “misdiagnosed” an injury in 2015. The Free Press was the first Detroit media outlet to ask Verlander about the comments.
for his characterization of the situation.
Although I tried to avoid this situation altogether, I’ve still reached out to— Justin Verlander (@JustinVerlander) multiple times today with no response. They’re still not interested in my side of the story.
Since then, Verlander has refused to talk to Fenech.
In mid-May, when the Astros came to Detroit, Gene Dias, the Astros’ vice president of communications, called Fenech and told him Verlander would not grant him any interview requests.
Then last week on Wednesday afternoon, a day after Verlander ended a media availability before it started because Fenech was present, Dias told Fenech that Verlander wasn’t speaking to him because of the.
Here’s how Fenech remembers the 2018 interview:
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- He interviewed Verlander at Comerica Park on Sept. 12 and asked for permission to turn on his recorder. Verlander said yes. It was Verlander's first trip to Detroit since the Bleacher Report story was published. The conversation alternated on and off the record. Given the nature of the conversation, Fenech told Verlander he’d return after the game to verify quotes for clarity, which is not a typical practice. Verlander said, "I appreciate that," according to Fenech's tape of the interview. The conversation ended.
- After the interview, Dias told Fenech that Verlander was having second thoughts about the interview. Dias also told Fenech that not publishing the story could help Fenech’s working relationship with Verlander in the future. Verlander had deemed the story unnecessary, Dias told Fenech.
- Fenech returned to the Astros clubhouse to clarify a quote with Verlander, who then said he believed the conversation was off the record. Fenech read the quote to Verlander and said he planned to use it in the story. The quote read, in part: “I’m going to let it lie. No point in dredging up the past anymore. I think the easiest way for me to answer it is, it was initially diagnosed as a tricep and it ended up being a lat.”
- Fenech handed Verlander his business card and told him that if he needed to add to or clarify the quote, he could call him before the Free Press’ print deadline time. Fenech then told Verlander he wanted to preserve their working relationship. It was during this exchange that Verlander told Fenech he crossed the line. Verlander felt Fenech was using the situation to gain the pitcher's personal cell phone number. Fenech told Verlander he misunderstood the exchange of the business card. Fenech told Verlander that it wasn't his intention.
On Friday, I reviewed the audio of Fenech's interview with Verlander for the first time. And while it's clear to me that Verlander was on the record, I did discover that Fenech crossed an ethical line when early in the conversation he offered to give Verlander advice on how to respond to the misdiagnosis question: This point has been firmly made to Fenech.
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To be clear, this interaction is not what spurred Verlander to publicly question Fenech's ethics on Thursday. Verlander said, "sure go ahead," before declining the advice, giving his own statement and telling Fenech he "appreciated" the opportunity to clarify his quotes if needed.
Ultimately, the Free Press found that Fenech's attempt to be helpful in an awkward situation had no impact on the veracity of the reporting.
“This was a momentary lapse of judgment intended to build trust with the subject in this particular situation," Fenech said Saturday.
Multiple attempts to reach Verlander's agent, Mark Pieper, were unsuccessful on Friday and Saturday.
On Friday, Dias declined comment and referred the Free Press to the Astros' statement on Thursday, which said, in part, that Fenech's access was delayed because of "Verlander's legitimate concerns" about past interactions with Fenech.
The action was "appropriate," the statement said.
Why this is wrong
There’s nothing in the MLB collective bargaining agreement that would force Verlander to speak to Fenech. The Free Press understands that. And we understand some stories and some comments lead to contention and can affect one-on-one access.
But group access can’t be prejudicial.
When the Astros used three security officials to stand between Fenech and the clubhouse while Verlander spoke to reporters on Wednesday night, it sent a message that the BBWAA is powerless against baseball’s biggest stars. And, that a credentialed media member’s access can be compromised just because a player doesn’t like him.
On Wednesday afternoon, Verlander’s camp reached out to the Free Press. His agent, Mark Pieper, left a voicemail on my office phone to discuss Verlander’s issues with Fenech. Regrettably, I didn’t hear the voicemail until Thursday.
Still, the conversation wouldn’t have changed the Free Press’ stance: Fenech needed to be at Wednesday’s game and Verlander’s postgame media session for two reasons: He’s our beat reporter. And it’s his job.
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Disagreements happen in clubhouses and locker rooms all the time. Not all reporters and athletes get along.
Blocking access runs counter to the mission of the BBWAA, which was established in 1908 “to ensure its members have access to players and others in the game so members’ reporting can be accurate, fair and complete.”
Fenech wasn’t asking for a one-on-one interview.
He was asking to be present in a group interview with multiple reporters, who all heard the same comments from Verlander.
The Astros’ decision was inexcusable. Yet in their statement on Thursday, they defended their actions.
The MLB has since contacted the Astros and told them not to be prejudicial in granting access again. The BBWAA also condemned the actions.
But that's not enough.
The Free Press will make a formal complaint to the league. As part of it, we’ll urge.
Not because a ballplayer wouldn’t talk to a reporter.
But because the ballplayer’s franchise did not act professionally.
It’s written in the CBA’s Club-Media Regulations: “Any club whose personnel violate these regulations will be disciplined.”
We’re just asking MLB to put its weight behind this rule like it would any other.
So this never happens again.
Chris Thomas is the sports editor at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him ator follow him on Twitter .
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press:
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