FORT MYERS, Fla. — Baseball’s cheating scandal just keeps getting worse. And the Red Sox have it hanging over their heads as they go to work on a season made more difficult by the salary dump of Mookie Betts and David Price.
The cheating Houston Astros — who have shot past the Patriots as the most hated team in America — conducted a hideous press conference in West Palm Beach Thursday that left more questions than answers.
Astros owner Jim Crane spoke, as did new manager Dusty Baker, and we listened to brief prepared statements from Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve, two of the cheatin’ ’Stros who won a World Series in 2017 while employing an electronic sign-stealing system that regularly allowed their hitters to know what pitch was coming.
All of baseball has been shaken since the commissioner’s report stained the Astros on Jan. 13. Houston manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were immediately fired by Crane and one day later the Red Sox parted ways with beloved manager Alex Cora because of his vast contributions to the Astros’ shenanigans. Then the Mets dumped manager Carlos Beltran, who’d been a ringleader player on the ’17 Astros.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox wait for the commissioner to rule on an investigation into their 2018 championship season. That probe was launched Jan. 7 after three unnamed sources told The Athletic that the 2018 Sox were violating electronic sign-stealing rules by using the in-house video replay room to learn sign sequences and relay information.
Commissioner Rob Manfred said last week that he hoped to issue his report on the Red Sox before the start of spring training, but he did not meet that deadline. Consequently, Sox players, coaches, and officials are asked daily if any rule-breaking was going on within the walls of Fenway when the Red Sox won 119 games and the World Series in 2018.
Outfielder Andrew Benintendi joined the chorus line of Boston champs who insist they were clean.
“All of us are confident in what’s going to come out,’’ Benintendi said Thursday. “We know that we didn’t do anything.’’
Meanwhile, there is chaos across Baseball America. Pete Rose is clamoring to be allowed into the Hall of Fame (Pete’s case gets better every day), a couple of class-action suits have been filed by fantasy sports bettors, former Toronto pitcher Mike Bolsinger is suing the Astros for ending his career, and a lot of folks in Los Angeles think the Astros should be stripped of their 2017 World Series championship.
Taking away a title is a slippery slope, but I no longer think it’s preposterous. Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis set precedent by not vacating the results of the 1919 World Series, in which Chicago White Sox players took money to lose to the Cincinnati Reds. Manfred similarly did not choose to alter championship history.
But the more we hear, the worse it gets for Houston and for baseball. The notion that Astros players had electronic buzzers under their uniforms seemed silly and Internet-driven until I saw Hinch dodge the question in an interview with MLB Network’s Tom Verducci. Given the chance to say that the buzzer theory was nonsense, Hinch cited MLB’s finding and said he agreed. On Wednesday, Hinch clarified his non-answer, saying he never saw anything like that anywhere in baseball.
More clarifications and better answers will be sought in the wake of Thursday’s nationally televised press conference in West Palm.
This is what we got from Bregman: “I have some brief remarks that I’d like to share with y’all. I am really sorry about the choices that were made by my team, by the organization, and by me. I have learned from this and I hope to regain the trust of baseball fans.
“I would also like to thank the Astros fans for all of their support. We as a team are totally focused on moving forward to the 2020 season. Thank you.’’
From Altuve: “I also will be brief. We had a great team meeting last night and I want to say that the whole Astros organization and the team feels bad about what happened in 2017. We especially feel remorse for the impact on our fans and the game of baseball.
“And our team is determined to move forward to play with intensity and to bring back a championship to Houston in 2020. Thank you.’’
Admitting his team broke rules, Crane said, “Our opinion is that this didn’t impact the game. And we won the World Series.’’ He later amended that to, “I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game, but it’s hard to tell.’’
Asked if his team “cheated,’’ Crane said, “We broke the rules. You can phrase that any way you want . . . The championship stays intact and I agree with it . . . I don’t feel it necessary to reach out to the Dodgers.’’
Asked if he deserved punishment, Crane said, “No, I don’t think I should be held accountable.”
What about the players?
“Players are not accountable,’’ said the owner. “Leaders are accountable.’’ Presumably, he means Hinch and Luhnow.
“We’re not going to do anything to the players . . . Players should not be punished for the failures of our leadership . . . These are a great group of guys who did not receive proper guidance from their leaders.’’
When asked if his team won a championship because of their rule-breaking, Crane allowed, “Fair question.’’
According to reports, Astros players were apologetic when the locker room opened. At least five denied the buzzer theory. And all of them held that their championship is not tainted.
Manfred is making himself available to reporters in Florida Sunday and in Arizona Tuesday. His findings on the investigation into the 2018 Red Sox are expected next week.
Red Sox ownership has asked all to “reserve judgment” regarding potential violations in 2018.
I don’t believe the Sox in 2018 were involved in anything close to what the Astros were doing in 2017, but their timing isn’t good. In the wake of nonstop blowback from the Houston scandal, nobody wants to be the next team under investigation.
Given the Apple Watch scam in 2017 (when the Red Sox were caught red-handed and slapped on the wrist), and Cora’s place on the bench in 2018, it’s hard to believe the Sox come out totally clean in Manfred’s report. And the commissioner — already looking inept and weak — can ill afford any perception that he cut a deal with or is going easy on the Boston Red Sox.
Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org