“They [screwed] it up twice”

2020-08-14 AJHinchAlexCors

Former Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch and bench coach Alex Cora. Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly fumes that Astro players tainted Hinch’s and Cora’s names to save their own.

With everything else buffeting major league baseball before delayed “summer camp” and the truncated season, it was easy enough to miss. But Alex Cora—considered an Astro Intelligence Agency co-mastermind and unproven shepherd of the Red Sox Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring—spoke out in June.

And Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly, one of Cora’s Red Sox charges during their run to the World Series title in 2018, spoke up likewise in a podcast by Dodger teammate Ross Stripling days before his suspension—for throwing at Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, the latter drawing Astros and Dodgers alike out of dugouts in social-distance violation—was cut from eight to five games.

Between them comes an alteration of the former Astrogate narrative, and it’s not likely to mitigate the AIA stain on the 2017 world champions. If anything, it’s liable to make the stain deeper. Upon the 2017-18 Astros’ players and upon commissioner Rob Manfred, who handed those players blanket immunity in return for spilling about the AIA’s off-field-based, electronic pitch sign espionage.

“The people who took the fall for what happened is nonsense. Yes, everyone is involved,” said Kelly aboard Stripling’s podcast.

But the way [the AIA] was run over there was not from coaching staff . . . They’re not the head boss in charge of that thing. It’s the players. So now the players get the immunity, and all they do is go snitch like a little bitch, and they don’t have to get fined, they don’t have to lose games.

Kelly’s remarks hark among others to Cora telling ESPN writer Marly Rivera in early June that he didn’t object to shouldering his own responsibility for the 2017 Astros’ chicaneries, having been their bench coach before becoming the Red Sox’s manager, but also wanting one and all to know that neither himself nor 2017 Astros designated hitter Carlos Beltran were the sole drivers.

When Manfred dropped his Astrogate hammer earlier this year, he fined owner Jim Crane the maximum-allowable $5 million, virtual tip money. He suspended general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for all 2020. Crane fired the pair almost at once.

Then the Red Sox more or less forced Cora out as their manager before the Rogue Sox sign-stealing report emerged. And the New York Mets more or less forced Beltran out as their newly-hired manager—before Beltran got to manage even a single exhibition game for the team he once starred for as an outfielder.

“When you take someone’s livelihood . . . to save your own ass, that’s what I don’t like,” Kelly continued.

Cheating? They cheated. Everyone knows they’re cheaters. They know they’re cheaters. It’s over. That’s done with. But now they mess it up by ruining other people’s lives, so they [screwed] it up twice . . . When you taint someone’s name to save your own name, this is one of the worst things that you could probably do . . . That really friggin’ bugs me. I think I’ll be irritated forever.

In other words, the Astros players accepting Manfred’s immunity to throw Cora, Beltran, and even Hinch and Luhnow under the proverbial bus isn’t even close to being Mike Fiers—frustrated that attempts by himself and others in the know to get reporters to push for exposing the AIA previously—finally blowing the Astrogate whistle to The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich last November.

Kelly may have missed Cora telling Rivera it wasn’t only players who might have made himself and/or Beltran sacrificial lambs. “There has been a narrative out there of what happened,” Cora said.

Ever since mid-November until the commissioner announced the results of the Red Sox investigation, I have read many things that are true and many others that are not.Out of this whole process, if there is one thing that I completely reject and disagree with is people within the Astros organization singling me out, particularly Jeff Luhnow, as if I were the sole mastermind. The commissioner’s report sort of explained, in its own way, what happened. But the [Astros players] have spoken up and refuted any allegations that I was solely responsible.

If there is one thing I am absolutely sure of, it is that it was not a two-man show. We all did it. And let me be very clear that I am not denying my responsibility, because we were all responsible.

Manfred’s subsequent report on the Rogue Sox determined—after the commissioner handed 2018-19 players the same immunity to spill as he handed the Astros—that their replay-room sign-stealing scheme was actually executed without Cora’s direct knowledge of the operation.

Remember: The AIA involved either installing an illegal real-time camera or altering an existing camera off mandated eight-second transmission delays to send opposition pitch signs to a clubhouse monitor, where someone deciphered them and signaled them to hitters by way of banging a can slowly next to that monitor.

The Rogue Sox didn’t go that far. They married old-fashioned on-field sign-stealing gamesmanship to new-fashioned technology all but gift-wrapped for them. MLB itself handed them and anyone else so inclined the keys to the kingdom when it installed multiple-monitor replay rooms in both clubhouses in all ballparks.

Someone deciphered opposition signs on one of those monitors and transmitted them to a Red Sox baserunner who’d send it on to a batter. The key is that the Red Sox needed a man on base to execute the reconnaissance operation in the first place. They couldn’t and didn’t have stolen signs for every man in the lineup.

The AIA didn’t need baserunners to do its dirty work, though it could only operate in Minute Maid Park. Which made the scheme even more bizarre, never mind unnecessary, since the 2017-18 Astros actually won sixteen more games total on the road than at home.

Cora, remember, once made himself a Dodgers folk hero thanks to an epic eighteen-pitch plate appearance against Chicago Cubs pitcher Matt Clement that ended in a two-run homer into Dodger Stadium’s right field bullpen. Now he’s a pariah for being the bench coach of the ’17 Astros and the manager of the ’18 Red Sox, both of whom beat the Dodgers in back-to-back World Series.

Unlike those Astros who met the press as spring training opened (pre-coronavirus shutdown) and sounded as unapologetic as men offering apologies can sound, outraging about seven-eighths of MLB players, Cora did apologise for both the AIA and the Rogue Sox. “I understand why people think that our championship is not valid, and it’s our fault that they think that,” he told Rivera.

I am being honest and I apologize for what happened and for the mistakes we made as a group. I understand why people are disappointed. I am disappointed in myself. At the time, one doesn’t think about the consequences. It was something that kept growing and growing, and in the end, it was wrong. We made a mistake and I must pay for the consequences of my actions.

Kelly pondered aloud whether those Astros who spilled to Manfred called Beltran, Cora, Hinch, and even Luhnow—whose administration was controversial enough before Astrogate’s exposure, and whose departure may have been mourned the least—“and said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry’ . . . If they had said, ‘Hey, I’m super scared, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t want to lose money, I had to rat’ . . . Grow a pair of balls and say that.”

Would that make any difference to Beltran, Cora, and Hinch now?

Beltran lost a job he’d barely begun to do but one for which he seemed qualified enough. Cora lost a job in which he’d become only the fifth rookie manager ever to win a World Series, after Bucky Harris (the 1924 Washington Senators), Eddie Dyer (the 1946 St. Louis Cardinals), Ralph Houk (the 1961 New York Yankees), and Bob Brenly (the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks).

The hapless Hinch, who’d shown himself mostly as an ideal managerial marriage between smarts and sensitivity, was exposed as powerless to stop his charges from plunging deeper into baseball crime or to stop his superiors from fostering such an atmosphere in the first place.

Before you return to the false narrative of Kelly’s “hypocrisy” for scoring the Astros while being a member of the Rogue Sox, remind yourself: Red Sox pitchers catching on to baserunning teammates sending stolen enemy signs to hitters probably thought the runners got the signs the old fashioned way, catching on to and exploiting an enemy catcher’s inadvertent tells.

The Red Sox fell to the ’17 Astros in a division series but beat the Astros in five—abetted especially by Andrew Benintendi’s Game Four-ending, three-run-saving, series tie-thwarting catch in left field—in the ’18 American League Championship Series.

Six Astros regulars on the 2017-18 team remain with them today. How long before the AIA stain dissipates is anyone’s guess, never mind that there were those from the scandal’s birth who suggested the stain wouldn’t leave the Astros until all the 2017-18 players had either moved on or ended their career.

There’s little enough comfort for Astro and Red Sox fans still coming to terms with having rooted for two great teams who, obviously enough, lost enough faith in their own greatness. There’s also the distinct possibility that the bad blood between the Astros and the Dodgers won’t dissipate too soon, either. They meet again in Dodger Stadium in September.

“Just to say, ‘Oh, it’s done, it’s over with, move on,’ I don’t think is a reality for anyone,” Dodger third baseman Justin Turner told a Fox Sports pre-game show. “I think around the league, there are a lot of guys upset, who kind of feel like the punishment didn’t really fit the crime. I don’t know if that’ll ever go away for me.”

Millions of fans and an awful lot of players don’t know, either.

Five for Kelly, not eight, but . . .

Syndication: Phoenix

Joe Kelly’s suspension is now five, not eight games. Some say that’s still too excessive.

The good news, such as it is, is that Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly’s suspension for throwing at Houston Astros Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa, triggering a bench-clearing, safety protocols-defying debate, was reduced from eight to five games. Enough might say that’s still too much.

The bad news is that there remain enough, aboard social media especially, to whom Kelly didn’t go far enough in administering Astrogate justice. Much like rioters and looters turning peaceful if grief-stricken demonstrations into war zones, they would cross the line between demanding justice for the guilty and destroying the innocent.

Asstros [the poster’s spelling] need to be assaulted, often and viciously,” said one such social media poster, perhaps too typically, not specifically about Kelly but about the protocol-defying near-dugout scrum into which Astros coach Alex Cintron goaded Oakland outfielder Ramon Laureano last Sunday afternoon.

“Bean balls, mound charging, spiking, spitting, fighting, punches, headlocks, punches to the face hard and often,” the poster continued. “Umpires should call every pitch against them a strike.” And then we should get really mad?

Such outrage is far more comprehensible than the same poster going forward from there to say violence has deeply therepeutic benefits. For whom? For those whose rage over the lack of Astrogate discipline against the cheating players simply will not be satisfied by one pitcher throwing beanballs?

Or, by one Athletics outfielder fuming over being hit by Astro pitches thrice in one weekend and twice that Sunday while, coincidentally, not one Astro batter saw so much as a brushback all weekend?

Social media hounds such as that demand retribution above and beyond the bounds of the game policing itself, no matter how wanting commissioner Rob Manfred proved to be when he handed Astro players from 2017-18 blanket amnesty in return for spilling about the Astro Intelligence Agency’s illicit electronic sign-stealing operation.

And, no matter how wanting fans and about seven-eighths of major league players found both that amnesty and the Astros’ subsequent unapologetic apologies as spring training opened.

Kelly himself suggested distinctions for which right reason demands acknowledgement as well. That otherwise fine 28 July saw him send a pair of fastballs upside and behind Bregman’s head and—a few batters later, before striking Correa out for the side—a pair of breaking balls making Correa dance in the batter’s box.

Bregman and Correa are two of only six 2017-18 Astros regulars remaining in those positions on this year’s edition. Kelly made a point of send the messages strictly via them when the opportunity arose.

Doing it to that pair made things obvious enough, since no pitcher customarily would think of decking a Bregman on a 3-0 count with one out. Nor would he think normally of putting runners at second and third as happened when one of Kelly’s dusters to Correa sailed past to be ruled a wild pitch officially.

Kelly probably didn’t have to be reminded that justice demands a line between the guilty held to account and those having nothing to do with the crimes in question left unscathed. If he’d elected to deck, say, Michael Brantley, who didn’t become an Astro until 2019, and was the only non-2017-18 Astro he faced in the inning, he would have crossed that line and maybe earned not one degree of the acclaim he received.

When Kelly struck Correa out, Correa and Kelly jawed a little as Kelly strode from the mound and approached the third base line returning to his dugout. Kelly then sent mock crybaby gestures including a pronounced pout to Correa. From there the dugouts emptied, health and safety protocols be damned. Not too bright on either side’s account.

But it combined with the Bregman knockdowns and Correa dustings to make Kelly a folk hero in Los Angeles, where they’d still like to send the Astros to the guillotine over the 2017 World Series the Dodgers lost to the Astros and, quite possibly, to the AIA as well.

In other places, considering Kelly’s membership on the 2017-18 Boston Red Sox (vanquished by the Astros in the ’17 division series, vanquishers of the ’18 Astros en route their own World Series triumph against the same Dodgers), Kelly’s “hypocrisy”—considering the subsequent revelation of the Red Sox Replay Room Reconnassance Ring sign-stealing—was denounced almost as furiously.

At least, it was until right reasoning people reminded themselves that neither the AIA nor the Rogue Sox operation involved the teams’ pitching staffs specifically. And, that Kelly, who became a Dodger last year, might well have gotten enough of the skinny from his mates to comprehend a significant distinction between the AIA and the Rogue Sox.

The AIA involved either altering an existing off-field camera off mandatory eight-second transmission delay or installing a furtive real-time camera to send the stolen intelligence to a clubhouse monitor for transmission to hitters. The Rogue Sox’s Four Rs involved using screens already installed in replay rooms league wide to decipher signs and signal them to baserunners who’d signal them to the hitters.

In simpler terms, the AIA went off the grid and over the barely-consecrated official line, while the Rogue Sox simply behaved like a teenage boy finding the keys to the hooch hutch unable to resist temptation until he was of legal drinking age. Especially since MLB handed them the hutch in the first place.

When Kelly’s pair of fastballs went upside Bregman’s head, there was a lot of jawing about them showing a lack of “professionalism.” Mostly from people—like Astros pitcher Lance McCullers, Jr.—who called those pitches unprofessional but couldn’t explain why illegal high-tech cheating wasn’t.

In the immediate wake of Kelly’s messaging, the word came unimpeachably that Manfred now has a hammer to drop on future such Astrosoxgate espionage: not only can those players caught taking or transmitting electronically stolen signs be suspended without pay, they lose the days of their suspensions in MLB service time, too.

The poster I cited earlier also demands the Astros’ 2017 World Series title be vacated. So has half the world, seemingly. Good luck with that. Vacate that title and you’ll have to try vacating a host of pennants (the 1940 Detroit Tigers, the 1951 New York Giants, the 1961 Cincinnati Reds) and/or World Series titles (the 2018 Red Sox, perhaps; the 1948 Cleveland Indians, possibly) past.

What the 2017-18 Astros and at least the 2018 Red Sox did was bad enough, even if you agree the Asterisks went over the line while the Rogue Sox were clever if warped enough to use what was handed to them gift wrapped.

But it would be just as wrong to compel those Astros and Red Sox people who weren’t there to pay for the crimes of those who were. Those demanding aboard social media and elsewhere that the innocent in essence must suffer with the guilty can put a sock in it.

Houston, you still have a problem

2020-08-10 RamonLaureano

Drilled once Friday night and twice Sunday afternoon, Ramon Laureano (22) also wasn’t thrilled an Astros coach called him something that gets people up to and including shot if aimed at Latino men.

The question before the house to begin is, which was the worst look of the weekend now done. The answer may depend on a fiddling commissioner’s disciplinary response.

Until Sunday afternoon’s rumble by the Bay, the worst look might have been otherwise-touted Los Angeles Angels rookie Jo Adell channeling his inner Jose Canseco, letting a fly ball bounce off his upraised glove (alas, not his head) and over the fence.

Was the worst look now Houston Astros pitchers hitting a pair of Oakland Athletics batters five times total during the three-game A’s sweep? Was it Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron goading A’s outfielder Ramon Laureano into a safety protocols-violating dugout charge and brawl after his third such plunk and second on Sunday alone?

Sunday’s story should have been the A’s winning their ninth straight game with a 7-2 triumph following a one-run extra-inning win Friday and a two-run win Saturday. Thanks to the Astros, at this writing the main story’s likely to be Laureano’s punishment for deciding he’d had enough of being used for apparent Astro target practise.

Fellow A’s outfielder Robbie Grossman got hit twice on Friday night, once by well-established veteran Zack Greinke and once by rookie Enoli Paredes. Laureano got it once Friday night, from rookie Humberto Castellanos, and twice Sunday, the second from Castellanos and the first from another Astro rookie, Brandon Bailey.

The tales will include whether Laureano’s fed-up hollering from first base Sunday—he’d gestured previously to Castellanos in a way suggesting he had more to learn about pitching, indicating Laureano allowed that rookies will be rookies, sort of—didn’t turn into Cintron’s throwing an expletive to the outfielder that’s considered grounds for a beatdown at minimum in Laureano’s world.

We’ll know more soon,” tweeted former Astros beat writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz after Sunday’s skirmish, “but a person I respect has been told that the A’s Ramón Laureano charged toward Alex Cintron because Cintron mentioned Laureano’s mother in a bad way. In Latino culture, those are fighting words.”

Ramón doesn’t go there unless something completely offensive came out of the dugout,” said A’s manager Bob Melvin to reporters after the game. “And I think the league knows who that is. And that person should be suspended. So hopefully that’s the case.”

It probably wasn’t brilliant for Laureano to charge the Houston dugout in his outrage, a charge that provoked no few Astros to pour forth and mill and holler and violate the Show’s protocols on health and safety distancing and against brawling on those grounds.

But it was far less brilliant if indeed Cintron threw Laureano the crude expletive for maternal fornicator. Throwing that toward most Latino men (and no few Latino women, for that matter) usually means you come away fortunate if all you got was beaten into a pulp. People have been stabbed or even shot for it.

Cintron also resembled a craven coward for all but telling the outraged Laureano to bring it only to jump to one side when Laureano brought it. Even as Astros catcher Dustin Garneau tackled Laureano in a peacemaking bid for his former teammate.”I was just trying to stop the situation before punches were really thrown and stuff got out of hand,” Garneau told reporters. “That’s really what my whole goal was for that incident.”

“Cintron shouldn’t be suspended for being a coward; that’s just something he’ll have to live with,” writes an outraged enough San Jose Mercury-News columnist Dieter Kurtenbach.

[Laureano] had a right to be mad at Houston, and that’s beyond the sign-stealing stuff.

But the coaches are supposed to be the “adults in the room” and this “adult” was challenging a kid to a fight.

The sidebars are liable to include a little speculation as to whether even the rookie Astros pitchers who did most of the drilling weren’t counseled toward a little payback over a lot of lingering resentment that an A’s pitcher (veteran Mike Fiers) finally blew the Astrogate whistle last November.

Rookies want to impress their teams. They’re sensitive to orders or at least strong suggestions from their elders and superiors, even those that might get them into a little hot water. Even if acting on them tells their elders and superiors that they’re reliable, dependable guys who’ll go to the mattresses for the team right or wrong if need be.

Don’t discount the prospect that Castellanos, Bailey, and Paredes might have been following orders or taking strong suggestions strongly, too. Might. Managers and coaches will still deny to their deaths that they gave the orders, but they’ve been giving such orders or at least hinting very strong such suggestions as long as there’s been organised baseball.

There’s also the prospect that the trio picked up enough from their more established teammates that they might, even for mere moments, have thought about sending the A’s messages regarding Fiers. Might.

They do have rather well enough established control issues among them. In four minor league and winter league seasons Castellanos hit seventeen batters. In three college and four minor league seasons, Bailey hit 21 batters. And, in four minor league seasons, Paredes hit thirteen batters.

The Astros aren’t alone in having to lean upon still-shaky rookies in this truncated season. But five plunks in three games, two against one A’s outfielder and three on another one including two in one game, does. not. look. kosher. whether the plunkers are a trio of shaky rookies, a trio of veterans experienced enough to know better, or a combination of the two.

Unfortunately, the Astros haven’t looked kosher for long enough, either.

Their passionate enough fan base has wrestled since with the revelation that the genuinely great team they rooted for turned out to be high-tech cheaters in the season of their otherwise so-far greatest triumph. That fan base has also wrestled with knowing that it isn’t just other fan bases who think the current generation of Astros is tainted, even if only six regular position players remain from the 2017 roster.

Commissioner Rob Manfred let off the hook every Astro player who partook of the Astro Intelligence Agency’s illegal electronic sign-stealing espionage in return for spilling what they knew. Come spring training, the Astros weren’t exactly apologetic about their high crimes and misdemeanors, provoking what seemed seven-eighths of Show players who didn’t wear Astros fatigues to demand where the justice was or threaten to administer what Commissioner Nero wouldn’t.

Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly answered those calls a fortnight ago. He decked Alex Bregman and dusted Carlos Correa twice each, in the same inning. It made him a Los Angeles folk hero and a nationwide object of empathy when he was hit with a severe suspension. (It’s still under appeal.) Even those Astro fans admitting their heroes were grand theft felons may think Kelly got burned a little too deep.

Astro batters have been hit nine times since this truncated season finally began. (Third in the league, incidentally.) Of those batters, five were 2017-18 Astros including 2017 World Series MVP George Springer getting it twice. In case you’re curious, A’s batters have been hit fourteen times on the season so far. Grossman’s been drilled four times, Laureano five. There isn’t a jury on the planet who’d say either was unjustified for harbouring lustful thoughts of murder.

The Astros’ new manager, Dusty Baker, has tried playing peacemaker with the rest of the game while trying to shepherd his Astros past the Astrogate stain. Elder though he is it’s not as though Baker has an easy time of such things, all things considered. In a managing career that has taken him to great enough heights and equivalent disaster, Baker this season must surely think there are times when hell would seem a tropical vacation by comparison.

But he’s old school enough to provoke speculation. Would you be shocked upon seeing any speculation, specious though it might be, that Baker or another coach ordered their rookie lancers to give those snitch-sheltering A’s a little something to think about?

(Codicil: Fiers—who actually faced death threats over his whistleblowing—didn’t face the Astros all weekend; he pitched against the Texas Rangers last Thursday and his next scheduled start is tonight against the Los Angeles Angels. The A’s assuredly were not trying to keep him from facing his one-time team over the weekend.)

On the other hand, of course, you wouldn’t necessarily be shocked if Baker knew or was told reliably that Cintron had indeed leveled at Laureano a phrase virtually guaranteed to raise a Latino temperature to nuclear level, and that Baker decided thus that there was no place in an already self-bedeviled Astro clubhouse for such a provocateur.

Especially when the provocation put both sides afoul of the safety protocols the Show tightened up after the Miami Marlins and, especially, the St. Louis Cardinals wrestled en masse with COVID-19 crises canceling games and throwing this Hitchcockian season into further reasonable doubt.

Baker says he doesn’t know if Alex Cintron mentioned Ramón Laureano’s mother while yelling at him before Laureano charged him,” Ortiz tweeted. “But Baker says he learned the hard way how different it is when you mention a Latino’s mother. He vowed to check on the matter.”

Baker might also be reminded that the A’s didn’t get anywhere near hitting a single Astro all weekend long, even when Astro arms hitting Grossman twice on Friday and Laureano once Friday and twice on Sunday might have given any A’s pitcher all the reason on earth to return the disfavour.

Trusty Dusty can be forgiven if he starts wondering just what the hell he signed up for in the first place.

Clueless Crane

2020-08-01 JimCrane

Astros owner Jim Crane—Playing what-about-ism, implying everyone else’s fault, possibly sorry only that his boys got caught, talking to USA Today’s a still-bad look for him.

In a 1964 novel about Navy fliers in World War II, Richard Newhafer’s The Last Tallyho, a fresh group of pilots assigned to a carrier performs a target hop. One of the young men overshoots the tow plane target and hits the plane, instead, flown by their squadron lieutenant. Forcing the lieutenant to a fatal water landing.

The tow pilot happened to be the squadron skipper’s best friend. When the skipper and their air group commander face questioning by the task force commander flying his flag aboard their carrier, the latter asks the skipper why they were called in. “We’re here,” the skipper replies, “because we are responsible for what happened.”

“I don’t see it that way,” the CAG practically snaps. “No matter who did what,” the skipper rejoins, “[CAG] and I are in positions of command. When you command you accept the responsibility for what is done by your subordinates.”

Maybe Houston Astros owner Jim Crane should have read The Last Tallyho. He might have learned something about command responsibility and avoiding mealymouthed avoidance of it, the latter of which he availed himself in an interview with USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale.

Astrogate returned to the otherwise coronavirus-dominant baseball news last week after Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly threw fastballs twice behind Astros third baseman Alex Bregman and breaking balls twice making their shortstop Carlos Correa skip rope. They got Kelly an eight-game suspension and the Astros on the receiving end of fresh rounds of fury.

Remember: Commissioner Rob Manfred handed Astro players on the 2017-18 teams immunity to spill about the Astro Intelligence Agency’s off-field-based electronic sign stealing those seasons, instead of bringing the powers of his office to bear and ordering one and all to spill or be spilled. Even if the players’ union filed countering grievances, Manfred would have sent a far stronger message than a few brushback pitches.

The outrage over Kelly’s suspension was, basically, “He gets eight games for doing in essence what Manfred wouldn’t, but those guys still get off scot free?” Nobody’s justifying throwing at Bregman’s head, but the outraged are right. As a matter of fact, Nightengale asked Crane the same question, phrased a little differently. The answer may or may not surprise you.

“People are aggravated the players didn’t get suspended,’’ said the owner, “but I didn’t have anything to do with that. That was Rob’s call. Listen, it’s always going to be whatever you want to call it. A black mark. An asterisk. It happened. It’s not good for anybody. It’s not good for the game. We broke the rules. We got penalized. We were punished. There’s no doubt it weighs on all of us every single day.”

Crane seemed to say it as though he hoped that would be the end of the story. Except that it wasn’t, quite. After apologising for sounding like a fool at the infamous February spring training press conference, the subject detoured briefly toward the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, both of whom have been reprimanded for a little espionage of their own, though not quite performed the way the Astros developed it.

“I think (MLB) had a bigger problem than everybody realized,’’ Crane told Nightengale, playing the what-about-ism card. “[The Yankees and the Red Sox] were doing things and got caught, but we’re the ones who took the bullet. That’s the way it works. I’m not trying to blame anyone else. It was our problem. We dealt with it.”

Except that, after a little talk about things such as revelations about the Astros’ less than honourable front office “culture,” Crane tried to blame, well, something close enough to everyone else as well as the Yankees and the Red Sox.

“I just think everybody was paranoid that everybody was doing it,” he said. “The technology was right in front of you. We already know two others teams were doing it and got caught. But the way we were doing it, that was pretty (stupid). I mean, banging on trash cans? You could have found a better way to do it.”

“Crane’s take . . . seems to be that he and the Astros are the real victims here, and everyone else should leave them alone already,” writes NBC Sports’s Craig Calcaterra. “Really. That’s the vibe he gives off on all of this. Crane seems to believe that the Astros sign-stealing fallout is overblown and that the public’s anger mostly has to do with how Crane himself bungled the P.R.”

Crane seems indeed clueless that, except for the Red Sox’s AppleWatch incident late in the 2017 season and an extra Yankee dugout phone the same time, the AIA didn’t stop at just the technology just being “right in front of you.” Not even close.

The Red Sox’s Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring didn’t involve anyone altering a real-time monitor feed to decipher opposing pitch signs to signal to their baserunners who’d then send the pilfered intelligence to their hitters. Needless to say by now, it also didn’t depend upon having a man on base to receive the stolen signs in the first place.

It would have shocked nobody to learn that the Rogue Sox weren’t the only team to operate a similar reconnaissance ring out of the replay room. And, yes, MLB handed them the keys to the hooch hutch with the replay rooms at home and on the road. Boys will be boys, alas, and asking them to resist such temptation would have been like asking Donald Trump to give up Twitter.

But the replay room reconnaissance ringers didn’t alter ballpark cameras off their  mandatory eight-second delays or install second cameras not on the delay to send signs to a clubhouse monitor in front of which someone, several someones perhaps, decoded the signs and then banged the can slowly for the benefit of Astro hitters.

Using what’s there for a little chicanery is one thing. Altering it or supplementing it illegally is something else entirely. When a team as genuinely great as the 2017-18 Astros were takes up such subterfuge—and if you need proof they were great without the AIA (which operated in Minute Paid Park and wasn’t portable), remember that those Astros had better road than home winning percentages in both seasons—it’s well past boys being boys.

Some accuse Kelly of hypocrisy because of his membership on the 2017 AppleWatch Red Sox. Well, now. Their replay room reconnaissance ring apparently began in 2018—after they hired, what do you know, the Astros’ 2017 bench coach and (we’ve known since the Manfred Report on Astrogate) AIA co-mastermind Alex Cora to manage them. All the way to a World Series ring.

Before Manfred released his Rogue Sox findings, Kelly wondered aloud, “Whenever the investigation is done I’m interested in seeing what is in the investigation.”

If there is cheating involved with how good our team was we should have won every single out. We should have not even lost an inning if there was some good cheating involved, which would have been a lot more fun because we would have won in four. We would have swept through the playoffs and made it really, really fast and been able to go to Hawaii or go to Mexico and go on vacation a lot sooner than we did.

Known to be an erratic pitcher who isn’t shy about a little headhunting when he thinks it’s called for, Kelly inverted the old observation, “If you can’t beat them, join them,” and became a Dodger last year.

The Astros’ mealymouthed responses to Astrogate questioning as spring training opened outraged the Dodgers more than most, and enough players around the Show were outraged, because they’d been the team the Astros beat in seven to win the ’17 Series. It’s not impossible that Kelly had in mind both Astrogate and what was subsequently revealed about his former Rogue Sox when he decked Bregman and Correa.

If the Dodgers weren’t playing this year’s pandemic-inspired regional season schedule, they might have faced the Red Sox. And, inspired perhaps by a few revelations in Manfred’s Rogue Sox report and his Dodger teammates, Kelly might have sent a few messages to those 2018 Sox still on the team for tainting those ’18 Series rings.

Astroworld’s been buffeted harshly by Astrogate. It’s still tussling between those of its citizens who think the AIA was a reasonable defense against whomever else was doing illegal sign stealing and those who think their faith in their team’s greatness was misplaced or abused.

Crane hasn’t said much if anything about that yet.

Meanwhile, note once again Crane’s choice of phrasing to Nightengale: [T]he way we were doing it, that was pretty (stupid). I mean, banging on trash cans? You could have found a better way to do it. Is he saying the AIA itself was stupid? Is he saying he’s sorry only that the Astros got caught committing high crime?

“We’re sorry. We apologized. But no matter what happened, it wasn’t going to be enough,” Crane told Nightengale. “People wanted me out of baseball. They wanted players to be suspended. They wanted everything.” Setting aside that those February apologies were as non-apologetic as apologies can get, what did he expect people to want? A whitewash?

 

 

Astrogate messages at last?

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Joe Kelly (left) jawing with Carlos Correa, whom he brushed back twice in the same plate appearance Tuesday night. Should the Astros be shocked that somebody sent them post-Astrogate messages at last?

It’s not that you didn’t expect it to happen, but no matter how you feel about the Houston Astros and their extralegal electronic cheating you merely hoped it might not happen. Even if Tuesday night was the first time the Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers met since that now-tainted 2017 World Series.

They weren’t expected to meet again unless they might tangle in another World Series. Then, the coronavirus world tour happened. When the Show returned at last, the pandemic and its mandate for extraordinary health and safety protocols prompted its governors to sketch regional scheduling featuring the Dodgers and the Astros in Houston this week, in Los Angeles come September.

You might think things are tough enough playing coronaball (reference, especially, the afflicted and drydocked-for-now Miami Marlnis) without the Dodgers having to face the team now believed to have cheated their way to that World Series title.

You might think things were tough enough without other Astro opponents still thinking in the backs of their minds that the Astros need to be taught a few little lessons in manners and in accepting responsibility in the sometimes-forgotten Astrogate wake.

You might have thought so until Joe Kelly relieved fellow Dodger reliever Brustar Graterol for the bottom of the sixth in Minute Maid Park Tuesday night.

With one out, Kelly had Houston third baseman Alex Bregman 3-0 when he decided ball four should be a fastball sailing up and past Bregman’s shoulders. The next batter, outfielder Michael Brantley, forced Bregman at second on a ground ball but made a point of stepping on Kelly’s foot as the pitcher covered first base on the play.

Kelly lingered just a little bit near the base after Brantley’s step-on and a voice was heard in the empty ballpark. It may or may not have been Astros manager Dusty Baker, but it hollered, “Get back on the mound, [maternal fornicator].” Kelly did return and go back to work.

Known to be erratic at times, and un-allergic to brushback pitches when he thinks they’re mandated, Kelly walked Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel on four straight pitches, then opened to Astros shortstop Carlos Correa with a breaking ball behind Correa’s head and all the way to the backstop.

Officially, of course, it was ruled a wild pitch. Unofficially, even the cardboard cutouts in the otherwise empty stands knew good and bloody well that Kelly wanted to remind the Astros once again that it wasn’t nice to set up a furtive closed-circuit, off-field-based television network for stealing opposing pitch signs and think they could get away with it.

Commissioner Rob Manfred helped them think they could get away with it. Foolishly or otherwise, Manfred handed all Astro players immunity from discipline in return for spilling about the Astro Intelligence Agency after former Astro/current Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers finally blew the whistle on the AIA to The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich last November.

The AIA cost three managers (the Astros’ A.J. Hinch and two 2017 Astros-turned managers, Alex Cora in Boston, Carlos Beltran in New York, before he had a chance to manager even one Mets game) and one general manager (the Astros’ Jeff Luhnow) their jobs. (Any thought of Hinch possibly returning for 2021 was vapourised when the Astros exercised Baker’s 2021 club option.)

Astros owner Jim Crane was asked for no accountability beyond being fined for what amounts to maybe a year’s worth of tip money for him. Called upon to stand when spring training opened, Crane and assorted Astros players weren’t exactly apologetic for the AIA’s operations. Numerous opposing players fumed that, one way or the other, they’d find ways to administer justice, and no official edict was going to stop them.

2020-07-29 AlexBregman

“That’s dirty baseball,” Astros manager Dusty Baker fumed over this pitch to Alex Bregman from Joe Kelly. Would Baker call the Astros’ electronic sign-stealing  good clean baseball?

After Kelly struck Correa out swinging for the side, with a couple of more inside pitches in the mix, Correa was distinctly and, apparently, vocally unamused as Kelly walked off the mound and crossed the third base line to his dugout. Prompting Kelly to shoot a couple of mock crybaby faces and choice words Correa’s way.

That may have been the specific flash point under which both benches emptied and milled around the plate area. They forgot some of the social distance protocols, meaning a fine or three might be forthcoming. The dispute was bark, no bite, unless the Astros and the Dodgers were willing to dissipate the tension with some six-feet-apart pantomime boxing, but neither side was in the mood for comedy.

Baker was quoted by USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale thus: “What really enraged everybody was what he told Carlos when he struck him out, ‘Nice swing bitch!”’ Not nice. Send the message, sure. Taunt them no matter what they did or didn’t jaw your way, not so fast. Naturally, one of the Twitterpated couldn’t resist defending Kelly’s taunts thus: “Should have said something along the lines of ‘hard to hit when you don’t know what’s coming’.”

The warnings were handed to both sides after the second Correa duster. Perhaps naturally, Kelly said of the Bregman shoulder kisser, post-game, “It was a ball, obviously. It wasn’t my best pitch. Ball four, I walked him, never good to put a guy on when you’re leading the game.”

Of the breakers bending Correa, he said, “I guess he didn’t take too kind to a curve ball [inside]. It is what it is. I finally made one good pitch for the punchout . . . I pitch competitively, but with the no fans here it’s easy to hear some stuff.”

You stick to that story, son.

Some observers seemed to think, too, that the Astros were more infuriated by the buzzer  off Bregman’s shoulders than the two breakers dusting the otherwise non-entertained Correa. For his own part, Bregman merely shrugged it off when Kelly’s heat ricocheted off his shoulders and took his base. Almost as if he was well enough prepared for the incoming messages Tuesday and yet to come.

“The history obviously is out there,” said outfielder Joc Pederson before the series began. “Everybody knows what’s at stake and what happened. For being no fans, maybe sometimes the energy could be lacking a little bit. I don’t think that will be the case for this series.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean Pederson urged or condoned any message from any Dodger pitcher to any Astro hitter. Nor does it mean the Astros went into the game expecting nothing more than balls, strikes, hits, and outs, considering the jawing between the two teams before spring training was cut off at the coronavirus pass.

Recall: Dodger center fielder Cody Bellinger saying the Astros cheated for longer than affirmed and that their second baseman Jose Altuve stole the 2017 American League Most Valuable Player award from New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge. Recall, too: Correa rejoining that Bellinger thus spoke recklessly.

Just don’t kid yourselves that the Astros forgot for even a moment that a brushback or a knockdown was liable to come from any arm, at any time, in any game, no matter how much it seemed the pandemic pushed the long toxins of Astrogate to one side.

Until Tuesday night, only Gurriel and Correa were hit by pitches, both in the second game of the truncated season, at home against the Seattle Mariners. Until Kelly decided to lay down the law, however, all anyone thinking clearly probably thought was that the Astros were so thoroughly roasted in the immediate public Astrogate wake that throwing brushback or knockdown pitches would be as foolish as it would be unnecessary.

Like the Rogue Sox and their 2018 Replay Room Reconnaissance Ring, the Astro Intelligence Agency wear the stain of their extralegal cheating all season long, however long the season, whenever the season began. There but for the lack of grace of the coronavirus would fans and commentators alike remind both teams, good and strong, that crossing the proper gamesmanship line is filthy pool.

Only three Rogue Sox have been plunked on the truncated season thus far. But don’t fool yourself that they’re immune to thoughts that a little extra payback might be coming, too. It may not be quite as pronounced as any the Asterisks face, since they merely used what was available, predicated it with a man on base to transmit the pilfered intelligence, and didn’t install an illegal camera to begin their dirty work.

Baker himself seemed more enraged at the Kelly bullet that almost grazed the back of Bregman’s shoulders. “You don’t throw at a guy’s head,” the manager said. “That’s playing dirty baseball.” Baker’s in the unenviable position of having to help his team past the  Astrogate mess he wasn’t part or parcel of, but what would he call the AIA—good clean baseball?

Kelly wasn’t a Dodger when the AIA’s espionage operated. But he was one of the 2017 Red Sox downed by the Astros in the American League division series and the 2018 Red Sox who beat the Astros in that ALCS. You bear in mind that neither Astro nor Red Sox pitchers were co-operators of those teams’ Spy vs. Spy operations.

Kelly was also the hapless Dodger who served the pitch Washington Nationals second baseman Howie Kendrick destroyed for a tie-breaking, Dodger-burying, National League division series-winning grand slam in the Game Five top of the tenth. The last thing he needed even in abbreviated spring training was his Dodgers and the Astros getting into an Astrogate-inspired jawing contest.

Otherwise, Kelly was a pitcher in need of some kind of redemption, any kind of redemption in the eyes of Dodger fans in Los Angeles and elsewhere. The taunts were more than a little out of line. Perhaps Kelly didn’t need to send more than one brushback Correa’s way, but those weren’t half as juvenile. Well, boys will be boys, even in a time of pandemic.

Still, somewhere in that fan base they’ll remember the Dodgers beat the Astros, 5-2, to open this series, but it’ll be a by-the-way remembrance. One that has to be rushed into the conversations, swiftly, amidst the hot take that Kelly made himself something nobody in Los Angeles thought he’d become to Dodger fans after last October. A hero.