MLB, in its effort to play thru a pandemic, has been forced to impose several restrictions on team beat reporters. Can they still do their job?
MLB (Major League Baseball) cannot be faulted for imposing restrictions on the behavior of all personnel connected to the production of a big-league ballgame.
Amid a pandemic still seeking its boundaries, “normal” activity is not acceptable if the 2020 MLB season can be expected to reach its customary conclusion with a World Series this fall.
While nearly all attention has been focused on the players as they seek to adjust their routines to new guidelines. In almost all cases, MLB players are trying their best as they make their way through these adjustments.
Today, team camaraderie includes the expectation that everyone in the clubhouse follows the guidelines.
Most see that behavior as a vital ingredient in the team’s success, lest non-conformance leads to multiple stints on the IL for COVID related illness or failed tests leading to quarantines that remove star players from the lineup.
MLB Beat Reporters Are Equally Challenged
While the game doesn’t happen without the players, there are other groups equally affected in their routines as they seek to perform their job(s).
One group deeply affected by the new rules governing the dos and don’ts are the reporters who are assigned to a particular team by local newspapers.
Kristie Ackert, for example, is the beat writer who covers the Yankees for the New York Daily News while Deesha Thosar is assigned exclusively to the Mets.
Separated from ESPN and FOX reporters who fly in and jet out after each game their network covers, the beat writers are with the team every day at home and on the road.
They are familiar faces who usually travel with the team they assigned to and stay in the same hotels as the players. Trusted relationships develop, and meaningful insight can be gained over breakfast with a player or coach that leads to an intriguing story.
Of necessity, the playing field is no longer accessible to these beat writers. All interviews must be conducted via video-teleconferencing in what amount to a manufactured – “Okay, I know I’m being interviewed” environment that may or may not produce an “angle” for a story yet to be written.
These reporters are pros just like the players and team personnel they interact with every day; the show must go on.
They’ll adjust, and they’ll fill the space in their papers editors are counting on. Still, it’s not the same as hanging around during batting practice, or outside the clubhouse for an immediate, and therefore usually candid, post-game reaction to a game just played.
Similarly, they’ll figure a way to accommodate the rule that says they must leave the ballpark no later than one hour after post-game interviews are completed.
So, instead of wrapping up a story to meet a filing deadline after a night game in her reserved place in the press box, Kristie Ackert, for instance, is forced to locate a place where she can complete her work for the night.
She’ll make it work, but at what cost to the excellent product she routinely produces?
MLB Beat Reporters: A Story That Couldn’t Be Covered
Here’s an example of a story that wasn’t covered yesterday, but only because beat reporters had no access to the storyline. It’s nothing earth-shattering, but it’s something that adds to scores and box scores – an MLB human interest story if you will.
Wednesday, while the Yankee’s chartered jet remained in its hangar, in another step to accommodate COVID-19, the team boarded a train to take them to Union Station in Washington, D.C. for a series against the Washington Nationals.
The novelty of the event, when laid in contrast to the first team to make charter airline arrangements for a full season in 1946, offers an opportunity to capture another moment in the disruption of player’s lives and how they reacted.
Just as fans were interested, on May 13, 1946, when the Yankees flew a United Airlines chartered Douglas DC-4, dubbed the Yankees Mainliner, from LaGuardia Airport to St. Louis.
And fans were allowed to learn, according to the Associated Press, several hundred fans went to the airport to see their team take off. Joe DiMaggio bumped his head as he entered the plane. (The Smithsonian)
Whereas, so many questions exist without answers about that train ride to D.C., wouldn’t it be fun to know more about what Aaron Judge meant when he said on Tuesday that he is “going to be a little leery about getting on a train and traveling to a different city.”
Or how seating was arranged and did any player request and receive permission to use an alternate means of transportation to get to D.C. – and what were their reasons for doing so?
Alas, Everyone Is Doing The Best They Can
The MLB 2020 season is on, though, and if players, beat reporters, umpires, fans, and TV announcers forced to cover road games by remote control are what it takes to make the MLB season last to completion, then so be it.
In a couple of hours, barring an 80% chance of rain and thunderstorms in the D.C. area, Gerrit Cole will square off for MLB’s 2020 version of “Opening Day” against Max Scherzer.
All will be forgotten for a few hours – even as Dr. Anthony Fauci is there to remind us of that “other thing,” and to throw out the first pitch of the season.
I hope I can speak for all fans of baseball when I say – thank you – MLB and any number of entities have made it possible to say baseball is back – so let’s Play Ball.