Former major league pitcher Mike Bolsinger has filed a civil lawsuit in Los Angeles, accusing the Houston Astros of unfair business practices, negligence and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations arising out of the sign-stealing scandal.
In addition to damages for himself, Bolsinger is asking the court to make the Astros forfeit the roughly $31 million in bonuses from their 2017 World Series title, and for the money to go to children’s charities and for retired baseball players who need financial assistance.
I haven’t seen the lawsuit itself yet, but my gut feeling is that (a) Bolsinger has a very long shot of success here; but (b) the thing might have enough legs to be a pain in the butt of the Astros and Major League Baseball for a time.
Bolsinger being the guy to file the suit is not necessarily shocking. In the past couple of months he has been cited as having been particularly victimized by the Astros. A couple of weeks ago an Astros fan published the data he had complied of the trash-can banging and found that the most bangs took place on August 4, 2017, when the Astros faced the Toronto Blue Jays. Bolsinger appeared in that game and was lit up to the tune of four runs on four hits in only a third of an inning. What’s more, the most bangs in the game came when Bolsinger was on the mound, with 12 of his 29 pitches being identified before he threw them. In the event, the Blue Jays designated him for assignment after the game and he never appeared in the majors again. An argument can be made that the Astros’ sign-stealing ended Bolsinger’s career.
But another case can be made too: the case that, in reality, Bolsinger’s career was not long for the world anyway. Yes, that Astros game was bad, but he had been less-than-effective for almost the entirety of his career before that. He posted an overall ERA of 6.31 in 2017, with it going up a good bit because of that Astros game, but he had a 6.83 ERA with the Dodgers the year before and he never faced the Astros then. If you’re the lawyer for the Astros, you could probably line up a lot of expert witnesses — analysts, scouts, neutral front office folks — who would punch holes in the notion that Bolsinger’s career ended because of the Astros or that he was particularly damaged as a result.
But that’s a matter of evidence, and you don’t get to a place in a lawsuit where the judge is analyzing the evidence until after discovery is undertaken. Depositions, documents, sworn answers to written questions. To get into that stuff, all Bolsinger has to have done is to make allegations which, if later proven to be true, would entitle him to recovery. Again, I haven’t seen the complaint yet, but I don’t know that that would be particularly difficult. This is not like a case where an aggrieved fan files a lawsuit because they feel ripped off. It’s not even a situation where some gambler says he lost money betting against the Astros’ opposition. Those are plaintiffs who are a step removed from the action on the field and who courts frequently say do not have standing to sue. A player, theoretically at least, can say they were directly damaged by the fraud perpetrated upon them. We’ll see.
If it does get into discovery, then it becomes embarrassing for the Astros and Major League Baseball, I suspect. Embarrassing in that it not only churns up the news from these past few months long after they had hoped they had put it all to rest, but also requires the team and the league to talk about what they knew and when and how it all played out in far greater detail than that which Major League Baseball has been content to traffic in to date. Indeed, as we talked about this morning, MLB seems pretty content to bury a lot of information about the sign-stealing scandal. If a court doesn’t simply throw this out, I feel like it’ll not be so quick to let ’em bury it all.
Either way: that someone has sued is not particularly surprising. There’s a lot of anger out there among non-Astros players. More so than I think Major League Baseball appreciates. That anger did not go away after the punishments were handed down in January. And it’s anger that was going to find an outlet one way or another.