The Bronx Boneheads

This is what the Yankees were afraid of being exposed? After two years, accidentally turning up during a lawsuit’s discovery phase, and a few legal contortions on behalf of blocking it from anyone else’s sight, this is what the Yankeegate letter was all about? Their own 2015-2017 replay-room reconnaissance ring, a la the 2018 Rogue Sox?

No, we’re not going to argue that electronic cheating isn’t so terrible even if it doesn’t rise quite to the Astrogate level. Agree that neither those Yankees nor those Red Sox were behaving themselves, even if the Yankees didn’t get far enough in the postseason to try it in a World Series the way the ’18 Rogue Sox probably did.

But someone, anyone. Please.

Tell me the Bronx Boneheads aren’t that deeply full of themselves that they couldn’t have withstood whatever minor slings, arrows, brickbats, and bashings would have confronted them over mere replay room reconnaissance. Tell me they’re not that ridiculous about preserving the Yankee image no matter how little their sneaky little shoplifters resemble the grand theft felons.

About the only thing the Yankee prankees seem to have done a little differently than the Rogue Sox was use their dugout phone on the road to get the stolen signs from the road replay room and then transmit it to a baserunner to send home to the batter.

Cheating is cheating? Please. This was comparable only to teen comedians ordering pizzas for deliveries to unsuspecting chumps across town. It didn’t exactly amount to seizing the pizzeria and taking hostages.

Since there were unconfirmed numbers of other teams doing likewise with their free presents from MLB, those other teams are probably laughing their fool heads off over the lengths to which the Yankees spent time and money trying to keep the Yankeegate letter from escaping into the public eye.

Yes, I said free presents from MLB. It was MLB itself that laid the replay rooms on both clubhouses in all ballparks starting in 2014. They did it with the best intentions. Perhaps naively, they forgot that boys will be boys, and presents such as those were probably bound to inspire a little extracurricular chicanery.

Since Astrogate and Soxgate’s exposure in 2019-20, the rules now involve security personnel posted at all replay rooms. Before the December-March owners’ lockout, both sides were close enough to agreeing, too, on more stringent measures such as no one but a team’s designated operator plus an MLB security worker allowed in the rooms, and even blacking out catcher’s pitch signs on the replay room monitors.

But while you have your laughs-and-halves over the Yankees resembling the siblings scrambling to Watergate coverup lengths to keep Mom and Dad from learning one of them accidentally smashed the crystal pilsner glass, causing it to shatter into a trillion shards, try to remember that this does not and will not get the 2017-18 Astros off the hook.

The Yankees, the Rogue Sox, and other teams who merely turned the replay rooms into their versions of Spy vs. Spy didn’t go to even half the lengths those Astros did for intelligence gathering and transmitting.

Their general managers, so far as anyone knows, didn’t sanction sign-stealing algorithms developed by low-level interns and ignore the warnings that using them in-game was illegal. Now-former Astros GM Jeff Luhnow thought of that with the Codebreaker algorithm.

Their bench coaches and designated hitters didn’t dream up either an independent high-speed real-time camera or alter an existing delayed camera into illegal real-time transmission to deliver opposing signs to clubhouse monitors next to which a transmission person could signal Astro batters by banging the trash can, slowly or otherwise. Then-Astros bench coach Alex Cora and DH Carlos Beltran did. (Smile—you’re on Candid Camera!)

“These are different things. Very, very different things,” tweeted ESPN’s Jeff Passan after the Yankeegate letter was obtained by SNY.

Players have been trying to steal and relay signs from second base forever. That doesn’t excuse the Yankees and Red Sox, but context matters. Relaying pitches with such specificity as the Astros did was entirely new.

Now, if MLB comes down harder on the Yankees or Red Sox in 2017, does that change things? Perhaps. Maybe the Astros are scared straight. But let’s remember: Manfred warned the Red Sox in 2017 after using the Apple Watch. And they won the World Series in 2018 while cheating . . .

Using technology to steal signs was rampant in baseball. The Yankees, Red Sox and Astros — and others whose indiscretions have not been proven publicly — did it. It’s simply facile to treat them as the same. It’s factual to say that there are different levels of cheating.

The one true revelation in the Yankeegate letter is that commissioner Rob Manfred actually fined the Yankees $100,000 after they were caught using their dugout phone in September 2017. Seriously?

They spent two years and who knows how much money in legal costs to try to suppress . . . that their mere replay room reconnaissance ring of 2017-18 wasn’t even half the Astro Intelligence Agency and cost them in the end slightly less than half what they pay pitcher Gerrit Cole per day?

The Yankees feared “significant and reputational harm” if the letter was made public. That fear may have been well founded. But not for the reasons the Bronx Boneheads thought.

Coming at last, the Yankeegate letter

Aaron Boone, Brian Cashman

Manager Aaron Boone and general manager Brian Cashman may have a lot of explaining to do when the Yankeegate sign-stealing letter comes forth to the public.

It didn’t happen when I thought it would happen, but the now-infamous Yankeegate letter will be made public. The Yankees couldn’t quite convince the 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals to reconsider their original denial last month.

They couldn’t convince the court that releasing the letter would calcify your spine, cut your circulation off, amputate both your arms, or destroy the world’s coffee bean crops.

Writing for the three-member panel, Judge Joseph Bianco said it’s very much in the public interest whether commissioner Rob Manfred wrote to Yankee general manager Brian Cashman that he knew the Yankees were up to a little bit more in 2017 than just a little subterfuge involving their dugout telephone.

“As the judge explained it,” writes Sportico‘s Michael McCann, “the letter is a judicial document, which means it is presumptively accessible to the public.” Not to mention Manfred and baseball’s government compromising any privacy arguments by letting a takeaway or two escape to the public purview in the first place.

Major League Baseball swore to anyone who’d listen that the Yankees weren’t using cameras belonging to their YES broadcasting network for any extracurricular in-game field intelligence, while fining them over the dugout phone. MLB also fined the Red Sox after an assistant trainer was caught using his AppleWatch for such intelligence gathering.

It took Astrogate and its fallout to help Manfred to zap the Red Sox, at least, over their 2018 replay room reconnaissance ring, which wasn’t quite as grave as the Astros’ off-field-based, illegal electronic sign-stealing intelligence agency. Both the Astros’ 2017 World Series title and the Rogue Sox’s 2018 World Series title have since been suspect.

The Yankees haven’t won a World Series since 2009. But if the Manfred letter to Cashman reveals anything deeper than a dugout phone at play in any such Yankee intelligence operation, it won’t take the 2017-18 Astros off the hook but it will put the 2017 Yankees on the hook squarely enough.

Suspecting numerous teams used their replay rooms for subterfuge is one thing. Answering it to the extremes the Astros went and the Yankees might have gone is something else entirely. We won’t know until the letter’s release how far the Yankees actually went. But when the Yankees say in court documents that the letter will inflict “significant and reputational harm” if released, look out.

“The letter could also mention coaches, staff and players who were alleged to have played roles in possible shenanigans . . . MLB attorneys have similarly warned the letter could ’cause potential embarrassment,’ while insisting the letter’s release is motivated by ‘perceived shock value’,” McCann writes.

That could prove a significant embarrassment, especially remembering how Yankee outfielder Aaron Judge insisted that Astros second baseman Jose Altuve’s 2017 American League Most Valuable Player award was now tainted in light of Astrogate. Altuve has since been shown not only to have objected to the Astros’ trash-can banging of stolen signs while he was at the plate, but he wasn’t actually wearing any kind of buzzer under his uniform at any time.

The Yankeegate letter saga began when the DraftKings fantasy sports group sued the Astros, the Red Sox, and MLB itself over those teams’ 2017-18 cheatings, and pre-trial discovery included filing the letter under seal. DraftKings lost their $5 million lawsuit, and releasing the letter won’t reinstate the suit. Nor will it take the Astro Intelligence Agency or the Rogue Sox Reconnaissance Ring off the hook.

But one of the five DraftKings plaintiffs, Kristopher Olson, has told McCann that the courts must “recognize the distinction between diffuse, random acts of rules breaking, like the use of corked bats by individual players, and a concentrated, coordinated campaign like the one in which the Astros engaged and [that] MLB took steps to downplay and conceal.”

It took pitcher Mike Fiers blowing the whistle at last to Athletic writers Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich to un-conceal Astrogate in November 2019. Manfred himself was compelled to leave almost every Astro player unpunished in return for getting them to spill about the AIA. Drellich’s in-depth Astrogate examination, Winning Fixes Everything: The Rise and Fall of the Houston Astros, twice delayed since last August, is now due to be published in September.

Manfred crunched the Astros with stripped draft picks and owner Jim Crane with a $5 million fine, not to mention imposing yearlong suspensions of then-manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, whom Crane fired posthaste. The players’ union and MLB agreed since that any players involved in any degree of Astrosoxyankeegate-like espionage can be suspended without pay and with a concurrent loss of MLB service time.

Hinch eventually admitted in a wrenching interview that, except for a couple of clubhouse-monitor smashings, he could have but didn’t do more to thwart the AIA. Then, after serving his year’s suspension, he found new life as the Tigers’ manager.

We learned soon enough, too, that Luhnow approved a staffer-created algorithm designed to steal signs from off the field before then-bench coach Alex Cora and then-designated hitter Carlos Beltran masterminded an operation involving either an extra camera or illegally-altered-to-real-time existing one for the AIA. The Astros’ mealymouthed presser as spring training 2020 opened left them an even worse look. The pan-damn-ically cut-off spring training and delayed regular 2020 season shielded them partially from fan retribution.

The Rogue Sox didn’t take quite the beating over the 2018 cheaters as the Astros did, but then the Sox so far were proven only to have been one team who did figure out that their replay room—bestowed by MLB upon home and road teams in all ballparks—had its extracurricular uses. Manfred purged their video room operator J.T. Watkins but, again, let players off the hook in return for details.

Rogue Sox manager Cora, hired for 2018, also resigned before he could be fired in 2020. He, too, gave a self-lacerating interview while sitting out a year-long suspension; it may have helped his re-hiring for last year. Beltran was hired after the 2019 season to manage the Mets, but he was forced out before he got to manage even a single spring training game for them. He works now as a Yankee broadcast analyst.

The Yankeegate letter’s full disclosure may inspire Astrogate-like wrath toward the Yankees. The outrage might be enough to force Manfred to drop at least an Astrogate-like hammer upon the Yankee front office and even manager Aaron Boone. (MLB says releasing the letter would be “embarrassing” to it, too.) “May” and “might” are the operative words there.

If so, there’ll be plenty of fan bases, including the one for those National League East-leaders playing across town in Queens, who’ll think it couldn’t happen to a nicer team.

Cabrera and the Yankees have it right

Miguel Cabrera

A free eighth-inning pass after going 0-for-3 to that point Thursday outraged Tiger fans far more than it outraged Miguel Cabrera to remain one knock short of 3,000.

I don’t want to pour any more gasoline onto the fire of Tiger fan’s outrage, but Yankee manager Aaron Boone did the absolute right thing Thursday afternoon. And it wasn’t as though Miguel Cabrera lacked for shots at his 3,000th lifetime hit.

Boone ordered Cabrera walked on the house in the bottom of the eighth rather than risk the righthanded-hitting Cabrera clobbering his lefthanded relief pitcher Lucas Luetge with runners on second and third, two outs, and the Tigers ahead a mere 1-0.

Now, the move backfired, sort of; Austin Meadows ripped a two-run double to make it 3-0. So think of it as the Tigers’ revenge if you wish. But since when is the other guy “entitled” to make history on your dollar? Since when are you just supposed to be nice guys and let him make his history when he might put a game a little further out of reach against you?

Cabrera was 0-for-3 on the day when his eighth-inning plate appearance approached. He didn’t exactly lack for chances to plant number 3,000 somewhere in Comerica Park. He knew it. Understandably, the Comerica crowd wanted history. Understandably, too, the Yankees wanted to come back and win a baseball game.

But a Hall of Famer is more aware of the big picture than the fans booing the Yankees lustily for ordering the free pass before he could even check in at the plate. He simply dropped his bat in the on-deck circle and make the trek to first base without so much as a wince. He waited until he reached the pad to have a word with or toward Boone.

To which Boone replied, perhaps in good humour, “Miggy was jawing at me after I called for the walk. I told him we’re even. He cost me a World Series in 2003, so now he can sleep on 2,999.” (The reference was to Cabrera then being a member of the Marlins who beat the Yankees in six in that Series—into which Boone’s legendary ALCS-winning home run put the Yankees in the first place.)

Tonight will be only the second night Cabrera sleeps on 2,999. After pulling up that short following Wednesday’s play, during which he went 3-for-4 to get there in the first place, he purred, “Who the [fornicate] cares? We lost. When has this game ever been about individual accomplishments?”

Well, fair play. Baseball has been as much about individual feats as team victories since the game was born, more or less. Cabrera may downplay his failure to reach 3,000 Wednesday—and try calming the Comerica crowd down after the free pass and the eventual Tiger win today—but he can’t really be foolish enough to deny that particular feats resonate as deeply as World Series rings.

If he’s rejecting the idea that individual accomplishment is not something to which a player is “entitled,” good for him and better for the game. There’s nothing in the written rules, and little enough unwritten in the Sacred Unwritten Rules, that says a team’s supposed to roll over and play dead so the other guy can reach a landmark.

But there’s plenty on the ethical side that says you’re supposed to achieve your milestones in honest, unmanipulated competition. Including the part that says the other guys have just as much right to try to beat you as you have to try to beat them, history be damned for the moment.

Few teams are quite as conscious or respectful of history and milestones as the Yankees. But they’re also conscious of the season at hand. They took the chance on a lefthander-lefthander matchup offering the best chance to escape the inning unscathed and try once more for victory.

Meadows and thus the Tigers turned out the winners there, fair and square. The Yankees also had a shot at closing the gap and even tying the game in the top of the ninth, when Joey Gallo beat out an infield hit with one out, until Isiah Kiner-Falefa dialed Area Code 6-4-3 for the side and the game.

The Yankees made a smart move and it backfired. That, too, can happen. If Tiger fans want to call it the vengeance of the baseball gods, they’re, ahem, entitled to that. But they shouldn’t condemn the Yankees for putting honest competition and a chance to come back and win ahead of history.

Tiger fans should also heed manager A.J. Hinch’s counsel. “Boonie’s obligation is to his own team and their chances of winning,” Hinch said postgame. “He had the matchup behind Miggy that he wanted. So you could see it coming. I know our fans responded accordingly, but I totally get it.” That’s called being a gracious winner.

Cabrera’s sound counsel, however crudely expressed, is: We still won, and tomorrow’s another day. Especially with the Tigers still at home for this weekend, hosting the Rockies. Cabrera has three more games in front of the home audience to plant number 3,000, fair and square, in honest competition.

It’s Miller time . . . for retirement

Andrew Miller

The Cubs won the 2016 World Series but, until they did, Cleveland relief pitcher Andrew Miller may have been that postseason’s biggest star.

Andrew Miller’s mother once hoped he’d parlay his high 1500s SAT results into a college degree from Masschussetts Institute of Technology. Mrs. Miller would just have to settle for her brainy son becoming a lefthanded pitcher who helped revolutionise relief work, and who helped articulate the folly of the owners’ lockout from December through almost mid-March.

Miller had long proven that the best, most valuable relief pitcher in the bullpen isn’t necessarily your “closer” earning “saves, particularly with the team then known as the Indians (now the Guardians) in the 2016 postseason plus the second half of 2016’s and most of 2017’s regular seasons.

But during the foolish lockout, the 36-year-old Miller also helped clarify that the players refused to suffer tanking any more gladly than tanking teams’ fans do.

“All during these negotiations,” Peter Gammons wrote in The Athletic as the lockout finally came to its end, “Miller drove home the players’ insistence that tanking and ideas that diminished competition were contrary to their beliefs. He consistently called ‘increased competition a core goal’ of the negotiations. ‘Anything that points towards mediocrity is the antithesis of the game and what we’re about as players,’ he said.”

Miller announced his retirement Thursday, after a considerably distinguished sixteen-season pitching career, in which he shifted himself from a nothing-special starting pitcher who couldn’t harness his repertoire into a game-changing relief pitcher who used his stamina and his wipeout slider to show both the uselessness of the save-centric mindset and resurrect an ancient–and then-controversial, too—idea about relief work.

Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel thought nothing of bringing prime relief (Joe Page, Allie Reynolds, Bob Turley, to name three) in earlier than the latest innings when he managed the Yankees. He hammered the point that the time to reach for a stopper happens any time, even in the earliest innings. Miller’s Indians manager Terry Francona, whose new toy came from the Yankees in a non-waiver trade deadline deal, used Miller in just that way the rest of 2016 and all the way through the postseason.

It finished what Miller’s four-year/$36 million deal with the Yankees in December 2014 started: making a mostly non-closing relief pitcher into a star. He stayed with the Yankees until that trade deadline. For the second half of 2016, right up to the moment he ran out of petrol in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series (an RBI single, plus David Ross’s last major league hit–a leadoff home run), Miller was the Indians’ best relief pitcher.

According to fielding-independent pitching, which accounts for the things within a pitcher’s control as traditional earned-run average doesn’t, it wasn’t even close: his 1.53 FIP was 80 points below the next-lowest in the pen, Dan Otero’s 2.33 . . . and 1.78 below designated closer Cody Allen.

The ancient beer commercial proclaimed, “Now—it’s Miller Time.” The skipper for team known then as the Indians proclaimed, “Now—it’s Miller Time,” whenever he needed a stopper in that postseason. Quick: Name the only two relief pitchers ever to win a postseason Most Valuable Player award without being their teams’ primary closers. Answer: Miller, in the 2016 American League Championship Series; and, Rob Dibble, in the 1990 Natoinal League Championship Series.

Miller was just as deadly in 2017 (1.99 FIP) until he developed patellar tendinitis in his right knee, his landing knee, in early August, returning that September. He ran out of fuel again in the postseason, this time against his former team, the Yankees, in the Indians’ division series exit.

In due course he signed with the Cardinals, but he fought injuries and the inconsistencies they provoked. He never really looked like the force of nature he was in 2016-17 again, except during three brief postseason trips with the Cardinals. In fact, his entire posteason relief FIP—seven postseasons, 29 games, and one trip to the World Series—is more sparkling than his regular-season career marks as a reliever and as the starter he first was before he discovered life in the bullpen with the 2011-12 Red Sox:

Andrew Miller—Fielding-Independent Pitching (FIP), Career
As a starting pitcher 4.78
As a relief pitcher 3.02
As a postseason reliever 2.43

He’d shortened his delivery into a partial slide step to help him put more bite on that slider. He also paid close attention to just how he and his fellow relief corpsmen were handled, fuming over an early-season set in Chicago during which Valentine seemed almost indifferent to how the April chill affected their pen preparation.

“The Red Sox returned home . . . and when Miller got to the park, he was upset about the usage of Rich Hill—who had already worked through a couple of operations in his career,” Gammons wrote.

Miller talked about how Hill had gotten up “close to eight times” and finally got in to face one lone batter in the bottom of the eighth inning, and Miller said, “there ought to be some kind of punishment for doing that to a pitcher, particularly someone with a medical history.” Miller turned a corner in his career that season under [2012 Red Sox manager Bobby] Valentine and there were no public issues. But he felt a teammate had been jeopardized and for 24 hours remained in that window.

“The problem still seems to be,” I wrote in the 19 March edition of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America’s Here’s the Pitch newsletter, “that enough managers pay too little attention to the pitch volume relievers throw in the pen before they come into games . . . if they come into games. Some of those managers still think a relief pitcher hasn’t “pitched” unless he’s been in a game. Those men may well throw more innings’ worth of pitches in the pen than they’ll ever throw on the game mound.”

Apparently, there was at least one relief pitching thinking along the same lines in 2012. Rest assured, Miller’s probably not the only such reliever with the only such thoughts. The need to monitor relief pitchers’ warmup work carefully and manage it prudently remains profound if rarely appreciated.

Miller’s Cardinals teammate Adam Wainwright, himself now approaching the end of a splendid pitching career, appreciates Miller as both a relief pitcher and an advocate for the greater good of the game as one of the players’ union’s main negotiators.

He changed the game and he kind of took that relief role back to when it first started, guys who could do two, three innings–and he was the guy who did it in the postseason. I have an appreciation for what he did for the entire game of baseball. As many hours as that guy put in for the union over these past few years is kind of staggering. He may retire and that means this whole offseason he still spent sixteen hours on the phone a day, for us, for who’s next–that means a lot.

Miller is also the kind of young man who appreciates such things in life as fine wines and (this endears him to my guitar playing heart even more) the woods used to make guitars. The relief force who has worn the uniforms of the Tigers, the Orioles, the Red Sox, the Yankees, the Indians, and the Cardinals also has a calm appreciation for baseball’s history and signatures.

“I’m usually pretty quick to be able to step back though and see how lucky I have been,” Miller told the Post-Dispatch. “The hard times were necessary for me to grow and to be able to appreciate the highs along the way. Ultimately, I was able to play for many great franchises, wear historic uniforms, and play in some amazing ballparks.”

Pondering such appreciation causes me to ponder that I’d love to find a way to suggest Miller in retirement could bring his considerable weight to bear, as a baseball thinker as well as pitcher, on behalf of a forgotten player class: the now 504 pre-1980, short-career major leaguers who were frozen out of a 1980 pension realignment that made pension vesting possible after 43 days’ major league service time

All those players have received since is an annual stipend negotiated by former Players Association director Michael Weiner and former commissioner Bud Selig. The original stipend was $625 per 43 days’ major league service time, up to $10,000 a year. Somewhere during the lockout, the stipend—whose February payment was delayed pending the lockout settlement—was hiked fifteen percent. Now, it’s $718.75 per 43 days’ major league service time.

It’s hardly close to what those pre-1980 short-career men deserve, but it’s something. The further bad news is that those monies still can’t be passed to those men’s families upon their deaths.

Many of those men were active union members supporting the battles for players’ rights and respect, which compounds the original injustice. Several of those players have said they believe a perception that most were mere September callups factored in their original freeze-out. Well. I’ve been looking it up. So far, the majority of such players either made even one of their teams’ rosters out of spring training or appeared on rosters as early as later in April, or May, or June, or July, or August.

Articulate, intelligent, sensitive Andrew Miller, entering a richly-earned retirement, would be an invaluable voice of influence on behalf of those men, if he could be made further aware of such an injustice.

What the Yankeegate letter won’t do

Affirming the 2017 Yankees as cheaters won’t exonerate or excuse that year’s Astros or the next year’s Red Sox.

Remember the somewhat infamous admonitory letter from commissioner Rob Manfred to Yankee general manager Brian Cashman, regarding proof that the Yankees were up to some 2017 electronic sign-stealing of their own? The letter the Yankees have fought to suppress with the same ardor as they exercise trying to break a decade-plus World Series ring drought?

The Yankeegate letter’s going to come forth in a fortnight, ESPN says. We’re going to learn at last whether Manfred told the whole story of any such Yankee panky or, if he did, just what it actually involved, other than the once-infamous dugout phone/Apple watch slap on the wrist. It only took two years from the day federal judge Jed S. Rakoff ordered the letter unsealed and disclosed to the public with minimal redaction.

Maybe it was only the dugout phone and/or the Apple watch. Maybe it included the Yankees trying to get cute using a television broadcast camera/monitor for a little extracurricular intelligence gathering. Maybe it included the Yankees operating a replay-room reconnaissance ring similar to that known to have been run by Red Sox players in 2018. Maybe.

The bad news, at least for the DraftKings fantasy baseball group, is that releasing the Yankeegate letter won’t reinstate their $5 million lawsuit over Astrogate and Soxgate and aimed at both those clubs plus MLB itself. The worse news is that, whatever is or isn’t in the Yankeegate letter, it won’t take the 2017-18 Astros especially, or the 2018 Red Sox as well, off the hook.

Memory summons back that some around the Astros—and no few of their fans—believed to their souls that high-tech sign-stealing was prevalent enough that they would have been left in the dust if they didn’t think about a little such subterfuge themselves. Mostly, it involved replay-room reconnaissance. The Red Sox got bagged for it over 2018, but few pretended they were the only team with that kind of spymanship.

The Rogue Sox and their fellow replay-room spies, whomever they were, still required a little of the old-fashioned gamesmanship technique: their pilfered intelligence was useless unless there was a man on base to receive it and thus signal it to the man at the plate. That doesn’t justify, either. Sign-stealing from the basepaths or the coaching lines is one thing. Picking it off replay monitors is something else entirely.

But those rooms were provided by MLB itself, to the home and visiting teams in each ballpark. Expecting them to be there without one or another team giving in to the sign-stealing temptation was (I repeat, yet again) something like Mom and Dad making off for a weekend getaway without the kids and leaving the liquor cabinet keys behind.

The 2017-18 Astros took it quite a few bridges farther. For one thing, a front office intern created a sign-stealing algorithm (Codebreaker) that he warned was legal to use before and after games but not during games, a warning then-general manager Jeff Luhnow pooh-poohed while fostering a since-exposed organisational culture in which, to be polite, human decency, never mind honest competition, was seen as an encumbrance.

For another thing, there was that little matter of either an existing camera altered illegally from its mandatory eight-second transmission delay; or, a second, illegally deployed real-time camera. Either or both of which sent signs to be deciphered from an extracurricular clubhouse monitor and then transmitted to Astro hitters with the infamous trash can bangs.

Nobody with credibility says the replay-room reconnaissance rings were right. And nobody with credibility should ever say those rings made the 2017-18 Astros less guilty. As things turned out, the Astros had such a broad reputation inside baseball for their kind of cheating that their 2019 World Series opponents took themselves to extraordinary lengths to thwart it.

No, the 2019 world champion Nationals didn’t build their own extralegal closed-circuit television spy network. They merely provided every one of their World Series pitchers with five individual sets of signs each to switch up in a split second’s notice, with their catchers provided wrist-band cards featuring every one of those sign sets just in case.

Whataboutism is no defense whether you’re a rogue police officer, a corrupt politician, or an illegal off-field-based electronic sign-stealing cheater. The Astros couldn’t just whatabout their Astro Intelligence Agency and get away with it in the public mind. Nor could the Rogue Sox whatabout it when their 2018 edition was exposed for replay-room reconaissance cheaters.

The Yankees won’t be able to whatabout it if the infamous letter shows their 2017 edition to have been replay-room or broadcasting-camera cheaters, either. But we’ll have to wait at least a fortnight before we know at least some the rest of the Yankeegate story.