After an extremely slow 2019 Hot Stove season, the 2020 Hot Stove started fast and furious. Fans were ecstatic to see players being signed, as the 2019 offseason was bottlenecked by Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Six weeks into the 2020 offseason, Hot Stove would be pushed aside, as news of the Astros cheating scandal broke.
In order to fully appreciate what’s already transpired, you’d first have to know the story. The Astros’ system was simple, yet involved the use of advanced technology, using a camera stationed in centerfield to zoom in on the catcher flashing signals to his pitcher. The Astros were then able to capture and decipher the signs. Next, the intel was sent to a TV monitor in the Houston dugout in real-time, with players monitoring the data. Players in the dugout would then bang sharply on a trashcan to alert their batter of ensuing pitches.
MLB rules allow a runner to decipher and send signs to the batter, but using technology is strictly prohibited. By knowing what to expect at the plate, Houston’s offense quickly gained an offensive advantage. Months later, they won the 2017 World Series, likely as a result.
The Latest “Buzz” on Jose Altuve
The sign-stealing scandal would then take another bizarre turn in mid-January. Accusations and evidence surfaced, alleging that Jose Altuve may have gone next-level, by wearing a buzzer under his jersey. The buzzer was allegedly worn under his jersey, allowing teammates to electronically send pitch information. These accusations were called “ridiculous” by Altuve.
During Game 6 of the 2019 ALCS, Altuve homered off of Aroldis Chapman, sending the Astros to the World Series. As he prepares to cross home plate, teammates prepared to rip his jersey from his chest in celebration. You can clearly see Altuve telling his teammates not to do it, allegedly due to the buzzer.
Oddly, Altuve would next forego the celebration, at the plate, electing instead to go straight to the locker room. After changing jerseys, he returned to the field, allowing Ken Rosenthal to interview him. MLB has since ruled not enough evidence existed to support the allegations (well, duh) and subsequently ruled this claim unfounded.
Multiple teams suspected the Astros were cheating, but not enough evidence existed to substantiate a claim. In 2019, someone finally went public.
The Whistleblower Clears His Conscience
Enter Mike Fiers, aka “the whistleblower.” Fiers pitched for Houston in 2017, as the sign-stealing scam was developed and implemented, keeping quiet about it during his tenure with Houston.
Fiers moved on from Houston after 2017, splitting the 2018 season between Detroit and Oakland. Once with Oakland, Fiers felt compelled to alert his new teammates, as the Astros and Athletics are divisional rivals. Eventually, the rest of the world would know as well.
For whatever reason, in December of 2019 Fiers decided to go public with news of the scandal. Speaking to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Fiers began to relate details of the scheme, subsequently triggering an MLB investigation. After a short investigation, MLB concluded that the Astros were guilty of cheating in 2017 and 2018. MLB also investigated allegations pertaining to 2019, though they were cleared.
In part, Fiers told The Athletic (subscription-based), “That’s not playing the game the right way. They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win. I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing.”
Many took issue with Fiers because of how this all unfolded. As an Astro, he kept quiet, collected his ring and his paychecks (including a playoff share). It took two years before he elected to expose the scam, and he did it when doing so became beneficial. Reports now say that Fiers was willing to give it all back in exchange for the MLB issuing suspensions.
After MLB’s investigation concluded, it was time for Commissioner Rob Manfred to start doling out the punishments. In exchange for their detailed accounts, Manfred promised immunity to the players. As a result, MLB spared the careers of guys who cheated to win a World Series. Manfred first leveled his sights on the Astros organization. The team was fined $5M, but also lost their first and second-round draft picks for 2021 and 2022.
Help Wanted: Managers
In addition to one-year suspensions for each, Houston then turned around and fired manager A.J. Hitch and GM Jeff Luhnow almost immediately.
Boston fired manager Alex Cora, for his involvement with the 2017 Astros. Carlos Beltran lost his deal to manage the Mets before he ever managed a game. Although granted immunity, Beltran was intricately involved in the scandal while playing for Houston.
Additional punishment from MLB is still pending for Alex Cora, who allegedly brought the scandal with him to Boston. MLB is currently investigating the allegation linking the Red Sox and has yet to rule on Cora’s fate.
Damaged Stats and Egos
Opposing pitchers can now only wonder how badly their stats were falsely inflated by way of illicit behavior. Meanwhile, the Dodgers continue to contemplate whether or not the title should be stripped from Houston and given to them. Free agents lost value to falsely inflated ERAs, while Astros’ batters are allowed to tout higher averages.
The Consequences for Fiers
Everyone involved seems to be suffering from the backlash of the scandal. Meanwhile, Mike Fiers is getting absolutely clobbered on social media for exposing it. Former teammates have called him names on Twitter, and fans now blame him for ruining the game (ironic, isn’t it?). Those can be demeaning things to have to face, but that may be the least of Fiers’ worries. Social media is now abuzz with accusations and allegations that Fiers is (or was) sexually involved with an underage girl.
Please Note: At this time, sources such as ESPN have not confirmed this.
This is a dangerous and slippery slope and needs to be tread upon very lightly and cautiously. If true, Fiers needs to be sharing a cell with Felipe Vazquez (Pirates) who admitted to the same behavior. The A’s then need to take the reigns and reach out to the victim, just as the Pirates did. In addition, they also need to go for counseling and support services.
Having said that, the timing of this “news” is extremely suspect. ESPN has not reported on this, leading to the possibility that this is a malicious hoax for revenge. True or not, Fiers’ life and career will be undoubtedly be ruined after this. Whether or not it’s deemed a hoax, he’ll always be looked down upon. Given the two choices, let’s pray that it’s a sick form of retaliation, as the other option is far worse.
The Morally and Ethically Bankrupt
Anyone who can condone the cheating or the exposure of the scandal has no moral compass. ESPN’s Jessica Mendoza actually had the gall to say on the Golic and Wingo Show:
“I get it, if you’re with the Oakland A’s and you’re on another team, heck yeah you better be telling your teammates, ‘Heads up, if you hear some noises while you’re pitching, like, this is what’s going on.’ For sure. But to go public, yeah, it didn’t sit well with me. Honestly, it made me sad for the sport that that’s how this all got found out.”
Mendoza subsequently went on a credibility tour to “clarify” her comments, but the original message was crystal clear. It was OK for Fiers to tell the A’s, but otherwise, he should’ve kept quiet.
Then you’ve got Scott Boras who says that the Astros’ players owe no one an apology. Granted, he’s Altuve’s and Lance McCullers‘ agent, but to say they owe no apology after admitting guilt? So much for the integrity of the game and being ethical.
More will suffer the backlash as Boston is investigated. Cora will likely be banned for life, as he allegedly cheated with two teams. The Astros’ will be suspect for years to come, should they post winning records. Rest assured, baseball will survive this crisis, much as it survived all of the other scandals. It survived the 1919 Black Sox World Series scandal and it survived PEDs in the 90s.
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