A debate broke out in the clubhouse today between us writers and a radio reporter who shall remain nameless. Radio guy went down to the clubhouse to talk with the a particular player while us scribes were still working in the pressbox.
When we all finally wandered down to the clubhouse, Mr. Radio was there waiting.
"You missed your chance," he said. "He was here watching college basketball for a half hour, waiting for you guys."
First of all, it's hard to fathom that a player would be waiting for us. Also, the player in question had a rough day, but not so bad that he was the story of the day. Other news items had come up, and it seemed like an appropriate time to give him a day off from the media. There'd be plenty of poor performances to talk about during the regular season.
As a reporter, picking your spots is important.
Now, as it turns out, Captain Microphone had not interviewed the player yet. He was waiting for us to join him. The thing is, he could have had the player for a one-on-one, and we all would have been fine with it. He wound up getting exactly that when us writers opted not to join him at the player's locker.
"I was waiting for you guys," said the reporter. "I was trying to be helpful."
He was looking out for the player. A noble thing to do, but not necessary.
This led to some discussion about clubhouse protocol for reporters. Was he right to have waited for the rest of us? Should he have interviewed the player without us, risking that the player would have to endure a second wave of reporters later on?
Writers tend to stick to a series of unwritten rules that radio and tv reporters may or may not also follow. One is, if you're not there on time, too bad. We're all competitors after all. When you become a ball scribe, it's not like they hand you a "How to conduct yourself in the clubhouse" pamphlet, though. You just figure it out as you go.
With today's happening in mind, here is the first edition of The Writer's Guide to Clubhouse Etiquette. This will likely be an ongoing topic on this blog. For now, here's a list of 10 rules for you to chew on.
1. One reporter, no. Two reporters, go.
If you see a reporter speaking with a source in a one-on-one setting, you do not join the interview. Even if it's a person you are waiting for, this is not permitted. If there are at least two reporters in said interview, a "scrum" has formed, and you may proceed with your notepad and recorder and join the interview.
2. No pants, no questions.
This would seem to be obvious. If a player has not slipped on his pants, stay away from his locker. Give the man a minute to put something on. Depending on the player, a shirt may also be required. That said, pants are always required.
TV reporters don't always respect this rule in postgame situations. A few years back, a pack of TV cameramen swarmed a locker of a player as he was coming back from the shower (us writers stayed across the room). Said player stopped before he got to the pack at his stall, dropped his towel and proceeded to walk right through the thickest part of the mass of media in the buff, to emphasize how intrusive they were being. The scribes had a good chuckle over this.
2a. The towel exception clause: If a player is wearing a shirt and has a towel around his waist, you may proceed if deadline is approaching fast and the player in question has established a precedent for such interview settings.
3. Don't make yourself at home.
All those comfy couches in the clubhouse? Yeah, those are for the players and coaches. The chairs at the lockers? Those are for the players. The only time reporters are to take a seat is if a player, coach or another source has invited said reporter to sit by them for an interview. You might really feel like a nap. Resist.
4. Card games, not fair game.
A favorite activity within big league clubhouses is card games, especially among relief pitchers for whatever reason. Players engaged in a game of cards are not to be approached for interviews. And don't peer to closely at their hand. If you give away what they're holding, your chances of an interview after the game -- or ever again -- will decrease dramatically.
5. Parched? Got the munchies? Move along.
Every clubhouse has a cooler stocked with pop, water, energy drinks and sometimes alcohol. These are not for reporters. I have often been tempted to reach down into the giant Red Bull cooler in the Jays' clubhouse, but have resisted out of principle. Candy and food spreads? Just wait until you get to the media dining room. You'll live.
5a. The manager exception rule: If in the manager's office, and he offers you a drink or something out of his personal stash, this is fair game. That said, I have still declined every managerial food and beverage offer I have received.
5b. The dugout gum exception rule: Gum is abundant during spring training and in the dugout during the regular season. Snagging a piece or two is permitted, especially if you have been on the beat for a few years and have established yourself as a decent enough reporter, and not a klepto.
6. Do not use the players' bathroom.
Even if you REEEAAAALLLYYY have to go. There are bathrooms in main concourses of stadiums, in the pressbox and probably several other places NOT located in the clubhouse. You work with these guys, but you are not one of their kind. Relieving yourself in their territory is extremely frowned upon.
7. Try not to bare it.
It is inevitable in this job that you will see nudity. Players are coming and going from the showers throughout the day and each has their own level of comfort when it comes to undressing. Some drop the towel and bare it all. Others prefer to put clothes on one piece at a time, leaving the towel on as long as possible. When you see a player shifting into any stage of undress, turn your back and look the other way. The last thing you want to do is make eye contact in this situation. That's no good for anybody.
8. No poaching.
If you join a scrum after it has already started, don't just stand there taking notes or recording while other reporters do all the question asking. Contribute. You came in late, and probably only joined based on Rule 1. If the other reporters bail shortly after you join, don't walk away with them like an idiot. Show the source that you were interested and ask some questions. It also shows the other reporters that you're not just a poacher. No one likes a poacher.
9. Ask questions first.
Different reporters have different styles to interviewing. Some work better in one-on-one settings, some thrive off being the funny guy in scrum settings, others going all rapid fire with questions and make it hard for other reporters to jump in. Some are not comfortable leading off. Show other reporters you don't mind getting the ball rolling from time to time. Ask the first question. You don't have to do it in every scrum, but mix in the first question from time to time.
9a. The mandatory first-q rule: Did you ask the source if he had a minute? Were you the one to get his attention and draw him to the group of reporters? Well, then suck it up, buddy. You get to ask the first question. There is nothing worse than saying, "Hey, do you have time to talk?" And then standing there silent waiting for other reporters to ask the first question.
10. The pressbox is where you work.
During a recent spring, a reporter thought he'd do himself a favor and bring his laptop down to the clubhouse to get some work done. While waiting for players to trickle in, he plopped down at a table in the middle of the room and typed away, tidying up a story. Ummm, this is NOT cool, man. I mean, where are the players supposed to play cards?