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Tuesday's Three Astros Things

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Talking about sports media, access and the future of team coverage...

Some things to talk about while we wish Andre Johnson the best in Denver...

1) Molly Knight and Brandon McCarthy

Lana Berry compiled this fascinating Twitter exchange between baseball writer Molly Knight and new Dodgers pitcher Brandon McCarthy. The two get into a lot of baseball locker room culture and what's appropriate for reporters to ask and do in there.

Check out the whole thing, though the exchange goes on for a while. Lots of insight into what's fundamentally a weird relationship. My question to you is this: what do you want to see after the game? What do you want to know about from players and coaches? In-game decisions? What a pitcher threw?

We'll circle back to this in a minute.

2) Michele Roberts on reporters in the locker room

At the same time, new NBA Players' Association head Michele Roberts took on the basketball media for being in locker rooms. Her gripe:

"Most of the time I go to the locker room, the players are there and there are like eight or nine reporters just standing there, just staring at them," Roberts said. "And I think to myself, ‘OK, so this is media availability?' If you don't have a f-ing question, leave, because it's an incredible invasion of privacy. It's a tremendous commitment that we've made to the media - are there ways we can tone it down? Of course. It's very dangerous to suggest any limitation on media's access to players, but let's be real about some of this stuff.

"I've asked about a couple of these guys, ‘Does he ask you a question?' ‘Nah, he just stands there.' And when I go in there to talk to the guys, I see them trying to listen to my conversation, and I don't think that's the point of media availability. If nothing else, I would like to have a rule imposed, ‘If you have a question, ask it; if you don't, leave.' Sometimes, they're waiting for the marquee players. I get that, but there is so much standing around."

I can tell you I've been guilty of this. The first year I had a season credential, I went into the Astros locker room because I had access, but was intimidated by my surroundings and didn't seek out players very often. Sure, I'd stand around the scrum and listen as hard-working reporters like Brian McTaggart and Kristie Rieken asked questions about the game, but I'd rarely ask anything myself.

Why should I be there?

There are plenty of reasons. Good beat writers are able to weave narratives based on what they hear. They develop relationships and can build on their past knowledge and interactions with a player. But, that doesn't always stand up to the crush of radio mikes and TV cameras being thrust at a player just after getting out of a shower.

Part of my reluctance was not having anything to write about. I wasn't on the Astros beat and my story wasn't going to be a central part of the next day's paper. The best stuff I got was just chatting with someone before the game. Talking with Lucas Harrell about his pitches, trying to see what he called what we saw on Pitch F/X. Talking with Jed Lowrie about the extreme shifts we only just started to see when he was on the team the first time around.

Post game, though? I didn't get a lot of interesting stuff.

Last season, I didn't stick around for many of the post game press conferences and locker room availability. I had to be up early the next morning to make my deadline (working at an afternoon paper is weird for sports) and quotes weren't necessary for any of what I was doing. Why take up space that could be better-manned by Evan Drellich or someone else?

The danger, though, is losing that access altogether. Roberts' statements are scary because we're edging closer and closer to teams not needing media to cover them. They have their own platforms to get the story out. Most of them employ team writers, either as social media folk or as website writers.

How many times did the Astros break their own transaction by sending out a press release? How much longer will teams put up with media poking into their business when it could make them look bad?

3) Jack Moore on baseball writing

That brings us to our third bit of media talk. Jack Moore penned a good piece about the history of baseball writing over at The Hardball Times. It's worth your time.

In it, he talks about how the history of baseball writing started with a glorified PR flak:

"Local cranks will be glad to know that Manager Flub has signed old Bill Skate - good, old, reliable Bill - who played a small portion of last season with the Greengoods team. Bill is a right good player when he keeps away from the tempting bottle, and would have batted for 378 last season but for the fact that he was hitting the cup rather freely toward the fag end of the year, and was seeing three balls every time the pitcher put one over to him. He has signed the pledge though now, and he'll probably do a lot toward landing that rag."

Read that and marvel at how similar it is to so many of the spring training stories spit out by that story generator thing. That fictional scenario, by the way, was penned in 1903. Baseball storytelling hasn't changed that much in over 100 years? Really?

It has and it hasn't, but Moore's point about how baseball writers and baseball have always had a sticky relationship is a good one.

Think about the somewhat contentious relationship between the Astros and certain members of the credentialed media over the past year. One side takes shots and the team seems to freeze them out. Most of the shots aren't off-base. They're valid criticisms of a lot of sticky situations Houston got into last season.

Sometimes, they go overboard, but if writers get too far removed from that critical eye, they become what that column from 1903 described.

You know who it also sometimes describes? Bloggers. Writers like yours truly, who are outside the traditional journalistic background and have the freedom to act a little more like a fan.

Wouldn't a team be more amenable to bloggers covering them than the traditional media? They'd get more favorable coverage (probably) and it would help them grow their brand among a (mostly) younger audience, who reads sports content online more than they do in print.

That's why this is such a fascinating time in the sports media landscape.

When I'm writing a game story on anything, I can hit the spots where I'll want to get a quote and leave a hole. That will in turn tailor my questions to whomever I'm talking with after the game. Most of the time, I can anticipate the answer pretty closely. Sports metaphors and cliches live large with coaches, after all. Very rarely, I get surprised by an answer.

If someone as inadequate at his job as me can do this, what must it be like for icons in sports media, who have been around for 30 years? How often do they get surprised by an answer? If they're the same, wouldn't their time be better served telling an interesting story or digging into an angle that transcends the usual game story?

That's what we try to do here and why we don't use quotes from players in them. It's why the longform genre of sportswriting has exploded and transferred over in the print world from the internet realm.

What will team coverage look like in five years? That will largely be determined by you.

What do you want to see after a game? Would you rather read the how's and why's from the players and coaches, when they don't really say anything useful? Or, would you rather read one of Chris' fanciful recaps that have no direct quotes at all?