The first question to ask the Houston Astros signal corps is: Why did you think any of this would stay a secret?
As the sports world struggles with the implications of a team cheating to win a World Series for the first time since the 1919 Black Sox scandal, there are more questions than answers from the Major League Baseball report that showed how the Astros used electronic surveillance to beat the New York Yankees in October 2017.
At the top of the list is: How, in a business where players constantly move from team to team, did the players and managers of the Astros not see a day when one of their former players might lean over to a new teammate and say, “Hey, you know that we knew every pitch you were throwing to us before you threw it?”
What made them think that Mike Fiers, who pitched for the Astros in their championship season, would stay silent when his new team faced Houston in the coming years?
The obvious answer is hubris. Blind self absorption in the pursuit of a title. I’ve got mine, you can get lost.
In the end, Fiers did out his former team publicly, starting the tsunami of cheat.
“I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit,” he told The Athletic. “Because there are guys who are losing their jobs, because they’re going in there not knowing.”
But could it also be that the Houston schemers knew other teams were trying the same tactics and that mutual interest would keep the secrets under wraps? MAD – mutually assured detection? Could it be that electronic spying will, like the steroid scandal, unfold in slow motion with the full measure of cheating not being known for a decade or more?
MLB’s report is mum on the subject. It appears to be a case of trying to keep a lid on the scandal, confining it to the Astros management.
But with former Houston players/coaches moving to other clubs – two of them to managerial positions in Boston and New York – it would appear that the ‘secret’ to winning was well known outside Houston.
So did the now-fired manager Joey Cora, who helped the Boston Red Sox to the 2018 World Series, use the same techniques in Boston? Will the 2018 Series be similarly tainted? And why do MLB leaders think they can halt the damage at the door of Houston? Are they willing to bet their dwindling integrity that no former Red Sox player will spill the beans?
(For the record Boston star J.D. Martinez says they didn’t cheat.)
And why is it that the report from MLB only blames the manager and coaches, and the general manager, not the stars of the Astros? If it’s true that signals were relayed to players, why are they not liable for acting on those signals?
The infamous video that emerged recently showing José Altuve imploring teammates not to tear off his jersey after a walkoff homer in the 2017 Series begs the question: What did he have to hide?
So far, the only Astros star questioned publicly, Alex Bregman, said allegations of players like Altuve wearing a pitch-detecting buzzer were “stupid.” He added, “The commissioner came out with a report, MLB did their report, and the Astros did what they did. … They made their decision on what they’re going to do.”
Does he expect to do the Barry Bonds denial thing and outlast the story?
Not if he ever wants to make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame. If he didn’t benefit from the pitch-tipping scheme, he knows who did. This will not go away. It would be best to take the approach of the steroid cheaters such as Andy Pettite and admit your guilt quickly.
What about star pitcher Justin Verlander, who never lacks for critical takes on reporters and events?
Verlander won twice against the Yankees for the Astros in 2017 while his teammates were being tipped off about what was coming. Surely the loquacious Verlander knew and has something to say about the wins being tainted? No? What does he say to those players who lost their careers to cheaters? Because people were hurt in the stampede to get the Astros a World Series trophy. Does he want to stake his Cooperstown ticket just to maintain the omerta?
Speaking of omerta, why is anyone blaming Fiers for spilling the beans?
Many are doing exactly that. ESPN baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza, who also draws a cheque from the New York Mets (who fired new manager Carlos Beltran for his part in the Astros scandal), said Fiers was wrong to go public with the news that the World Series wasn’t on the level.
Mendoza said on ESPN: “It’s something that you don’t do. I totally get telling your future teammates, helping them win, letting people know. But to go public with it and call them out and start all of this, it’s hard to swallow.”
Go figure. Shooting the messenger. Or, in this case, the Mets-anger.
Which brings us back to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who did his impersonation of a dead parrot for two years on the subject. Granted it was going to ruffle feathers in ownership of some major teams, but the rumours about cheating were everywhere after the 2017 Series. And Manfred let two more championships come under the taint of scandal.
Much as former commissioner Bud Selig failed MLB’s steroid challenge, Manfred appears to have let this scandal fester just long enough to leave many longtime fans disgusted with the smell.
And that leads to a final question: How can Major League Baseball leave Manfred in office after this gaffe?
Troy Media columnist Bruce Dowbiggin career includes successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he is also the publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster.