BY Art Thiel 12:04PM 02/14/2020

Thiel: Words show Astros’ don’t get misdeeds

The Astros’ first press conference after the sign-stealing scandal was a disaster. They still don’t get it. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred needs to act, or he’s complicit.

Astros star Jose Altuve wasn’t good with his words Thursday. / Alan Chitlik, Sportspress Northwest

“What’s puzzling you is the nature of my game.”

— Rolling Stones, Sympathy for the Devil

After attempting to understand Thursday from spring training the Astros’ futile attempt to apologize for baseball’s biggest scandal since PEDs, I confess to bewilderment. Mick Jagger’s 1968 samba saga about the tangle between good and evil kept creeping into my head.

What is the nature of the Astros’ game?

To minimize? To dodge? To double down, in the fashion of the White House, and tell critics to drop dead over their years-long sign-stealing?

The Astros had the time and money to fly in a brigade of PR experts for their first collective public appearance to guide owner Jim Crane, team leaders and all those remaining from 2017, 2018 and probably 2019 seasons about Rule No. 1 when you betray public trust:

Express, with transparent contrition, apologies that accept full personal responsibility for the misdeeds, and offer a plan to avoid a repeat.

The strategy can be explained in a blindingly simple equation:

Trade a few days of hell for a season of hell.

Instead, the Astros decided to wing it, and everybody in MLB, from commissioner Rob Manfred down to the clubhouse workers in Arizona and Florida, put all hands over all faces, knowing bad became worse.

We found out from stars Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve — reading from statements and taking no questions in a media session lasting less than 90 seconds —  that, hey, they feel bad, and it’s on to 2020. And Crane had the audacity to suggest that the cheating didn’t impact outcomes.

“I am really sorry about the choices that were made by our team, the organization and by me,” Bregman  said. “I have learned from this and hope to regain the trust of fans . . . We as a team are totally focused on moving forward to the 2020 season.”

Altuve: “We had a great team meeting last night and the whole organization and the team feels bad about what happened in 2017. We especially feel remorse for our fans and for the game of baseball.”

Incredibly, Crane said, “Our opinion is this didn’t impact the game. We had a good team. We won the World Series and we’ll leave it at that.”

Asked then what was the purpose of the press conference, Crane said,  “We broke the rules.”

I am disinclined to indulge profanity in public writings, mostly because it cheapens the discourse. But there are times when there are no stronger, simpler ways to convey contempt. So, to Crane:

Fuck you.

Instead of tamping down the outrage, he inflamed it, as did Altuve and Bregman. When the moment called for bent knee and bowed head, the Astros averted eyes and sneered.

What should have been said? Here’s one way to go for the participants in the scheme:

I cheated. I knew it was wrong, and I did it anyway. I disgraced myself, diminished the game, damaged our opponents and embarrassed Astros fans while undercutting the principle of sportsmanship wherever it is taught and revered.

Since I cannot undo what’s been done, I can only hope to improve the future. Besides taking public steps to assure that I and my teammates never do such things again, I propose two things:

Forfeit all playoff-game compensation and bonuses to players and management from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 seasons and donate to fund construction of new baseball/sports fields, and maintenance of existing facilities, to grow youth sports and their values in the greater Houston area, with no signage, credit or acknowledgement of the source of the donations.

Sit with media members in open session to explain exactly how the system worked. By lighting the darkness, we identify those who took part and those who actively resisted, in order to inform the public and to discourage the same or similar practices by other teams.

As for Crane, his previous denials of knowing about the scheme, then denying any consequence from the baseball law-breaking, are the posturings one would expect to hear from a mob boss. Given the report of the cheating’s duration, along with the apparent instances of coercion by led by veteran star Carlos Beltran, the saga spools out as if it were a case of organized crime.

Clearly, the punishments — suspensions, fines and loss of draft choices — doled out by Manfred following the disclosures in MLB’s in-house investigation had little impact.

Looming over the competence of the investigation is the widely seen episode on video from last season’s playoffs of Altuve resisting the jersey-tearoff ritual after his walk-off home run off Yankees reliever Aroldis Chapman sent the Astros to the World Series. The suspicion, denied by Altuve, the Astros and the investigation, is that Altuve was wearing a buzzer that told him what pitch was coming.

National League MVP Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers called out the episode in a spring-training interview Friday.

“I don’t know what human hits a walk off home run against Aroldis Chapman to send your team to the World Series,” he said, “and one, has the thought to say, ‘Don’t rip my jersey off,’ and two, go in the tunnel, change your shirt, and then come out and do your interview — that makes no sense to me.”

Much of this sordid saga makes no sense to many fans and players. And it doesn’t get better.

“I thought the apologies were whatever,” Bellinger said. “I thought Jim Crane’s (apology) was weak. I thought Manfred’s punishment was weak, giving them immunity. I mean, these guys were cheating for three years.”

If Manfred doesn’t re-visit his punishments, or consider hiring outsiders for a re-do on the investigation, his office is complicit in perpetuating the consequences. At minimum, he has within his power to get the attention of his outlaw outfit: Vacating the Astros’ 2017 title.

He doesn’t have to award it to the Dodgers. But he has to stop rewarding the Astros.

It is not in their nature to play by the rules.


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YourThoughts

  • Will Ganschow

    Wow! ( that’s from the 50’s)

    • art thiel

      Thanks, I think.

  • WestCoastBias79

    Bravo! When the scandal first broke, I thought the idea of stripping them of the title was just the normal histrionics of sporting talking heads needing clicks and ratings. After the past few days, it’s pretty apparent they still don’t think what they did was that big of a deal. Take the trophy, take back the rings, lower the banner. This isn’t quite Black Sox, but considering the length of time they were doing it, the solid chance we’re not getting the whole story (buzzers anyone?), how EVERYONE in the clubhouse knew about it, and now they seem to only be sorry they were caught, it’s pretty damn close.

    • art thiel

      That’s my point — the cheating was organized, systemic and displayed direct contempt for the sport after Manfred’s Sept 2017 letter warning away all teams from electronic sign stealing.

      It’s wore than Manfred wants to know.

    • Kirkland

      Are the loss of draft picks extending to multiple years? If so, that mitigates against taking, as a last-place finish won’t result in a number-one pick the following season.

      Would people say the Astros’ cheating is as bad as or worse than what the Patriots did/are accused of doing (Spygate et al.)?

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        Astros by a country mile, they were egregious in their behavior because the entire Astros team was in on it for at least 2 years. Hard to believe that the entire Pats team was aware of what was going on and I’m not a Pats fan by a long shot. The Astros would still be doing it if they hadn’t been caught. It would be fitting if the franchise had a total melt down, maybe not this year but hopefully in the near future.

        • art thiel

          Manfred told ESPN Sunday that vacating the title was unnecessary because “everyone knows.” Was he an OJ juror?

          • 2nd place is 1st loser

            If the glove…errr if the jersey buzzer doesn’t fit, Ya gots to acquit. RIP Johnny C.

      • art thiel

        Two years without the top two picks.

        The Astros’ crimes were, by the investigation, player-driven. So yes, it is worse.

  • 2nd place is 1st loser

    It seems like they’ve taken on the attitude of the big fella living at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. First deny all wrong doing, then when it becomes crystal clear that you actually did do it, change course and have the audacity to say, okay maybe we do it, what’s the big deal. Let’s move on. Monkey see, monkey do.

    • Husky73

      Trump’s supporters: He didn’t say that. OK, even if he said it, he didn’t mean it. Alright, he said it and he meant it, but it’s no big deal. OK, it’s a big deal, But…..Hillary’s emails!!!!!!

      • art thiel

        Diffuse, distract, deflect.

        I’m sure tha Crane will call for investigations of every team calling out the Astros.

        • Will Ganschow

          No, but Dusty just sorta did

    • art thiel

      Not hard to see the parallels.

    • James

      Can you imagine Trump saying: I cheated. I knew it was wrong, and I did it anyway. I disgraced myself, diminished the White House, damaged our country, and embarrassed America while undercutting the principle of honesty wherever
      it is taught and revered.

    • Kirkland

      Trump is incapable of shame or embarrassment. While Clinton at least apologized for “misleading people” after his impeachment acquittal, Trump is taking a victory lap and is behaving more aggressively than before.

      • 2nd place is 1st loser

        He’s bullet proof, his behavior and his party is now the gold standard for hiding in plain site. Vote 2020.

  • Husky73

    Art, as much as I wish things were different, I don’t think your bold and italics mea culpa has happened more than a few times in history…..and almost never in sports, politics, business, baseball, marriage or by Magic Johnson and Chevy Chase following cancellation of their talk shows. It did happen once by John Cleese in “A Fish Called Wanda” (although he was upside down outside of a window). As did Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, ARod, Bill Clinton and Mel Gibson, baseball and the Astros will move on.

    • art thiel

      This episode is different in sports because it involved the entire organization over multiple years at a championship level, and may not be over. Especially with the Altuve buzzer allegation.

      The frequency of lying in public/private life makes it easy to shrug at the hopelessness. That doesn’t preclude from calling out one that is egregious and ongoing.

  • jafabian

    From what I’ve seen over the years success breeds ego. Look no further than n athletics. Ego is not necessarily a bad thing but ego can breed pride which is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. And it’s pride that is preventing the Astros organization from being contrite in their apology.

    It’s not unlike Michael Jordan’s HOF speech where he used the occasion to call out any and all persons he perceived to have slighted him including his high school varsity basketball coach who famously cut Jordan as a sophomore and was invited to the ceremony by his Airness only to be publicly rebuked. Patrick Ewing explained to a reporter that was Michael’s competitiveness, his pride, getting the best of him. Unfortunately for MJ it let the public see an ugly side of him. The Astros have chosen to go down that same road but instead of a Corvette they’re in a semi.

    I won’t even pretend to understand Commissioner Manfred’s reaction or lack of. If he does nothing he could be perceived as a commissioner who looks the other way when rules are bent. Pete Rose probably wishes he was in charge when he was placing his bets.

    If the Astros don’t get their act together soon they can expect a lot of fastballs being pitched in and scores being run up. Fans will bring in trash cans or use ones at the park and pound on them when they come to bat. They’ll lead the league in getting hit by a pitch. Players will slide into Altuve on purpose with spikes up. I don’t think they have any clue about this being a possibility yet.

    • art thiel

      Good reminder about Jordan’s grievance speech. That was a sad episode. Ewing was being kind to his pal.

      I think the Astros have heard privately from many in baseball about what’s in store for them from some. But many will remain silent because they were doing same or similar.

      • jafabian

        I’m certain part of the Astros motivations were that to their knowledge other teams were doing the same. I don’t know if they’ve said as much behind closed doors but it doesn’t seem so. If they won’t come completely clean MLB needs to start doing random spot checks of stadiums throughout the season. If they can do random drug tests on players they can check on the ballparks.

        • art thiel

          That’s part of the rationalization. Now it’s coming out that some players, including Altuve, didn’t want the info. Bad answer. Even if it were true, he had the influence to stop it.

  • Tim

    Yes…this can all be distilled down to those two words. I
    A years-long conspiracy. Prescripted words without allowing questions is a joke. Funny how so many cheaters suddenly just want to move on and focus on the future. “Mistakes were made…”

    • art thiel

      A Reagan-era staple.

  • coug73

    Asterisks all around for the Astro’s.*

    * cheater

  • Kirkland

    Here’s a real-life example of how it should’ve been done. English rugby team Saracens’ punishment for salary-cap violations were increased last month from a 35-point deduction to an automatic relegation to the second division next season. Owner and now-resigned chairman NIgel Wray released a statement that both expressed sincere apologies and remorse while explaining his actions:

    https://www.saracens.com/club-statement-from-nigel-wray/

    The tl:dr summary: As rugby has only been professional since 1996, not many salaries clear 100,000 pounds. Considering those smallish (for athletes) incomes, Wray assisted some players with buying houses and setting up post-rugby professional careers the last few seasons. However, the Gallagher Premiership considers such assistance as counting to the salary cap, and Wray didn’t consult with team or league financial compliance before providing that financial assistance. This went unnoticed by the league and other teams until last spring, when someone took a look at Saracens’ books.

    Whether you think Wray intentionally cheated with the cap or sincerely thought he did nothing wrong (except not cross his financial T’s and dot his I’s before signing the checks), at least you have clarity of his thought processes behind his actions, and that he’s showing a hell of a lot more remorse than many other sporting figures have in the aftermath of punishment. PR consultants should take a look at Wray’s statement; the Astros should’ve.

    • art thiel

      Thanks for sharing a rational, reasonable way forward.

  • ll9956

    Good on ya, Art. These slimebags deserve to feel the hurt that reading from your script would inflict on them. Of course that ain’t happening.

    • art thiel

      Thanks. I just wanted someone in MLB to know how to do it. Please pass it on.

  • John

    Now I am wondering if the M’s, or the ballpark, would allow fans to bring in noisemakers that sound like garbage cans when the Astros come to Seattle. Maybe that’s something worth selling in the stadium team store.

    • art thiel

      Every MLB stadium is preparing to stop you and your fellow wise guys from bringing in objects. But they can’t stop you from playing audio from your phones.

    • Kirkland

      Gritty is one step ahead of you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrzTREiLdD4

      • John

        I heard about that. Made me laugh and I loved it. I am sure we will see all sorts of noise making with regard to the Astros. Namely if they play some interleague games with the Dodgers.

        • art thiel

          Mariners might profit if they sell them at the team shop. After 1-18 in the season series last year, they have to start somewhere.

      • John
      • art thiel

        A mascot well ahead of his time.

  • Seattle Psycho

    The part that irritates me the most is that one of their excuses was that the GM never sent the players the memo from MLB saying electronic sign stealing was not authorized so how could the players know what they were doing was wrong. Seriously? That apparently was going to be the reasoning the MLBPA was going to use if the players were going to be suspended.

    I don’t know what the MLBPA would have done had suspensions been handed down but I sure hope they would have looked at their other customers and the damage done to their stats/careers/income and taken their side over the cheaters.

    • art thiel

      The union would have had a helluva fight to stop the Astros’ suspensions against the wishes of fellow union members, but I bet the union would have succeeded by claiming the commish over-reached his authority.

  • Archangelo Spumoni

    Gonna be weird for a few years–hating somebody besides the evil Yanquis. But it will be easy to transfer said hatred. The players will find this upcoming one to be a long season.
    I am reminded of what Don Drysdale or Bob Gibson did after somebody took them over the wall and this “event” will be so routine it will be normalized.

    • art thiel

      Manfred said umps will be on revenge watch regarding Astros opponents. Unlikely to be even a limited solution.

  • Mícheál Mac Cionnaith

    Is it possible (indeed, probable) that this sort of thing has gone on for years, but this is the first time somebody is caught doing it overtly? Allow me to draw an analogy: Thinking back to (’round about) the 1980s, the O-Line of the Broncos was notorious for chop blocking defenders, and the team prospered from that. Was it “good sportsmanship”? No. It was their well-known strategy and the NFL let it slide. In a sentence: Everybody in every sport is looking for an advantage, and they try to push it to the limit where they are getting maximum benefit, w/o triggering adverse action. There’s nothing new to this general concept. And we all (deep down) know that. But then when somebody actually gets “collared” for trying to gain any advantage possible, people act like it is a foreign concept to them. The list is almost endless: Corked bats, doctored baseballs, steroids. I’m not supporting the conduct — I’m merely pointing out that it is just the latest chapter in the “do anything to secure an advantage” game. I mean, Really? People are acting with a straight face as though “gaming the system” is new to baseball?

    • art thiel

      The analogy here is that lots of us regularly drive 65 mph in a 55 zone, but the Astros drove 100 mph for years. If you don’t put a hard stop to flagrant, systemic cheating and coverups that involve owner, GM and mgr as well as players, then let’s all give up and let the Astros reach first base at 85 feet while the rest of MLB sticks to 90.

  • Williec

    Yesterday with Manford’s weak (pathetic) defense of his actions and today Mike Trout coming out enraged, I wonder if players might consider boycotting Astro games? Somebody’s got to start putting integrity back in the game.

    • art thiel

      An effective boycott needs to have a goal, and punishing fellow union members is not a good goal. Pressing Manfred to vacate the title makes more sense, but even that is an adminisrtative, symbolic gesture unlikely to be influential beyond the Astros.