Justin Verlander responds as dispute with Tigers beat writer heats up

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Justin Verlander couldn't shut out the Tigers on Wednesday night, but the former Tigers ace had better luck with a Detroit beat reporter.

Anthony Fenech, the Tigers' beat writer for the Detroit Free Press, was shut out of the postgame locker room following the Tigers' 2-1 win over Verlander and the Houston Astros on Wednesday night, at the request of Verlander.

Fenech was allowed into the home locker room at Minute Maid Park several minutes after other reporters were allowed in. 

Justin Verlander pitches against the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday night.

By the time Fenech was let in, Verlander's postgame scrum was over.

“Blocking a working reporter from doing his job is unprofessional, disappointing and intolerable,” Free Press executive editor Peter Bhatia said in a statement.

“We will be protesting to MLB and the Astros.”

The Detroit News requested comment from sports editor Chris Thomas, who referred to Bhatia's statement. Fenech didn't return a text message from The News. A representative for the Astros also didn't return a message for comment, but issued the following statement Thursday afternoon, according to multiple outlets:

"Reporter Anthony Fenech was delayed temporarily from entering the Astros clubhouse following last night's game," it read. "This course of action was taken after taking into consideration the past history between Fenech and one 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 his isolated case was appropriate."

The Baseball Writers Association of America issued a statement Thursday evening, saying it was "alarmed" by the Astros' decision.

 "This action by the Astros violated the MLB club-media regulations, which are laid out in the Collective Bargaining Agreement," the statement read, "and the BBWAA expects MLB to respond accordingly and promptly."

Major League Baseball issued a statement Thursday afternoon.

"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," read the statement, first posted on Twitter by national baseball writer Jon Heyman. "We have communicated this to the Astros.”

Verlander reeled off two tweets shortly before midday Thursday, the Hall-of-Fame-bound ex-Tiger saying he warned the Free Press ahead of time that he would not to speak to Fenech and told the Free Press they should send another reporter to Houston.

Verlander claimed he never heard back from the Free Press, nor did he hear from the Free Press on Thursday, when he said he tried again to share his story, he said.

He was vague in his complaints on Twitter on Thursday.

"I declined to speak with the @freep rep last night because of his unethical behavior in the past," Verlander wrote on Twitter.

In a second tweet, Verlander posted, "Although I tried to avoid this situation altogether, I’ve still reached out to @freep multiple times today with no response. They’re still not interested in my side of the story."

It's not unusual for reporters and athletes to have frosty relationships, or worse, which often can lead to an athlete refusing to answer questions from specific reporters. In the most extreme cases, credentials have been revoked. But it's very rare for a professional sports franchise to interject and deny access to a reporter. It's against the rules set by the BBWAA and MLB, which could fine Verlander and the Astros for their decision.

The Free Press said three Astros employees stood guard outside the home team's clubhouse, keeping Fenech out. The Free Press said that once Fenech was allowed in, he approached Verlander, who wouldn't talk to him and instead walked away. A day earlier when Verlander met with media, he wouldn't answer questions with Fenech there.

The story blew up on Twitter early Thursday, with the majority of fans, and many national media members, blasting Verlander, 36, and the Astros.

Verlander pitched for Detroit for 12.5 seasons and was arguably the best pitcher in franchise history, winning the MVP and Cy Young awards in 2011, finishing runner-up for the Cy Young two other times, and third another time. With the Tigers entering rebuild mode, he was dealt to the Astros in August 2017, leading them to a World Series championship. This offseason, he signed a two-year, $66-million extension with the Astros, locking him up through the 2021 season.

Verlander is in line for more Cy Young contention this season, at 15-5 with a 2.77 ERA and a league-leading 239 strikeouts, but he took the loss against the Tigers on Wednesday. He allowed just two hits in a complete game, but both were home runs.

Fenech, the Free Press' beat writer since 2015, also is a correspondent for MLB Network and Baseball America.

There was no reported confrontation between Verlander and Fenech back in May, when the Astros and Verlander visited Comerica Park.

The News and Free Press work under a joint-operating agreement, with one business department, but separate editorial departments.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984