Is the Need to Know Basis an OK Policy?

Are the Phillies wrong for not revealing more about the condition of their players?


On Sunday afternoon, Chase Utley spoke to reporters in a brief update session regarding this injured knee, his departure from the team last week, and how it impacts his future with the team.

As it turns out, there wasn't too much of an update, as he revealed nothing more of substance and offered no timetable for his return. It was the garden-variety Utley interview: It was brief, he didn't say much, and it wasn't earth-shattering.

"I don't really have a time line on when I will be available," Utley said. "I will take this process fairly slow because I think it's important to get everything around my knees working correctly. And I think it's going to take a little bit of time. I'm disappointed. I'm upset. I'm not happy that I'm in this situation right now, but I'm not going to let that deter me and get me down."

Predictably, this caused a bit of an uproar among the fans and the beat writers, who were left with a sort of empty feeling after the anti-climactic update.

It's funny, because there would have been significantly more satisfaction to be had if Chase would have said something of substance, even if the substance would have been horrific, like him needing season-ending surgery, because that two-day buildup would have resulted in some sort of climax. 

So naturally, some people were miffed that he didn't just say that on Friday when he got back into camp, and that the organization was deliberately (or not) holding back with the health updates of one of their most important assets. Both are legitimate gripes, I suppose. After all, Chase could have spilled the beans on Friday, without the fanfare, and Ruben Amaro Jr. and company didn't have to keep reciting, ad nauseum, that Utley would get into a game "next week," like it appears they have done all spring.

It's an interesting situation, to say the least, and David Murphy of The Daily News had a very good take on it in his Monday column, in which he addresses the team's proclivity for secrecy and how much the fans actually deserve to know.

While a superstar professional athlete has the same right to medical privacy as you or I, it is disingenuous for him or his team to think that the paying customer does not have the right to wonder when, or even if, it will have the next opportunity to see him perform. The downside of visibility is one of the reasons a player is so well compensated for it: He can not handpick the moments when he wants to be seen.

It's a good read, and you should certainly spend 10 minutes of your day reading over Murphy's musings, and he does bring up a very interesting point: Where is the line, and do the teams owe it to the fans to be 100 percent (or at least 75 percent) transparent about the day-to-day things, especially pertaining to player status and health updates?

Utley's situation is a good case study in the dynamics of the relationship between player and organization, organization and fans, and player and fans. Everyone is mostly pulling in the same direction, so it's interesting to take a step back an examine it all. The fans want the team to win, the organization wants the team to win so that the fans buy more stuff, and the players want to win because the organization can get more fans through the gates, which means more money, and hopefully, more winning. Because, hey, winning is fun.

I don't know what the answer is. I think there is a argument to be made on both sides.

The curious fan side of me wants to know exactly how bad an injury is, how much time a player will miss, and what this means for his future. On top of that, I want that information yesterday, and I don't want to have to wait for a press release from the team to find out. I want to look down at my phone, see a text message from Amaro that Player X is suffering from Injury Y, and that he will be back on Date Z. Is that too much to ask?

However, there is a part of me that wants the team to play it close to the vest. After all, everything is part of the game. The players are responsible for what happens on the field, and the front office guys are responsible for what happens off the field, and it's in everyone's best interest to do their job as best as they can, and sometimes that means revealing as little as possible before it's time to make a play. For instance: If a player is injured, why would you reveal too much about the severity of it -- especially if you are looking to trade for a player to take his spot? If a trade partner knows that your second baseman is going to miss six months, as opposed to six weeks, they are in a position of power and can afford to play their hand accordingly.

It's for that same reason that I think it's madness to announce that a pitcher is going to be on a pitch count. Why would you tell the opposing team that your starting pitcher is only tossing 75 pitches in his start? That gives them extra incentive to take a few more pitches, in hopes that they can get more time to work on the bullpen. Baseball is nothing if not a game of poker, so having a tell or tipping your hand, especially when it's not necessary, isn't sound advice. It's the same reason that catchers and pitchers use different signs when a runner is on second base; there is no reason to clue in the opposing team on what's coming next.

The relationship between the team and the fans is a symbiotic one. The team relies on the fans to spend their hard-earned dollars at the ballpark, so that they can keep affording the stud pitchers and power hitters, and the fans need the team to keep putting out a quality product so that they may be more willing to spend $200 for a pair of tickets, a round of beers, and an order of crab fries.

However, that doesn't preclude the team from keeping quite on certain things, and it doesn't mean that the player needs to air his laundry for the public to see, nor does it mean the fans need to be 100 percent OK with both of those things. As a fan, you're going to be emotional and you're going to demand answers and you're going to get slighted when you don't get what you want.

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