If the roar of the crowd is part of baseball, so, increasingly, is the hush of the clubhouse. Let sportswriters draw nigh and Dave Kingman isn't the only ballplayer who is clamming up these days. In what seems to be almost a conspiracy of silence, the list of players who periodically refuse to talk to the press now includes St. Louis' George Hendrick, San Francisco's John Montefusco and Boston's Jim Rice. There are probably others as well but they are so closemouthed they still haven't told anyone. Hendrick's shoulder is particularly cold. Before the season began, he pointedly took Cardinal writers aside and told them, "If I have an opinion to express, I will call you over individually and give it to you." The writers are still waiting.
A certain amount of friction between writers and players is, of course, inevitable. Ballplayers are men of action rather than words, and they are correct in suspecting that those words can sometimes return to haunt them. Last season's celebrated fistfight between the Los Angeles Dodgers' Don Sutton and Steve Garvey occurred after Sutton questioned Garvey's value to the team in The Washington Post. The incident not only proved that ballplayers can read but also that they can be highly sensitive. Of course, these facts have always been known in Boston, where the writers feuded with Ted Williams. It was Williams who said, "Pour hot water over a sportswriter and you'll get instant bleep."
But as that proves, Williams did speak, at least occasionally. In buttoning up altogether, many of today's players complain, predictably, that they have been misquoted. Hendrick, an articulate man on those rare occasions when he does deign to speak, says he started giving writers the silent treatment when he was playing with the Indians. "They took journalistic license with my quotes," he says. "The stories always came out like I was insulting my teammates. So I decided it would be better if I didn't say anything."
Boston's Dwight Evans, another strong, silent type, appears to believe that he is not only misquoted but also underquoted. This may be something of a contradiction, but it makes sense to Evans. He says he used to talk to writers a lot but little of what he said made it into print. Now, because he talks less often, very little does. Reflecting the image consciousness of the modern ballplayer, Montefusco and Giant teammate Randy Moffitt once refused to talk with former team broadcaster Lon Simmons because he was "putting us down." After Texas started poorly last season, Pitcher Doyle Alexander declined to talk, accusing reporters of unfairly blaming the team's troubles on the pitching staff. He felt that the hitters deserved the blame.
Writers are often boycotted on a selective basis. The Expos' Ellis Valentine will speak only to out-of-town journalists, giving Montreal scribes a grand bilingual kiss-off. In picking their spots when it comes to talking, some players can appear just a wee bit mercenary. Rice recently threatened to stuff an inquiring reporter into a trash barrel, but the Boston slugger was far more accommodating when American Optical Company paid him $1,000 to appear at a press conference. But then, it has long been clear that the modern ballplayer prefers vows of silence to vows of poverty.
Some players snub writers with more style than others. Los Angeles' Reggie Smith (who once was interviewed live on TV and afterward claimed he had been misquoted) tends to brush off writers with a curt "Not now." Kansas City's Freddie Patek simply stares into space when he's not in the mood to talk. Patek's teammate Amos Otis is more considerate. During his periodic seizures of silence, Otis takes out a hand-printed sign he keeps nearby and hangs it on his dressing cubicle. It says: "No Interviews. A.O."
For writers, probably the best retaliation is to reply in kind. Earlier this season, the Texas Ranger reporters were denied access to the clubhouse and were told to conduct their interviews in a narrow, muggy hallway. But the writers balked. Until the clubhouse restrictions were finally eased, they refused to interview any players.