At this writing, this season’s Houston Astros have been hit by pitches twelve times for fourth among American League teams. The on-field administration of that Astrogate justice denied by the commissioner produces a disturbing sidebar. Quick: Name the Astro who’s been hit by the most pitches since the pandemic-truncated season began.
The answer is Abraham Toro, reserve third baseman/designated hitter. He’s the only Astro to be hit by pitches three times thus far, and he wasn’t even a member of the 2017-18 Astrogate teams. His reasonable responses to such embryonic team plunk leadership might include thoughts of first-degree manslaughter.
Toro’s position is much like that of a bright young financial whiz, freshly graduated from a prestigious university, freshly hired by a brokerage firm that faced sanctions, fines, imprisonments, and in-the-toilet public relations a year before bringing him into their tattered ranks, and who now feels the stings and fastballs of guilt by association.
This year’s Astros include nine from the 2017-18 teams: their entire starting infield—Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel; two outfielders—Josh Reddick, George Springer; and, three pitchers—Chris Devenski, Lance McCullers, Jr., Justin Verlander. Gurriel and Springer have been hit by pitches twice this year; Altuve, Bregman, and Correa, once each. Reddick as of this writing has escaped thus far.
Toro is one of two non-2017-18 Astros to take one for the team with which they had nothing to do in the first place. Last year’s American League Rookie of the Year, Yordan Alvarez, possibly out for the season with a knee injury, got it once before his injury.
Exactly why Toro and Alverez should be taking balls to their ribs or other assorted anatomy is anyone’s guess aside from opponents believing that, if you wear an Astro uniform, the deets don’t matter, you’re fair game. That’s as patently unfair as would be a prosecutor taking one look at the aforementioned, hypothetical new brokerage recruit and filing an arrest warrant because, well, “That’s for even thinking about joining that cesspool house.”
You got why it seemed about seven-eighths if not more of the rest of the Show’s players wanted to administer the justice commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t in handing 2017-18 Astro players immunity in return for their spilling about the Astro Intelligence Agency. And you get why pitcher McCullers, one of the more thoughtful Astros, is just a little bit fed up with that desire.
McCullers thinks “they” continue advocating for the Astros to suffer the brushbacks, knockdowns, and beanballs over Astrogate’s perfidy. “They,” of course, are that majority of non-Astros players and enough press and fans who think the Astros’ players got away with murder over their 2017-18 illegal electronic sign-stealing operation. And “they,” of course, are wrong, as McCullers sees it.
“[S]peaking to players was probably the least part of [MLB’s] whole investigation,” McCullers told The Athletic‘s Jayson Stark and Doug Glanville (himself a former major league player) on the Starkville podcast.
I can’t go into it because I don’t know how much I am or am not allowed to say. But I’ll say that … the notion that, oh, players negotiated immunity, players then were interviewed and rolled on everyone just to save themself, isn’t the case. And that’s as much as I can say. That’s not what happened. That’s not how this went down. So if that’s what people are upset about, then I guess we can all move on because that’s not how it happened.
Manfred also suspended now-former general manager Jeff Luhnow, now-former manager A.J. Hinch, and now-former bench coach Alex Cora for the whole of 2020. Cora–who went on to manage the 2018 Boston Red Sox to a World Series title a year after the Astros’ now-tainted title—subsequently lost that job for his Astrogate involvement, too.
Manfred didn’t suspend the Astros’ 2017 designated hitter, Carlos Beltran, considered a key Astrogate operative himself, but his role cost him his freshly-minted job managing the New York Mets—before he had the chance to manage even a spring training exhibition game.
“And it’s never going to be good enough,” McCullers told Stark and Glanville. “The whole franchise could be dismantled, and it wouldn’t be good enough.”
Toro taking three plunks and Alvarez taking one gives a shard of credence to McCullers’s remark. There were observers and analysts, yours truly among them, who said early during the unfurling of the Astrogate revelations that it might indeed require a complete turnover of even the current roster before the stain dissipates from the franchise.
The 2020 Red Sox have enough trouble of their own on the field as it is. They’re collapsing like a rickety folding chair after losing their franchise face Mookie Betts in a lopsided, money-nourished trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers. But they’ve been scored by Manfred over their Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring of sign-stealing. And this year’s Red Sox have had nine players hit by pitches and ten such hits total, seventh in the American League.
At least four of the replay reconnaissance ring team members have been drilled thus far: Mitch Moreland, Rafael Devers, Kevin Pillar, and J.D. Martinez. But nobody huffed, puffed, or threatened to blow the house down over the Red Sox. If that bewilders McCullers, the Astros as a whole, and the Astros’ and Red Sox’s fan bases that continue coming to terms with their world champion cheaters, it’s both understandable and unfathomable.
The reasons may be simple. Cora was cashiered when Manfred’s Astrogate report came forth, well before the commissioner finished and released his Red Sox reconnaissance findings. Accurately or incompletely, the Red Sox looked far more decisive doing so, and there remained the prospect that Cora got his not just because of Astrogate but because the Red Sox brass suspected he had at least a fingertip on the reconnaissance ring.
More to the point, the Rogue Sox simply used what was handed to them and every major league team at home and on the road. They didn’t have to alter an incumbent camera’s mandatory eight-second delay or install a separate real-time camera. All they had to do, and did, was read the replay room monitors and signal their baserunners who’d send the pilfered intelligence to their hitters.
Neither the AIA nor the Rogue Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Team had anything to do with their pitchers, whether McCullers in Houston or Joe Kelly, now with the Dodgers, who dropped Bregman and Correa on 28 July but was a Red Sox pitcher in 2017-18.
The whatabout argument doesn’t pass muster, either. Just because others did it, and we don’t really know yet whom and when in recent seasons (other than the New York Yankees, perhaps), it doesn’t mean the Asterisks or the Rogue Sox do or should get off the hook.
Just when you thought McCullers earned your stubborn admiration for trying to defend his team, however edgily, he had to spoil it. Alluding to Kelly’s recent podcast dismissing the Astro players accepting immunity to spill as “snitches,” McCullers huffed, “By the way, there was only one snitch. And that’s the person who spoke to The Athletic.”
So Astrogate is still all Mike Fiers’s fault. Never mind that he and others (including the Oakland Athletics administration) couldn’t persuade the Show’s government or reporters to convince their editors to investigate or publish, until Fiers finally blew the Astrogate whistle last November. Never the cheaters’ fault, always the whistleblower’s
Well, to this day there may well remain people who think New York’s police corruption scandal of the early 1970s was all the fault of the two clean cops, Frank Serpico and David Durk, who took it to The New York Times after they couldn’t persuade their own department to clean up and wise up, too. Never the crooked cops’ fault, always the whistleblowers’.
What was a terrible look for New York’s Finest then is still a terrible look for the Astros now. McCullers may want to ponder that further and deeper while he laments with some justification how little seems good enough to sate Astrogate critics.
But Kelly at least sent his messages to a pair of actual Astrogaters. Holding Toro, Alvarez, and any other Astro answerable for baseball crimes they didn’t commit and weren’t there to commit is a terrible look, too.