You know, it’s a real shame that baseball fans have had to endure another boring, ho-hum, no news offseason.
The Chicago Cubs have signed no one (literally no one), all the big free agents signed within a week or two of each other in early December, and, oh yea, this week punishment for possibly the biggest scandal in the history of the sport came down and just about everything hit the fan.
If you need catching up:
» On November 12, The Athletic published a story with an interview with Oakland A’s pitcher Mike Fiers who alleged his former team, the Houston Astros, engaged in a scheme using video and innocent trash cans to steal opposing pitchers’ signs, a scheme that went back to 2017, the year the Astros won the World Series.
» On Monday, Major League Baseball handed down heavy penalties to the Astros after an investigation into Fiers’s claims. Penalties that included a 1-year suspension for the team’s General Manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch.
» Later that day, Houston fired both men.
» On Tuesday, Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora, the Astros bench coach in 2017, was also fired for being implicated in MLB’s investigation.
» On Thursday, New York Mets manager Carlos Beltrán also stepped down from the team after being implicated in the same investigation. Beltrán was a player on the Astros 2017 team, and hasn’t actually coached a single game yet.
» MLB curiously didn’t name any current players in its investigation, and didn’t punish any, even though, like yea they obviously all knew what was going on.
» Also on Thursday, rumors swirled around Twitter that current Astros stars Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman allegedly wore wires under their uniforms that were connected to the video guy, who would buzz the wires telling the players what pitches were coming. The players denied the claims, and MLB said there was no evidence to support it.
» Other reports have players off the record suggesting as many as 10 other teams in baseball also used similar methods to steal signs.
» On top of all that, people found a possible Carlos Beltrán burner account on Twitter, and someone claiming to be his niece was spreading a whole bunch of stuff, and baseball Twitter went crazy trying to find evidence of Altuve’s wire, investigating every single photo ever taken of him like they were on an episode of Law & Order, and everyone wants to know the other nine teams that allegedly also cheated.
So yea, like I said, a totally boring offseason. It’s a real shame.
I won’t get into the rumors of wires (though if they are true… whoa), but what we know is true is the Astros had a video camera set up at the field, and someone somewhere watching the video feeds, and someone else banging on trash cans (poor, innocent trash cans that didn’t choose this life) to tell players what pitches were coming. And that makes this so scandal much different than any other in baseball history.
If you look at the biggest scandals in baseball — the Black Sox scandal when members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox allegedly threw the World Series, Pete Rose getting banned for life for betting on baseball, the Mitchell Report amid the “steroid era”, among others — none of those directly affected other players and other teams the way the Astros’s scandal does. The Black Sox actually helped another team, Pete Rose still maintains that he only ever bet on the Reds and never threw a game, and steroids were so widespread in the 90s that it’s impossible to say one team benefitted from it more than others.
But this with the Astros is obvious. Former Yankees pitcher Phil Hughes tweeted Thursday, “I’m not gonna make this about me cause after 2 shoulder operations I did not have good stuff at all. That said, every other pitcher out there should be furious and feel absolutely cheated.” The Astros’ cheating in the 2017 World Series tangibly hurt at least two opposing pitchers.
In the 2017 postseason prior to the World Series, Los Angeles Dodgers starter Yu Darvish was 2-0, allowing just two earned runs in 11 innings pitched. In two World Series starts he was 0-2, allowing eight earned runs in just over three total innings. That same season, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw was 2-0 in three starts in the postseason heading into the World Series, allowing seven total earned runs in just over 17 innings. In the World Series, he was 1-2, and allowed six earned runs in a pivotal Game 5.
Darvish, now a starter for the Cubs, was a free agent the offseason after 2017, and had to deal with fans, media members, and front office executives believing he wasn’t worth a large contract simply because he had played so poorly in the World Series and was believed to be soft and a “choker.” He was ripped in the media for being unable to win big games, and he and his wife have said that that World Series and the backlash he faced from it affected him mentally, which in turn affected his play on the field years later.
Kershaw, too, has dealt with years of accusations he wasn’t worthy of being considered one of the best pitchers in baseball because he choked in the big games. It’s those thoughts from others that have dogged Kershaw for nearly a decade (He has a career postseason ERA of 4.43 in 158.1 innings pitched.) Kershaw’s first of three World Series appearances came in 2017. How much did what he faced in that series affect him mentally going forward?
MLB’s investigation only mentioned the Astros stealing signs in the postseason, but if they did it more, or worse if more teams also did it, it’s impossible to know how many people’s careers were harmed. How many pitchers were sent down to the minors after a bad start against a team that was stealing signs? How many millions of dollars have players missed out on because of a black mark on their pitching resume? It’s frustrating and infuriating to think about, and if the actions were more widespread than just the Astros than this is obviously worse than the steroids era. As Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood tweeted Thursday, “I would rather face a player that was taking steroids than face a player that knew every pitch that was coming.”
More rumors will be spread about who cheated and how, and while they can be fun to joke about and investigate on social media, for people who love baseball, this scandal will have fans longing for more boredom this offseason.
Cara Cooper is the sports editor of the Martinsville Bulletin. You can reach her at (276)638-8801 ext. 241.