Justin Verlander’s Side Of The Detroit Free Press Story And Why Whatever Happened Shouldn’t Have Got To This Point

Detroit Free Press reporter Anthony Fenech was “unethical” according to Justin Verlander. Now, Fenech is outside the circle of trust.

That’s what happens when you cross a notorious competitor/red ass like Verlander. He starts ordering staff around, telling them things like, “Keep that Fenech bastard away from my yogurt parfait,” and, “Fenech says I don’t look good in stripes. I look f-ing great in stripes” and “I’ll pay you 50 bucks for a horse head to put in that Fenech guy’s bed. I can’t believe he wrote about my cat’s hairball problem.”

Or something like that…

Whatever Fenech, the Detroit Tigers’ beat writer did, said, or likely wrote hasn’t come out yet, but it caused Houston Astros’ right-handed pitcher to bitch and moan enough the day of his start against the Tigers that the Astros actually violated the Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement. On Wednesday three staffers stood outside their home locker room and allowed reporters in, except Fenech. The blockade kept the reporter from doing his job while other journalists were allowed to do theirs.

The rules have been around since 1908 and exist to keep players and teams from denying access to reporters and news outlets that maybe noticed/even reported that a team has lost 12 in a row, or has a bullpen that starts drinking absinthe in the fourth inning.

What did Fenech do to anger a Cy Young Award winner, multi-millionaire, World Series champion, possible hall-of-famer? Apparently only Verlander knows…or cares…or read about whatever it was because everyone else is standing around their respective water coolers in Detroit saying, “Uh…What?”

Fenech was finally let in and the player then refused to comment on that night’s loss to his old team, the Detroit Tigers, for whom Fenech has been the team’s beat reporter since 2015. After that, and after, “Operation Dumb Idea” got out to the rest of the world, Verlander took out a box of Twitter tissues and claimed the role of “peacemaker/forward thinker.”

“I declined to speak with the @freep rep last night because of his unethical behavior in the past,” the pitcher wrote. “I reached out to the @freep multiple times before the game to notify them why and to give them an opportunity to have someone else there. Ironically they didn’t answer.”

Actually, irony is the exact opposite of what you would expect. Most sane people would not expect they would be able to pick which reporter was covering their day at work.

Verlander then took a turn in the role of victim.

“Although I tried to avoid this situation altogether, I’ve still reached out to @freep multiple times today with no response,” Verlander tweeted. “They’re still not interested in my side of the story.”

Okay, Justin what is your side of the…

You know what, I don’t care. Because this is crap.

If you can’t go to someone and tell them you have a beef with them and why and demand an apology, then you’re a bigger jerk than the person who supposedly wronged you. And if Fenech did violate some “journalistic ethic” like knowingly writing something that wasn’t true to gin up a “discord-in-the-clubhouse” story or wrote something was supposed to be in confidence, then shame on him.

But we don’t know. Fenech went to Twitter and said his “goal has been fair and ethical coverage.” No clues as to what might have been construed as “unfair” or “unethical.” Right now, all we know is Verlander’s feelings are hurt and he’s pushing a guy around who makes literally, what, 1/280th of what he makes?

I’ve seen it before, this kind of power trip, from athletes. Once, long ago when I was a photojournalist, a member of the Dallas Cowboys told me I had to vacate the entire bottom floor of the Lawlor Events Center in Reno just because he didn’t want me there.

Another time, a famous former athlete refused to answer one of my colleague’s questions, choosing instead to ignore him and pretend the question hadn’t been answered. I spoke up, “I’ve got a question,” I said, “Why won’t you answer his question?” The person, startled slightly, then said, “I didn’t hear the question. What was it again?”

So, let’s not let the other journalists in that room off the hook, if they knew Fenech was being barred. If they knew, they should have raised holy hell on the spot and demanded he be allowed in. I would hope they would want the same done for them. They could have then gone to Verlander and said, “What’s the deal with you and Fenech?” But, they didn’t. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt for that, even though Verlander refused to talk to them with Fenech around the night before, according to ESPN.

Since there has certainly been time to weigh in. But nary a peep of criticism is coming from the Houston Chronicle, which instead wrote about Verlander’s tweet and then the Astros’ doubling down on their bone-headed, childish decision from 24 hours before.

“This course of action was taken after taking into consideration the past history between Fenech and one of our players, Justin Verlander,” a team statement read. The team went on to congratulate itself for saving other journalists from having to suffer through Fenech’s…wait, what did he do again?

“Verlander’s legitimate concerns about past interactions with Fenech, and the best interests of other media members working the game. We chose to prioritize these factors when making this decision,” the statement continued.

The statement notes that Fenech was allowed in, and was able to approach whomever he wished, but left out that that happened only after Major League Baseball got involved and called the club to tell them to knock it off.

Houston wrapped up the best part of its statement with,”We believe that our course of action in this isolated case was appropriate.”

I think I’ll teach that line of thinking to my children, “Kids, when you do something you know is wrong, don’t take responsibility, just say, “I believe my course of action in this isolated case was appropriate.”

While we’re throwing shame pies around, let’s throw a couple MLB’s and the Baseball Writers of America Association’s way, since they have taken to categorizing journalists and columnists based on the criteria of which ones get read the most. If you’re trying to cover the game, but aren’t imbedded with a team every day, you have a 50-50 chance of being written off as a hack.

Credit should go to Mike Teevan, MLB vice president of communications who came to Fenech’s rescue Wednesday and said Thursday, “Per our Club-Media Regulations, the reporter should have been allowed to enter the clubhouse postgame at the same time as the other members of the media,” and then continued, “We have communicated this to the Astros.”

But let’s be clear. This isn’t just an Astros problem. Other teams have it, too.

“Bloggers aren’t journalists,” I was told by one fairly rude, unhelpful, and boorish gentleman with the Cincinatti Reds at spring training this year, as he dismissed my request to join other journalists to talk about the Reds chances this year.

Maybe he knew something I didn’t since the Reds have as much chance of making the playoffs as Fenech has of Verlander making him sweet rolls. But, here’s the problem with that, pal. I’ve been a journalist for 22 years, 42 if you count all of the side reporting, announcing, and photography gigs I’ve had along the way. But because I didn’t present my Sacramento media badge from my day job and try to act like a big shot reporter, and instead told you the truth, that I was there as the publisher of a small website that is dedicated to covering your sport, and wished to have access to players so that some of our content could be more quote-based and timely, you seized on the opportunity to set sail on your power trip and deny access.

It’s the same thing as what happened to Fenech, only Fenech had even more of a case to be in that room than I did since BBWAA already granted him membership. Both situations were happened poorly and neither helps get baseball what it sorely needs right now: positive attention.

As for Verlander and Fenech, it’s possible for two wrongs to make a right. I’ve seen it happen. Hopefully, these two get together over a nice coffee stout and work things out. Fenech can apologize for writing that Verlander’s wife, Kate Upton, doesn’t look good in teal. Verlander can apologize for not being able to handle real-life communications with another human.

Hopefully that happens. Otherwise, they just both kind of look like gomers: the reporter loses credibility for not having the respect of the player and the player looks like a thin-skinned, petulant child.

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