AJ Hinch, Alex Cora and Carlos Beltrán lost their jobs in the wake of the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scam, leaving three teams without managers three weeks before the start of spring training.
On and off the field, the fallout from one of the biggest scandals in Major League Baseball history is bound to carry over. A look at what’s on deck for the Astros and MLB:
THE FIERS FACTOR
Whistleblower or whiner? Fact is, when A’s pitcher Mike Fiers went public, MLB was forced to act. If he speaks anonymously, most likely his comments get whisked into the whispers bin.
Fiers won’t have to bat against the Astros, and it’d be too obvious to bunt up the first base line and try to run him over. Will Houston hoot and holler at its ex-teammate? We won’t need to wait long to see if there’s any ill will — the Astros’ first road game of the season is at Oakland on March 30, the start of a three-game series. Count on those Athletics fans in the outfield bleachers at the Coliseum to bang their drums loudly to signal ridicule, not pitches.
Cleveland ace Mike Clevinger hinted at drilling Houston hitters. Others will, too. There was plenty of tough talk when Michael Jordan tried baseball and more when juiced-up sluggers teed off in the Steroids Era. “Can you imagine if Nolan Ryan knew you were relaying his signs? You’d probably be missing a head,” Mike Piazza said last week.
So will the beanballs fly? Not likely. That kind of retaliation just isn’t a big part of the game anymore. Wouldn’t be a shock to see some guys hit in the ribs and backside, perhaps on those wayward curveballs that now serve as purpose pitches. But Alex Bregman & Co. are bound to hear taunts everywhere they play outside Minute Maid Park, especially when they swing way over a slider: “Didn’t know that was coming, did ya?”
For a century, it’s been the Black Sox — no one ever calls them the 1919 White Sox. Already, the label of Houston Asterisks is drawing attention. That could last a long, long time. MLB isn’t about to strip the Astros of their World Series crown and give it to the Dodgers, or take away Jose Altuve’s MVP trophy and hand it to Aaron Judge. But could this affect Altuve’s marketability? And how about the first Hall of Fame test case in a few years — Beltrán’s resume includes nine All-Star selections, three Gold Gloves, 435 home runs, glittery postseasons and now, also, prominent mention in Commissioner Rob Manfred’s report as a ringleader in the sign-swiping shenanigans.
Fans are usually willing to forgive someone who admits wrongdoing. Denying or stonewalling doesn’t often turn out so well. Witness Pete Rose’s path. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are shut out of Cooperstown; Mark McGwire eventually came clean and was welcomed back into the majors.
A spy in the Wrigley Field scoreboard, cameras at Shea Stadium. We’re certain to hear tales about past cheating schemes. Jack McDowell says Tony La Russa rigged a system with the White Sox in the 1980s. MLB put everyone on notice with these penalties and that should have an effect — for a while, anyway. Yet in this high-tech world, it’d be foolish to think someone won’t try to game the system sometime.
In the meantime, will MLB change the rules on the sport’s most obvious non-secret, the pine tar and other sticky substances that pitchers use to get a better grip on the ball? Maybe that’s OK, shaky control in cold, damp weather doesn’t benefit anyone. Remember, though, Fiers himself came under scrutiny for a shiny patch on his glove after pitching a no-hitter for the Astros against the Dodgers in 2015.
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