Joey Votto gets it.
The longtime Cincinnati Red has been one of the most entertaining players in baseball for years with a big personality and the back of a baseball card to match. All this to say, when he speaks about baseball matters, people should listen.
On the heels of the announcement that MLB would be closing off its clubhouses to reporters due to the threat of the coronavirus and its potential spread, the Athletic’s C. Trent Rosencrans asked Votto about clubhouse access and what it means to the player and the game. Votto delivered a thought-out response:
No, I definitely think most of — I’d say a vast majority of the stories involve nuance, emotion, personal relationships. Even if they’re incorrect, a perception of how someone reacted can be told through facial expressions, getting to know that person and tone. I think that if you don’t have that ability on a daily basis, you don’t get to share those insights and frankly, most fans don’t care about the balls and strikes and runs and wins — well, I guess wins — but runs, but they care about the person. They want to feel like they’re close to the performer in any sport. I think everyone in the media is the bridge that connects the athlete with the public, and without that close proximity, I don’t personally think you get that human component.
To sum it up: Clubhouse access for reporters is important. In a sport that is already reeling from its lack of transcendent stars, baseball writers must not only convey information on a day-to-day basis, but they also must act as the liaison between player and fan, as Votto so eloquently noted.
FAGAN: Coronavirus restrictions the first pivot from business as usual?
More than any other sport, baseball is human. It’s the most equivalent to a 9-to-5 job, wherein 260 days out of the year people head to the office to work. That intimate setting is usually utilized to have one-on-one conversations with players. It’s not always “gotcha” media. You can learn things about players and help convey that information to fans, where the player might not always be the most accessible otherwise.
Obviously, the threat of the coronavirus across the nation is serious. It’s not to diminish the potential impact on MLB players, who are just as human as we are and just as prone to the disease as we are. MLB owners want to protect their multimillion-dollar investments, after all, so trying to contain the potential spread of the virus is wise. (Though, playing games in front of 40,000 fans in attendance might have as big an impact as letting in select media members in the clubhouse before a game.)
But it might speak to a bigger issue: There have been rumblings in the latest CBA talks that clubhouse access for media members would continue to be limited, but the relationship between MLB, MLBPA and the baseball writers remains strong, and it might not be an issue moving forward.
Clubhouse access is already something of an issue for postseason games, for which MLB breaks out of its ultra-regionalized mold and enters the national spotlight. Clubhouses are closed to media members before the game, allowing for brief pre-game press conferences with players and managers that usually don’t deliver more than a cliche or common knowledge.
Hopefully the idea of closing off the clubhouse to media is one that doesn’t stick after the coronavirus is contained, and with Votto supporting importance of media there, at least some players understand it.
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