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The story behind Justin Verlander’s beef with the Detroit Free Press reporter

MLB: AUG 21 Tigers at Astros

HOUSTON, TX - AUGUST 21: Houston Astros starting pitcher Justin Verlander (35) returns to the dugout during the baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros on August 21, 2019 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last week, as you no doubt know, Justin Verlander asked that Detroit Free Press reporter Anthony Fenech be barred from the clubhouse during Verlander’s postgame media availability. The Astros agreed to do so, in violation of BBWAA/MLB agreements and in violation fo the Collective Bargaining Agreement which ensures BBWAA-credentialed reporter access. It was only after MLB intervened that Fenech was admitted to the clubhouse.

In the wake of the incident Verlander tweeted that his request to have Fenech barred was based on alleged “unethical behavior in the past” on Fenech’s part. He did not elaborate on what that was. Today the Free Press details what it believes Verlander was alluding to.

You’ll want to read the whole story for full context, but the disagreement surrounds two instances of past interaction.

First, Fenech once tweeted out seemingly innocuous details about Verlander’s trip to see the big solar eclipse back in August of 2017, which Verlander considered to have been off-the-record. That happens on occasion, but it should probably be noted that nothing about that information seems like it was sensitive or secret nor did it portray Verlander in a bad light (to the contrary, actually). Yes, a mistake by the reporter, but not one, you would think, that would support a years-long grudge.

The second instance involved a somewhat confusing misunderstanding about comments Verlander gave to Fenech in response to a story in 2018. The upshot: another outlet reported Verlander’s critical words about the Detroit Tigers allegedly misdiagnosing an injury he had suffered in the past. Fenech followed up with Verlander to get quotes about all of that. Verlander later claimed the entire conversation was off the record, though that does not appear that was the case based on the tape recording of the interview described in today’s article. He also took issue with Fenech offering him his business card in case Verlander wanted to call the reporter later to clarify any quotes before press time. Initially Verlander thanked Fenech for the unusual courtesy but later he claimed Fenech gave him his card as a ploy to get Verlander’s cell phone number if/when Verlander called him.

Again, there are a lot of little details about all of that you’ll want to get from the Free Press article for full flavor. One of them, it should be noted, was that Fenech did, at one point, cross an ethical line in which he suggested to Verlander how he might best respond to questions about the injury controversy, though that does not appear to be anything that Verlander himself had a problem with (Indeed, it was probably helpful to Verlander, even if Fenech was wrong to do such a thing). The phone number thing is just weird. I expect at some point Verlander will be asked about his side of all of that.

But no matter how messy and weird all of that was, none of it really changes my view of last week’s incident. On a basic level, my take is the same: no matter what Verlander feels about Fenech -- and even if they have some history with off-the-record stuff -- neither he nor the Astros have the right to bar Fenech from the clubhouse. The Astros’ granting Verlander’s request to do so was totally unjustified.

More broadly, as other reporters have noted, thanks to the long season, close quarters, and the emotional ups and downs of the job, disagreements between players and the press happen fairly often. The best way to deal with them -- and how almost every player/team/reporter deals with them -- is for the player and the reporter to talk it out and get past the problem. If that can’t be done, the player always has the option of simply blowing off the reporter if he wants. There’s no rule that says anyone has to talk to anyone else.

Why the Astros and Verlander didn’t take that tack and simply pretend Fenech didn’t exist is beyond me.

Follow @craigcalcaterra