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After Orioles' weird week, MLBPA chief Tony Clark says leaks need to be addressed, but how?

After Orioles' weird week, MLBPA chief Tony Clark says leaks need to be addressed, but how?
Major League Baseball Players Association executive and former Detroit Tigers first baseman Tony Clark talks to the media before a spring training  baseball game between the Detroit Tigers and the Washington Nationals in Lakeland, Fla., Tuesday, March 17, 2015. (Carlos Osorio / Associated Press)

It was just a coincidence that one of the stranger weeks in Orioles spring training history was capped by a visit from Major League Baseball Players Association chief Tony Clark.

The MLBPA executive director tours major league training camps each year to brief players on union business and get a sense of their labor-related concerns. But during a media session after the meeting, Clark expressed his own concerns about the strange saga of free-agent outfielder Dexter Fowler and the circumstances that led to changes in pitcher Yovani Gallardo's new contract.

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In each case, it should not come as a surprise that Clark views each situation from the player's perspective. He doesn't pretend to be an objective observer. That's not his job. So, it was fairly obvious that he agreed with agent Casey Close that the Fowler situation was handled poorly by both the Orioles and the media who cited industry sources to confirm — prematurely — that Fowler's three-year deal with the club was done.

"I think it is disappointing that we live in a world where it is more important to be first than it is to be right," Clark said, "and it's a very dangerous place to exist when information makes its way out that may not be 100-percent accurate, regardless of what the information is and helps to change or sway the dialogue on one side of the equation or the other."

It's fair for him to question whether the advent of instant media has led to a less perfect form of journalism, but there's still something fishy about the Fowler situation. Orioles officials remain incredulous that Fowler would leave $20 million on the table to go back to the Chicago Cubs, and Close still hasn't explained why he was so outraged by the leak that he forgot he had a Twitter account to dispute it.

The fact that he staged his client's "surprise" arrival at Cubs training camp and waited nearly two days to release a statement blasting the Orioles and the media left room to wonder if he was just trying to keep people from noticing that he and his client had just held out for way less money.

Clark would not reveal whether Close made a formal complaint to the union about what he claimed was a violation of collective bargaining rules by the Orioles. He did, however, express understandable reservations about the security of his membership's medical information in his response to questions about the fallout from Gallardo's physical.

"Medical information shouldn't be public," he said. "There's a reason why individuals' medical information is protected. The idea that those who shouldn't have access to it have access to it and feel compelled to offer it is a concern."

The Orioles never announced that they were re-examining Gallardo's pitching shoulder or that there was any irregularity found there. But somehow the fact that the shoulder was the reason for the delay became public knowledge, which had to come from someone associated with the team.

The bigger question is what can really be done about that. Reporters are going to ferret out information, and people are going to notice that a physical is taking way longer than usual and draw the obvious conclusions that would spring from the delay.

"I think there are some things related to protocol that are worth looking at," Clark said. "I think the time frame, I think those having access to information, I think perhaps even the physicals themselves. Any number of things are part of what needs to be looked at here, both in protection of the club and the player — everybody involved."

Perhaps the only solution would be for MLB and the union to agree to standardize the free-agent physicals and make the examination period a specific and concrete length of time that allows for all necessary tests to be completed. That way, the duration of the physical alone would not provide any clue to the outcome.

Of course, for that to work, baseball still would have to find a way to prevent anonymous team officials or agents from leaking the details of the pending deal before the physical is completed.

Good luck with that.

Clark didn't get too specific about the union's plans to address any of this, probably because there is so much about these kinds of situations that are beyond the scope of the union/management relationship.

"It's something that we do take seriously and are paying a lot of attention to," Clark said. "I don't know that anyone is going to have an appreciation for how all the moving pieces fit or didn't fit here [involving the Orioles], but I will suggest that how it all played out is disheartening and should not have played out in the fashion that it did."

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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