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Bill Plaschke is very, very happy that Yasiel Puig is gone

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When Yasiel Puig was traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers to the Cincinnati Reds, one of the first people I thought of was Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke. I didn’t just think, though. I worried. I worried what Plaschke would do now that he was being deprived of one of his favorite punching bags.

And make no mistake: Plaschke hated Puig. Hated him with the heat of a thousand suns. He hated him so much that he became unhinged at times.

We’ve chronicled it before. He hated Puig’s bat flips and swagger. He hit him way, way harder for base running mistakes and missing the cutoff man than he’d ever hit anyone else, attributing such things to Puig’s inherent lack of character. When an opposing pitcher got crappy and chippy with Puig, it was somehow Puig’s fault (of course when other players do it, it’s fine). And no, Puig’s horrible, destructive nature was not limited to what he did on the baseball field. According to Plaschke Puig’s own personal history put Dodgers fans’ lives at risk.

No, I’m not kidding. Several years ago, when the story of Puig’s harrowing experience with human traffickers during his defection from Cuba, through Mexico and to the United States came to light, Plaschke cast Puig as a danger who could bring violence to Dodger Stadium:

• The story reports that late in the summer of 2012, the smugglers still wanted their money, and threatened to harm Puig unless he paid. Now that Puig is a multi-millionaire, are the smugglers still involved, and could that involvement one day lead to Dodger Stadium?

• The story notes that in the fall of 2012, one of the smugglers was killed, execution-style, after Puig allegedly complained about the harassment to his former agent, Gilberto Suarez. Could there be revenge involved, and could that one day lead to Dodger Stadium?

• The story details how Pacheco will be given 20% of all of Puig’s future earnings in a deal that is not unusual for desperate Cuban players. Does this mean that the rumors of Pacheco’s appearances around the Dodgers last year were true? Is this Miami man quietly pulling the strings on Puig’s turbulent life?

You read that correctly: Plaschke indirectly blamed Puig for someone’s murder as he was LITERALLY BEING HELD CAPTIVE BY HUMAN SMUGGLERS and worried that a reprisal for his snitching could lead to, I dunno, gun play during a Dodgers-Rockies game or something.

So when I say that Plashcke had it in for Puig, I am not overstating it. The guy was absolutely unhinged on the matter.

If I was worried about Plaschke being without his favorite repository for abuse, I was mistaken. Because even with Puig gone, Plaschke is taking shots at him. Here he is yesterday, at Dodgers Opening Day, talking about just how great things are in the Dodgers clubhouse now that Puig is gone:

Plashcke says the clubhouse is “more businesslike” thanks to A.J. Pollock and Joe Kelly, who he calls “gamers” and “grinders.”

Makes me wonder if he knows anything about Joe Kelly other than the fact that he is not Yasiel Puig. Because Kelly is a notorious goofball. And I mean that in the best sense of the term. He’s kind of flakey and fun and always has been. When he was traded by the Cardinals someone put together a list of his top 10 goofy moments. He’s a guy whose quirkiness is beloved by fans, and rightfully so.

I’m not going to suggest that Yasiel Puig was the best teammate every to don the Dodger blue. He rubbed people the wrong way sometimes. But if you’re comparing him unfavorably to Joe Kelly in the category of being “more businesslike” or as a “gamer” or “grinder,” I feel like you’re telling on yourself for a few things. Things like your ignorance. Things like your irrational hated of Yasiel Puig. Things like your biases of any number of other stripes.

Whitewash: Rob Manfred says he doesn’t think sign stealing extends beyond the Astros

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Rob Manfred said today that he believes the sign-stealing scandal which has taken over the news in the past week does not extend beyond the Houston Astros. His exact words, via Jeff Passan of ESPN:

“Right now, we are focused on the information that we have with respect to the Astros. I’m not going to speculate on whether other people are going to be involved. We’ll deal with that if it happens, but I’m not going to speculate about that. I have no reason to believe it extends beyond the Astros at this point in time.”

This is simply incredible. As in literally not credible.

It’s not credible because, just last week, in the original story in The Athletic, it was reported that the Astros system was set up by two players, one of whom was “a hitter who was struggling at the plate and had benefited from sign stealing with a previous team, according to club sources . . . they were said to strongly believe that some opposing teams were already up to no good. They wanted to devise their own system in Houston. And they did.”

The very next day Passan reported that Major League Baseball would not limit its focus to the Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. Passan specifically mentioned the 2018 Red Sox which, of course, were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach.

Add into this the Red Sox’ pre-Cora sign-stealing with Apple Watches and widespread, informed speculation on the part of players and people around the game that many teams do this sort of thing, and one can’t reasonably suggest that only the Houston Astros are doing this.

Which, as I noted at the time, made perfect sense. These schemes cannot, logically, operate in isolation because players and coaches change teams constantly. In light of this, players have to know that their sign-stealing would be found out by other teams eventually. They continue to do it, however, because they know other teams do it too. As is the case with pitchers using pine tar or what have you, they don’t rat out the other team so they, themselves, will not be ratted out. It’s a mutually-assured destruction that only exists and only works if, in fact, other teams are also stealing signs.

So why is Major League Baseball content to only hang the Astros here? I can think of two reasons.

One is practical. They had the Astros fall in their lap via former Astro Mike Fiers — obviously not himself concerned with his current team being busted for whatever reason — going on the record with his accusation. That’s not likely to repeat itself across baseball and thus it’d be quite difficult for Major League Baseball to easily conduct a wide investigation. Who is going to talk? How can baseball make them talk? It’d be a pretty big undertaking.

But there’s also the optics. Major League Baseball has had a week to think about the report of the Astros sign-stealing and, I suspect, they’ve realized, like everyone else has realized, that this is a major scandal in the making. Do they really want to spend the entire offseason — and longer, I suspect, if they want a thorough investigation — digging up unflattering news about cheating in the sport? Do they really want to be in the bad news creation business? I doubt they do, so they decided to fence off the Astros, hit them hard with penalties, declare victory and move on.

Which is to say, it’s a whitewash.

It’s something the league has tried to do before. They did it with steroids and it didn’t work particularly well.

In 1998 Mark McGwire, that game’s biggest star at the time, was found to have the PED androstenedione in his locker. It was a big freakin’ deal. Except . . . nothing happened. Major League Baseball planned to “study” the drug but most of the fallout was visited upon the reporter who made it public. It was accompanied by some shameful conduct by both Major League Baseball and the baseball press corps who eagerly went after the messenger rather than cover the story properly.

Four years later Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco went public with their PED use and said drug use was widespread. MLB’s response was slow and, again, sought to isolated the known offenders, singling out Caminiti as a troubled figure — which he was — and Canseco as a kook — which he kind of is — but doing them and the story a disservice all the same.

The league eventually created a rather toothless testing and penalty regime. Congress and outside investigative reporters filled the void created by the league’s inaction, calling hearings and publishing damning stories about how wide PED use was in the game. Eventually Bud Selig commissioned the Mitchell Report. Some ten years after the McGwire incident baseball had at least the beginnings of a sane approach to PEDs and a more effective testing plan, but it was pulled to it kicking and screaming, mostly because doing anything about it was too hard and not very appetizing from a business and P.R. perspective.

And so here we are again. Baseball has a major scandal on its hands. After some initially promising words about how serious it planned to take it, the league seems content to cordon off the known crime scene and refuses to canvass the neighborhood. Sure, if someone gratuitously hands them evidence they’ll look into it, but it sure sounds like Rob Manfred plans to react rather than act here.

That should work. At least until the next time evidence of cheating comes up and they have to start this all over again.