J.P. Arencibia is having a difficult season. Through 85 games, the 27-year old Toronto Blue Jays' catcher was hitting just .221 with an on-base percentage of .256 and a Major League-worst ten passed balls. The Blue Jays are slowly fading out of the American League wildcard picture and will need a Herculean effort in the unofficial second half of the season to get back in the race.
As you might expect, Arencibia has taken his share of criticism with the much-hyped Jays underperforming. But he hasn't taken it well.
The fourth-year backstop joined "Inside Pitch" with Casey Stern and Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio on Friday and said certain members of the media "that we employ" are too negative. Many broadcasters are criticized for being too supportive (hello, Hawk Harrelson), but rarely do you see media members chastized for being too critical.
Arencibia was referring to Sportsnet analysts Gregg Zaun and Dirk Hayhurst, who he called out by name just two weeks ago in an interview on the team's flagship radio station, Sportsnet 590 The FAN. The TV and radio arms of Sportsnet are owned by Rogers Communications, the telecom company that also owns the team. Here's what Arencibia said when asked about dealing with negativity from fans and the media:
On the media side, you try not to listen to it, but for us, it's a little different when it's the people that we employ."
This statement is problematic because it reflects a common misconception about the club's relationship with the network. While the baseball team and the stations are owned by Rogers, neither the Blue Jays nor Arencibia himself "employ" Hayhurst or Zaun. The two former Blue Jays do not work for the team and neither one has any contractual obligation to protect the team's image or defend them in any way. This distinction has been misunderstood by fans (and particularly post-game show callers) since Rogers bought the team and secured the broadcast rights. Many assume that the broadcasters are extensions of the team, but that is simply not the case, and Arencibia needs to realize it.
Bowden agreed with Arencibia's comment, saying, "If the club is the one employing the broadcasters, then the people getting the paycheques should be loyal to the organization." But again, in the case of the Blue Jays, the club doesn't employ the broadcasters, despite the very public perception that it does.
Arencibia wasn't done there. He then revealed that he has spoken with the team's president, Paul Beeston, about the criticism he's received from Zaun and Hayhurst:
I talked to our president about the issue [and asked], 'How do you build a fan base when everything that fans are hearing is negative? You don't build a fan base just by having somebody who works for you throw out negative stuff all day long.'"
The fact that Arencibia went to upper management to complain about criticism he's received from a couple of television broadcasters is shocking, and the fact that he went on an out-of-town national radio show to vent (after doing so on a local one just two weeks prior) shows how sensitive the catcher is.
Then there's matter of his "building a fan base" argument. Arencibia is under the assumption that Hayhurst and Zaun have a responsibility to increase the popularity of the team. Sure, Sportsnet has a mandate to promote the club, but that's in order to gain viewers, in order to sell advertising and in order to improve their bottom line. More people watch when the team is doing well, but that doesn't mean it's the media's job to neglect the team's flaws. It's not Hayhurst or Zaun's job to build the fanbase. Their job is to analyze, and that means being critical when criticism is called for.
Excessive negativity is one thing, and whether or not that's happening is subjective. But Arencibia going to Beeston to tell him he's being treated too harshly by people Beeston doesn't have control over is misguided and desperate.
Asked if he regrets what he said in the original interview on SN590, Arencibia said, "I definitely don't take any of [my previous comments] back. I stand by what I said." One of those comments from the first interview accused Zaun of using performance-enhancing drugs during his career.
Sure enough, Zaun fired back (as he did the first time Arencibia name-checked him), this time doing so on Twitter:
Someone should sit Arencibia down and explain the difference between the press and public relations. He is a 27-year old Major League baseball player. If he can't take it now, he's never going to be able to take it.