It's hard to feel sorry for the Commissioner of Baseball these days with all the rule changes and gimmicks that he is forcing on the game. This week, however, is something I wouldn't wish on anyone who is trying to clean things up after an investigation into the Houston Astros revealed cheating in 2017.
With spring training camps opening this week, Rob Manfred addressed his reasons for not punishing the players, a news conference featuring the owner of the Astros turned into a debacle, and reaction from the players around both leagues was harsh and furious. Comments from Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner of the Dodgers seemed the harshest.
This recent fiasco began on Thursday. In what was supposed to be an apology for stealing signs in the 2017 season, the Astros held a news conference at their facility in West Palm Beach. Infielders Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman each read short statements saying they were sorry, but showed little emotion and made it unclear exactly what they were apologizing for. And, to set the tone for this sham of an exercise, team owner Jim Crane said he felt the violations “didn't impact the game.” Just two minutes later, in the same seat, he said he didn't say that it didn't impact the game. So much for an apology.
As a condition of the investigation, no players were punished for their role in the elaborate scheme. Signs would be obtained in real time, relayed out of the dugout electronically, and then someone would bang on a trash can lid to let the hitters know whether or not a pitch was going to be a fastball. No one has said who did what. Manfred, in order to get the facts, said he felt he had to grant players immunity from punishment in order to get the facts.
The reaction has been fast and furious. Bellinger said the Astros “stole a ring from us” (Houston beat the Dodgers in seven games in the 2017 World Series), and that Altuve “stole the MVP award” from the Yankees' Aaron Judge. Astros shortstop Carlos Correa then went to MLB Network's Ken Rosenthal for an exclusive interview defending Altuve. Correa said that Altuve didn't take part in the trash can relay, and didn't want to know what pitch was coming. Correa didn't say (and Rosenthal didn't ask), if Correa himself participated. Correa then looked directly at the camera as if talking to Bellinger, saying, “If you don't know the facts, you've got to shut the (bleep) up.” Again, so much for an apology.
Most of the anger now seems to be directed at Manfred for not suspending any players. Houston manager A.J. Hinch and General Manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended for a year and subsequently fired by Crane. Boston manager Alex Cora, who was a coach for Houston in 2017, got the same fate, and Carlos Beltran, who was the only player named in the commissioner's report and has since retired, was named manager of the New York Mets this season, and then was fired when the report came out, before he could manage a game. But for the players? Nothing.
Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, and Bryce Harper all commented today that they felt it was wrong that there was no punishment. “Me going to the plate knowing what was coming? It would be pretty fun up there,” Trout said, trying to add a little levity.
The harshest comment today came from Turner. After the Dodgers workout in Glendale, Arizona, Turner addressed Manfred's comments on immunity, noting that the championship trophy is called the Commissioner's Trophy.
“For him to devalue it, the way he did yesterday, just tells me how out of touch he is with the players in this game”, Turner said. “At this point, the only thing devaluing that trophy is that it says Commissioner on it.”
If this were the NBA, all players involved would be fined, so at least give Manfred credit for letting them speak out. New Astros manager Dusty Baker, who had to sit through that news conference on Thursday even though he wasn't part of the scandal, wants protection for his players, fearing they'll be thrown at during the upcoming season. ESPN noted that the William Hill sports book in Las Vegas even listed an over/under betting line at 83½—the Astros were hit 66 times last season.
And don't forget, Boston is being investigated for cheating in 2018. More to come.
Play ball!: The first spring training games begin this weekend, and one of MLB Network's greatest features is that they will have games on round-the-clock. Their first live telecast will be Saturday at 10am PT with Toronto and the Yankees, followed live at 3pm with, yes, the Washington Nationals at the Houston Astros (the current champs and the cheaters of 2017 share the same spring training facility). MLBN will also have the Dodgers vs the Giants tape delayed at 6pm, and the Oakland A's against the Chicago Cubs at 9.
Kruk and Kuip split?: The Giants have announced that television analyst Mike Krukow will no longer go on the road. He has a degenerative muscle disease, and says he can't make the trips any more. However, in what they are calling a SplitKast, Krukow will be in studio, with play-by-play partner Duane Kuiper at the game, for 22 road games this season. Those games will be when the Giants are at Los Angeles, San Diego, and Arizona. The first SplitKast will be Opening Day, March 26.
Maxed out: It didn't get a lot of ink because of the comments that have been unleashed in the past few days, but the Associated Press interviewed Yuba City native Max Stassi, who was a catcher on the 2017 Astros. Stassi didn't break any new ground, but did offer the standard apology. Stassi only played in 14 games from the Astros that year, going 4-for-24 with 2 home runs. He's with the Angels now.