Is it too early — too late, really — to put this sign-stealing mess to bed?
Spring training has been underway three weeks now, exactly the time left before opening day and still the hottest topic is something that happened three years ago. Well, evidently it isn’t going to bed — and evidently I must be the only one who didn’t get the message delivered here a few weeks back.
Everybody and his or her uncle seem to want a voice on the subject. Some think the so-called scandal that left a stain on the Houston Astros’ 2017 World Series trophy (aka “piece of metal” in an admittedly ill-advised comment by commissioner Rob Manfred) is worse than the PED epidemic that tarnished the game during the changeover from the 20th to 21st century.
That assumption, along with comparison to the 1919 betting scandal that left a Black (Sox) mark on the game seems a stretch to me, yet I have to admit the backlash has been far greater than I ever expected.
Especially from the players, who appear more unified on this than they have been in the past about segments of the collective bargaining agreement that directly affected their livelihood. The reason I’m surprised by the players’ reaction (and, by the way, you might include many of the other teams as well) is a simple one.
Presented with the similar opportunity (aka information) as the Astros, I’m convinced that many would have taken advantage of the situation. Not all, as evidently was also the case with the Astros, but I believe a good many players would’ve jumped at the opportunity to get an advantage.
And based on the number of various transgressions that have taken place throughout the years, there’s no question some teams would — and in fact did — break some rules.
Based on fan reaction during spring training, which is a very small sampling, the backlash from the fans is going to be severe. If you ever in your wildest dreams thought the Astros could replace the Yankees or Red Sox as the American League’s most despised team, well 2020 is your year.
The Astros aren’t going to forfeit their championship or give back their bling, but obviously the sign-stealing saga really isn’t going away any time soon. This time I believe it myself.
It turns out that Trevor Bauer had the answer all along — and now he might have the greatest advantage ever for a pitcher.
You might recall that Bauer, then with the Indians, called out former UCLA teammate (and antagonist) Gerrit Cole, who enjoyed great success after being traded from the Pirates to the Astros. Bauer accused Astros pitchers of using “secret sauce” to enhance their spin rate.
Bauer is now with the Reds and hasn’t been bashful about bashing the Astros for their dirty deeds. The shame of it all is that he’s not in the same league anymore, but maybe he should be a trade target for any team in the AL Western Division. He would bring instant gate appeal for any matchup against the Astros.
In a preseason game against the Dodgers, Bauer broke out a new strategy — tipping the hitters off on every pitch he threw. Can you imagine the scene if he got to try that strategy against the Astros? I watched some video of that game and Bauer called every pitch using universally accepted motions with his glove — straight ahead for a fast ball, pulling back for a changeup and side to side for a breaking ball.
Each time the hitter knew exactly what was coming. Or did he?
If you think hitters have an advantage when they know what pitch is coming, just imagine the advantage pitchers have when there is a degree of uncertainty, which will be the case with every pitch thrown by Bauer, who is just crafty, quirky and yes, even analytical enough to pull it off. And sooner or later, instead of calling every pitch, he’ll mix it up once in a while, just enough to get the hitter’s attention.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com
Photo Credit: xx