It doesn’t seem like the sign-stealing scandal involving the Houston Astros is going away anytime soon — and it’s getting almost as hard to determine when this saga began as to guess when it will end.
Actually, “scandal” might be a stretch since Rob Manfred hasn’t had to do his Kenesaw Mountain Landis imitation as commissioner, but you get the idea this mess isn’t going to end anytime soon. It is starting to look like former Astros manager A.J. Hinch, the only one who has accepted full responsibility, might be the least involved of the four people (thus far) who have lost their jobs.
In his interview with Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci that aired on MLB Network, Hinch owned up as manager for responsibility for actions of his players, but disavowed knowledge of how the information was obtained or where it came from. In the aftermath of a story in the Wall Street Journal, it appears that Carlos Beltran, then a player and now the ex-manager of the New York Mets, could take the biggest hit.
Beltran came to the Astros on a one-year, $16 million contract in 2017 and was largely credited with being the stable veteran who provided his young teammates with needed leadership — the kind that would make him a serious managerial candidate the instant his playing days were over. As it turned out, Beltran provided pedestrian numbers on the field, with his best contribution literally coming from the dugout, where he reportedly was central to the trash-can-banging band of sign stealers.
An earlier story in the Wall Street Journal, which appeared about the time the Verducci-Hinch interview was airing, claimed that the foundation of the Astros’ subterfuge was developed by an intern in the analytics department and eventually found its way to the dugout, where bench coach Alex Cora and Beltran were pinpointed as ringleaders.
That story seemed to support the theory that the information bypassed Hinch en route from the front office to the dugout. Jeff Luhnow, the Astros’ general manager who was suspended and subsequently fired, claims he was unaware — so however the information got from the intern to the dugout remains a mystery.
But it’s more than a little suspicious for one long-distance observer. “Guess who isn’t surprised?” Chris Correa asked on his Twitter account after news of the Astros’ sign-stealing broke … in 2018.
Correa is not related to Carlos Correa, the Astros’ star shortstop, and is not involved in this caper, but let’s just say he knows his way around analytics and the internet. He was a former intern (notice a pattern here?) hired by the St. Louis Cardinals when Luhnow was their scouting director.
Correa was good enough at what he did that he inherited that job when Luhnow was hired by the Astros after the 2011 season. What happened next makes what happened to Hinch, Cora, Beltran and Luhnow look like misdemeanor stuff.
Suspecting that Luhnow and others who had left the Cardinals had taken more than their personal laptops with them, Correa managed to hack into the Astros’ system. Whatever evidence he may or may not have found, the Astros were cleared of wrongdoing, the Cardinals were fined $2 million and forfeited draft picks — and Correa ended up with a 48 month jail sentence.
There is no moral … and maybe no end … to the story. But obviously hacking into someone else’s system is at least comparable in a court of law to baseball’s penalty for using technology to steal signs. Commissioner Rob Manfred can’t order confinement, but a life sentence isn’t out of the question, as Correa found out.
All of a sudden baseball doesn’t seem like a simple game anymore.
Whew, that was close.
For a (very) brief period of time there was concern about how to fill the gap between the R-rated J-Lo Show and report date for pitchers and catchers.
Then the XFL showed up. Just in time. For those with memories that don’t go back to the start of the century it should be noted this is XFL II — or XFL 2.0. Whatever works.
From most indications the new version of XFL went over big in Washington, which might be expected, given the status of pigskin fever in that area.
Anyhow it was nice to be able to check the XFL off the 2020 bucket list and move on to P&C and full squad report dates, March Madness and the latest fallout from baseball commissioner Rob Manfred’s continuing sign-stealing saga. So we will …
As non-apologies go, the one White Sox lefthander Dallas Keuchel sort of issued for his former teammates on the Houston Astros was a winner.
After starting with “first and foremost I think apologies should be in order,” Keuchel skated around the subject by saying, “When that stuff was going on, it was never intended to be what it’s made to be right now.”
Huh? Couldn’t you just hear the next line coming at you like a runaway freight train: “These things are always blown up.” Keuchel didn’t exactly blame the media, but you get the drift.
And it didn’t help much when Justin Verlander kind of made light of the Astros’ superior analytics while accepting his Cy Young Award.
I know he’s playing on a team with the worst record in the conference but the Pat Spencer story is one of the coolest of this, or most any other, year. The best lacrosse player in the game while playing for Loyola last year, Spencer took the graduate transfer route to Northwestern, where he has been a starting guard on the basketball team all year.
Staying with hoops for a moment, I understand Maryland can sometimes cause its fan base to get frustrated with head coach Mark Turgeon. But as this is written the Terps have four losses, three in what has been called the best basketball conference in the country, all to teams that were ranked at some point in the season.
With a No. 9 national ranking, you get the impression anything less than the Elite Eight would be a failure. Tough environment.
I’m ready for the full squad. Is the XFL over yet?
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com