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:
— Lucas Apostoleris (@DBITLefty) January 16, 2020
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.”
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!!!”
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.”
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.