Last week, the Red Sox’ top brass held a press conference to discuss the hasty, unexpected-but-not-entirely-unexpected departure of manager Alex Cora. Due to the ongoing investigation into electronic sign-stealing, they were not able to discuss much, but they made one thing clear:
They intend to turn the page as quickly as possible.
It makes sense. The only true path forward to success is to separate themselves from this scandal as much as possible. It’s the reason Cora is gone. Regardless of what their own investigation yields, he and his superiors knew he would be a distraction from the franchise turning over a new, honest leaf. (Isn’t that a brand of iced tea?) It’s the same reason Carlos Beltrán will not manage a single game for the Mets. The past often distracts from the future; it holds us back.
The Houston Astros seem to have taken the opposite approach. While the Dodgers are spending their offseason working with Habitat For Humanity and players around the league have been speaking out about electronic sign-stealing, voicing their displeasure and distrust of Astros players, the Astros’ behavior since the news broke last week only continues to fuel their fire and set them apart from the rest of MLB. Despite owner Jim Crane doing the unthinkable, and firing his GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch in one fell swoop, the Astros have still done what they did during the Brandon Taubman saga, and doubled down. Rather than taking their lumps, apologizing to the rest of baseball, and turning the page themselves, the franchise is attempting to simply bulldoze their way through the muck. It might be inadvertent, or simply unavoidable. Maybe it’s just that some people never learn. Or maybe they’re cocky enough that they truly don’t think it matters that they’ve lost the trust and respect of the rest of the baseball world. Manfred’s comments about the franchise culture would certainly support that inference.
At the ill-timed Astros Fan Fest last weekend, players could not avoid the media, but it did not seem to matter; the players’ responses to even the mildest probing questions were laughable. Despite saying the team had to ‘move forward,’ José Altuvé, who was the 2017 American League MVP and batting champion, and this week won a Houston Sports Award for his walk-off home run in Game 6 of the 2019 ALCS, also said, “MLB did their investigation. They didn’t find anything,” which is blatantly untrue. They found that the Astros cheated, but they did not punish the players, holding management responsible instead. He also said that the Astros will be in the World Series again in 2020. Big talk like that will not endear the Astros to their fellow MLB players.
Alex Bregman gave non-answers to every question, and referred to his own team in the third-person. It’s one thing to not know what to say, but deciding to go the “I don’t know who that is” route about your own team is a truly bold strategy. When asked about how it felt to be without the leadership of a GM and manager, he pivoted to talking about working out in the gym and getting ready for Spring Training.
Despite owner Jim Crane’s announcement that the team would soon be making a serious apology, it has been business-as-usual for his franchise on social media, as well. Earlier this week, they announced on Twitter that the Houston Sports Awards had given them three very ironic awards. José Altuvé won Moment of the Year, Alex Bregman won Athlete of the Year, and Jim Crane was honored with Executive of the Year. You have to feel bad for the people who run their social media, because their mentions cannot have been a fun place these last few months.
On Thursday, The Athletic published a piece on Scott Boras, super-agent to baseball stars, including three Astros: José Altuvé, Lance McCullers Jr., and Aaron Sanchez. Boras maintained that the players do not need to apologize. It’s not surprising that Boras the Bold would say something this outlandish, but it is blatantly untrue. The players are the ones who came up with the plan to cheat, and then they played a large part in executing their plan, and they were not punished for any of it. The rest of the baseball world does not like, trust, or respect them, and those aren’t emotions that simply fade away. It would not be surprising to see players and even entire teams not wanting to play them this season.
It’s hard to tell which more insulting, the obfuscation and cockiness of the Astros players, or an apology so half-hearted and poorly-done that it only serves to anger further. On Friday, former Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel, now with the Chicago White Sox, became the first 2017 Astro to attempt to apologize. Sort of. He gave his version of an apology, but then immediately followed it up by taking back most of it, saying it was “not like every game we had it going on.” Well, as long as it wasn’t all 162 regular-season games and all of the postseason, that makes it fine and dandy, Dallas! Spoken like a member of the Houston Astros PR department during the Brandon Taubman saga. If that’s how you’re going to apologize, better to not say anything at all.
If Manfred truly does not intend to punish the players, as he has said, then the only way to begin to rebuild this fractured league is by making the Astros apologize, and work to earn everyone’s trust again, somehow. It’s certainly not going to be easy, considering the team is still comprised of the same players who cheated their way through the past few seasons; MLB’s solution didn’t solve the actual problem at hand. And now that players on other teams are speaking out, it’s clear that this ordeal is far from over. It’s only just begun.
It’s unbearable for the rest of baseball to be trapped in the Astros’ vortex of unaccountability and dishonesty. Watching them double-down and obfuscate keeps everyone in this limbo state, an emotional offseason of sorts with no end in sight. Until they apologize and move on, this situation will hang over baseball like a dark cloud.
It’s time to turn the page. Please.
Follow me on Twitter @gfstarr1 for live-tweeting, stats, and all things sports!