QUESTION: Can you sort out details about the relationship between Dexter Fowler and Mike Matheny, as you understand them? Do they text, or not? Was that video of Matheny not congratulating Fowler in the dugout actually what happened? If there's tension, is it something beyond the fact that a big free-agent addition is struggling and a rookie behind him is rising?
GOOLD: I'll do my best, to the extent of the reporting and questions that followed. From what I have been able to tell from asking around and also being there, some of this traces back to Minnesota. In Minnesota, you might recall, there was no text message about the lineup. The players didn't get one. Fowler said he didn't get one, and the joke was that he must not have been on the text chain or blocked from it. That was the joke. Turns out, no player got one. Matheny was trying something new. Wong told me about it. Matheny confirmed it.
(It's important at this point to mention that Mike Shildt sends out the text with the lineup, players say.)
There was a report, in the The Athletic, that Fowler and Matheny have not talked in months or that they barely do. A subsequent report on the radio mentioned that Fowler had blocked Matheny's texts. I want to stress I respect my competitions' sources and scoop and that I did what reporters then do, ask the follow-ups to try and ascertain what comes next. I asked Matheny what role he could have played -- should have played -- in sharing the clubhouse's backing of Fowler or reaching out to Fowler, and he said Mozeliak and DeWitt took care of that. Asked about his communications with Fowler, he went on:
“We just have our normal conversations — giving every guy every chance every day to come in and say what’s on their mind or if they need to get anything sorted out,” Matheny said. “But that (issue has) been sorted out. I try to figure out if anything is going on with anybody whether it’s personal or professional. Usually the questions are whether it’s an issue with me, whether it’s an issue with anybody in the club, in any capacity, and what do we need to sort out? What do you need to hear? I’ll give you the truth. We’ll talk things out.”
I asked Fowler about this and he told me that he gets "texts from him all the time." That answer was printed in the next day's newspaper and online. He even pointed to his phone and offered to show them. Matheny does send out motivational bits, thoughts, instructions, whatnot via a group text, and Fowler and other teammates confirmed that Fowler even replies.
The video: It was 20 seconds in time that caught Matheny in a weird spot. Two things were in play. Ozuna had just slid home and come up hopping and limping. He appeared hurt. Fowler did not take the staircase closest to first base as expected, instead walking the length of the dugout back to the staircase where the manager was. So Matheny turned to see how Ozuna was as Fowler arrived, and when Matheny went into the dugout to find Fowler, it turned out Fowler was behind him -- and then congratulated him. We watched this happen in the dugout. Not sure if the camera or the gif did. I asked Fowler about this -- and told him about the social media tempest -- and his reaction was this:
"C'mon. Are you serious?"
Now to the crux of this: Since his arrival and throughout this season, Fowler has always had most of his conversations with Mozeliak. They have rapport. His conversations with Matheny have been more limited to the player-manager type that say Wong had with Matheny or Lynn would have with Matheny or Edmonds would have at times with La Russa, for example. Look no further than who zipped off the Vegas to meet with Fowler and his wife about the move to right field, and during that time also asked him if he was comfortable in St. Louis or looking to move on. That was Mozeliak. That has continued. That's part of why Mozeliak's comments stung -- and why Mozeliak was so bothered by how he misspoke. When Fowler approached Matheny -- and, yes, they have talked about this -- about playing time, one of the people who came to Fowler afterward was Mozeliak. They chatted. In the clubhouse. It wasn't a secret. Media were there interviewing other people. Mozeliak pulled up a chair, and the two of them chatted for awhile. I don't know what the topic was, only the timing. The camps here are clear.
Fowler would like the trust of the manager that with playing time he could pull out of this funk in the same way he got the faith from the Cubs in 2015, and that trust is given with starts.
Matheny cannot ignore the production of a rookie and has established that production plays, especially as pressure mounts on him to produce a winner.
The tension exists there.