ST. PETERSBURG — Charlie Morton in 2017 was not the Charlie Morton he is today.
He was new to the Astros, coming off an injury-abbreviated season, relatively unaccomplished in the game. He wasn’t, in locker room parlance, a guy.
Had he been the two-time All-Star he is today with the Rays, the veteran revered for his professionalism and respected for his perspective, maybe things would have unfolded differently.
But when Morton learned of the scheme his Houston teammates were using to steal signs and tip off their hitters to what pitch was coming, when he heard the actual banging on a trash can to relay the info, he didn’t say or do anything.
And that, he said Saturday in addressing the cheating scandal for the first time, is his primary remorse.
“'I was aware of the banging. … Being in the dugout you could hear it. I don’t know when it dawned on me, but you knew it was going on," Morton said. “Personally, I regret not doing more to stop it. I don’t know what that would have entailed. I think the actions would have been somewhat extreme to stop it. That’s a hypothetical.”
Extreme because it was widespread, some of his Houston players and coaches actively participating, others complicit by allowing it to continue, all the way to a World Series championship. Extreme because it felt like more than one man could do anything about.
“I certainly have thought about it a lot because it negatively impacted the game, and people’s perception of the game, the fans, opposing players. And that doesn’t sit well with me,” Morton, 36, said during the Rays Fan Fest at Tropicana Field. “Where I was at the time, I don’t know where I was.
“Because what’s wrong is wrong. And I’ll never be absolved of that."
As a result of the scandal, Morton acknowledges the Astros championship will be viewed differently.
“I think the perception of that World Series was negatively affected, at minimum,” he said. “Certainly the public perception of that win has changed, and my peers’, too. People have weighed in on this. That’s the reality of it. There are moments during the World Series that will always be special to me, that won’t be 'tainted.’ But certainly that’s justified, that’s a justified perception to have, and what people have expressed.”
Morton said he didn’t remember specifics of which Astros were doing what wrong.
Nor did he want to talk much about whether former teammate Mike Fiers broke a clubhouse code by going public with details of the scheme, saying at one point the clubhouse is a “sacred place” and at another the lines about what is appropriate to share “can be blurred.”
Fiers’ information led to Major League Baseball’s investigation and discipline against the Astros, including a fine, loss of draft picks and the suspensions of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, who were then fired. Morton said he felt MLB did a "thorough” investigation and said he was not among the players interviewed.
There has been criticism, including from some players such as Rays pitchers Tyler Glasnow and Blake Snell, that the participating players weren’t punished, which was a product of the league giving them immunity for their information.
Morton said it’s a “hard question” whether the players should have been disciplined, noting “there were degrees of involvement that varied," and differing amounts of leverage, as some “maybe weren't really comfortable saying no."
"I don't think there can be a blanket punishment," he said. “I don't think that's the right way to do it."
Morton said he reached out to Glasnow and Snell to get clarity on their comments, talked it over and feels things are good, with no plans to address the full Rays squad. Glasnow said Saturday there are absolutely no issues.
As for how Morton views his former Astros teammates? He sounded forgiving.
"From a personal standpoint, good people make mistakes. It’s as simple as that," he said. "I really don’t have anything else to say about it. I think mistakes were made and everybody is just trying to move on. I think it is one of those things where I know those guys, I went through a lot with those guys, so I feel like I have a little different perspective on who they are as opposed to someone that is just reading that the Astros cheated in 2017.”
Morton was with the Astros again in 2018, and said by the time he went back to Houston with the Rays in August 2019 he was confident the sign stealing had stopped and had no need to say anything to his new mates then.
That time, regrettably, had passed.