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?

2020-07-28 JoeKellyCarlosCorrea

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.