Now that the sign-stealing scandal has been uncovered, what’s next?
Back in the pre-tech day, several former big-leaguers said, players would administer their own form of additional sanctions to the most egregious cheaters in the game, as some Astros are now labeled.
“You hit ‘em in the head," said Red Sox alum Luis Tiant. “If we’d see them looking (in at the signs) and we’d see something different, the next time we’d hit ’em. That’s how we stopped that crap."
Even just the threat could carry weight, former Oriole Scott McGregor said. “We always knew to watch the guys on second, If they’re stealing signs you’d turn to them and say if you do it again, 'I’m going to hit you in the head.’"
That old-school strategy wouldn’t play as well now in the more regulated, fraternal and safety-driven game.
But that doesn’t mean the Astros shouldn’t be on their toes when they start playing games for real, starting March 26 at home against the Angels and former Rays manager Joe Maddon, who could be just the guy to order a code red in defense of the game’s overall good.
“There’s no doubt there’s going to be some retaliation within the game," said former Astro Luke Scott. “More than likely especially those who have a personal beef in the matter where it cost them. You’ve got to look at all the lives it affected on an individual basis, look at all the money these guys lost because of it. There are some damages, but what’s done is done. There are going to be some people that are going to handle things in the game."
Current players were, understandably, more veiled about their plans.
Phillies reliever Tommy Hunter, who pitched twice for the Rays in Houston in 2017, went hypothetical, saying if he found out his signs had been stolen, “I’m not going to be very happy. I’m glad I was not put in that situation because I do not know what would’ve happened. I’ll leave it at that."
And the scandal may have more layers.
Just last week there were reports that the Astros had been cheating before 2017 under the leadership of other executives still with the team.
Rumors, backed by social media-driven “evidence” persist, despite denials, that their hitters wore pitch-indicating buzzers this past season.
“Certainly one of those great unknowns," Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “I’ve spent time, as I’m sure a lot of people have, wondering all the things that could’ve potentially been going on. And probably we’ll never know for sure.”
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo, whose team shares a spring complex with the Astros in West Palm Beach, told reporters Friday that for closure, “Someone has got to say the word over there: ‘Cheated.’ That’s important to me."
There have been stories furthering the extent of former Astro Carlos Beltran’s involvement. And that other teams, besides the still-under-investigation Red Sox, were acting similarly nefariously.
The calendar is dotted with dates that will prompt further discussion, starting with commissioner Rob Manfred’s spring opening media sessions Sunday in North Port and Tuesday in Arizona. Position players will roll into camps this week with plenty to say, then exhibition games start next weekend.
Expect more stories when the Astros get back to Houston for their first regular-season game. When they take their first road trip, which will also be their first encounter with whistleblower Mike Fiers, who pitches for Oakland. When they visit the rival Rangers. When they go to New York, facing the Mets and the Yankees.
Politicians are getting into the act, some clamoring for the Astros to be stripped of the title. So are civilians, some youth league teams in Dodger blue southern California are not allowing teams to be called the Astros.
On the plus side, some players are hoping the Astros incident puts an end of other such schemes,
“I hope we can kill it now," said Phillies pitcher Bud Norris, who left Houston in 2013 after spending parts of five seasons with the Astros. “I hope this is something that we can keep in control. We have to police our game. Hopefully there is an understanding of where it was going and we can kill it now.”