José Altuve
Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Players abuzz over latest allegations against Astros

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Thursday was arguably the most interesting day of the baseball offseason thus far. ESPN-slash-Mets front office advisor Jessica Mendoza bashed Athletics pitcher — and former Astro — Mike Fiers for spilling the beans on the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme. Shortly thereafter, the Mets and new manager Carlos Beltrán parted ways before the skipper appeared in his first game in his new role due to his role in the Astros’ scheme. Then the conspiracy theories began to come out.

In the early afternoon, a Twitter account believed to be that of Beltrán’s niece accused Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and second baseman José Altuve of wearing an electronic device on their right shoulders that buzzed to indicate an off-speed pitch. The Twitter account, @S0_blessed1, was locked shortly thereafter and eventually deleted, but Internet sensation @Jomboy_ posted screenshots for posterity. The @S0_blessed1 account happened to also break the news of Beltrán’s ouster on Wednesday evening, almost a full day before the rest of us learned about it, so there was reason to believe its veracity.

The account in question also pointed out that Altuve vehemently warned his teammates not to tug at or remove his uniform top in celebration after clinching the ALCS in Game 7 against the Yankees several months ago. This is not a new revelation as FOX broadcaster Ken Rosenthal asked Altuve after the game about his strange request, to which Altuve said, “I’m too shy. Last time they did that I got in trouble with my wife.” Here’s an MLB-created gif of Altuve as he was crossing home plate:

This isn’t a conspiracy theory way out of left field, either. Michael Kay of YES Network was wondering about this on Wednesday. The league investigated the use of “wearable stickers” that could provide an electronic impulse as part of its look into the Astros’ scheme, but apparently did not turn up anything substantial, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported in November.

ESPN’s Marly Rivera, ever the journalist, asked the Beltrán about the account. They denied that the account belonged to anyone in their family. Gary Sheffield, Jr., the son of the former major leaguer who hit over 500 home runs, tweeted, “Carlos Beltran’s niece ain’t his niece you hooligans. That’s a player,” followed by three “shh” emojis.

Based in fact or not, these details took the Internet by storm and it wasn’t long until major league players got wind of it. Reds starter Trevor Bauer, quoting the screenshots from @Jomboy_, tweeted, “I’ve heard this from multiple parties too, for what it’s worth…”

Indians starter Mike Clevinger, a former teammate of Bauer’s, vowed to take matters into his own hands. He wrote, “They shouldn’t feel comfortable looking at any of us in the eye let alone on the field and any other MLB player feel different, they can get it too,” followed by a peace sign and a smiling sun emoji. Clevinger added, “This is where throwing hard has its MF perks BB [three snowflake emojis] so either police it @MLB or I’ll get back to my training [devil horns emoji].” But wait, there’s more. Clevinger continued, “Best part is their fans still actin with the same pompous ass attitude those boys walked with, while taking millions of dollars from boys and jobs completely, staring at the camera, carrying a bat to first, maybe some don’t get it.But this is worse than steroids.”

Pirates starter Chris Archer tweeted, “I’m in a mood right now after hearing the latest bs teams have been up to. [frowny face emoji].”

Dodgers outfielder and reigning NL MVP Cody Bellinger said, “For the sake of the game I Hope this isn’t true.. if true, there needs to be major consequences to the players. That Completely ruins the integrity of the game!!!”

Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood wrote, “I would rather face a player that was taking steroids than face a player that knew every pitch that was coming.”

Meanwhile, baseball fans on Twitter went into detective mode, poring over various pictures of the Astros from the past season. One in particular featured Josh Reddick in an orange and blue tank top, speaking to FOX after the Astros clinched. He had what appeared to be a piece of tape or a Band-aid just under his collarbone. To some, that was evidence of what “Beltrán’s niece” and others were suggesting. Reddick’s wife got on Twitter in defense of Josh, writing, “Hey you idiots, this is confetti from the celebration. You think he’d do an interview with it if it was something bad [facepalm emoji] #astros #joshreddick #youallareidiots.”

Padres outfielder Tommy Pham even got in on the action, tweeting a picture of a slight bump on Altuve’s jersey during the 2017 World Series.

It’s up to Major League Baseball to separate fact from fiction. Perhaps that means re-opening its investigation into the Astros to confirm that no such electronic devices were used to signal pitch types to Houston hitters.

The larger issue is that these scandals — those of the Astros and the ongoing investigation of the Red Sox — have created an atmosphere where fans and even its own employees are skeptical about the fairness of the sport. “Everyone cheats” has been a common refrain, but former major leaguer Trevor Plouffe wrote last night, “I played for 4 teams and never saw [illegal sign-stealing]. An OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of guys play the game straight up.” If fans and players — and many of us in the media — can’t trust the league to ensure a level playing field, then what is the point, especially as the league ventures into legal sports betting?

Whether or not the Astros used buzzing Band-aids or whatever is besides the point. This is an issue that won’t and shouldn’t go away overnight. Major League Baseball needs to do its due diligence with the utmost transparency, otherwise it risks losing everyone’s trust in the sport.

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

Rob Manfred
Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images
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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.