Verlander feud followed trip to Nashville

Right-hander Justin Verlander, now with the Houston Astros, refuses to talk to a Detroit beat writer, stemming from Verlander’s days as a Tiger. (photo by Mike Morrow)

Justin Verlander, an astronomy buff, traveled to Nashville on Monday, August 21, 2017 to see the historic total solar eclipse.

When he returned to Detroit, he talked to Hall of Famer Al Kaline at Comerica Park, and a feud began that day between Verlander and a Detroit Tigers beat writer that continues to this day.

Verlander and his current team, the Houston Astros, created a media storm last week when the ace right-hander refused to allow Detroit Free Press sports writer Anthony Fenech to enter the Astros clubhouse on Wednesday night. Verlander claimed Fenech was guilty of unethical behavior.

The day before the eclipse in 2017, Verlander had been the winning pitcher in Detroit against the Los Angeles Dodgers, pitching eight innings while giving up two hits and raising his record to 9-8. Nashville and other sites in Tennessee were considered prime spots for viewing the highly anticipated eclipse the day after. Verlander traveled to Nashville to witness the event. The 21st was an off day for the Tigers.

According to the Free Press, Verlander was back in Detroit on August 22 when he talked to the Tiger great Kaline, and Fenech, who had just interviewed Verlander, joined the conversation.

From that contact, Fenech posted two tweets. One read, “Justin Verlander watched the solar eclipse from the Path of Totality. ‘It was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in my life,’ he said.”

Another tweet 10 minutes later by Fenech said, “Verlander an admitted astronomy enthusiast, traveled to Nashville to watch the eclipse in its fullest totality, he said.”

According to an account this week by Detroit Free Press sports editor Chris Thomas, a Tigers media relations official told Fenech that night that Verlander didn’t like the tweets. And, Thomas wrote, the following day Verlander “ripped Fenech in a profanity-laced rant inside the Tigers dugout in front of coaches, saying that his conversation with Kaline was private.”

That was all Nashville ever had to do with the matter. But a spat ensued from the encounter that has caused quite a stir between Verlander, Fenech, the Free Press, the Astros, the Baseball Writers Association of America and the guidelines in the Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement.

Apparently, well, it must have been a full moon.

According to the Free Press, Verlander and Fenech had another run-in on August 25 that season in Chicago, a day after the Tigers had a famous brawl with the New York Yankees. In response to a question about the brawl, Verlander told Fenech “You should stop” and, when Fenech asked a follow-up question, Verlander walked out of the media scrum they had been a part of.

Verlander was traded by the Tigers to the Astros only a few days later, and Verlander was a key piece in the Astros winning the World Series that season.

Another encounter between Verlander and Fenech occurred on September 12, 2018 when Fenech was assigned to ask Verlander about a Bleacher Report story that said Verlander said the Tigers “misdiagnosed” an injury in 2015. According to the Free Press this week, that exchange between the two went on-and-off the record. Verlander later apologized to the Tigers about his misdiagnosis comments, but from that point, the Free Press says, Verlander wouldn’t speak to Fenech.

The Astros visited Detroit this May, and the Astros’ communications chief, Gene Dias, told Fenech that Verlander would not give Fenech an interview. Last Wednesday, one day after Verlander ended a media availability before it started because Fenech was there, Dias delivered the news to Fenech that Verlander would not talk to him because of the story on the misdiagnosis. The Astros barred Fenech from the Astros clubhouse with Houston media.

Verlander tweeted last Thursday that Fenech had shown “unethical” behavior in the past and that Verlander had tried to reach out to the Free Press unsuccessfully to give his side of the story.

Thomas, the Free Press sports editor, wrote this week that the Astros “knowingly violated the MLB collective bargaining agreement” with their move to block Fenech.

“Players have no obligation to talk to media members in a postgame scrum,” Thomas wrote. “They can ignore questions. Or give non-answers.

“But the league says reporters must have equal access.

“The Astros know this.”

Thomas said the Free Press would make a formal complaint, not because of Verlander, who is not obligated to answer a question, but because of the Astros blocking the reporter.

The baseball writers association issued a statement last week saying it was “alarmed” by the Astros’ action. Major League Baseball said the reporter should have been let in.

Another solar eclipse occurred this year on July 2 that could be seen over Chile and Argentina. The next total solar eclipse that will be visible from North America is expected on April 8, 2024. The Astros’ schedule for 2024 has not yet been announced.

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