My Thoughts Back in July 2021 on this National Media Trumped Up Astros Sign Stealing “Scandal”

Former Astros Pitcher Mike Fiers

I wrote this back in July.  I want to place it here because I am writing a follow up once the 2021 World Series between the Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves is over.

For an edited version of this, please see my contribution to the SABR Houston Larry Dierker Chapter Summer 2021 Newsletter here: https://sabrhouston.org/chapter-newsletter/  Article Title “Astros Scandal Outrage”

July 1, 2021

My opinion about this whole scandal is a bit off the mainstream.  I do not like the scandal and I think Mike Fiers should be called out for pulling a Jim Bouton on the Astros.  In my mind, part of this whole thing revolves around Luhnow and the Astros not giving Fiers the money he wanted.  In my mind, Fiers is the very definition of a former “disgruntled employee.” Do I think the Astros did something wrong in using technology to steal signs?  Yes and no.  I do not like the idea of the Astros being accused of cheating to win a championship, but I think that until Manfred sent out that memo, the Astros were probably doing this because other teams were doing it.  Former Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel (a member of the club) admitted that what the Astros were doing was, and I’m paraphrasing here, trying to keep up with what everyone else was doing.  Does this justify it?  I am not sure.  When it comes to electronic sign stealing and how it is different from other “approved or baseball traditional” methods of sign stealing, I do not see much difference.  From sources I have read, including primary sources like Christy Matthewson’s I do not see how it is okay and even approved that a runner on second base can somehow signal a batter what the sign might be but some guy or camera out in center field cannot do the same thing.  I always thought that was weird.  I like how former players call out the Astros for being bush league for cheating during the playoffs but others like Will Clark can say things like the Astros got caught and other teams did not.  All this seems hypocritical to me.  Oh well, in my mind the Astros will always be the 2017 WS champs. 

I am only going to talk about the part of the book I have read via bullet points.  I am going to do this because I have not read the Martino book cover to cover yet.  I received Martino’s book in the mail Sunday and I glanced through it.  I am laughing to myself when I write this because my wife asked me why I was reading a chapter at the end and I told her the chapter name.  She looked surprised and just shook her head.  The chapter I have read is the last chapter called “Fuck You.”  From what I can get, the chapter title comes from a Trevor Bauer quote when Bauer is dogging on the Astros.  The quote is from pages 248, 249 and I will post it here in its entirety.  Bauer interviewed by The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosencrans in Cincy.  “It pisses me off because all we want to do—everyone comes here to win, but we agree to play by a set of rules and we want to play fairly and compete and see are we better than you or not?”  Bauer goes on.  “So we all assume that’s what’s going on.  When it’s not, it’s, ‘Hold on a second, why is it that I have to abide by the rules?  That guy has to abide by the rules.  That team has to abide by the rules, but you guys think you are better than everyone and you don’t have to abide by the rules.’ Fuck you.”  

I will stop here for a moment and give all of you a chance to laugh at Bauer considering what has gone on with him lately. 

Here are my general impressions about the book from reading chapter 18.  I will give you my overall impressions of the scandal before I offer a few problems I have with the chapter I read.  I may be wrong here because I have not read the whole book, but this is what I see.  I almost pulled out my red correcting pen when going through the chapter and I laughed.  Hey, this is published not a draft.   

Overall scandal impressions

1.  There was no way MLB was going to vacate the 2017 WS title.  The powers that be knew that most teams, if not all teams, did this and if they punished the Astros by stripping them of their title, the action might do more harm than good.  Fans outside of Houston would applaud but I think the Houston fans and others across the country would leave the game for good.  I am not going to lie.  The thought crossed my mind once I heard about MLB talking about it and I have loved this franchise for as long as I can remember.  I am sure that I would have come back eventually but I bet many would not and if MLB has one problem more than any others right now is trying to keep as many as possible engaged with the game.  It’s also a money thing.  

2.  I have always felt from day one, this whole scandal was a hit job on the Astros.  Baseball traditionalist power franchises like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Cubs, even the Cardinals, and others have a problem with people like Luhnow and the new types of advanced analytics that had taken over the game since Michael Lewis’ Moneyball talked about the Athletics use of stats.  In Astroball, you can tell how much the other clubs disliked Luhnow, his reliance on advanced analytics, and his way of negotiating.  To me, Reiter’s book emphasized how much Luhnow was despised around the game.  So, wow could the baseball powerhouses retain their power?  Get rid of Luhnow somehow and hurt the team he built in the process.  Get Luhnow and his way of doing things out of baseball.  True, Luhnow does deserve some blame for the people he brought in, the way they handled things, etc.  MLB needed to get the big money traditional franchises back on top while punishing up-and-coming franchises like Houston.  Remember, the Astros are now considered big market.   The team had slowly risen in value over the years and were not only demanding to sit at the big team market table but in some ways, threatening to become the biggest chair at the best table.  The powers that be could not have that.  MLB had to do something, and they used this “scandal” to help get the powers that be back on top.  Restore the order of things.  In my mind, from what I have seen, this whole thing is about ruining the Astros for decades if not permanently.  Most importantly though, get Luhnow out of the game.  The traditional powers needed to start winning championships again and they got their wish in 2020 with the LA Dodgers winning the World Series.

Howard Stern and his Show shared their thoughts on the scandal after Fiers made his revelations.

3.  Who better to get the word out that the Astros should be booed mercilessly and have their brand image permanently tarnished than using the national media and not just sports media?  National baseball writers called out Manfred for his actions against the Astros but how many times did Jon Morosi, Jayson Stark, Jeff Passan, and others flat out say that they would understand why Astros players would be thrown at and that the players deserved everything they were getting and then some.  Even non-sports media figures go in on the act.  Howard Stern, who is responsible for at least thirty million SiriusXM users got in on the act.  Not surprisingly, Stern’s show is based in NYC and many of his staffers are Mets or Yankees fans.  Recently, I even heard the announcer from TCM (Turner Classic Movies) on Directv talk about the baseball teams he did not like while introducing a baseball movie.  This show is based in LA and so he mentioned a couple of teams and of course, he talked about the Astros.  To many, this justified even more social media users from ragging o the club and in their minds, justified all the cyberbullying that went on against the Astros and their supporters.  It even allowed these people to roast, try and silence, anyone who dared to defend the Astros in any way.  Notice I did not say support the Astros for what they did, I said to defend the Astros.  This scandal highlights just how much social media has taken over our lives and how dangerous digital McCarthyism can be.  

4.  If the powers that be in baseball wanted to hurt the Astros brand, they could not have picked a better time.  The Astros did not do themselves any favors with some of the actions of the players Luhnow brought in (Osuna, for example) or for the actions of some of his staffers.  Combine all of that with the outbreak of the scandal after the 2019 World Series, COVID, people stuck at home online, the 2020 election, its aftermaths, and other things, and what you have is perfect timing with MLB trying to destroy a club’s brand while letting a team like the Red Sox (a second-time offender) off with another hand slap.      

5. Altuve can break Rose’s hit record and this scandal will be brought up.  National writers will use it against him to not vote for him to get in the HOF.  As ridiculous as that is, Altuve might not get in the first year but I do not think this will stop him from getting into the HOF, especially if he keeps up this pace, enters the 3000 hit club, and keeps on churning towards becoming the greatest Astros hitter of all time.  

Chapter 18 impressions

1.  This chapter seems to be a “blame all” against the Astros and a pity party for Beltran who was to become the new Mets manager.  Personally, I feel bad for Beltran and Cora for getting caught up in this whole thing but I cannot excuse them for their role in this.  Whether Cora or Beltran like it, they played a major role in this because of how much the Astros players respected them.  I remember reading the Beltran article when he came back to Houston in 2017.  That article talked about how much the players gathered around him and how he took some other younger stars on this club (Altuve, Correa, and others) under his wing.  For Cora, no matter what he says, the players listened to his advice.  If he said using technology this way or that way could help them make better contact with pitches, whether it was pushing the limits of the rules or not, the players were going to listen to him.  In my mind, the 2017 Astros were in as good a position as anyone to win a title and the players were going to do listen to anything their respected coaches would tell them to help win every game.     

Stephen A Smith and Max Kellerman both of who have made it known that they are Yankees Fans called for the Astros to be stripped of their 2017 World Series Title

April 7, 2021: Article written by David Wysong (https://www.sportscasting.com/stephen-a-smith-astros-manager-dusty-baker-suck-it-up/)

“Following Dusty Baker’s comments, which came after the Astros’ game on April 5, ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith appeared on First Take. While he gave Baker a lot of praise, he also thinks that it’s time for him to “suck it up.”

“He’s one of the best managers, as far as I’m concerned, the game has ever seen,” Smith said on the April 6 episode of First Take. “… He wasn’t a part of the cheating scandal where they were stealing signs … but the bottom line is that it happened. And because it happened, Dusty Baker can’t be old school in this situation; even though he’s obviously an old school individual, he’s gotta suck it up and deal with it because that’s the team he inherited. You have personnel on your franchise that won a World Series that was on the verge of winning two World Series in three years — Altuve, Correa, Springer, and all of these boys — we know they can play; we know they’re big time. That’s what makes their actions even that much more egregious.”

Smith continued: “No one has forgotten what y’all did. A lot of people out there still think your title was illegitimate, that your run to the World Series was illegitimate. And so that’s the way it goes. Suck it up and deal with it. That’s what happens when you cheat.””

2. Martino played to his New York Yankees audience. See the Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman comments above) Now, back to chapter 18 of Cheated. This chapter seems to be written from a Yankees fan perspective.  The Yankees thought this, the Yankees thought that.  Despite being found out, the Yankees never went “as far as the Astros and Red Sox did.”  Wow.  I read that was just floored.  How can someone write that about a club that has stretched and violated MLB’s written or unwritten “rules” for decades?  Also, Aaron Judge congratulated Altuve about the 2017 MVP race via a social media post but after the scandal came out, Martino writes that he “quietly removed the post” until people figured out what he did?  Really?  

3. Martino, in my mind, is convinced the Astros kept cheating in 2018 and 2019.  The Mariners discovered GoPro cameras, Astros drilling holes in walls, this team said this about the Astros, this team said that.  It seems to me he is determined to say the Astros are a cheating franchise, period.  No matter what and no matter what you do they will not be stopped and they should be stripped of everything and sent to the showers permanently (this last sentence is my personal opinion of what I think Martino and others like him think should happen to the club).

4. Martino wrote that the union members have all turned against the Astros and this is a big deal because the ballplayers act like brothers.  Really?  Has Martino not read anything about union members turning on each other all the time and the infighting that goes on amongst players inside and outside the union?  I’ll share just one example.  The union membership seemed to divide viciously about the steroid, BALCO, Biogenesis scandals.  Players like Verlander took to social media to roast other union members who used PED’s.  There seemed to be his group on one side and the “juicers” group of players screaming about privacy rights on the other side.

5. Speaking about social media and the Astros scandal, he barely mentions how this scandal was magnified like no other scandal via social media.  No one came to the defense of the Astros, and everyone (sports fans and non-sports fans) treated the Astros like they were the only team that has ever stretched the limits of the rules with sign-stealing.  If anything is new about this scandal and what sets it apart from other sports scandals is how much social media played a role in magnifying the scandal.  Period.  We can all blame social media for making a large mountain out of a mole hill.  Am I surprised by the social media response?  No.  You want to know why?  People on social media want something to rage about.  Some people like it.  They do not care about the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  They care about the scandal.  What the media used to have a monopoly over (creating outrage over news stories), the social media universe has taken over.  Take a look at politics, culture, any other story on social media.  If a story gets traction and people want to talk about it, a #hashtag trend is the way to do it now.  Get enough people talking about something, and before you know it, the story gets turned inside out and the truth is almost always lost.  This is what happened to the Astros story.  The truth that the Astros were late to the game in sign stealing was lost.  That was not what national, sports, and social media users wanted the story to be.  The story in their mind was that this franchise, which had risen to the top through a advanced analytics and clever drafting, needed to be put down and the team needed to be put back in its place.  What was that place?  Well, since the Astros had embarrassed the New York Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, and most of baseball, that place needed to be back to last place. 

Frankly, I find all of this funny and not surprising.  The traditional “super-franchises” and their fanbases feel entitled.  They think they deserve to win every year.  Besides, they will tell you, that’s the way it has always been.  Well, sorry elitists, this is not your parent’s baseball anymore.  Welcome to the new world where your clubs cannot simply buy championships every year. 

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