Who did the Astros 2017 cheating scandal hurt the most? Besides, of course, the integrity of the game itself.
From a big-picture standpoint, you could make the case it was the Dodgers, who lost two of the three World Series games in Houston, and the title in seven games.
Or the Yankees, who have been talking a lot that it’s them, as they lost all four road games in Houston during a seven-game American League Championship Series.
“What has happened in the past, obviously we’re upset," general manager Brian Cashman said Friday in Tampa. “Our ownership’s upset, our front office is upset, our players are upset, our players who were with us in ’17 were especially upset and understandably so. There’s nothing we can do about it at this stage, and (we’re) moving forward."
But a better answer may be the individual pitchers.
Some obvious (including former Blue Jay Mike Bolsinger, who filed a lawsuit seeking damages) and some lesser so, whose statistics were inflated and whose status on the roster were directly impacted by their performance against the Astros.
“It’s just tough," said Rays catcher Kevan Smith, a former White Sox and Angel. “You’re seeing these young pitchers, they’re so incredibly talented and mastered their craft and worked their butt off since out of the womb, and they’re being cheated on these little things. …. That’s the frustrating part."
Smith and others told stories of how pitchers would spend more time making sure they weren’t tipping what they were throwing or giving away their signs than focusing on actually throwing the pitches well.
“We were pretty paranoid the past couple of years," said Pittsburgh’s Jameson Taillon. “Our poor catchers and stuff, we were crossing each other up, our signs were getting so complicated and we were switching so often that — I mean, it’ll be nice to hopefully not have to switch 25 times an inning — but our signs were becoming math equations."
The impact of the cheating spreads beyond the pitchers.
Others affected, albeit less directly, include their catchers, coaches, bosses — and, tangentially, their team’s owners, fans, business partners. Also, in theory, opposing teams that otherwise might not have lost to the Astros, their communities that then could have hosted postseasons games, and so on.
“I think the worst part is that people lost jobs, lost opportunities, lost games," said former Rays and now Pirates pitcher Chris Archer. “Organizations got eliminated from the playoffs, teams got beat in the regular season.
“We all work extremely hard, those guys included, and to have that type of advantage … it’s disheartening that people who had genuinely a good reputation in the game — not fake, they were well-respected and for good reason — and to find out that was a part of who they are. We all have flaws, but for them to take it that far, it shows you how the ego can just take over and blind you from what’s true, what’s not true, what’s right, what’s not right."
In almost every clubhouse, there was a player who felt bad for others.
Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman got emotional talking about former teammate Kris Medlen, who spent two years getting back to the majors and, curiously, got roughed up in a 2018 game in Houston.
Former Rays reliever Ryne Stanek said he feels for Bolsinger, a fellow University of Arkansas product.
“That was the last game he pitched in the big leagues,” said Stanek, now with the Marlins. “How many people get called up, get hit around and never come back? That right there could have ended careers or a guy never gets back to the big leagues. It’s been proven to be a thing. It’s not an accusation. It sucks."
And somewhere in the carnage is the Astros’ reputation, with owner Jim Crane did more damage to at the apology-palooza by saying the sign-stealing didn’t impact the game, which Yankees manager Aaron Boone and others scoffed at.
“From a personal standpoint, it’s hard to know that they have a banner in the rafters for that,” said Phillies pitcher Bud Norris, who left the Astros in 2013 after spending parts of five seasons in Houston, “and other teams don’t.”