Shortly after Astros owner Jim Crane, new manager Dusty Baker and players Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve addressed the media in a press conference regarding their sign-stealing scandal on Thursday, the clubhouse was opened up for the entire roster to offer comments on the ordeal. Their comments created quite the contrast with those still emerging from others around the league.
George Springer, Josh Reddick, Bregman, Altuve and Yuli Gurriel were among the many Astros players to express varying levels of contrition. Most spoke in general terms, though, and the key phrases throughout left many of the sentiments feeling more rehearsed than genuine. Springer, Bregman and Verlander repeatedly referenced the “remorse” felt by the team, while virtually everyone interviewed spoke of the need to “move forward.”
Asked if he understood the anger that’s been expressed by players from other teams, Reddick stated: “At a point, you kind of see where it’s coming from, but you really don’t know how everybody feels about it.”
Indeed we don’t have exhaustive knowledge of the views of all the league’s players, but that characterization still seems at odds with the prevailing sentiment we’re seeing early in camp. There has been an unprecedented public backlash from players and members of other organizations. (More on that below.)
The typically outspoken Verlander favored brevity Thursday, telling reporters, “I wish I’d said more,” but sidestepping the question of what, if anything, he actually did say at the time: “That’s between myself and my teammates.” Both Verlander and Reddick declined to comment on how they’d have felt to be on the opposite side of the scheme.
Shortstop Carlos Correa perhaps offered the most forthcoming and reflective comments, plainly acknowledging that the sign-stealing operation gave Astros hitters an advantage. Correa also admitted that the Astros had their infamous trash-can setup in place during the World Series “if we had a chance,” but he added that the noise level at Minute Maid Park and the Dodgers’ usage of multiple signs rendered the system difficult to use.
Correa further denounced a recent report that Carlos Beltran spearheaded the outfit while younger players were reluctant to stand up to the veteran, emphasizing that the blame shouldn’t rest on any one player but rather the group as a whole.
“We all had a say in everything that we were doing in there,” said Correa. “We had the chance to stop it as a team. Everybody — everybody — had the chance to say something, and we didn’t.” Gurriel and Bregman offered similar sentiments regarding Beltran and the culpability of the entire team.
Astros players, like Crane, were unified in suggesting that the cheating scandal shouldn’t tarnish their World Series title from the 2017 season.
Asked if the Astros would’ve won the World Series without cheating, Springer replied, “I believe so. I believe in our team.” Lance McCullers Jr. spoke about the “great baseball” the Astros needed to play as a team to win the World Series and praised Houston’s “great pitching” against the Dodgers. Reddick, a former Dodger himself, said he “[doesn’t] feel like we should” have to reach out to any members of the Dodgers, Yankees or other teams they toppled en route to their 2017 championship. Even Correa, despite acknowledging that the trash-can system was set up, wouldn’t agree that the team’s title was tainted, citing the “special group” Houston had in 2017.
Looking beyond the Astros’ spring complex, former Houston lefty Dallas Keuchel, now of the White Sox, told reporters: “We’re always going to be World Series champs, because we were talented … To me, we earned the right to be World Series champs.” J.D. Davis struck a different chord, telling Mets reporters on Friday that he is “ashamed” to have participated in the system. “Whoever gets crowned World Series champion has to earn it,” said Davis. “It’s unfair to the peers, it’s unfair to the fans, it’s unfair to you guys, the writers, as well. It’s terrible for baseball.”
Around the game, players and members of other organizations generally recoiled at the Astros’ apology efforts. Sean Manaea, Whit Merrifield, Andrew Heaney, David Freese and Dave Roberts were among the many names to speak up. Freese tweeted that the Astros’ media sessions were a “[expletive] joke,” while Roberts merely told reporters that he “believes in karma.” Merrifield told the Kansas City Star that the scandal “discredits everything those players have ever done” and pulled no punches in laying out the manner in which he’s lost all of the respect he once held for Astros players. Cody Bellinger spoke perhaps the strongest words of all, saying that Altuve “stole an MVP from [Aaron] Judge” and that the Astros “stole the ring from us.”
Crane’s inane comments seemed to spark particular ire. The Astros owner sounded more like Michael Scott than a contrite piece of the puzzle in making Thursday's tone-deaf assertion: “I don’t think I should be held accountable.” And while he can continue his efforts to distance himself from the scandal and place blame on the leadership that he fired — GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch — those leaders were in place because of Crane’s own doing. Whether he was genuinely in the dark on the sign-stealing scheme or merely ignorant, the only people who seem to buy Crane’s lack of awareness work in the Astros organization or in Manfred’s office.
Crane later doubled down on his lack of accountability, stating that he believes the sign stealing “didn’t impact the game.” Less than a minute later, he claimed that he “didn’t say it didn’t impact the game.” His similarly clumsy closing remark that sign-stealing “could possibly [impact competition]” or “could possibly not” only further exemplified the extent of his dishonesty or delusion about the effect of his team’s actions. Yankees manager Aaron Boone appeared exasperated when asked about Crane’s statement that the Astros’ cheating didn’t impact the game, calling it “quite a reach.”
In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Manaea torched the Astros for “skating by” and was particularly critical of Crane’s claims: “What’s the point of cheating then? Why as a team did you collectively do it? Why did no one stop it? You’re not cheating to get worse or be the same. You’re cheating to win.”
“It definitely [tainted their championship] because they didn’t feel like they could do it by going out and playing the game. … So if they don’t think they could have won it, why should we think they could’ve won it in 2017?”
On the whole, the scene at Astros camp seemed almost satirical. Crane sat at a press conference in which he sought to absolve his players of any responsibility before immediately making them available to apologize for the same scandal he proclaimed not to be their fault. Early Thursday morning, it’d have been difficult to imagine the Astros walking away from the day somehow looking worse, but whatever contrition was displayed in the Astros’ clubhouse was overshadowed by the head-in-the-sand reaction of their owner.
Perhaps Crane’s master plan was to distract from his players’ role in the whole ordeal by flaunting his own public-relations ineptitude. Mission accomplished, if that’s the case, but the organization looks no better after addressing the public.
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