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On shooting the messenger

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Players and reporters are not natural enemies, exactly, but they have different agendas. Sometimes those agendas can be at cross purposes with one another. That's when things can get dicey.


I am a big Pedro Martinez fan. Huge. Two decades ago, when he was at the top of his game, on the nights he pitched, I, along with just about everyone else in New England who cares about baseball, made it a point to be in front of a TV set if I wasn't at Fenway Park. He was the best pitcher I ever saw (being an American League guy, I never saw Sandy Koufax pitch, other than on television).

In the years since he played, I have come to know Pedro personally, and I must admit that has caused me to admire him even more. He is a quality person. In 2015, when the Red Sox retired his number following his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame, the team held two separate on-field ceremonies in his honor, one in English and the other in Spanish. At one of them, he was presented with a huge floral arrangement depicting his number 45 in red carnations on a background of white carnations. During the ceremony, while some dignitary was at the microphone detailing his many accomplishments on the field of play, I noticed Pedro quietly approach the flowers, remove one, and bring it over to his mother, just a few seats away. None of the accounts of the event that I read made any mention of his gesture. Some months later, I asked him about it, and he explained that he had been a high-strung, excitable kid back in the Dominican Republic, and when he'd get upset over something his mother would take him into her garden out back of the house and have him clip flowers with her. It had a calming effect on him, and later, during his career, he always kept a garden where he lived and on days he was scheduled to start he would clip flowers. The act calmed his nerves and helped him focus on that night's assignment. The gesture to his mother, he said, was simply an acknowledgment of what she had meant to his life and career.

First-class. That's what he is.

That being said, I think that his criticism of Mike Fiers for going public with the sign stealing scheme the Houston Astros employed in 2017 is flat-out wrong. According to Pedro, if Fiers disagreed with what was going on he should have complained to Astros' management or asked to be traded. When Fiers moved on from the Astros, it was entirely proper, according to Pedro, for him to warn his new teammates about what the Astros were up to, but speaking to a reporter about it crossed the line. In other words, he should have kept it in-house.

It all goes back to the natural tensions that exist in clubhouses between players and those whose jobs it is to cover them. Reporters know nothing, so the argument goes, about the pressures of performing under the microscope of public scrutiny; about the daily grind of the long season; about playing through bumps and bruises, or worse; about facing 98 mile-per-hour fastballs; about the balancing act of being a good teammate to someone who aspires to your job. All those things might be true, but it is also true that players don't know about the pressures reporters face; of having to write up to a thousand words or more of copy every day; of worrying about what scoops the guy from a competing media outlet might have; of the second-guessing of editors back in the newsroom.

Players and reporters are not natural enemies, exactly, but they have different agendas. Sometimes those agendas can be at cross purposes with one another. That's when things can get dicey.

Fiers' great sin was not, according to some, revealing the story, it was to whom he revealed it -- a reporter.

The job of being a professional athlete is not as uncomplicated as it looks, and neither is the job of reporting on professional athletes.

Some former players, and this is especially true on the broadcast side of the media business, make the switch from being players to reporting and commenting on them.

Martinez is among them. He's an in-studio analyst for the MLB Network and he brings to the job a player's mindset. He thus has fascinating takes on what goes on behind the scenes. Combined with his natural showmanship, it makes him an invaluable asset to the network, but what is he, first and foremost, a member of the media or an old player?

It's the same quandary faced by Jessica Mendoza, the precedent-shattering former softball player who is the first female to be a member of the ESPN team that telecasts Monday Night baseball. Her reaction to Fiers' revelation was the same as that of Pedro -- to shoot the messenger, even though the message was a valid one that needed to be delivered by someone. Mendoza is an old player, too. She was an All-American softball player for four years at Stanford, was a member of the 2004 and 2008 Olympic softball teams and played professionally.

Once an old player, always an old player, I guess.

What will the reaction be to Fiers once the season begins? Will he be ostracized by his fellow players for breaking the unwritten code of what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse? Will he become baseball's version of Peter Lawford, the actor who was a charter member of the Rat Pack, made up of Frank Sinatra's closest pals? Lawford was also the brother-in-law of John F. Kennedy, and when Kennedy was dissuaded from staying at Sinatra's Palm Springs home during a presidential trip to California by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, it was Lawford who was assigned the task of breaking the bad news to Sinatra who responded by cutting all ties with the actor, in effect kicking him out of the Rat Pack.

We'll know the answer to that sooner rather than later. Pitchers and catchers report to spring training camps in a matter of days, and the guys who have been trying, one way or another, to steal their signs, the hitters, won't be far behind -- and both groups will be followed closely by the investigators from the commissioner's office.

This is not one of those flavor-of-the-week stories that makes a big initial splash and then fades from view. It's going to have long-term ramifications. No one will be able to put this toothpaste back in the tube.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.

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