Battered Mets Banish the Messenger
Bruce Kauffman teaches journalism at Clark Atlanta University.
When the New York Post's Andrea Peyser wrote that a New York Mets player hoisted a young blonde in short shorts in the air "like you'd inspect a ripe tomato," it was the last straw for the Mets.
Beleaguered by press reports following a rape allegation against three players and Peyser's ongoing coverage of players' social activities during spring training in Florida, the Mets barred the reporter from their clubhouse and later banned all communication with the media for a week. Since then Peyser has drawn insults and criticism from the players, fans and sports reporters, including those from her own newspaper, for her scathing dispatches.
A general assignment reporter, Peyser was sent to Port St. Lucie to assess the mood of the Mets baseball colony after pitcher Dwight Gooden and outfielders Daryl Boston and Vince Coleman were named in a rape complaint in early March. None had been charged; Gooden had denied the allegations, and Boston and Coleman had had no comment. A month later Florida prosecutors declined to bring criminal charges against the three, citing a lack of evidence.
Peyser's reports were spicy. Her March 17 column, headlined "Mets, beer, bikinis and..swing training," described the "fleshy competition" for Mets players among women at Port St. Lucie watering holes. Another, titled "There's a pick-up game every night in Mets City," quoted a local hotel clerk complaining about the players: "I'm always getting calls from their wives while they're out with their girlfriends."
The March 19 "ripe tomato" story led to a confrontation that day between Peyser and several Mets inside the locker room of the spring training camp, according to a New York Post story by Cathy Burke. "You're a liar," pitcher David Cone told Peyser, who had reported that Cone, a bachelor, left a bar with a woman in a white Porsche. "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out," another player taunted.
Mets officials banned Peyser from the clubhouse the next day, saying only sports reporters were welcome. In her March 21 column, Peyser wrote that when she pressed Mets spokesman Jay Horwitz about denying her access, he replied that what she had written about the Mets "wasn't very nice.
"I think what you're doing is spying," he said.
A week later, in a statement signed by 31 players and posted in the clubhouse, the Mets announced they were halting all communication with the media "because of what we perceive as slanderous attacks aimed at members of this ballclub."
Peyser and Post Editor Lou Colasuonno maintain the Mets are entertainers and public figures and have no right to decide who will cover what.In a March 23 column Peyser excoriated sportswriters who "suck up to athletes.
"You're accomplices to crime," she wrote. "You told us Mike Tyson was a golden boy from the ghetto while concealing the fact he was a budding rapist with hammers for fists. You told us Pete Rose was a hero even as he betrayed every kid who ever looked up to a ballplayer. And you winked at Magic Johnson's masculine prowess while all the while he was packing a lethal weapon in his shorts."
Post sportswriter Steve Serby responded in kind in an adjacent column. "I'm all for women in the locker room, First Amendment rights, equal access and Lisa Olson. But cityside reporters who race through the sports clubhouse for the express purpose of stirring up crapola do not belong there... Admittedly, there are those too timid to rock the boat, but it ain't me, babe, and it ain't an awful lot of my colleagues in this town, either."
Peyser says she was doing her job, and some of the regular Mets reporters weren't. "With some exceptions," she says, "they don't feel it's their job to cover the news. It becomes a kind of thing where they protect who they're covering. [It's] the last real bastion of cover-up reporting."
If it's news, counters Marty Noble, who's covered baseball for Newsday since 1981, you cover it as news, straight and factual. "No one was charged," he says. "Now you have to change the way you live because one of your teammates is alleged to be being investigated for rape? Everything was overreaction."
The Mets lifted the ban on reporters April 3, when the team arrived in Baltimore for an exhibition game with the Orioles.
"We're just trying to keep the focus on baseball," Mets spokesman Craig Sanders says. "They'll be in if they talk baseball. We have the privilege to restrict access."