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Astros Cheating Scandal; my two cents

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Altuve's post-season heroics now in serious question. Photo via nytimes.com

Altuve’s post-season heroics now in serious question. Photo via nytimes.com

A pause to talk about the biggest topic of the off-season; the sign stealing scandals currently rocking the Astros, Red Sox and by association Mets franchises.

Summary: the Astros were found to be relaying the catcher’s signs to a monitor just within the clubhouse, and were able to signal their teammates in near real-time in express violation of an edict from the commissioner.  This comes from “whistleblower” Mike Fiers, who was a member of the team and witnessed the situation, which then sparked an investigation and has resulted in:

  • 1 year suspension (and subsequent firing) of Astros GM Jeff Luhnow
  • 1 year suspension (and subsequent firing) of Astros Manager A.J. Hinch
  • Lost of 1st and 2nd round picks in 2020
  • Loss of 1st and 2nd round picks in 2021
  • $5M fine to the organization

Commissioner’s report is here: http://vendettasportsmedia.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/cglrhmlrwwbkacty27l7.pdf

What’s missing here, of course, is any player penalty.  And when it came out in the report that this was a scheme “driven by the players, executed by the players” it becomes a little harder to swallow that not one player has been suspended.  The “banging” evidence is pretty damning: https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/28476354/how-internet-helped-crack-astros-sign-stealing-case kind of covers it and has some examples of internet sleuths who found pretty clear examples of it.

Why no player penalties?  CBA/Union of course.  But also … without hard evidence as to who was doing what, its awfully hard to pin blame on a particular player.  So the MLB essentially offered players immunity to testify so they could get to the bottom of the scandal.  But if there was direct video evidence of a player doing something nefarious and MLB moved to suspend them, it’d be awfully hard for the MLBPA with a straight face to defend the player at this point.

What’s more upsetting is the newer accusations of Astros players taking this a step further and wearing buzzing devices.  I know that MLB issued a statement that they “found no evidence” of this … but the video that’s surfaced and the comments made by the same twitter account that correctly predicted other parts of this scandal are pretty damning:

  • Jose Altuve‘s adamance of not having his jersey ripped off: https://www.12up.com/posts/jose-altuve-dont-rip-my-shirt-off-aroldis-champman-walk-off-hr-alcs-astros-yankees-01dyqxcze7n0
  • Josh Reddick appearing to have a wire taped to his chest; https://ftw.usatoday.com/2020/01/astros-cheating-scandal-buzzers-new-allegations-altuve-yankees
  • Robinson Chirinos‘ having … something … fly off his person and hit Yan Gomes in the mask: https://foxsportsradio.iheart.com/content/2019-11-19-astros-accused-of-using-electronic-buzzers-at-bat-to-signal-certain-pitches

Ok.  By themselves each of these links has arguments against.  Altuve’s screaming not to tear his jersey off isn’t evidence of anything, but its completely incongruous with his tendency to run around shirtless (as a response to the ridiculous “he’s shy” defense offered by his agent Scott Boras).  Reddick’s “confetti” argument … ok, I think I can tell the difference between a piece of plastic and a wire.  And, whatever flew off Chirinos’ bat doesn’t seem to be what he claims (an authentication sticker?  put on a live game bat??  that’s ridiculous).  So … Occam’s Razor here; what the heck is going on?

Let me put this to you a different way.  The Astro’s organization ALREADY had an awful reputation for repugnant behavior and top-level arrogance before this stuff all hit ; if they were so brazen as to bang trash cans … would it really surprise you if it was discovered they’d taken it a step further and used electronic buzzer devices?

I’m no conspiracy theorist; I believe in fact checking and that 99% of the time internet meme-driven stories are BS.  But this one I can’t shake.

I was chatting with my dad recently, and he asked me if this was the biggest scandal since the Steroids news broke.  Part of me wanted to say yes, but mostly I say “no” in that there’s only credible evidence that one or two franchises partook in electronic sign stealing.  It isn’t a wide-spread, hundreds of players across the sport issue like the PED issue was.  So in that sense, I think we’ll see this go away as an isolated set of incidents.  But every franchise has this capability, so It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if we saw more rumors come out.

Do I think the Astros players need to be penalized?  Absolutely.

Do I think the franchise should have its World Series title stripped?  No.  I just can’t see how you do that.  This isn’t the NCAA, which routinely vacates wins and titles … ask a USC fan whether they frigging care that Reggie Bush‘s scandal caused them to vacate their wins while he played.  Who cares.  The WS titles are etched in stone, they’re already paid out and the parades have been held.  Do you really think it makes sense to retroactively award the title to the Dodgers from 2017 because potentially one or two guys knew what pitch was coming?  Can’t say I think that’s a workable solution.

Something tells me we havn’t heard the last of this … but this is how i’m feeling about it right now.  Who said the off-season was boring?  :-)

 

Written by Todd Boss

January 19th, 2020 at 1:05 pm

10 Responses to 'Astros Cheating Scandal; my two cents'

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  1. Todd, agree completely we haven’t heard the last of this. It seems only a matter of time before someone breaks over the buzzers under their shirts.

    In the meantime every time an Altuve or Bregman or whoever gets to the plate expect them to hear “hey, where’s your buzzer?”

    I recommend everyone read Boswell on how the Nats pitchers had FIVE sets of signs to stifle the Astros. Incredible. Another advantage of old farts playing baseball.

    Mark L

    19 Jan 20 at 4:03 pm

  2. I’ve debated in my mind how this compares to past MLB scandals, and I actually put this ahead of steroids. In those instances, there was no team dynamic to enable one team to have an advantage over another in a game. Rather, random players on almost every team juiced, while others didn’t. To me, this is bigger, more akin to the Black Sox in 1919. It’s the conspiracy that makes it worse. Numerous players conspired with each other to cheat in order to affect the outcome of games. Juicing didn’t require that.

    I hadn’t heard of the Chirinos accusation until now. I had thought the accusations were exclusive to Astros home games. Could they have cheated even on the road?

    Clark17

    19 Jan 20 at 4:24 pm

  3. The Chirinos video sure puts a new angle on this story: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/the-astros-are-hitting-like-the-1927-yankees/

    Clark17

    19 Jan 20 at 5:16 pm

  4. If I’m an Astros hitter, I’m spending the rest of my offseason learning how to dance. Those guys are going to have so many pitches thrown at them this year.

    SaoMagnifico

    19 Jan 20 at 6:58 pm

  5. I saw a link somewhere showing home/away splits for astros hitters that looked really damning. But I just did 2019 playoff splits for the 3 players implicated on the internet right now (Altuve, Reddick, Chirinios) for 2019 post-season and I see the following:
    – Altuve; 14-42 at home (.333 ba), 11-34 away (.323 ba).
    – Reddick: 3-20 at home, 3-16 on the road; was awful all post-season
    – Chirinos: 1-20 at home, 5-21 on the road; certainly no improvement here.

    so… SSS but not evidence supporting what was alleged.

    Todd Boss

    20 Jan 20 at 10:40 am

  6. I’m glad that MLB did something, FINALLY, after at least three years of some folks being pretty aware that fishy stuff was going on. It was too little, too late, but at least it was something.

    The players got off scot-free. So did the coaches. The Bosox did fire Cora, but he should have gotten the same penalty as Hinch, if not a stiffer one. The fine for the franchise — $5M — is downright silly in this day and age for an organization that probably has an overall operating budget of half a billion. So essentially, Crane got off scot-free as well, even though it seems pretty clear that he had the organization running as he wanted it. But of course the commissioner technically works for the owners, and it would take the owners to raise the max fine level up to a more painful amount, $100M or so.

    Also, I’m sick of hearing folks sorta defend Hinch. Please. It’s HIS team, on the field and in the dugout. Him saying that he didn’t approve and tried to break a monitor is just silly. He knew good and well what was going on, he let it continue — for YEARS! — and he got some pretty nice playoff and WS shares and bonuses as a result, none of which will be given back.

    What else won’t be given back? Well, the jobs of the managers of the Yanks and Bosox, both of whom were fired after losing to the Astros in the 2017 playoffs. Doolittle’s wife apparently has been tweeting a lot about the effect on the pitchers who were getting hit hard because of the cheating, and what it did to their psyches. (Perhaps some will be out for a pound of flesh, as Sao suggests.)

    And of course the Dodgers won’t get their 2017 title. Cora’s Bosox probably were cheating in 2018 as well, but since they clobbered the Dodgers, that one probably isn’t in as much doubt.

    And . . . the Astros will still be prohibitive favorites in the AL West, no matter who their manager is. The draft-pick penalties should hurt on down the road (particularly considering that they also gave up their 2018 first-rounder in the Greinke deal).

    KW

    20 Jan 20 at 1:25 pm

  7. Here is the Svrluga piece on the amazing lengths to which the Nats went to counter the cheating during the WS:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/mlb/sign-stealing-in-the-world-series-the-nationals-had-a-plan-just-in-case/2019/11/13/f8bdce7a-0640-11ea-8292-c46ee8cb3dce_story.html

    It’s impossible to read that article and not think that EVERYONE in baseball knew what was going on, yet MLB did nothing to stop it, at least not until after the Astros had been allowed to charge through the playoffs yet again and nearly win another WS.

    KW

    20 Jan 20 at 1:27 pm

  8. What might be more amazing to consider in this scandal is that it took so long to get outed. It took a former Astro in Mike Fiers to stand up and blow the whistle. but players are constantly moving around and there’ dozens of players who played for Houston in 2017-18 that had to be aware of what was going on who are no longer there. Omerta of the union only goes so far.

    but to KW’s point; clearly the Nats knew there was some chicanery going on and went to great lengths to stop it. Good for them. Not good for the sport that entire teams knew to prepare in this way, and were forced to do so.

    Todd Boss

    20 Jan 20 at 3:12 pm

  9. On HOF day, here’s Schoenfield’s fun speculation on how the voting could unfold for the rest of the decade:

    https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/28516610/predicting-mlb-hall-fame-selections-2020s

    KW

    21 Jan 20 at 9:45 am

  10. Ozuna to the Braves. Their OF defense is going to be an adventure . . . particularly since all they’ve done for their starting pitching is pick up King Felix off the scrap heap. (And for those who jump up and down about how we should give everyone a seven-year contract, look at Felix and Pedroia, both age 33 and probably done.)

    Speaking of long-term contracts . . . should the Nats back up the truck and bid on Arenado? I’m tempted, but it would probably cost the Nats nearly all of what few top prospects they have — Kieboom, Garcia, and Rutledge to start the conversation. Not talking Robles at all, as they’ve got no obvious replacement for him.

    The two huge issues with Arenado are the opt-out in two seasons and the massive salary that would certainly push the Nats over the CBT line in 2020 and perhaps leave them hamstrung over subsequent years. Also, here’s his career slash on the road: .265/.323/.476. If he’s not playing in Coors, he’s basically, well, Ozuna at the plate. (Ozuna career: .272/.329/.455.) Yikes. OK, hard to get interested in the trade when looking at those numbers, although Arenado was better on the road if you just look at 2019: .277/.346/.521, with 20 of his 41 HRs away.

    KW

    22 Jan 20 at 9:19 am

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