Baseball's Newest (& Most Heated) Rivalry
I didn't hate the Houston Astros on November 2nd, 2017, the day after they beat the Dodgers in the World Series. I hate them now. When Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich released an article on the Athletic essentially accusing the 2017 Astros of cheating by stealing signs with a centerfield camera, I would not have been able to fathom how gargantuan a crisis it spawned.
Now, let's get one thing straight. The Astros are wrong. Period. They cheated, or, excuse me, "broke the rules." However, they might have wanted to do it in a less dramatic way than BANGING A TRASH CAN. That is one of the most obvious ways to get yourself caught because it was both loud and easy to prove. Everybody knows that you can find footage of every game and highlights from those games on YouTube. Literally as soon as Rosenthal's and Drellich's story dropped, YouTubers, with Jomboy Media leading the charge, dug up old footage of games and enhanced the audio. It's easy to hear the bangs, as they are frequent and loud, as they had to be for the hitters to hear them.
The story festered for about 2 months, and then revered Commissioner of Baseball Rob Manfred issued his report on the MLB investigation into the matter and the subsequent consequences for the Astros organization. In the words of Cody Bellinger, they were "weak." To say the least. The Astros lost some draft picks and were fined the maximum amount of money, $5,000,000 that MLB can fine an organization. Additionally, Astros General Manager Jeff Lunhow and Manager A.J. Hinch were banned from Baseball for a year and fired by the Astros. However, the crux of the issue with the punishment is that no players were punished, even though Manfred's report states that the scheme was player driven. Interesting. The official excuse is that players had to be given immunity in order for MLB to find out what actually happened, but I don't believe that. I think that there are ways to get players to talk without offering them immunity, such as saying the punishment will be much, much, worse if they don't talk. This solution that absolved the players of being punished for their crimes was clearly not the right one, as evidenced by the backlash from the media, fans, and (both former and current) players. I don't know what the right solution is, but I'm also not the one whose job it is to deal it out.
After this abhorrent lack of accountability on Manfred's part, rumors and reports have been swirling. The possibility that the Astros used buzzers under their jerseys to signal what pitches were coming, especially in 2019, has blown up, tied mostly to José Altuve's plea to his teammates not to rip off his jersey after he sent his team to the World Series with a bomb off Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman in 2019 ALCS Game 6. While some players, such as Carlos Correa and George Springer, have refuted this theory, many, such as Hinch, Alex Bregman, and Altuve, have failed to explicitly due so. Earlier this week, Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez professed that he would allow his teammates to rip his pants off if he hit a walk-off homer to send his teammates to the World Series, a rather crass way of accusing Altuve that was supported by other players. Furthermore, the Wall Street Journal and Athletic have released reports saying that former Astro Carlos Beltrán was a villainous figure in this scandal and that the Astros front office was involved and embraced the illegality of their actions. While Beltran lost his job as Mets manager, he was not punished by MLB. That's preposterous. How is it that Ken Rosenthal can dig up more information in a week than all of Major League Baseball can in two months, and maybe longer if it is to be believed that they had received complaints for years from teams about the Astros. While Alex Cora, former Astros bench coach and Red Sox manager, was fired, he still awaits his punishment from major league baseball.
After a disastrous Astros press conferences on Thursday full of non-apologies and Jim Crane, the Astros' owner, saying he didn't think that the cheating impacted the game and then denying he ever said it, yesterday at the Dodgers' Spring Training facility, Camelback Ranch, Cody Bellinger spoke to reporters about the scandal. As I mentioned earlier, he called Manfred's punishment weak along with saying Altuve stole and MVP from Aaron Judge and that "everybody knows they stole a ring from us." Cody, is, of course, right. Many Dodgers have expressed similar sentiments, with Dodgers pitcher fan-favorite Ross Stripling asserting that, had he been traded to the Angels in conjunction with the Mookie Betts deal, he would have leaned toward throwing at the Astros. Along with Bellinger and Stripling, Kenley Jansen and Alex Wood in particular have expressed enmity towards the Astros. Blood is boiling, to say the least. Many players on other teams, such as Kris Bryant, Andrew Heaney, Sean Manea, and Tommy Pham have echoed these feelings. Similarly, Justin Turner described revisiting the 2017 World Series as reopening a scab, and Kershaw called it "beautiful" that players were speaking their minds. So, blood is bad, to say the least.
Carlos Correa, whose apology I had actually almost accepted yesterday, blew up baseball Twitter (for about the 5th time in the last 2 weeks) today. He apparently texted reporter extraordinaire Ken Rosenthal this morning and told him he needed to have a recorded interview and get out his thoughts about Bellinger's remarks. Props to Correa for speaking his mind while the rest of his team hides behind the Commissioner's report. This is where my compliments for him end. Here is the link to his full interview, which I will not be summarizing here. When you cheat, you lose the benefit of the doubt. It's how the world works. However, Carlos insisted that the Astros cheated only in 2017, even when the report states that the cheating leaked into the 2018 season anyways. He also called Bellinger unable to read or bad at reading comprehension, which, while funny due to Cody's usual laid back, simple demeanor, just makes Correa look stupid because he contradicted information in report he cited. Rosenthal called him out for this, and Correa backpedaled a little bit, but the damage was done. Additionally, Carlos recapped every game of the World Series for no apparent reason other than proving they scored legitimate runs. When asked if they were stealing signs to score those runs (or when this was implied), Correa insisted the signs were too complicated to interpret during the World Series because the games were too important. This is, as Harold Reynold would say, hogwash. There is a plethora of videos on Youtube and Twitter proving the Astros used whistling and the banging to steal signs during the World Series, especially in Games 3 and 5. The Astros lost 1 games at home in the 2017 Postseason, and that game was to a very suspicious Alex Wood, who changed his signs nearly every batter. If he did better than every other pitcher who pitched at Minute Maid Park that season by changing signs more than they did and was not better (no offense to him; I love Alex Wood) than they were skill-wise, why did the Astros flounder when forced to face him? Baseball is an unpredictable sport, but not to that extent. Additionally, Correa addressed the buzzers, saying that nobody wore them and that Altuve had a stupid-looking, unfinished tattoo on his collarbone and didn't want it on national television after ALCS Game 6. Well, pictures from earlier in the year show no tattoo and I find it unlikely that Altuve is getting inked up during the postseason push and playoffs.
The Dodgers apparently watched this interview, and according to Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times it was not received. So far, that's all that has happened, but I can only imagine the hit batters and brawls this will spawn during the regular season. It's going to be a tough one for the Astros, but they brought it upon themselves and are only making it worse with these daily debacles. In my opinion, whoever is running their Public Relations department ought to be fired. This scandal has turned the Astros into the most hated franchise in all Major League Baseball, as they've surpassed the Yankees (for now). No team has had more members publicly diss the Astros than the Dodgers, and this has created a level of dislike, to say the least between the teams. While nearly every other Major League Baseball player is against the Astros, the Dodgers have expressed it more greatly and publicly than they have, and it has infuriated the Astros, who have no right to do anything other than take it and play fairly this season. Perhaps this amplified outrage is due to, as it should be, the tarnishing of the legacies of Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Yu Darvish. If any Astros can make the 2020 All-Star Team without cheating, they will be mercilessly booed at Chavez Ravine to the delight of 29 other teams and fanbases. And if, perchance, the Dodgers and Astros meet in the 2020 World Series, it is going to be NASTY. I will wrap this up with telling the Astros the wise words that John Mulaney's father once told him: "You have the moral backbone of a chocolate eclair."