“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:
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.
Altuve making sure he keeps that jersey on (via r/nyyankees) pic.twitter.com/OO32FVFxTi
— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) January 16, 2020
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.