Baseball / Sports

Twitter a fact of life in Major League Baseball

On a slow Monday night in Tacoma, Wash., Cubs' outfield prospect Jorge Soler retweeted some big news from the official Twitter account of Minor League Baseball:

"BREAKING NEWS: No. 5 #Cubs prospect @JorgeSoler68 reportedly was called up, just after an oppo-field homer for @iowacubs off Taijuan Walker."

With one push of a button on his smartphone, Soler casually confirmed the news of his promotion to the Cubs. Two days later, Soler was retweeting the official Twitter account of Major League Baseball, which sent out a video clip of his center-field home run on the first swing of his career.

For better or worse, Twitter is everywhere in baseball.

It's now the messenger of choice for modern day baseball players, many of whom would rather post an uncensored thought through social media than risk saying something of interest to a reporter.

"Just one of those things you have to accept," Marlins manager Mike Redmond said. "They were brought up Tweeting, and with Facebook and all that stuff. I think it can only get you into trouble. That's the way I look at it. So why would you do it?

"But maybe you have to do it until you make a mistake and learn the hard way. I don't know some of these guys (who tweet), but some of them use it just for fun too, so it just depends on how you use it."

There are no-tweeting rules in clubhouses, and fake Twitter accounts resembling those of prominent media members like Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, dispensing made-up trades to see if anyone bites. (Usually someone does).

And nowadays, every team has its own Twitter account, including the Cubs, who accidentally sent out a tweet last month reporting a loss to the Rays, only to delete it when someone figured out the game was only in the ninth inning. (The tweet came from an office in New York, the Cubs said later.)

Twitter isn't just for the players, of course. It's also the weapon of choice for anonymous fans who hide behind avatars to openly mock or criticize the players, owners and front office types, as well as the media members themselves. Meanwhile, front office executives monitor their players' accounts and media members' accounts under their own pseudonyms, keeping a watchful eye on everything that's written about their world in 140 characters or less.

The average fan can follow just about anyone these days without much effort. Baseballreference.com has a list of the Twitter accounts of hundreds of baseball players -- major leaguers and minor leaguers, both current and retired.

The vast majority of baseball tweets are innocuous, but every once in a while you get someone whose tweets have a bit of an edge to them, like former Cubs third baseman Ian Stewart, who can write an essay on how to ruin your career in 140-characters.

Stewart always will be remembered as the first player in Cubs' history to tweet himself out of the organization. During a late-night Twitter conversation with his fans while playing at Triple-A Iowa in 2013, Stewart sent out a series of tweets that said he wouldn't be called up, that manage Dale Sveum did not like him and the Cubs would be better off releasing him.

One Cubs' official compared it to the "Seinfeld" episode in which George Constanza dragged the World Series trophy around with his car to try to get fired from the Yankees. The Cubs gave Stewart a 10-game suspension, and then released him, paying the rest of his contract. His career hasn't recovered and he's now a free agent after the Angels let him go.

Mariners outfielder Logan Morrison, one of the game's funnier tweeters, said he tries to stay out of trouble.

"I try not to talk about baseball on there," he said. "I try to keep the professional side out of there, unless it's like a picture of Wrigley Field or something, or (writing) 'Good team win' or something like that. Definitely if I had a problem about the way I was being handled, I'm not going to let the world know about it. I'm going to talk to my (manager) before."

Players can get into trouble for their tweets, but owners seem to be immune. After Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington apologized to the Marlins in spring training for sending only one regular position player to a Grapefruit League game, Red Sox owner John Henry tweeted: "They should apologize for their regular season lineup."

Perhaps the hardest part for a public figure is knowing any tweets sent to your address can be seen by anyone who knows how to look for it, meaning your harshest critics are throwing virtual mud at you behind a fake name -- and everyone can read it.

Matt Garza got into a Twitter beef with some Cubs fans last year and eventually put a lock on his account to keep fans from reading his tweets.

"When I first started, everyone was like 'Oh, be careful, you're going to get in trouble on that Twitter.' " Morrison said. "Everyone was afraid of it because they didn't know what it was. Now teams have their own (accounts). Like anything else, baseball is the last to change because it's so thick in tradition, from the way you can't have a beard to the way you have to wear your pants in the minor leagues.

"All these rules are because people that make the rules were playing then, so that's the way they wanted to wear their pants then. With Twitter, teams have it now, so once guys realize they can be themselves on there without going over the line, they'll start to do that slowly but surely."

With the pennant races heating up, there will be plenty to tweet about in September. Someone may say the wrong thing and get in some hot water, or something crazy will happen in a game and Twitter will explode.

As baseball tries to skew to a younger demographic, the sport will have to use Twitter to stay relevant.

"Players are getting younger, and they grew up on Twitter, so they're going to stay on Twitter," Morrison said. "By the time I'm a coach or retired, everyone will be on Twitter, or on the next version of Twitter ... whatever that might be."

We can only imagine.

(c)2014 Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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