Oh my God, the Inquirer launched an all-out assault on the Phillies and the gestapo that is their media relations department.
First, in an article on the front page of the paper, known curmudgeon Frank Fitzpatrick wrote about seven million words on how a September 18 cortisone shot may have contributed – or caused – Ryan Howard’s ruptured Achilles. The story consists of mostly second-guessing, which is about seven months too late, but cites many doctors, who all agreed that a cortisone shot in the heel can contribute to a ruptured Achilles.
It’s worth a read, but one section, a thinly-veiled swipe at the Phillies and their lack of transparency, stood out: [Philly.com]
Answers are difficult to come by. When The Inquirer requested an interview on the subject with team physician Michael Ciccotti, a Phillies representative replied in an e-mail that the club preferred to "pass on participation for this story."
Howard, meanwhile, remains off-limits during his rehabilitation in Clearwater, where, again according to the team, he is unavailable for comment. His agent, Casey Close, also preferred not to comment.
Not that the Phillies have anything to gain in speculating about Howard’s injury, but usually those bits of tid don’t creep into stories… unless some pent-up frustration exists between the team and reporter.
And that’s exactly the case for Bob Brookover, who wrote this article, “Workouts by Phillies' Howard are off-limits, as reporter finds out,” which appeared in the paper’s sports section today.
Brookover has been covering the Phillies since 1989. He was in the Tampa-Clearwater-St. Pete area this week, he says, to write about some single-A players and the Red Sox, who were playing the Rays before heading to Philadelphia for the weekend series.
The long-time scriptual decided to see if he could catch a glimpse of Howard, who recently began what is expected to be a lengthy rehab process.
Brookover had no such luck.
He was asked to leave Bright House Field by a Threshers employee, escorted out of the ballpark, and told that no one outside the Phillies organization is allowed to watch Howard work out, which, at this point, I would imagine resembles a young fawn learning to walk.
Take it away, Mr. Brookover: [Philly.com]
Outside in the parking lot, I called Phillies communications director Greg Casterioto and told him of my predicament. He explained his concern of the 24-hour news cycle and how general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and team president David Montgomery should not have to learn on Twitter if Howard were to have a setback while I was watching.
After a sometimes heated discussion, we reached an agreement that I could reenter the ballpark and watch Howard's workout, but there would be no interview afterward and no tweets either.
I reentered, headed for the press box, and was spotted by Howard on Whale Beach.
"What are you doing here?" Howard asked. "Spring training is over."
Yes, it is, and has been for more than six weeks. For Howard, however, spring training has just begun, and a lot of people in Philadelphia want to know how he's progressing in his rehab from the infection setback after his Achilles tendon surgery.
Shortly after that conversation, Brookover was again forced out of the ballpark. Ruben Amaro called him:
"I just feel uncomfortable having it be a public issue," Amaro said. "I feel more comfortable – and I feel this way about every single rehab assignment – that we have them prepare for the season in their own private way. You don't have access to them during the course of the offseason, so why should this be any different?"
We do have access during spring training, so why should this be any different?
"Because we just don't feel in this particular case that it's necessary for the public to know," Amaro said. "It's more of a case-by-case basis. People weren't in watching Chase [Utley] doing his rehab, so there is no reason they should be watching Ryan do his rehab."
No one saw much of Utley’s rehab because the Phillies sent him to Phoenix, away from the prying eyes of fans, reporters and bloggers.
There’s more from today’s Inquirer.
Phil Sheridan, a long-time columnist, took aim at the Phillies’ assessment of Freddy Galvis: [Philly.com]
Questions such as: If the Phillies had known they would get this kind of production from Galvis, would they have committed to that new contract for Jimmy Rollins?
And: Why didn't they expect Galvis to be ready for the big leagues? And what might that say about the way the Phillies evaluate their own minor-league prospects (ahem, Domonic Brown)?
That self-Q & A session from Sheridan is more traditional fare in sports bloviating, but it still takes aim at the Phillies’ decision-making process.
Oh, there’s more.
This last bit doesn’t come from the Inquirer, but comes from Placido Polanco himself, who said today that he’s not sure why his sprained left ankle was classified as a “bruised knee”: [quote via Delco Times beat reporter Ryan Lawrence]
"They keep saying knee. I don’t have anything in my knee. I have a mild sprained ankle (left). I don’t know why people keep saying knee." When did it happen? "One of those foul balls I guess," said Polly, who has fouled off several balls off his leg in the last week. "When I hit it, my ankle twisted."
Some of this – from the Inquirer particularly – is more sensationalism, or even yellow journalism, than it is muckraking. But we’re not against that. And there’s something to it.
While I’m not credentialed by any local team, I can tell you that the Phillies’ and Eagles’ PR departments are significantly less interested in communicating effectively – or at all – with new media outlets, such as this one, than the Sixers and Flyers, who are much more open to working with blogs (and the media in general). This despite the fact that this site reaches more people than a roughly a third (just a guess) of the outlets with credentialed reporters in the press box.
Having spoken to many local media folks, the consensus is that the Phillies, especially since becoming the crown jewel sports organization in the city, are impossible to deal with. Almost all interviews are hyper-controlled by a PR staff that protects its players and coaches like a lioness protecting its young. After all, the Phils haven’t needed the publicity (it’s come organically), so why risk something – anything – negative getting out there?
Lately, the cloak of secrecy – or, as Brookover put it, “hiding the player for the sake of hiding the player” – has led to plenty of misinformation, particularly over injuries.
I wrote (or said on a podcast– can’t remember) last year that this is all going to come back on the Phillies, once their dominance of the National League ends. Other local teams, specifically the Flyers and Sixers, have been creative with their new media efforts and understand that stubbornly sticking to old-world tactics doesn’t work in 2012. Engaging fans – whether through Twitter, Facebook, or even by just giving the media more access – is the way of the world today. Smugly snarling at interest in your product is not.