The Houston Astros blocked a Detroit Free Press reporter from attending a postgame scrum involving right-hander Justin Verlander following Wednesday's loss to the Detroit Tigers, according to the publication's Chris Thomas.
Astros vice president of communications Gene Dias disclosed that Verlander - who pitched a two-hit complete game in defeat - would not speak to any credentialed media if reporter Anthony Fenech was present, according to Thomas.
Fenech is the Tigers beat reporter for the Detroit Free Press and carries a Baseball Writers' Association of America credential. Verlander, 36, spent his entire major-league career with the Tigers before being traded to Houston in 2017.
The team opened the clubhouse to the media postgame but Fenech was apparently blocked by three security officials, with one saying Dias had told him not to let the reporter inside, Thomas adds.
Fenech contacted MLB vice president of communications Mike Teevan, who said he'd speak with Dias immediately. The reporter was apparently granted access to the clubhouse after Verlander had finished his scrum.
"I’m not answering your questions," Verlander said when Fenech approached him after the scrum, according to Thomas.
Not allowing a credentialed member of the media access to players is a violation of BBWAA protocol and potentially of MLB's collective bargaining agreement, Thomas notes.
Section 2 of the Regular Season Club/Media Relations regulations in the CBA states: "Absent unusual circumstances that require a team meeting immediately following a game, the working media shall have access to both clubhouses no later than 10 minutes following the final out of each game." Team meetings increase the limit to 20 minutes.
Fenech was granted access 19 minutes after Wednesday's game ended - six minutes after everybody else, according to Thomas.
The publication was warned hours before the incident that the Astros preferred the reporter didn't attend the scrum. On Tuesday, Verlander apparently refused to speak to the media when the reporter was present.
"Blocking a working reporter from doing his job is unprofessional, disappointing, and intolerable," Free Press executive editor Peter Bhatia said. "We will be protesting to MLB and the Astros."
In a league statement that was obtained by Jon Heyman of MLB Network on Thursday, MLB said: "Per our club-media regulations, the reporter should have been allowed to enter the clubhouse postgame at the same time as the other members of the media. We have communicated this to the Astros."
Shortly afterward, the Astros released a statement of their own, saying the club had prioritized Verlander's concerns about Fenech and "the best interests of the other media members" in making the decision and maintaining that it was appropriate:
Reporter Anthony Fenech was delayed temporarily from entering the Astros clubhouse following last night's game. This course of action was taken after taking into consideration the past history between Fenech and one of our players, Justin Verlander, Verlander's legitimate concerns about past interactions with Fenech, and the best interests of the other media members working the game. We chose to prioritize these factors when making this decision. Fenech was allowed access to the clubhouse shortly after other media members and had the opportunity to approach Verlander or any player he needed. We believe that our course of action in this isolated case was appropriate.
The specific reasons that Verlander didn't want Fenech in attendance aren't known. However, the eight-time All-Star addressed the incident Thursday on Twitter.
"I declined to speak with the Free Press rep last night because of his unethical behavior in the past," Verlander wrote. "I reached out to the Free Press multiple times before the game to notify them why and to give them an opportunity to have someone else there. Ironically, they didn't answer."
He added: "Although I tried to avoid this situation altogether, I've still reached out to the Free Press multiple times today with no response. They're still not interested in my side of the story."
The publication responded: