January 20, 2020

At Least 12 Teams Have Been Accused (By Players Or Anonymous Leaks) Of Cheating; MLB Really Does Not Want To Investigate All Of Them And Hopes You Forget All About It

With a new week starting today, I figured I might as well dump a bunch of stuff related to the sign-stealing scandal since I had no time to craft it into anything coherent.

Former pitcher Jack McDowell (1993 AL Cy Young winner) alleged during a radio interview on Friday that Tony LaRussa created an illegal sign-stealing operation at Comiskey Park in the late 1980s. LaRussa managed the White Sox from 1979 to 1986.

McDowell said LaRussa had a camera installed that could zoom in on opposing catchers' signs. A light in an outfield Gatorade sign, controlled from the manager's office, let batters know what pitches were coming.
"I'm going to whistle-blow this thing now, because I'm getting tired of this crap. ... [La Russa] was also the head of the first team ... with people doing steroids. Yet he's still in the game making half a million. No one's gonna go after that. ... This stuff's getting old, where they target certain guys and let other people off the hook. ... Everybody who's been around the game knows all this stuff.
La Russa was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.

McDowell said illegal sign-stealing has been going on for decades, but everyone in the game has collectively decided to ignore the issue, just as they did regarding steroids.

Logan Morrison agrees. In a now-deleted Instagram post, the veteran first baseman described the Commissioner's report as "FAKE news" and said the Astros were cheating in 2014:
Hello fans. Just wanted to take some time to educate everyone on this sign stealing 'scandal' we have going on. This is all something I have witnessed or heard. So many teams are doing this. Exactly how many… I'm not sure.

The Manfred report that came out is straight FAKE news. This started in Houston well before [Alex] Cora got there. I was playing in Seattle in 2014 and every time we went into Houston you would hear this banging. No one put two and two together. Seattle fans may remember we came with in a game of going to the playoffs. Felix should have won a CY young that year. But couldn't get pasted [sic] the 5th in Houston.

I know from first hand accounts that the Yankees, Dodgers, Astros and Red Sox have used film to pick signs. Just want you guys to know the truth. I personally think it's a tool in a tool belt to pick signs, but if we are going to be punishing people for it. Don't half ass it.
Bonus LoMo: In 2017, Morrison (with 24 home runs) did not receive an invitation to the Home run derby, but Gary Sanchez (who had 13) did. "I remember when I had 14 home runs. That was a month and a half ago." In 2018, Morrison called Yankees fans "stupid" for being upset with his comments. You can't fix stupid, you know?"

Ken Rosenthal comments re his interview with Altuve after Altuve hit the home run that won the pennant for Houston:
All those asking if I "knew something" when I asked Altuve about refusing to allow teammates to rip off his jersey . . . hardly. In my rush to get onto the field, I did not even see Altuve cross home plate. Producer suggested question in my ear as I conducted the interview.
In the noise and nuttiness of the moment, Rosenthal did not follow-up after Altuve gave the extremely strange answer that his wife would be mad if his teammates ripped his jersey.

Rosenthal's latest article on this issue includes this knee-slapper: "Not one Astros player told MLB investigators he understood he was committing a violation, a source said."

More Rosenthal:
•  If players who use performance-enhancing drugs are disciplined for cheating, why not players who participated in the Astros' scheme? ...

•  [W]hy shouldn't players cheat if they are impervious to punishment?

The Astros' hitters not only escaped penalty, but also presumably benefited from their wrongdoing as well, producing better numbers, landing bigger contracts.

Yet MLB has answers — valid answers — to each question. ...

As Manfred wrote in his decision, "assessing discipline for this type of conduct is both difficult and impractical."

Difficult because while virtually every player had some involvement or knowledge of the scheme, Manfred could not determine with certainty which players did what. Impractical because of the large number of players involved, and because 12 of the position players are now with other clubs while four no longer are active.
Claiming that disciplining obvious cheaters would be "impractical" if there are a lot of offenders is nonsense. Can Rosenthal really be suggesting (or agreeing with the statement) that there exists a tipping-point of cheating, after which MLB can only throw up its hands and let everyone do whatever they want? Is that truly a "valid" response? If teams have a lot of vacant roster spots, there are plenty of players in the minors to fill them.

Rumors about the Astros had proliferated since 2017. Yahoo Sports wrote a column about the trash can in 2018. The Yankees raised complaints in 2019, after they had hired Beltrán as an advisor. Alex Bregman told The Athletic in October that from the front office Beltrán "helped out the Yankees this year a lot. Like a lot a lot."

JJ Cooper, Executive Editor, Baseball America, Twitter (@jjcoop36), January 16, 2020:
The wearables rumors have been floating around for months. It is not clear how much MLB investigated them.
On Sunday (yesterday), Jose Altuve called reports that was wearing a buzzer during games "ridiculous. MLB did their investigation and they didn't find anything."
Believe me, at the end of the year everything will be fine. We are going to be in the World Series again, people don't believe it. We will. We made it last year. We were one game away [from] winning it all. ... You don't want anybody to call you [a cheater] like that. But like I said I have two options, one just cry and one go out there and play the game, and help my team. You know which one I'm going to do.
Alex Bregman was asked if Houston's players wore buzzers. He said "No." and called the claims "stupid".
The commissioner and league came out with the report and the Astros did what they did. ... I have no thoughts on it.
Orioles pitcher Josh Rogers saw Bregman's comment and tweeted: "Just plead the 5th bud. Cause your guilty."

Zach Kram, The Ringer, January 13, 2020:
Nine Key Takeaways From MLB's Houston Astros Sign-Stealing Punishment

1. The "Banging Scheme," as Manfred's report terms it, evolved over time

2. That scheme extended through the postseason

3. Manfred had effectively given the Astros a chance to avoid detection and punishment, and they didn't take it

4. Take note: Banging is preferable to other forms of communication

5. It’s unclear whether the scheme actually worked

6. Astros players were at least somewhat concerned about getting caught … so they grew more secretive instead of stopping

7. Hinch attacked a TV, twice

8. The same qualities that helped propel the Astros to victory were the basis for their undoing

9. This saga isn't over—Alex Cora's punishment is coming, and it will be severe
Some amusing snips from Kram:
"[T]hey eventually determined that banging a trash can was the preferred method of communication."

"Here's a wacky parenthetical from the report: 'Witnesses explained that they initially experimented with communicating sign information by clapping, whistling, or yelling, but that they eventually determined that banging a trash can was the preferred method of communication.' Someone needs to uncover everything about the meeting in which this determination took place. Did the Astros run scientific tests? Did they control for confounding variables? The people demand answers."

From MLB's Report: Hinch "believed that the conduct was both wrong and distracting. Hinch attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme by physically damaging the monitor on two occasions, necessitating its replacement." Kram: "Could he have used his words to tell his players to stop? Maybe! ... Instead, he chose to take his frustration out on the monitors themselves. This is why clear and healthy communication is important."
Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer, January 13, 2020:
All signs suggest that MLB would have been happy not to stir up this sign-stealing story. MLB knew that the Red Sox used technology to steal signs in 2017, and Jeff Passan reported in 2018, per anonymous MLB players, that the Astros had passed signs via trash can. MLB subsequently upped its preventative measures in response to sign-stealing rumors swirling around the sport.

Yet not until Fiers went on record in The Athletic's initial report did MLB grudgingly launch an investigation. Even then, Manfred stated, "I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time," which was far-fetched at the time, considering that The Athletic's report cited a source who described the practice as "pervasive."

And not until The Athletic linked the 2018 Red Sox to sign stealing did MLB acknowledge that publicly. Tom Verducci reported that when Manfred called Red Sox owner John Henry to inform him of the investigation, Manfred said, "I've got no choice here," which doesn't make it sound as if Manfred was eager to follow the sign-stealing trail.

For consistency's sake, though, MLB will have to follow that trail if it leads anywhere else. It's quite likely that the Astros and Red Sox weren't the only two teams engaging in at least low-level forms of illegal sign stealing; every team has a video room and must have been tempted to use it improperly. On Monday, MLB player Logan Morrison suggested that the Dodgers and Yankees have also "used film to pick signs." In 2018, members of the Brewers suggested that the Dodgers were stealing signs. In November, BBWAA member Jeff Jones reported that multiple players had told him that the Brewers and Rangers have stolen signs electronically, and Yu Darvish fueled further speculation about the Brewers.

None of that smoke has turned into fire, but it's probably risky for any MLB fan base to proclaim its team pure or complain too loudly about losing to known sign stealers. That said, Manfred will have to be poked pretty hard for the league to acknowledge that the scandal extends beyond Boston and Houston.
Scott Miller, Bleacher Report, October 2, 2019:
Sign stealing and sign relaying always has been a part of the game, but digital theft gained entry as an unintended consequence of instant replay expansion in 2014, several MLB sources agree, and has spread as rapidly as a computer virus ever since. ...

"The paranoia is off the charts," Astros ace Justin Verlander says. "You saw that last year with us. People thought we were doing something. We were trying to make sure the Indians weren't doing anything. That was just us being paranoid."

Predictably, nobody in the game is willing to publicly finger those who were cheating or those whom they believe might be cheating. But given assurances of anonymity, several league sources indicate the Astros, Dodgers, Red Sox, New York Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks have been especially adept with technological surveillance. One source mentions the Cubs and Washington Nationals dabble a bit "but not as much as others." Another source says the Indians, while still another notes the Toronto Blue Jays and Texas Rangers once were suspected as well. ...

"I think it's unfair to say we've been the face of any of this, the Astros," Houston manager AJ Hinch says. "It was very public for us. We admitted our mistakes of trying to make sure that other teams were not breaking the rules, and in turn we were the ones that had the unfortunate incident in Cleveland and then in Boston. ... I think it's unfair to think that we are the only team that has been curious about everybody else's actions. ... I think it's been largely cleaned up over the year." ...

[For the 2019 season,] the league enacted a series of rules ...

"It's been a great thing," Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black says. "[Digital thievery] was prevalent, and now it's not." ...

Asked whether he saw things during the '17 World Series that made him suspicious, Dodgers manager Roberts pauses for several seconds before finally allowing, "I think the Astros did everything they possibly could to give themselves the best chance for success." ...

Though the Rockies' season is finished, they were a playoff team in 2017 and 2018 and quickly realized—or, at least, suspected—how many clubs were stealing signs.

"The preparation for us was learning how to switch the signs in the middle of an at-bat, the middle of an inning and doing it a lot," Wolters says. "I would say, like this year, we've had at least 10 or 15 different sign sets each inning. Then we would switch our cards each inning. You go through a whole game, you go through 50 or 60 different sign sets."

That math adds up to more than 100 different signs in a given game. And, Wolters says, the Rockies are constantly throwing them away and making new ones. ...

Players and managers alike give MLB high marks for the steps taken this year to combat digital thievery, with most saying they think it is receding following its 2017 peak. ...

"Look at the talent in this clubhouse, and you tell me," Correa says in defending the Astros. "We're great hitters all the way around. We work hard every day, and the fact that people try to take that credit away from us is disrespect to our abilities. This year is 2019, and you've got five, six guys with a .900 OPS on the team. We've got MLB officials in the video room and everywhere, and we have the best numbers of our career as a team. So what are you going to say?"
Michael Baumann, The Ringer, January 14, 2020:
Electronic sign stealing is the cause célèbre of the day, but it's penny-ante shit compared to other behaviors that stem from the same societal disease that views rules, norms, and human beings as obstacles to be navigated around or run over on the way to the goal.

It is from this toxic stem that electronic sign stealing sprouted, as well as other even more insidious fruits: suspicious leaguewide spending freezes, service-time manipulation, improprieties surrounding the recruitment of amateur free agents, PEDs, starvation wages for minor leaguers, and a litany of other sins that are far more odious to fans and deleterious to the soul than sniffing out an upcoming breaking ball.

This is the disease, and MLB is treating one symptom. There's no profit in finding a cure.
Michael Baumann, The Ringer, November 13, 2019:
Astros owner Jim Crane made his billions running a logistics company that's settled discrimination lawsuits and war profiteering charges. And for as much of a beating as Luhnow's current employer is taking in the press, at least the Astros haven't inspired a New York Times headline that said they "Helped Raise the Stature of Authoritarian Governments," like Luhnow's former employer did.

That history forms a base layer that invites observers to make connections among sign stealing, Taubman, the club's mass layoffs in its scouting department, a string of ham-fisted and hostile PR actions against reporters, and the shenanigans the club played with 2014 no. 1 pick Brady Aiken, among a litany of other offenses ranging from the penny-ante to the truly stomach-turning.

In a vacuum, this sign-stealing scandal is bad. The Astros might have influenced a championship by breaking the rules and ought to suffer the prescribed punishment for doing so. (Even if their execution was more folly than a mustache-twirling, real-world evil plot.) But in context, it's the latest car in a freight train of misbehavior.
Craig Calcaterra, NBC Sports:
[W]here does baseball go from here with all of this?

Before we answer that, we have to answer a threshold question: is baseball more interested in stopping future illegal sign-stealing or is it more concerned with simply putting out P.R. fires like the Astros and Red Sox stories have become?

That's not a rhetorical question born of cynicism. As you'll recall, when the Houston allegations first hit, MLB — after an initial, apparently mistaken bit of honesty in which it said it did not plan to limit its investigation to the Astros — said that it would only be investigating Houston and had no reason to look beyond them. They're not idiots. They know it was bigger than Houston. They just wanted to contain the fire that was currently burning. Once the allegations regarding the Red Sox came out, however, that position became untenable for Major League Baseball and they went wider. But only to Boston, it seems. They don't seem to be following up on those seven or eight teams Verducci mentions. I am pretty confident that they're going to blast Alex Cora with 100,000 megatons of Manfredian Justice and then declare the matter closed. At least until the next time.

If we've learned anything in the Rob Manfred Era we've learned that when there is a relatively simple and straightforward solution, baseball will take a more complicated one.
Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated had a long interview with Rob Manfred "on the occasion of the upcoming fifth-year anniversary of his commissionership":
Paranoia about sign-stealing and the misuse of technology has grown so wild that some news reports suggested the Astros may have relayed signs with the use of a buzzer embedded in bandages on the skin. ...

"I will tell you this: we found no Band-Aid buzzer issues," Manfred told SI. "There's a lot of paranoia out there." ...

This is the story of how the temptation of technology ensnared baseball ...

On January 16, 2014, MLB announced the approval of an expanded, challenge-based replay system. ...

The unintended consequence of getting calls right on the field gave players easy access to real-time video. Many replay monitors, on the premise of expediency, soon moved from the clubhouse to positions closer to the dugout, as the Astros did at Minute Maid Park.

By 2017, teams had figured out that access to live video provided a competitive advantage. ...

Now that Manfred has swung his hammer, he has to decide on how to assure a corrupt-free game in a high-tech world. The answer is either more technology or less technology, and he's not sure which path is correct. ...

"Longer term, for example, the idea of having a technology solution that eliminates some guy putting fingers above his cup might be a better answer." ...

On the other hand, why not eliminate as much technology as possible? If cameras and monitors are causing such subterfuge, why not turn them off as soon as the first pitch is thrown? Video rooms are locked. The only monitor available to a team is the replay one with the MLB security official standing next to it.

"That's the first path," Manfred said. ...

Asked if more protocols will be in place for Opening Day, he replied, "Absolutely."

Two of baseball's past three World Series champions created advantages with the misuse of technology. One investigation concluded Monday and another is underway. ...

"Whenever you have an allegation that the outcome of a game was altered by a rules violation," Manfred said, "that falls into the category where fans believe the competition has been affected, and it's an integrity issue. The integrity of the competition."
Whenever you have an allegation that the outcome of a game was altered by a rules violation ... it's an integrity issue.

And yet Manfred does not believe that statement is true when it comes to umpires violating the rules by altering the strike zone, whether through an inability to track pitches, a desire to have the game end sooner, deference to a veteran at the plate or on the mound, a bias against a certain player, perhaps a rookie or someone who has argued with the umpire in the past, or good old incompetence. Those violations, which change the outcome of games every single day, are okay with the Commissioner.

A song parody, sung to the tune of an odious piece of garbage:
Brand Name (SoSH):

A.J. Hinch, crossed the line, Luhnow gone, heavy fine
Draft picks lost, rings are not, owner sad for getting caught
Crane denied part in team's making up the clanging scheme
Taubman censured in the text, Cora, Beltran might be next
We didn't blame Mike Fiers
Can was always banging, since the curveball's hanging
We didn't blame Mike Fiers
No, we didn't hush it, but our barrels crushed it!
We didn't blame Mike Fiers...

1 comment:

FenFan said...

If we've learned anything in the Rob Manfred Era we've learned that when there is a relatively simple and straightforward solution, baseball will take a more complicated one.

If we are being honest, that behavior is a continuation of the Bud Selig Era, who did NOTHING to resolve the issue with PED usage during the 90s and early 2000s. The 1994 strike brought baseball to its knees and he was willing to look the other way if the results on the field helped revive its popularity. When it became clear that many of the stars of that time (McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Giambi, etc.) were using, he tried to sweep it under the rug until the evidence became too much to ignore, and baseball fumbled for years to resolve it.