Justin Verlander may just be the greatest baseball pitcher of his generation. But when it comes to media relations, he’s like a member of the Tanner Friedman team getting on the mound and trying to strike out Major League hitters.
Long story short, the Houston Astro didn’t want to talk to a particular Detroit Free Press reporter after a loss to the Detroit Tigers, the team for which he spent most of his career and achieved superstardom. Verlander tweeted that the reporter had been “unethical” in the past. His agent even says he called the Free Press the day of the game and asked editors to assign another reporter to cover the game and post-game activity (the game was played in Houston, 1,300 miles from Detroit). Astros PR and security staff reportedly enabled Verlander by blocking the reporter from the post-game media availability, in violation of baseball rules, which are approved by players in their collective bargaining agreement.
We have no such rules in business. But we do have similar situations. We get along just fine with the vast majority of reporters. Sometimes, though, like with any business, news organizations assign reporters to our clients’ stories that we would rather be assigned otherwise (or, in the most extreme cases, find another way to make a living). Guess what? We don’t get to make those assignments. That’s why news organizations hire management.
The advice to “JV” should have been simple. This will blow up. It’s not worth it. Suck it up. Just take your spot in the clubhouse, face the media, answer their questions about your start and then go home. It will all be over in a few minutes. Like the scene on the bus in “Bull Durham,” it’s nothing a few cliches can’t fix.
Instead, like political “handlers” so often do, the PR staff, under the false guise of “protecting him” actually did Verlander a disservice. By not interceding against this bad behavior, they created a news story, and likely a fine from Major League Baseball. Otherwise, it would have been a one-day story of a disappointing surprise loss by a pitcher who gave up just two hits to his now-lousy former team. Now, as they say, this is “a thing.”
In businesses that aren’t baseball, we have to remind our clients and executives that you don’t get to control who the reporters are. But you do get to control how you handle interactions with the ones you don’t like. That’s what will be remembered or forgotten, depending on how it’s handled.