Obviously the biggest scandal that has rocked Major League Baseball since really the Black Sox Scandal 100 years ago happened this off-season (yes, I am putting this scandal over the PED usage that plagued baseball from 2000-2014) as the Houston Astros were shown they have to used electronic devices to steal signs from pitchers starting from 2017 and at least first parts of 2018 (my take is they also did it last year too). Manager AJ Hinch lost his job from it. Red Sox manager (then-Astros coach) Alex Cora was fired from his job over it. And Carlos Beltran, who was pretty much singled out in the report, was fired from his managerial job with the Mets before he even began. But one massive controversy was the Astros players were all spared from suspension. The apologies from Astros players who were on the team were underwhelming at best, the responses of other players to those apologies have really made things more vicious, and Carlos Correa’s response just spiked things up while Rob Manfred has threatened pitchers all across baseball not to plunk the Astros hitters with major suspensions. So, plenty to divulge in it and just some “Obstructed Takes” to happen here.
MANFRED’S IMMUNITY FOR THE ASTROS PLAYERS: The ONLY way to get the Astros players to talk about the scheme was to say “we will not fine or suspend you; just come clean.” I know it isn’t what people want to hear but would anyone talk if they know if they would get in trouble for telling them what happens? Manfred could have suspended players if they told, but then how many players would have come forward willingly and spoke? Secondly, if Manfred suspended players based on a hunch (if he hadn’t gotten the information), the Players Association would have had a massive field day against Manfred and rightfully so. The only way this probably could have been changed is if somebody else investigated and then suspensions could have happened. But…you already have two players (Beltran, Brian McCann) that have already retired.
THE PLAYERS APOLOGIES: Oiy. It really comes with Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve. Bregman looked like Fred McGriff from a Tom Emansky commercial (if you remember those commercials) where he was reading a statement, not necessarily apologizing. Altuve albeit sounding more “personable” than Bregman with his apology, it isn’t going to heal wounds. Time may heal wounds but look: had this wasn’t called out, is there ANY reason to not believe Houston would have continued doing it? Look, I’m not going to call any Astros players on those teams liars BUT I am having a hard time believing their apologies and right now the only thing I believe is that they are sorry they got caught.
JIM CRANE: While I think Manfred is in a no-win situation with whatever he does, he messed up in a lot of ways. First one is not holding owner Jim Crane accountable. Crane “apologized” for breaking the rules but defiantly said nothing more. He had to have known especially if his GM Jeff Lunhow knew as well. Manfred who has been labeled by a puppet from the fans for a long time now could have took some sort of consequence on Crane whether he could suspend him from making any business decisions or so forth.
CARLOS CORREA: The guy who decided to wear the black hat after this happened was Correa. His retaliation towards Cody Bellinger was reminiscent of 1980’s heel wrestlers and heel managers such as Bobby the Brain Heenan. “We won it fair and square!” and the accusations of Altuve wearing a buzzer on his jersey knowing what was coming (which I will get to in a moment) against Aroldis Chapman and him running around the bases holding his jersey “because he was getting a tattoo there and his wife didn’t want him to get his jersey pulled off” is the stuff of heel talk. The LAST THING Houston needed to have was Correa spout off, whether it was justified or not (not justified). But the comments he made was silly and it really added more speculation that Altuve was wearing something with an electronic device to give him an advantage. Some advice for Carlos Correa: “shut up from here on out.”
JOSE ALTUVE AND THE “DEVICE.” Until Correa spouted off about Altuve’s excuse of not having his jersey pulled, I was skeptical of the whole device argument. People showed perhaps a small bump on his shoulder when he was playing, but I can’t really notice much of a difference. I’m not saying he did wear one and I’m not saying he didn’t. I’m just saying it does make me wonder. Thanks Correa.
PLAYERS REACTIONS: Obviously all across baseball it is negative. Duh. I don’t fault any player commenting about it. Look, sign-stealing has been commonplace in baseball for years, but always towards if there is a runner on second giving out signs. I’m not condoning that either, but it is more sensible. And instead we have this “elaborate” scheme by the Astros using electronics to see (and of course I use elaborate in quotations because they had to bang on a garbage can) what was coming. But pitchers jobs were lost or forever changed by this. I guess with the PED scandal that rocked baseball, at least the issue was that pitchers who were getting shelled were probably also taking PED’s as much as the hitters.
MANFRED’S “THREAT” OF PITCHERS PLUNKING THE ASTROS HITTERS: Again, it is probably not what people want to hear. From one case, yes, I do not wish any physical ill to any Astros player. But now, Manfred has put himself in a BAD position that if let’s say Michael Fulmer of the Tigers plunks Correa on the hand during a close game (hypothetical because how often do the Tigers play close games lately?), Fulmer is suspended on the spot? Pitchers already have issues of trying to work in on the hitters without having to worry of getting thrown out if a pitch hits a guy, but now the pitchers will have to second guess every time they throw in on a Houston hitter and if it hits them or misses the spot over the plate where somebody goes yard. Well now it is “if you hit Correa, Altuve, Bregman, etc, you are getting suspended” so yeah, Manfred has pretty much gave a free ticket for the Astros hitters though it was not his idea. But much like Correa, Manfred should have just shut up.
PLAYERS AND TEAMS WILL FIND A WAY FOR RETRIBUTION ON THE ASTROS: Let’s face it: teams will hit those guys. They may have a way of doing it without someone big, let’s say Corey Kluber, getting suspended. A game could be a blowout and the team’s worst reliever come in and plunk one of those guys and he ends up getting suspended. Also of note: remember where Correa, Altuve, and Bregman play on the field, especially Correa and Altuve when they have to turn a double play. Again, I don’t wish physical ill on the players, but it was something I was thinking about. Somebody will be coming in hard on Correa and/or Altuve in breaking up a double play.
THE LEGACIES OF THE ASTROS PLAYERS: Forever tainted for this. It is that simple. While Houston fans will cherish their championship especially after the hurricane leveled the town late in the 2017 season and have gone on the defensive, the rest of the baseball world will forever go the Houston Asterisks for it. And the level of cheating whether or not it “harmed” the Astros more than it “helped” still gave them that unfair advantage as they won a few games that way. Does Carlos Beltran ever get a MLB job again? Jose Altuve who was known as a guy everybody loved is now considered a major cheater. Alex Bregman was on the cusp of superstardom and now people will look at him as a cheater. Correa for his comments have made him look like a naive joke. And the rest of the players will have that cloud over them for a long time.
ROB MANFRED: While the situation Manfred is in is unprecedented, he has not done well after the start of this. I understand the logic behind his “immunity” to Astros players so I’m not coming down on him for that. However, what is overlooked to me was the fact that the Oakland Athletics reported it to Manfred and Major League Baseball and Manfred did not do ANYTHING then. It was only when Mike Fiers came out in the Athletic saying “hey, this is what the Astros are doing.” It goes to show how much of a “reactive” guy he is. And the logic that is presented that “the only players that will be suspended will be the ones who target the Astros” To add on top of it, the report was not thorough as he just cracked the ice on it. But it sets a feel that Houston still got an unfair edge. Coupled in the facts of the other issues happening with him in baseball (decline of attendance around baseball, computerized strike zones, the three pitcher minimum nonsense, the Tampa/Montreal Rays nonsense, the proposed contraction/folding of 42 Minor League teams, and oh yeah, a very possible work stoppage), he has really been a vilified commissioner, worse than what Gary Bettman is for the NHL, worse than Roger Goodell in the NFL, etc. Fans believe he hates the game of baseball and is “out to get” baseball. Now, I’ve been torn on the idea whether or not MLB should go in the way of the NCAA where they vacate trophies for national championship teams (04 USC in football, 2013 Louisville basketball), but I can see both arguments to it. But to me the Court of Public Opinion has already vacated the Astros 2017 title. So really for me, maybe immunity for the players wasn’t the best of ideas after all of this because what it has done is spiral outward into a giant mess where every decision Manfred has made has been the wrong one to this point, which really sums up his tenure as the commissioner. But what really got fans and players incensed was Manfred’s “piece of metal” comment regarding the World Series trophy. That piece of metal drives players to win games and it is also the reason the Astros cheated. I don’t know if he meant for it to come out that way, but Manfred made one of the dumbest statements he could ever say (and that says something given all his dumb statements in the past). He has looked worse and worse in all of this.
FANS ARE THE ULTIMATE LOSERS: I’ll start with the Astros fans. They are on the defensive with this (albeit a Houston fan started a website to show how the Astros used their scheme), and fans all around are saying that Houston fans are terrible to support this mess. If you’re a Giants fan attacking Houston, well, remember who you had in the lineup from 1993-2007 and how you got defensive with him. If you’re a Boston fan and cheer for the Patriots, enough said. Fans of home teams don’t like it when other fans yell out “You didn’t deserve that championship or your player didn’t deserve that record!” So for people to call out Houston fans out for getting defensive is pretty silly. But they are also feeling the sting a bit, whether they want to admit it or not. The rest of the fans however, you may not cheer for the team itself but fans were really starting to pull with the likes of Bregman and Altuve and those fans who are kids wanting to be one of those guys are now a bit hurt. If you’re a Cleveland fan, a Dodgers fan, or a Yankees fan, it feels like you were cheated out of something. Fans who enjoyed seeing the Astros get that trophy whether they may or may not have cheered them on, probably feel upset because of it. And given how baseball’s state is under Manfred, it is just another bruise to the bruised body of MLB.
In the end, there have been no winners in this. Houston Astros players can say “yeah, we worked hard to get this” all they want but they know darn well the minute they leave Southern Texas and play games in New York, Boston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, and even up the road in Dallas, it will be constant barrage of you cheated and your title means nothing. Players may say they “shrug it off” but let’s say the minute they go to Detroit where Justin Verlander ruled Comerica Park, do you think Verlander will go shrug it off when Tigers fans who cheered for him for years say his ring wasn’t “legit?” I wonder how Brian McCann feels with all the talk in Atlanta about the Astros scandal and if McCann has already heard his world championship ring is a fraud.
However you cut it up, the ultimate take is: baseball lost.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat