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Reporters often wait idly in the clubhouse for players to emerge from hiding. Such a practice, which the clubs have dubbed "loitering," is probably at the top of the players' gripe list. Says San Francisco Giant second baseman Robby Thompson, "I think the guys resent people lingering, because the perception is that they're eavesdropping."
The apprehension is greater in baseball than in other sports because baseball permits the most access and its teams play nearly every day.
When players do talk to the media, they often do so cautiously, wary of what they see as the media's appetite for negative angles. "We feel like targets," says Cone, whose personal life was bared in seamy detail last year in New York. "A lot of times they're looking for a reason to get on you. Negativity sells."
Indeed, so-called dirt is well received and in some cases even encouraged by editors and the public. One beat writer covering a small-market American League team once turned in a feature story on the club's manager. "It's O.K.," the editor said, "but I wanted more dirt." Reporters, especially in the four-way newspaper war in New York, have learned how to ask provoking questions and to accentuate controversial angles.
Many players, emboldened by their financial security, have adopted an attitude of, Why even bother making an effort to cooperate with the media? Oakland A's manager Tony La Russa, while lamenting the media's search for controversy, acknowledges that "the money has given some of the players a warped attitude, and it has separated them from the media and the fans."
Where has most of that money come from? From the media, either directly, through sums paid for broadcast rights, or indirectly, through exposure on sports pages or TV news shows. "If there weren't writers, cameras and microphones in the clubhouse," says Seattle Mariner pitcher Norm Charlton, "then we wouldn't be getting paid what we're being paid. The media is part of the goose that laid the golden egg for us. Stories create interest, and that's how the fans get involved. Our job is not just to play baseball."
Few players are as enlightened as Charlton. As the media beast grows, so does the need to school the players in how to deal with that beast. "They get coaching for hitting and fielding and pitching; they need it for the media now, too," Kirby says. Education seems to help. Kirby's seminars, as well as changes on the roster, have improved the climate this year in the Boston Red Sox clubhouse, which in the past had been one of the game's more hostile battlefields. And Atlanta Brave outfielder David Justice is projecting a more positive image after deciding, with Kirby's help, to curb his surliness with the media.
A few days after McRae's eruption, Kirby incorporated videotape of the incident in her presentation to a group of minor league players. "McRae has control of what happens to him, but he gave it up," she told them. "You're in control all the time, just like standing at the plate. A guy throws a forkball, and you have to figure out a way to hit it. If you jump out of the box and stomp your feet, you won't have a career. Same thing with the media."
McRae met with Doolittle for 45 minutes the day after the incident to explain his actions. Eskew, in a metaphoric moment of media-club relations, had been patched up by a Royal trainer in the clubhouse. A scar remains.