Top 25 Baseball Stories of the Decade — Honorable mention: Astros Sign Stealing Scandal

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We’re a few short days away from the dawn of the 2020s. So, instead of counting down the Top 25 stories of the year, we’re taking a look at the top 25 baseball stories of the past decade.

Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were more akin to tabloid drama. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most over the past ten years.

First up, an Honorable Mention: The Astros Sign Stealing Scandal. 

For this series I came up with 25 topics that are, more or less, confined to the 2010-2019 time period. This one, however, is obviously just starting. Still, I feel like when it is all said and done, the Astros Sign Stealing Scandal will be bigger than a lot of the things on this list and, as such, should not go without at least some mention.

You know the basics of this very well, as it’s a current event, but let’s quickly review for posterity.

In early November Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic reported that the Houston Astros had, in the 2017 season, employed a sophisticated sign-stealing process involving the use of a video camera in center field at Minute Maid Park. In the article, multiple people who worked for the team that season, including current A’s pitcher Mike Fiers, confirmed the existence of the sign-stealing to The Athletic. Subsequently, video evidence of the sign-stealing scheme was uncovered, in which one could clearly hear Astros players banging loudly on a trash can to signal pitches to their teammate up at bat.

The Athletic reported that the Astros’ system was originally 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.” As such, it was understood by the Astros players — and anyone reading the report — that other teams were using sign-stealing schemes of their own. It also followed that, since Astros players and coaches would inevitably be traded or would sign on with other teams, that the Astros’ scheme would become known by other teams. As such, it made sense that the Astros were not worried about their scheme being found out by other teams, probably because they knew other teams had schemes of their own.

In light of all that it made a great deal of sense when, the very next day, Major League Baseball said it would not limit its focus to just the 2017 Astros. Rather, the league’s probe was also include members of the 2019 Astros and would extend to other teams as well. The 2018 Red Sox were specifically mentioned given that they were managed by Alex Cora one year after he left Houston, where he was A.J. Hinch’s bench coach. The Yankees would likely be involved as well given that 2017 Astro Carlos Beltran joined that club’s front office following his retirement.

Then something funny happened: MLB reversed course and said that he would only be investigating Houston. Rob Manfred’s exact words:

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.

Again, given the initial reports this made no sense. Indeed, it made it sound like Major League Baseball was trying to limit the damage and portray this as a “bad apple” situation as opposed to one in which systematic cheating was taking place across the game. A whitewash.

Whatever you think about the investigation, Manfred wants you to think that MLB is investigating it full-bore. And maybe they are, at least as far as the Astros are concerned.

Last week he told the media that “this is probably the most thorough investigation that the Commissioner’s office has ever undertaken.” He said that Major League Baseball has interviewed “nearly 60 witnesses” and has reviewed 76,000 e-mails plus a “trove of instant messages.” What’s more, he said that they are not done, and that the review so far has, “caused us to conclude that we have to do some follow-up interviewing.” He said he cannot predict how long the investigation will take, but “it is [his] hope to conclude the investigation just as promptly as possible.”

All fans seem to want to know is what will be done to the Astros and/or their coaches and/or front office executives when this is all over.

Some who are more angry about this — and count in that group any fan of a team the Astros have beaten en route to their 2017 World Series title and 2019 pennant — have demanded that their title and pennants be vacated. Which, I think it’s safe to say, is not going to happen. This is not the NCAA and Major League Baseball has never been in the business of rewriting history administratively.

I suspect punishment will involve suspensions for managers, coaches, front office personnel and players who were actively involved in the sign-stealing and a large fine and/or the loss of draft picks or bonus pool money for the organization. If someone was found to have lied or tried to mount a coverup in the course of the investigation that person may be made an example of and banned from the game, just as Braves General Manager John Coppolella was banned in the wake of the international signing scandal which rocked the Braves a few years ago. There, as here, many people were likely involved. Most believe Coppolella got his ban for trying to influence the statements made by other witnesses. Some believe he was made a fall guy. We’ll see if that happens again here.

As for when the hammer will be brought down: I suspect it will come either in the dead time between Christmas and the New Year or, if the investigation is truly still going on, in late January before the league’s attention turns to arbitration hearings and spring training.

Either way, this one, while still ongoing, figures to be one of the biggest stories in baseball in some time. Whether you choose to count it in the decade that is nearly over or in the one that is about to begin.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.