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Jessica Mendoza bashes Mike Fiers for spilling the beans on sign-stealing

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One: About a year ago, the Mets hired ESPN commentator Jessica Mendoza as an advisor to GM Brodie Van Wagenen’s front office. Mendoza kept her broadcasting gig while also working for the Mets, which created its own potential conflict of interest.

Two: The Mets are tangentially caught up in the hoopla surrounding Major League Baseball’s investigation into the 2017 Astros as new manager Carlos Beltrán was a player on that Astros squad and the only player mentioned by name in the league’s report on its investigation. While Beltrán avoided punishment from the league, the Mets are under mounting pressure to oust their skipper like the Astros and Red Sox did.

These two items met each other in the middle on Thursday as Mendoza appeared on ESPN Radio’s Golic and Wingo to discuss the sign-stealing controversy. Mendoza chose to criticize pitcher Mike Fiers, who was on the ’17 Astros, for telling The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich about the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme. Here’s what was said:

Golic: You have a problem with Mike Fiers leaving the Astros, going to another team, and then going public with all of this?

Mendoza: Going public, yeah. I mean, I get it. If you’re with the Oakland A’s and you’re on another team, I mean heck yeah, you better be telling your teammates, “Look, hey, heads up. If you hear some noises when you’re pitching, this is what’s going on.” For sure. But to go public, yeah. It didn’t sit well with me. And honestly, it made me sad for the sport that that’s how this all got found out. This wasn’t something that MLB naturally investigated or that even other teams complained about because they naturally heard about, and then investigations happen. But it came from within. It was a player that was a part of it, that benefited from it during the regular season when he was a part of that team. When I first heard about it, it hits you like any teammate would. It’s something that you don’t do. I totally get telling your future teammates, helping them win, letting people know. But to go public with it and call them out and start all of this, it’s hard to swallow.

Mendoza isn’t listed in the Mets’ front office directory, so it’s not clear if she is, to the letter, considered an official employee of a Major League Baseball team or simply a freelancer. The league doesn’t like for team employees to comment on ongoing matters such as this. At any rate, something involving Mendoza and her nebulous tie to a club was bound to pop up, so here we are.

Mendoza’s comments are just as baffling. Fiers is a whistleblower. For as uncomfortable as they make things for those involved, whistleblowers are ultimately a collective good, seeking to improve the industry from within. And Fiers didn’t do so anonymously, which lent credibility to what he was saying at his personal expense. Baseball is better off for having learned what Fiers shared with The Athletic about the Astros’ scheme. The league should strive for cleaning up the game and leveling the playing field, just as it attempted to do with performance-enhancing drugs.

By criticizing Fiers, Mendoza is helping to create and maintain social pressure against those who dare to speak out. For Major League Baseball, that is antithetical to its mission. Remember: the bad actors here are the Astros and (likely) the Red Sox. Saying anything else obfuscates that fact.

In the end, though, Mendoza’s criticism doesn’t hold up because people had been suspecting the Astros of being up to no good long before Fiers spoke up. In a mid-September 2017 appearance against the Astros, White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar noticed “a banging from the dugout” and changed the signs with his catcher in the middle of an at-bat against Evan Gattis. As The Athletic’s Eno Sarris notes, other players were talking to reporters off-the-record about it. It’s not like this never would have come up if not for Fiers. He just provided specifics.

Update: Mendoza posted a statement on Twitter to clarify her comments. It reads:

Thought it was important to clarify my earlier remarks about the sign stealing situation in MLB. Most importantly, I feel strongly that the game of baseball will benefit greatly because this sign stealing matter was uncovered. Cheating the game is something that needs to be addressed and I’m happy to see that the league is taking appropriate action. The point I should have been much more clear on was this: I believe it’s very critical that this news was made public; I simply disagree with the manner in which that was done. I credit Mike Fiers for stepping forward, yet I feel that going directly through your team and/or MLB first could have been a better way to surface the information. Reasonable minds can disagree. Ultimately what matters most is that his observations were made public and the game will be better for it. In regards to the Mets, I want to make it extra clear that my advisor role with the team does not shape my opinion in any way, shape or form on this matter. I feel this way regardless of what teams, players or managers are involved.

Rob Manfred offers little insight, shows contempt for reporters in press conference

Rob Manfred
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Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke at a press conference, addressing the Astros cheating scandal and other topics on Sunday evening. It did not go well.

To start, the press conference was not broadcast officially on MLB’s own TV channel (it aired the 1988 movie Bull Durham instead), nor could any mention to it or link to the live stream be found anywhere on MLB.com. When the actual questions began, Manfred’s answers were circuitous or simply illogical given other comments he has made in the past. On more than one occasion, he showed contempt for reporters for doing their jobs — and, some might argue, doing his job — holding players and front office personnel accountable.

Last month, Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal broke a story about the Astros’ “dark arts” and “Codebreaker” operation, based on a letter Manfred sent to then-GM Jeff Luhnow. Diamond was among the reporters present for Manfred’s press conference on Sunday. Per The Athletic’s Lindsey Adler, Manfred addressed Diamond, saying, “You know, congratulations. You got a private letter that, you know, I sent to a club official. Nice reporting on your part.” MLB’s response to the depth of the Astros’ cheating ways was lacking and, without Diamond’s reporting, we would have known how deeply lacking that response was. It is understandable that Manfred would be salty about it, since it exposed him as doing his job poorly, but it was an immature, unrestrained response from someone in charge of the entire league.

Onto the actual topic at hand, Manfred said he felt like the punishment doled out to the Astros was enough. Per Chris Cotillo, Manfred said Astros players “have been hurt by this” and will forever be questioned about their achievements in 2017 and ’18. Some players disagree. Former pitcher Phil Hughes even suggested the players have a work stoppage over this issue.

Manfred defended his decision not to vacate the Astros’ championship, saying, “The idea of an asterisk or asking for a piece of metal back seems like a futile act.” The commissioner devaluing the meaning of a championship seems… not great? Counterintuitive, even? The “piece of metal” is literally called the Commissioner’s Trophy. Manfred went on to brag about the league having “the intestinal fortitude to share the results of that investigation, even when those results were not very pretty.” Be careful, don’t hurt yourself patting yourself on the back for doing the bare minimum.

Manfred said there was no evidence found that the Astros used buzzers and added that, since the players were given immunity, he doesn’t think they would continue to hide that when asked about it. He said, “I think in my own mind. It was hard for me to figure out why they would tell us, given that they were immune, why they would be truthful and admit they did the wrong thing and 17, admit they did the wrong thing and 18, and then lie about what was going on in 19.”

The commissioner expects the league to implement “really serious restrictions” on access to in-game video feeds for the 2020 season.

There has been some recent back-and-forth between the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and the Astros’ Carlos Correa. Manfred isn’t a fan of the sniping through the media. He said, “I’m sort of a civil discourse person. It must be because I’m old. But, yeah, I think that the back and forth that’s gone on is not healthy.” The reason Bellinger and others are speaking publicly about the issue, attempting to hold the Astros accountable, is because the league did not do a sufficient job doing that itself. Bellinger wouldn’t feel the need to speak up in defense of himself, his teammates, and other players affected by the cheating scheme if he felt like the league had his and his peers’ backs.

Because the players involved in the Astros’ cheating scheme weren’t punished, some — like Larry Bowa — have suggested intentionally throwing baseballs at Astros players to exact justice. Manfred met with managers who were in attendance today to inform them that retaliatory beanballs “will not be tolerated.” He added, “It’s dangerous and it is not helpful to the current situation.” Manfred has done nothing about beanball wars in the past, but it will now give the Astros somewhat of an advantage since pitchers will now be judged closely on any pitch that runs too far inside on Astro hitters.

Manfred also spoke about the ongoing feud with Minor League Baseball and basically reiterated what he and the rest of the league have disingenuously been saying since it was revealed MLB proposed cutting 42 minor league teams. Manfred’s talking point is that MLB is concerned about substandard facilities being used by minor league players, but not all of the 42 teams on the proposed chopping block have anything close to what could reasonably be considered substandard.

Lastly, Manfred was asked about the Orioles and tanking, and more or less danced around the issue by expressing confidence in the club’s ownership. The Orioles have won 47 and 54 games in the past two seasons. Payroll dropped by more than $50 million. The Orioles saw over 250,000 fewer fans in attendance in 2019 than in ’18. The O’s also saw a decline of over 460,000 fans in attendance from 2017 to ’18. But, yeah, it’s going well.

All in all, this press conference could not have gone worse for Manfred. The press found it condescending and the comments he made rang hollow to the players. Manfred seemed on edge and unprepared addressing arguably the biggest controversy baseball has faced since the steroid era. This is a dark time for the sport.