MESA, Ariz. Two years ago, Lou Piniella had one reaction when reporters told him about Ozzie Guillens latest move: What is Twitter?
The White Sox manager at the time needed less than 24 hours to pick up more than 7,000 followers. Once Piniella found out messages are limited to 140 characters, he dismissed the idea with a laugh line: Ozzie needs more space than that.
Hands in his back pockets, Piniella liked to pace back and forth beneath the Arizona sunshine and tell stories. Yet somehow, a slow game played without a clock would find a match in a head-spinning outlet that goes 247 nonstop. The former Cubs manager had no interest.
Im not really a Facebook or Twitter guy, Piniella said that day. Im a prime rib and baked potato guy.
Its impossible to ignore now. It certainly caused tension within the White Sox organization. It has definitely changed the way the game is covered. Major League Baseball and the players union had to recognize this trend in the latest round of labor negotiations.
While theres no explicit social media policy in the new collective bargaining agreement, a source said the labor deal did allow MLB to distribute a policy memo to players. The Major League Baseball Players Association agreed to handle any grievances that may come out of it.
The memo distributed this month set social media guidelines, which prohibit players from: releasing confidential information; promoting banned substances; posting sexually explicit material; making derogatory remarks; and criticizing umpires. Those are just a few of the bullet points. A major-league source doubted that the possible disciplinary actions have been formalized on paper yet.
Randy Wells had to shut down one Twitter account last August, the day after the Cubs announced Jim Hendry was fired as general manager. Someone hacked into Wells account and blasted the bloggers who used to rip Hendry.
Wells had no idea until a team official told him it was spreading across the Internet. The Cubs pitcher mostly uses it to follow the Red Dirt music scene.
I dont think that Twitter is a place for somebody to speak out about an issue that theyre having, Wells said. Baseballs always had that unwritten rule: What happens in the clubhouse, stays in the clubhouse. Even if I felt the urge to act out, I wouldnt even feel like Twitter was the right place to do it.
Guys should be smart enough not to put dirty laundry out there.
This spring, Angels pitcher C.J. Wilson got heat for posting ex-teammate Mike Napolis phone number on Twitter as a prank, which was not appreciated by the Rangers catcher.
Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer who once restocked the Padres system by dealing Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox has laughed about the bio for the (Fake) Jed Hoyer Twitter account: I love trading All-Stars for prospects any chance I can get.
Over the winter, Paul Maholm broke the news of his signing with the Cubs on Twitter. The ex-Pirate also got into it with some Pittsburgh fans after the Steelers lost an NFL playoff game to Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos. But mostly Maholm uses it as a platform for his faith and charity work.
Im from a small town. Im a pretty quiet guy, Maholm said. Im not going to sit here and start throwing Bible verses (in) your face. Thats me I try (to) be a faithful husband and good father and follow the values of being a Christian.
Thats how I want to live and thats how I strive to live. But as far as me looking down on somebody or trying to say something thats going to offend somebody, youre not really going to get that out of me. Im not perfect. Im not going to say Im perfect. But that kind of comes with the territory.
In the labor negotiations, both sides recognized the opportunities to connect with fans, grow the game and build their brands. Thats another point of emphasis in the new social media policy.
I like interacting with people, Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart said. I was a huge baseball fan growing up. Me and my buddies would send letters to different guys in the clubhouse and just see who we could get responses from. (It) would do wonders for us.
(Now) its cool because if someone says, Hey, its my birthday today, I just wanted to know if you could retweet this, you just write happy birthday. People will be like, Oh, my gosh, I cant believe you actually responded to this! Its like the best birthday present ever!
It makes me happy that I can do that for somebody, (something) as little as that that took no time.
All it takes is one click. Thats why another MLB memo this month reminded players that a tweet is a public statement to a mass audience, not a private text message to a friend. And if you wouldnt feel comfortable saying it at a press conference, you shouldnt post it on social media.
Once something is posted, you will not be able to retract it, the memo read. Once you hit send, your message becomes public information that can be forwarded and reported by the media.
In the age of Google and camera phones, its difficult enough for an average person to protect his privacy, much less a millionaire athlete.
Facebook is getting out of hand, Wells said. Only friends can have pictures. Well, I was at one point where I thought I was cool. I was accepting everybody, trying to get as many fans as I could.
And then you have a couple bad games and somebody takes a picture of you and steals it right off your Facebook and uses it in a blog, and its like: What the (expletive)?
I dont think thats stuff that should be taken away from people or frowned upon, but at the same time, you just have to be smart. You have to be an adult about it and be careful who you let in.
Like it or not, you better get used to it. One night last August, Mike Quade sat seething inside the managers office at Turner Field.
Once Quade was done burying Carlos Zambrano in Atlanta His lockers empty. I dont know where hes at. I heard he might retire the ex-Cubs manager spit out two words for the reporters punching their BlackBerrys, right there in front of his face.