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Baseball

A “most thorough” investigation

Here’s an Astros update for you.

The ongoing electronic sign-stealing investigation against the Astros is “probably the most thorough” ever conducted by the commissioner’s office, Rob Manfred said Wednesday.

Addressing reporters during the final full day of the winter meetings, Manfred said his office has interviewed more than 60 witnesses, has 76,000 emails through which to sift and “an additional trove of instant messages.”

“That review has caused us to conclude that we have to do some follow-up interviewing,” Manfred said. “It is my hope to conclude the investigation just as promptly as possible, but it’s just really hard to predict how long something like that is going to take.”

[…]

Maintaining a stance he’s taken since the query began, Manfred declined to elaborate on possible punishments, calling such predictions “wholly inappropriate.” A timeline for the investigation’s conclusion remains a mystery, though follow-up interviews suggest it could drag longer into the winter.

“I’m going to get all the facts in front of me and make a decision as promptly as possible on discipline and, obviously, you all will know about it as soon as it happens.”

See here for the last update. As a reminder, this is two investigations in one, the sign-stealing allegations and the Brandon Taubman debacle. I have to assume MLB will wrap this up during the off-season, but beyond that we have no idea how long this will take. We’ll know when they’re ready to tell us something.

Marvin Miller makes the Hall of Fame

Finally.

Marvin Miller

Earned admiration can take time to reveal itself within the voting system that creates a National Baseball Hall of Fame class. For years, the late union leader Marvin Miller’s indisputable role in reshaping the sport was acknowledged everywhere but the small-committee ballot. And for years, the numbers that best described catcher Ted Simmons’ value weren’t in vogue with voters.

But Miller and Simmons finally got the recognition so many felt they richly deserved Sunday night, on the eve of the Winter Meetings at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. They were both elected into the Hall of Fame by the Modern Baseball Era Committee and will be honored, along with any selections from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot, at the July 26, 2020, induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Simmons was named on 13 of 16 ballots (81.3%), while Miller was posthumously named on 12 to reach the exact threshold (75%) required for entry. Dwight Evans, Dave Parker, Steve Garvey, Lou Whitaker, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Thurman Munson and Dale Murphy were not selected. Evans, who received eight votes, was the only other candidate to appear on at least half of the ballots.

Miller, who headed up the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966-82, passed away in 2002, at the age of 95. Before his death, he had railed against the selection process that routinely snubbed him and had asked to be omitted from future ballots. But his status as one of the most influential figures in sports labor history was ultimately too strong to be denied.

“Players are pleased that Marvin will now take his rightful and long overdue place in the Hall of Fame,” said current MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, “in recognition of the monumental and positive impact he had on our game and our industry.”

See here for a post about Miller at his passing. I can’t think of anyone more deserving, or who was made to wait for so long. I refer you to Jay Jaffe for the case for Miller, and for a recap of the election, via the Modern Era committee, and what it may mean for some other deserving-but-overlooked hopefuls. Congrats also to Ted Simmons, who doesn’t deserve to be overshadowed like this. Whatever else happens this week, Monday was a good day.

Don’t shrink the minor leagues

Bad idea, MLB.

Last month, we learned that Major League Baseball proposed a radical reorganization of the minor leagues, involving slashing the number of teams by 25 percent — mostly short-season and rookie ball clubs. The New York Times has reported which teams specifically are on the chopping block, 42 in total. [UpdateBill Madden of the New York Daily News reported more details this morning. It is certainly worth a read.]

It isn’t for a lack of interest that MLB wants to hemorrhage MiLB teams. As The Athletic’s Emily Waldon notes, 2019 was the 15th consecutive season in which 40 million-plus fans attended minor league games. 2019 saw an attendance increase of 2.6 percent over the previous year. Waldon also points out that 2019 saw the ninth-highest single-season attendance total in the history of the industry.

MLB’s suggestion to shrink the minor leagues comes on the heels of increased public pressure to improve the pay and conditions of the players. MLB successfully lobbied Congress to amend language in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, classifying players as seasonal workers thus they are no longer entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay, among other protections. As a result, more players have become vocal about the lack of pay and more reporting has been done on the issue, creating a bit of a P.R. problem for the league. Slashing the minor leagues would allow MLB, whose individual teams are responsible for the overhead of their minor league affiliates, to publicly say they improved pay while not actually costing them much money, if any at all. MiLB president Pat O’Conner foreshadowed this nearly two years ago, by the way.

[…]

Beyond the very obvious effect of eliminating upwards of 1,000 minor league baseball player positions, scores of related jobs would be eliminated as well, such as those of the minor league front offices, clubhouse personnel, ticket-takers, security, concessions, memorabilia stores, umpires, and many more. Many cities would lose an integral part of their local economies and cultures.

Perhaps most importantly, if the minor leagues were to be shrunk, many fans would lose access to professional baseball. If, for instance, you are a baseball fan who lives in Billings, Montana, the three closest major league teams to you are the Seattle Mariners (west), Colorado Rockies (south), and Minnesota Twins (east). The Mariners are about a 12-hour drive, the Rockies about seven and a half hours, and the Twins about 12 hours. But Billings has a minor league team: the Mustangs, a Pioneer League rookie affiliate of the Reds. Montana has two other minor league teams on the chopping block as well: the Missoula PaddleHeads (Diamondbacks advanced rookie) and the Great Falls Voyagers (White Sox advanced rookie). The minor leagues, for fans in certain areas of the country like Montana, are one of the few local connections to the sport. Eliminating those teams would sever those connections and drastically reduce the chance to create new baseball fans in that region.

As this piece notes, the Astros were pioneers in this, reducing their number of affiliates from nine to seven in recent years. Look, we know that the vast majority of minor leaguers never get close to the bigs. The MLB draft runs for forty rounds, and then they sign undrafted free agents, and that’s before we take into account the large number of international players that are outside the draft system that MLB signs. Most minor leaguers are there to fill out the teams so the real prospects can actually play regular games. But not every major leaguer was a prospect (see: Altuve, Jose, for one example) and as noted, the minor leagues have a ton of value on their own. MLB could very easily afford to pay every single existing minor leaguer a living wage (say, a minimum of $30K per year) and not even notice the payroll increase. The cost in shrinking the minors and making live professional baseball completely unavailable to vast swaths of the country far outweighs any cost savings. C’mon, MLB. For once, can you see that doing the right thing is also the better choice for you? Pinstripe Alley has more.

UPDATE: More as well from Baseball America and Fangraphs.

Beep baseball

Here’s a cool thing you might not know about.

Beep Baseball isn’t the only sport for the blind, and most players are multi-sport athletes. A sport called Goalball – think, if you can, of a cross between bowling and soccer – came across as the most popular among Beep players. But there’s something about Beep that is different from the other sports for the blind.

Every sport has a behind the scenes debate over how much injury or safety risk is tolerable on the field. In sighted sports, the default is that players should be given freedom to play — sports are inherently an injury risk. A safety measure – such as a requirement for a helmet or the implantation of a rule to protect athletes — should be imposed only when the danger of injury is too great.

In baseball, for example, rules for sliding into home and second base were only imposed in recent years after lack of regulation resulted in serious injury. For better or worse, the default stance was to let the players play until that proves untenable.

Sports for the blind have long approached that debate from the assumption that safety – rather than competition, fun or challenging oneself – should be the guiding principle. One such sport, however, is unique.

The story of Beep Baseball – perhaps unsurprisingly given its name – begins with the invention of the ball. In 1964 Charlie Fairbanks, an engineer for the Mountain Bell Telephone Company, heard that the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind was in need of a ball that would work for their students to play sports. They had a football with bells attached to it, but once the ball stopped moving, it became impossible to locate. It didn’t make for a particularly fun game.

After experimenting with various balls, Fairbanks decided softballs would be the best carrier for his beeping device – a combination of spare telephone parts he had lying around his home workshop. He would deconstruct softballs, insert his jury-rigged beeper and hand them off to his wife, Vi, to stitch back up.

The first version of Beep Baseball popped up a few years later. In 1971, Ralph Rock of the San Francisco Telephone Pioneers created a new game using Fairbanks’ beeping ball. However, safety was at the center of the game in a way that sapped the fun from it. Like your local swimming pool, running was illegal: Batters had to walk to the base. If you ran, you were out. Likewise, fielders had to walk in pursuit of the ball. A fielder caught running would result in the batting team getting an automatic run. In short, trying hard was against the rules.

Obviously, Rock’s goal wasn’t to create a sport – what kind of game outlaws running! – and he said as much. “We’re not trying to create a new sport,” he told the Associated Press in 1973. “This is therapy. We’re trying to break through the frustrations and give the kids a sense of accomplishment.”

Unsurprisingly, the game never really caught on.

What’s the point of sports? Sure, they provide entertainment for spectators and fans, but that’s more a happy accident than the actual point. Sports are about the people who play them. They’re about athletes accepting a challenge, dedicating an almost-troubling amount of time and energy to it, taking risks along the way and, after all that, achieving something that no one thought possible.

It didn’t take long for players to create a more enjoyable game. John Ross was frustrated by the lack of challenge available in this version of Beep Baseball. A publisher of a Braille sports newspaper called Feeling Sports, Ross was given a version of Fairbanks’ ball and began to develop a new game, one that removed many of Rock’s kid gloves. The “Minnesota Rules” Ross came up with sport a very similar look to the current game.

Most importantly, the game was fun. Sure, fielders would occasionally bust their knees diving for balls or get shaken up colliding with each other in the field, but the players liked it.

There’s more, with pictures and some video, so go check it out. The Effectively Wild baseball podcast did a short interview with a Beep Baseball player in 2017, if you want to know more. I don’t have a point to make here, I just think this is cool, and wanted to share the story. Enjoy!

MLB investigating more than 2017 for Astros’ alleged sign stealing

This sounds ominous.

Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Astros’ alleged sign-stealing will include the 2018 and 2019 seasons, commissioner Rob Manfred revealed Thursday, adding two more years to an inquiry already involving Houston’s World Series-winning 2017 team.

“We are talking to people all over the industry, former employees, competitors, whatever,” Manfred said at the conclusion of the owners meetings on Thursday. “To the extent that we find other leads, we are going to follow these leads. We will get to the bottom of what we have out there in terms of what went on to the extent that it’s humanly possible.”

[…]

“Every time we’ve gotten a lead, we chased that lead down to the extent we felt was investigatively possible,” Manfred said. “Obviously, an individual breaking what is a pretty firm commitment to silence about what goes on in dugouts and clubhouses is a big break in an investigation and an opportunity to push forward that we hadn’t had previously.”

The expanded investigation into sign-stealing is being combined with MLB’s other probe into the Astros for comments made by former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman and the team’s response.

[…]

Manfred clarified Thursday that the league’s investigation into Taubman and sign-stealing started independently of one another and “ended up as one big thing.”

“It’s hard to separate them out,” Manfred said. “I hope at the end of this undertaking, I’ll put both of these issues to bed at one time.”

See here and here for the background on the sign-stealing, and here for some background on the Taubman investigation. It makes sense to combine the two – if nothing else, I presume MLB has only so many investigators available at any one time – though what effect that may have on its direction or timeline is unknown. Of greater interest is what kind of penalties the Astros may face. Craig Edwards from Fangraphs takes a look. There’s too much to easily summarize (go click over, the first paragraph has links to more reporting on the sign stealing allegations), but the bottom line is that it doesn’t look great for the Astros. If Rob Manfred comes down on them, it’s going to leave a mark. Be prepared. ESPN has more.

MLB has had its eye on the Astros

The story develops.

Early in the 2019 season, Major League Baseball instructed video monitors working in Minute Maid Park to listen for banging sounds emanating from the Astros’ dugout, a person with knowledge of the directive said Monday.

The Astros are alleged to have stolen signs during their World Series-winning season of 2017 using a system that included players banging on trash cans to signal certain pitches. That MLB directed those working at Minute Maid Park to listen for such sounds is an indication the league already had an eye on Houston.

Conversely, a video monitor who worked in another American League ballpark told the Chronicle they were not “implicitly told” to listen for any sounds from either dugout.

MLB began investigating the Astros last week after former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers outlined how the team stole signs in 2017, using a camera in center field and a video screen in the tunnel next to the dugout, then banging on trash cans.

[…]

The Athletic’s report detailed alleged wrongdoing in 2017 only. Whether the Astros continued their practices into 2018 or 2019 remains unconfirmed. Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said he was “confident that in general, we did things right and we try and follow the rules.”

The team has said it is cooperating with MLB’s investigation.

“Beginning in the 2017 season, numerous clubs expressed general concerns that other clubs were stealing their signs,” MLB said last week. “As a result of those concerns, and after receiving extensive input from the general managers, we issued a revised policy on sign stealing prior to the 2019 season. We also put in place detailed protocols and procedures to provide comfort to clubs that other clubs were not using video during the game to decode and steal signs.”

Part of that revised policy included a group of video monitors at each ballpark responsible for ensuring clubs adhered to the new regulations. Each game last regular season had at least one person around both the home and visiting dugouts monitoring the replay room, clubhouse, tunnel and any other area.

“What they told us was we were essentially looking for people who were using technology to steal signs,” said one video monitor.

One person familiar with the Astros’ video monitoring said those who worked at Minute Maid Park were instructed “early on” to “make sure there was no one in the dugout banging.”

See here for the background. We don’t know the extent of what may or may not have happened yet, and MLB hasn’t said when their investigation will end. What we do know is that if MLB does conclude the Astros were breaking the rules, the penalties could be harsh.

Commissioner Rob Manfred has “no reason to believe” Major League Baseball’s ongoing investigation into electronic sign-stealing will involve any club aside from the Astros — a franchise that could feel the full authority of Manfred’s power under the major league constitution.

Manfred has levied only one public punishment for electronic sign-stealing — an undisclosed fine to the Boston Red Sox during the 2017 season. That same year, the Astros are alleged to have electronically stolen signs with a center-field camera at Minute Maid Park, actions that are now the center of MLB’s investigation.

“Any allegation that relates to a rule violation that could affect the outcome of a game or games is the most serious matter,” Manfred said Tuesday. “It relates to the integrity of the sport. In terms of where we are, we have a very active, what is going to be a really, really thorough investigation ongoing. Beyond that, I can’t tell you how close we are to done.”

When he issued the fine to the Red Sox in 2017, Manfred warned any future violations were subject to “more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

MLB’s most recent revised policy on sign-stealing promised “progressive discipline” for rule-breakers, “including fines, suspensions, and penalties or loss of benefits.” The benefits, according to the policy, included draft picks and international signing penalties.

“I’m not going to speculate on what the appropriate discipline is,” Manfred said. “That depends on how the facts are established at the end of the investigation. The general warning that I issued to the clubs I stand by. It certainly could be all those things, but my authority under the major league constitution could be broader than those things as well.”

Nothing to do but wait and see. Who says the offseason is dull?

Astros accused of stealing signs

The post-season is off to a roaring start.

Former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers told The Athletic that the Astros stole signs electronically at Minute Maid Park during their World Series-winning 2017 season, adding another inglorious instance to the franchise’s recent run of cheating accusations.

The Astros have begun an investigation in cooperation with Major League Baseball, the club said in a statement on Tuesday. It’s unclear if this investigation is independent of the ongoing one involving the firing of former assistant general manager Brandon Taubman.

Citing three anonymous sources along with an on-record interview and confirmation from Fiers, The Athletic reported the Astros had a camera in center field at Minute Maid Park fixated on the opposing catcher. A television located below the dugout showed the feed. Players watched the catcher and soon were able to detect what was coming, sometimes banging trash cans to alert hitters.

“That’s not playing the game the right way,” Fiers told The Athletic. “They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”

[…]

Using technology to steal signs is against major league rules. The Red Sox were fined in 2017 after the Yankees filed a complaint against them. Major League Baseball discovered they were “sending electronic communications from their video replay room to an athletic trainer in the dugout.”

In his ruling that year, commissioner Rob Manfred said “all 30 clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.”

Whether the Astros will be punished remains to be seen. Major League Baseball still has an open investigation against the franchise as a result of Taubman’s tirade against female reporters following the American League Championship Series.

Here’s the Athletic story. It’s a pay site, but you can sign up for a free seven-day trial if you want to read the whole thing. This NJ.com story has a couple of excerpts, including this one that explains how the scheme allegedly worked:

The Astros’ set-up in 2017 was not overly complicated. A feed from a camera in center field, fixed on the opposing catcher’s signs, was hooked up to a television monitor that was placed on a wall steps from the team’s home dugout at Minute Maid Park, in the tunnel that runs between the dugout and the clubhouse. Team employees and players would watch the screen during the game and try to decode signs — sitting opposite the screen on massage tables in a wide hallway. When the onlookers believed they had decoded the signs, the expected pitch would be communicated via a loud noise — specifically, banging on a trash can, which sat in the tunnel. Normally, the bangs would mean a breaking ball or off-speed pitch was coming. Fiers, who confirmed the set-up, acknowledged he already has a strained relationship with the Astros because he relayed to his subsequent teams, the Tigers and A’s, what the Astros were doing.

Twitter user and video genius Jomboy illustrated this with a live example. The pitcher in that clip, Danny Farquhar, noticed the banging noises and is quoted about it in the Athletic story. Jomboy has subsequent examples here, here, and here.

The key to all this is the allegation that cameras were used, as it is the use of technology to steal signs that is illegal. If the MLB investigation bears that out, expect the Astros to suffer stronger punishment than what was meted out to the Red Sox in 2017, since Commissioner Rob Manfred has emphasized that this is illegal. As the Athletic story notes, while the Astros are under investigation, using tech to steal signs is a league-wide problem, with other teams also under suspicion. Expect to hear a lot more about this over the next few weeks. Jerome Solomon, ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and the Press have more.

Astros fire Taubman

It’s something.

The Astros fired assistant general manager Brandon Taubman on Thursday afternoon and issued an apology to a Sports Illustrated reporter whom they falsely accused of fabricating a story about his clubhouse tirade.

The Astros “proactively assisted” Major League Baseball in an investigation over the last two days, the team said in a statement disseminated on Thursday. MLB separately interviewed eyewitnesses to Taubman’s actions on Saturday in the Astros’ celebratory clubhouse.

[…]

When Sports Illustrated’s story first published on Monday — one for which the Astros initially declined comment — the club issued a defiant denial that claimed reporter Stephanie Apstein attempted “to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

“We were wrong,” the Astros said in their Thursday statement that terminated Taubman.

“We sincerely apologize to Stephanie Apstein, Sports Illustrated and to all individuals who witnessed this incident or were offended by the inappropriate conduct. The Astros in no way intended to minimize the issues related to domestic violence.”

See here for the background. This would feel a whole lot different if the Astros had taken more decisive and more appropriate action in the immediate aftermath of Taubman’s rant, even if all they had said originally was that they took the allegations seriously and would look into them. It would also feel different if this had happened before Jeff Luhnow’s ridiculous claim that “we may never know” Taubman’s intent. (Pro tip: Maybe try asking him.) At this point, it mostly comes across as damage control, and leaves one wondering why it was so hard to get it right in the first place.

But it is what it is, and so here we are. Late is still better than never, and I’m glad the Astros eventually got to the right place. I hope they truly learn something from this. Nonequiteuse and Texas Monthly have more.

Astros to extend netting

Glad to hear it.

The Astros are joining the growing list of Major League baseball teams that are extending protective netting around ballparks amid growing concern over fan safety.

The team’s decision to extend netting beyond each dugout at Minute Maid Park comes 10 weeks after a 2-year-old girl suffered head and brain injuries after being hit by a foul ball during a game there on May 29.

The netting will be in place for the Astros’ next home game on Aug. 19 against the Detroit Tigers.

Since the incident at Minute Maid, the Chicago White Sox and Washington Nationals have installed expanded netting, and the Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Kansas City Royals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays have announced plans to do so for next season.

The Astros had been one of the first teams to extend netting to the far edge of each dugout in 2017, a policy later adopted by MLB for all teams in 2018.

“I think that it’s important that we continue to focus on fan safety,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said after the girl was hit at Minute Maid. “If that means that the netting has to go beyond the dugouts, so be it. Each ballpark is different.”

[…]

The website FiveThirtyEight examined 580 foul balls in June and found that every line-drive foul ball with a recorded speed off the bat exceeding 90 miles per hour had landed in areas not protected by netting.

The young girl who was hit at Minute Maid was seated in section 111, just beyond the third-base dugout and the first section that is not protected by netting. The ball, hit by the Cubs’ Albert Amora, left his bat at a speed of 106.3 mph.

“I was two sections away when that child was hit,” Matthew Seliger said. “I would rather watch through a net than have to witness that again.”

Richard Mithoff, the Houston attorney who represents the family of the child, said family members were pleased to learn of the Astros’ plans.

“They are gratified to hear that the Astros have made the decision to extend the netting.” Mithoff said. “I wanted to give (Astros owner) Jim Crane the opportunity to do the right thing, because I thought he would, and so I congratulate the Astros and Jim Crane on the decision. It is the right decision for the fans and the right decision for baseball.”

Mithoff said the child remains on anti-seizure medication “and will for some time.” She is scheduled for another MRI exam next week and also continues dealing with other medical issues, he said.

“There is some kind of stumbling issue with her, and they are watching her closely,” he said. “She does not have headaches quite so severely, so there is some improvement.”

See here and here for the background. I’m glad to hear the little girl is doing better, but it’s clear she still has a long road to travel. Extending the nets is the only way to ensure that there won’t be more injuries to fans like this in the future. It’s 100% the right call.

More on stadium netting

Here’s an update on that little girl who was hit by a foul ball at Minute Maid park recently.

A 25-month-old girl who suffered a fractured skull when struck by a foul ball at an Astros game last month continues to recover from her injuries, and her family has hired a prominent Houston attorney to consult with the Astros about the matter.

In a letter addressed Wednesday to Astros owner Jim Crane, attorney Richard Mithoff provided the first public details about the child who was hit in the head May 29 by a line drive off the bat of Chicago Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. during a game at Minute Maid Park.

While no legal action has been filed, attorneys say Mithoff’s letter represents the first public overture to the Astros toward conversations that could lead to a financial settlement.

It also satisfies, for now, the public’s interest in the condition of the crying child who was photographed being carried toward a ballpark exit by her grandfather as Almora slumped behind the plate in distress after seeing the ball hit the child.

“The family wanted to thank everyone for their concern, and that was first and foremost,” Mithoff said. “Secondly, we wanted to see whether any conversations can take place that can lead to a discussion of options that would make sense for the fans and the ballparks and the clubs.

“I know Jim Crane and know him to be a responsible owner, and I think he will do the right thing.”

[…]

The Astros, meanwhile, said Tuesday that they are studying options for additional netting but at this point have no plans to make any additions at Minute Maid Park during the 2019 season.

See here for the background. There’s more on the girl’s condition and what the family is asking for in the article, so read the rest. I really hope the Astros do the right thing and extend their nets to the foul poles. Three teams have already pledged to do this, with the White Sox being the first to make an announcement. The Dodgers made their move after a fan was injured at their stadium. No need to wait for that to happen at your stadium, other teams. This now slightly outdated list shows the netting status at your team’s home. Feel free to tell them that you want them to care for your safety and the safety of your fellow fans.

The case for a second MLB team in the Metroplex

It’s an interesting argument, with a lot of aspects to it.

[T]he 2019 Street & Smith Baseball Yearbook contains an article (“Where to Next?” by G. Scott Thomas) rating the top 20 metro areas [for potential MLB expansion]. More than 100 reporters and editors filled out a report card (using grades from A to F) for each contender. In ranking order, the results are: Montreal, Portland, Nashville, Charlotte, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Vancouver, Raleigh-Durham, Mexico City, Austin, Monterrey, San Juan, New Orleans, Indianapolis, New Jersey (i.e., North Jersey), Havana, Sacramento, Columbus, Orlando, and San Bernardino. I was a bit surprised to see Nashville rank so highly, but otherwise the top 10 more or less line up with the favored locales of other pundits.

One viable metro area is missing from the list, however. That’s might be because it already has one team. I refer here to Dallas-Fort Worth, the Metroplex, or simply North Texas as it is increasingly referred to. Just as the Southern California conurbation eventually evolved into SoCal in popular discourse, North Texas will likely progress to NorTex (admittedly, it sounds like a public utility or a petroleum corporation) in the near future. Remember, you heard it here first.

Now it might seem unfair if not downright bigamous to bestow a second team on a metro area when so many other suitors are out there. On the other hand, such fairness was not a factor when Los Angeles and New York were awarded franchises in the first round of expansion. But a realistic case could be made for those teams then. The same is true for a potential NorTex franchise now.

First of all, did you know that NorTex is the largest market in the US with only one team? Yep, it’s true. One smaller metro area, San Francisco-Oakland (4,728,484 as of 2018) has two teams, though in past years some have opined that is one team too many. If the A’s can’t find a new home in the East Bay, they may be proved right. At any rate, the Bay Area has roughly 2.8 million people fewer than NorTex does, and has had two teams for more than half a century.

NorTex has 7,539,711 people according to a 2018 estimate (way up from 2,424,131 in 1970, two years before the Rangers hit town). That’s good for fourth place in the metro area population sweepstakes. Of course, New York and LA lead the pack and are not within striking distance. But third-place Chicago has “only” 9,498,716 people.

More important, however, are the metropolitan growth rates. NorTex has grown 17.33 percent since the 2010 census. Chicago is virtually stagnant with a growth rate of just 0.4 percent. This is not only much lower than DFW, it is lower than any of the other top 25 metro areas, including such renowned meltdown towns as Detroit and St. Louis. You have to go all the way down to Pittsburgh (No. 27 metro) to find a lower growth rate – in fact a negative rate of -1.34 percent. (The only other major league metro area in the red is Cleveland at -0.97 percent.)

You don’t have to be a math wizard to see that NorTex will likely surpass Chicago for third place within the lifetimes of many if not most of the people reading this article. As Bob Dylan once sang, “You don’t need a weathervane to see which way the wind blows.”

It’s a good read, so check it out. Obviously, MLB has to be in expansion mode for any of this to be a possibility. My guess is that when the expansion to 32 teams comes around, D/FW will not be on the short list, but if and when 36 teams are the target, it will be. How long that may take, I have no idea, but however long it takes I’d bet D/FW will still be in the picture.

Stadium netting

You may have heard about this last week.

A foul ball struck by Cubs center fielder Albert Almora, Jr. during the fourth inning hit a small child along the third-base line at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday night, causing a stoppage in the game and a sobering scene.

Play was halted for a brief stoppage after the incident. Almora dropped to two knees and needed to be consoled by Cubs manager Joe Maddon and another teammate. The entire Astros infield sunk to their knees, too, as a man rushed the child up the stairs.

“He rips a line drive down the third-base line and it comes in and it looks like it hits someone hard,” said David LeVasseur. “It bounces, comes down and hits the guy to my left off (a) ricochet and the next thing you know it’s at my feet. I pick it up and all we heard was screaming.”

LeVasseur, a Houston resident sitting in the first row of section 111, did not see the ball hit the child, whom he estimated was sitting in row seven or eight, but did rush upstairs after the incident to check on the injury. The baseball had no traces of blood and, according to LeVasseur, there was none near the seat.

“All we heard was screaming,” said LeVasseur, 26. “We saw this dad pick up a child and run up the stairs. He took off running.

I was watching that game, and this was very upsetting, to say the least. All MLB teams were required to extend netting to at least the end of their dugouts after a similar – and, unfortunately, more serious – incident with a foul ball and another child at Yankee Stadium in 2017. Some teams have done more than others.

The injured child was seated with her family in an area along the third base line, about 10 feet behind the edge of the expanded dugout-to-dugout netting installed by the Astros prior to the 2017 season and mandated since 2018 by Major League Baseball for all ballparks.

However, given the speed and power of today’s game — the Cubs and Astros on Wednesday launched six balls in play that traveled more than 100 mph and 11 more that topped 90 mph, and that doesn’t include foul balls such as the line drive by Cubs outfielder Albert Almora Jr. that struck the child —the accident is generating discussion as to whether more safety measures would be prudent.

[…]

The Astros in 2017 installed nets extending over the dugouts, covering an area 12 feet high over the dugouts and 32 feet high behind the plate, extending from sections 112 to 126.

Section 111, where the child was seated Wednesday, is the first section not protected by netting.

“Safety is a paramount for us, both for our safety and the safety of the fans and the families that are coming to watch us,” [Astros player representative Colin] McHugh said. “It’s obviously up to Major League Baseball to make those adjustments.

“We’ve seen the adjustments made in the last few years, and anything to protect our game and the people who have come out to watch our game and support us is huge.”

Several MLB teams have elected to provide additional netting, although none approaches the foul pole-to-foul pole netting that is used in some other countries.

In the American League, the Tigers at Comerica Park, the Red Sox at Fenway Park and the Yankees at Yankee Stadium have installed nets that extend to the seating curvature where it is closest to the field down each foul line.

Nets at the Twins’ U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis extend 15 to 20 feet beyond the dugouts. The Rangers’ new Globe Life Field, in Arlington, which opens in 2020, includes in its design an extended net that will extend where the side walls turn to become parallel to the foul poles.

In the National League, nets at Marlins Park in Miami extend about 120 feet past the far end of each dugout. Nets at Oracle Field in San Francisco extend 70-plus feet past each dugout, and the netting at the Mets’ Citi Field extends to the bend in the outfield wall along each foul line.

Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati has coverage for two seating sections beyond the mandated dugout protection area, and Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia has coverage for an additional section on each side.

Foul pole to foul pole netting is the norm in Japan, where the legal doctrine for the risk one assumes for attending a ball game is different than it is in the US. Some people complain about the visibility with the netting, but I disagree. I’ve sat behind netting, and it’s never bothered me; you may recall that the most expensive seats in the house are behind home plate, which has always had netting. Balls are being hit harder these days, modern stadium design minimizes foul territory, thus having the spectators closer to the action, and there are a lot more foul balls being hit today than there used to be. All of which to me adds up to an unacceptable and unnecessary risk. All teams should extend their netting beyond the league minimum before someone (else) dies.

“Eight Myths Out”

This year is the 100th anniversary of the “Black Sox” scandal, in which members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox were accused of conspiring with gamblers to throw the World Series. It’s a staple of baseball history and a cornerstone of the league’s strict anti-gambling rules since then, as well as the subject of a popular book and movie by the name “Eight Men Out”. It turns out, however, that the book, which was written in 1963, was incorrect on a number of fronts, and those factual errors, which have been since uncovered by further and more modern research, paint an inaccurate portrait of the story. Here’s a summary of new research from SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, that lays out the case.

This is the central thesis of Eight Men Out: Charles Comiskey’s “ballplayers were the best and were paid as poorly as the worst,” as Eliot Asinof wrote. That couldn’t be further from the truth. We can’t climb into the heads of the Black Sox to know exactly why they threw the World Series. But the players themselves rarely claimed, as Asinof did, that it was because of Comiskey’s low salaries or poor treatment — and we now have accurate salary information to back that up. Newly available organizational contract cards at the National Baseball Hall of Fame show that the White Sox’s Opening Day payroll of $88,461 was more than $11,500 higher than that of the National League champion Reds, and several of the Black Sox players were among the highest-paid at their positions. If they did feel resentment at their salaries under the reserve-clause system, so did players from 15 other major-league teams. The scandal was much more complex than disgruntled players trying to get back at the big, bad boss.

One of the most dramatic scenes in Eight Men Out is when White Sox ace Eddie Cicotte tries to collect a $10,000 bonus he says Charles Comiskey promised him if he won 30 games. (In the book, this story occurs in 1917; in the film, 1919.) The incident is seen as the catalyst for Cicotte’s involvement in the fix — but there is no basis of truth to the story. Other White Sox players did have small performance bonuses in their contracts. For example, Lefty Williams was paid a $500 bonus for winning 20 games in 1919. In any event, Cicotte and Chick Gandil were already conspiring with gamblers to fix the World Series several weeks before Comiskey would have had the chance to renege on a bonus payment. And if Cicotte had pitched better in the pennant clincher, he would have earned his 30th win regardless. 

Arnold Rothstein, known as “The Big Bankroll,” was credited as the mastermind of the plot by his henchman Abe Attell in a self-serving interview with Eliot Asinof years later, but it may have still gone through even without the involvement of the New York kingpin. Fixing the World Series was a total “team” effort and the White Sox players did most of the heavy lifting. Chick Gandil and Eddie Cicotte, separately and together, first approached Sport Sullivan, a prominent Boston bookmaker, and Sleepy Bill Burns, a former major-league pitcher, to get the fix rolling. Then they began recruiting their teammates in several meetings before the World Series. Rothstein eventually did get involved, but he was far from the only underworld figure to play a role. 

There’s more, so go read the rest. There’s also a ton of links to follow for further reading if the subject interests you. As they say at the end, the Black Sox scandal is a cold case, not a closed case. There’s still more to learn about it, and our perceptions will likely continue to evolve as more evidence comes to light.

The Orbit lawsuit

Now here‘s an interesting case.

A Montgomery County woman has filed suit against the Astros, alleging she suffered a broken finger when her left hand was struck by a T-shirt fired from an air-powered cannon wielded by Orbit, the ballclub’s costumed mascot, at an Astros game last July.

Plaintiff Jennifer Harughty seeks damages in excess of $1 million from the Astros in the suit, which was assigned to 157th state District Court Judge Tanya Garrison.

The lawsuit, filed by Houston attorneys Jason Gibson and Casey Gibson, says Harughty has required two operations to repair damage to her left index finger, which was shattered when her hand was struck by a T-shirt fired from the Orbit character’s “bazooka-style” air cannon during the seventh inning of an Astros game July 8, 2018, at Minute Maid Park.

Harughty, 35, of Montgomery, who works as a real estate broker, said her finger remains locked in an extended position with little to no range of motion and that she continues to suffer discomfort from the injury, the lawsuit said.

Jason Gibson said the lawsuit was filed only after the Astros refused to pay Harughty’s medical bills associated with the injury.

“Nothing was going to be done,” the attorney said. “We were directed to the general counsel, and he basically said ‘file your lawsuit.’ He asked for it, and he got it. We were hoping to get this resolved, but that didn’t happen.”

The suit said Harughty was struck on the palm side of her left hand and required treatment at an emergency room after the game. She required surgery four days later to insert two screws into the injured finger and a second operation in October to remove the screws and attempt to restore range of motion to the finger.

Major League Baseball tickets include what has become known as the “baseball rule,” which states that a ticket holder “assumes all risk and danger incidental to the baseball game, and all other activities, promotions or events at the Ballpark before, during and after the baseball game, including, but not limited to, the danger of being injured by baseballs, equipment, objects or persons entering spectator areas.”

That stipulation, which is included on the Astros’ website under season ticket policies, says that by attending a game, the ticket holder releases the Astros and Major League Baseball from liability for “injuries or loss of personal property resulting from all risk and danger incidental to the baseball game and the risks or any incidents associated with crowds of people.”

Gibson said he is acquainted with Astros owner Jim Crane and with members of the Astros’ ownership group and that “everyone loves the Astros.” However, he said he did not believe that the liability waiver covers cases such as Harughty’s.

“That’s not the type of risk you assume going to a baseball game, although they may take that position,” Gibson said. “Ours will be that you don’t assume the risk of having someone fire a cannon at you that creates that much force at that proximity that can cause that kind of damage.”

A copy of the lawsuit is embedded in the story. Let me remind everyone that I Am Not A Lawyer, so what I say is simply the speculation of a layman. I find myself rather sympathetic to the plaintiff’s arguments. T-shirt cannons, as fun as they are, are totally the team’s decision to use, and not an inherent risk of attending the game as they are a recent innovation. I mean, no one was hurling things into the crowd when I was attending Yankees games back in the 70s and 80s. (Things may have occasionally been hurled out from the crowd, but that’s another story.) People understand that a batted ball may be coming their way and they need to pay attention when the game is in progress. But mascots like Orbit do their thing in between innings, when you’d think it’s safe to check your phone. And by the way, teams have been putting up more netting around the lower decks of the stadiums, to better protect people from those increasingly hard-hit balls. If teams are willing to mitigate those risks, it’s not unreasonable to think they might mitigate a non-game risk like a projectile fired at high velocity from a T-shirt cannon. My advice, for all that it’s worth, is to offer to settle the suit for the woman’s medical costs and a bit more, and to take a closer look at how those T-shirt cannons are being operated. Why make a bigger deal out of this than necessary?

How different would baseball be, if baseball were different?

We’re about to find out.

Baseball’s potential future will be showcased in the independent Atlantic League this year, and it includes robot umpires, a 62-foot, 6-inch distance between the pitcher’s mound and home plate, and no infield shifting.

Those three rule changes are among a wide variety of experiments that the Atlantic League will run this season as part of its new partnership with Major League Baseball. The changes, announced Friday, include:

• Using a TrackMan radar system to help umpires call balls and strikes
• Extending the distance between the pitching rubber from 60 feet, 6 inches to 62 feet, 6 inches in the second half of the season
• Mandating that two infielders are on each side of the second-base bag when a pitch is released, with the penalty being a ball
• A three-batter minimum for pitchers — a rule MLB and the MLB Players Association are considering for the 2020 season as they near an agreement on a smaller set of changes
• No mound visits, other than for pitching changes or injuries
• Increasing the size of first, second and third base from 15 inches to 18 inches
• Reducing the time between innings and pitching changes from 2 minutes, 5 seconds to 1 minute, 45 seconds

While MLB has long tested potential rule changes in the minor leagues, its three-year partnership with the Atlantic League — an eight-team league that features former major leaguers trying to return to affiliated ball — offers the ability to try more radical rules.

“This first group of experimental changes is designed to create more balls in play, defensive action, baserunning, and improve player safety,” Morgan Sword, MLB senior vice president, league economics and operations, said in a statement. “We look forward to seeing them in action in the Atlantic League.”

This story goes into more detail and analyzes how likely it is that MLB could adopt these changes, and how much effect they would have. Most of the proposals have been at least talked about for some time, with the possible exception of the base sizes, which are presumably to encourage more steal attempts. Like many people, I dislike the idea of restricting the ability of teams to field players wherever they want – bring on the weird defensive alignments, I say – but otherwise I am intrigued. And hey, one member of the Atlantic League is the Sugar Land Skeeters, so if I want to see what these changes look like with my own eyes, I can do that. What do you think? Craig Calcaterra and the Effectively Wild guys have more.

It’s unanimous for Mariano Rivera

Outstanding, and truly deserved.

By User Keith Allison on Flickr – Originally posted to Flickr as “Mariano Rivera”, CC BY-SA 2.0

Mariano Rivera stands alone in National Baseball Hall of Fame history as the only player ever voted in unanimously by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. But he’ll be far from alone on the induction day dais, as the BBWAA has selected four players for entry into the hallowed Hall.

Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez and Mike Mussina were revealed Tuesday night as the third four-man BBWAA-voted Hall of Fame class in the past five years but only the fifth in history. Combined with the selections of Harold Baines and Lee Smith by the Today’s Game Era Committee in December, it’ll be a six-man class for the July 21 induction ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y. — the second six-man group in as many years and the third this decade.

The late Halladay (363 votes, 85.4 percent) joins Rivera as a first-ballot entrant, just one year after his tragic death in an airplane crash. They are the 55th and 56th players voted in on their first ballot. Martinez (363 votes, 85.4 percent), on the other hand, has been elected in his 10th and final year on the BBWAA ballot, and Mussina (326 votes, 76.7 percent) made it on his sixth try.

But the man named “Mo,” universally regarded as the greatest closer the game has ever seen, achieved something unprecedented by getting the check mark on all 425 ballots cast. Prior to Rivera, the player who had come closest in a voting process that dates back to 1936 was Ken Griffey Jr., who appeared on 437 of 440 ballots cast in 2016.

Though traditionally stingy when it comes to Hall passes, the BBWAA has now voted in 20 players over the last last six years — the largest total of any six-year span. As always, to be elected, players had to be included on 75 percent of the ballots submitted by voting members of the BBWAA, who had a maximum of 10 slots to fill.

Beyond the entrants, some notable numbers from the 2019 results include a surge in support for Larry Walker (from 34.1 percent last year to 54.6) in his penultimate year on the ballot, and for Curt Schilling (from 51.2 percent to 60.9) in his sixth appearance. Controversial candidates Roger Clemens (from 57.3 to 59.5) and Barry Bonds (from 56.4 to 59.1) saw a slight uptick from their 2018 totals but will have to finish with a flourish in their final three years on the ballot.

Schilling, Walker, Bonds and Clemens were the only non-inductees to appear on more than half of the ballots cast. Fred McGriff finished with a 39.8 percentage in his last year on the ballot.

The Hall of Fame now has 329 elected members, including 232 players, of which 132 have come through the BBWAA ballot.

That’s the best ballot the writers have had in years. It not only makes up for the ridiculous committee selection last month, it also goes a long way towards clearing the logjam and making future votes less fraught. I couldn’t be happier for the four new inductees. Especially for Mo, one of the best people in baseball. Well done all around. Pinstripe Alley and River Ave Blues have more.

Harold Baines? Seriously?

I’m stunned.

Harold Baines was given a save as big as any Lee Smith ever posted.

In a vote sure to spark renewed cries of cronyism at Cooperstown, Baines surprisingly was picked for the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday after never coming close in any previous election.

“Very shocked,” the career .289 hitter said on a conference call.

Smith, who held the major league record for saves when he retired, was an easy pick when the Today’s Game Era Committee met at the winter meetings.

It took 12 votes for election by the 16-member panel — Smith was unanimous, Baines got 12 and former outfielder and manager Lou Piniella fell just short with 11.

George Steinbrenner, Orel Hershiser, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Davey Johnson and Charlie Manuel all received fewer than five votes.

Smith and Baines both debuted in Chicago during the 1980 season. Smith began with the Cubs and went on to record 478 saves while Baines started out with the White Sox and had 2,866 hits.

Baines had 384 home runs and 1,628 RBIs in a 22-year career — good numbers, but not stacking up against the greats of his day. He never drew more than 6.1 percent of the vote in five elections by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, far from the 75 percent required.

“I wasn’t expecting this day to come,” the six-time All-Star said.

You and a whole lot of other people, buddy. The list of people who have a vastly better case for the Hall of Fame than Harold Baines – a fine hitter who got a lot of hits – starts with the likes of Lou Whitaker, Bobby Grich, Ted Simmons, Dick Allen, Minnie Minoso, and goes from there. Luis Tiant? Albert Belle? Graig Nettles? Dale Murphy? We could play this game all day. If Edgar Martinez gets shafted again, it will be time to burn the place down. Jay Jaffe, Grant Brisbee, David Schoenfield, Dave Sheinin, Ben Lidbergh, and Rob Neyer have more.

The Hall of Fame 2019 ballot

It’s that time of year again.

The most dominant reliever in baseball history is among those with a chance to make it to Cooperstown next summer.

Mariano Rivera leads the newcomers to the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019, which was released Monday. His former Yankees teammate Andy Pettitte and the late Blue Jays and Phillies ace Roy Halladay also are eligible for the first time.

Among the holdovers who didn’t make the cut last year are Edgar Martinez, who needs to garner about 5 percent more of the vote to make it in in his final year of eligibility, and Mike Mussina, who polled at 63.5 percent with 75 percent needed for induction.

More than 400 voting members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America are eligible to cast ballots this year after 422 voted last year. The writers’ choices for the Class of 2019 will be announced Jan. 22.

For sure, my non-existent ballot would contain Mariano Rivera, Roy Halladay, Edgar Martinez, Mike Mussina, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens. Curt Schilling has the numbers to be in the Hall, and if he makes it he will deserve it, but screw that guy. I love Andy Pettite and am rooting for him, but he falls a bit short right now. I reserve the right to change my mind about him. Others, I’ll wait and see what Jay Jaffe has to say. Who’s on your ballot for the Hall? For more on the nominees, see MLB.com and the HoF itself.

MLB Hall of Fame Today’s Game ballot for 2018

Time now for a far less stressful election season.

The Today’s Game Era ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame was revealed Monday, comprised of a combination of 10 players, managers and an owner who will receive consideration to be enshrined in baseball’s most historic and distinguished place in history.

Harold Baines, Albert Belle, Joe Carter, Will Clark, Orel Hershiser, Davey Johnson, Charlie Manuel, Lou Piniella, Lee Smith and George Steinbrenner are those receiving consideration for the class of 2019. Baines, Belle, Carter, Clark, Hershiser and Smith are included for their contributions as players, while Johnson, Manuel and Piniella are included for their roles as managers. Steinbrenner, who is the only candidate that is no longer living, is nominated for his role as former Yankees owner.

Voting for the Today’s Game Era Committee will take place on Dec. 9 at the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas. A 16-member Hall of Fame Board-appointed electorate charged with the review of the Today’s Game Era ballot will be announced later this fall.

The Today’s Game Era is one of four Eras Committees — along with Modern Baseball, Golden Days and Early Baseball — that provide an avenue outside voting by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America for Hall of Fame consideration to managers, umpires and executives, as well as players retired for more than 15 seasons. Specifically, the Today’s Game Committee encompasses candidates who made the most indelible contributions to baseball from 1988 to the present.

The Today’s Game ballot, along with Modern Baseball, are considered twice over every five-year period. The last electees from the Today’s Game ballot were John Schuerholz, the architect of the ’90s Braves, and Bud Selig, the former MLB Commissioner and Brewers owner, in 2016.

Meh. Honestly, George Steinbrenner is the most qualified candidate for induction, but even this lifelong Yankees fan will be fine if they skip him. As far as the players go, there were several other candidates who were at least as qualified but not on the ballot. Personally, I’d give consideration to Albert Belle, who was an otherworldly player with a too-short career, but again, I won’t be heartbroken if he misses out. Most likely, Lee Smith will get elected, and we’ll all shrug our shoulders and move on to arguing about the BBWAA ballot for 2018.

“How Chinese Baseball Came to North Texas”

Fascinating story.

The Texas AirHogs are members of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball, a federation of twelve, mostly Midwestern, teams unaffiliated with Major League Baseball. Inning breaks are punctuated with water-balloon-toss competitions and mascot races. The level of play is good, but with more overthrows and rundowns than you’d find on an average night at a big-league ballpark. Admission starts at $8 for adults, the parking is free and convenient, and season-ticket holders like Green and his roommate, Sharen Norton, get treated like big-shots. The AirHogs’ general manager, J.T. Onyett, visits the pair every game and sometimes offers up the VIP amenities. When the temperature crept to 110 degrees earlier this summer, the AirHogs’ staff ushered Green, Norton, and a few of their friends up to a vacant air-conditioned luxury suite. “I love the Rangers,” Norton, a 62-year-old grandmother says. “But would they do that?”

Almost everything about the AirHogs’ existence feels folksy and draped in Americana. So it came as a surprise to the team’s small group of season-ticket holders when, at a meet-and-greet with team executives before the start of the season, Onyett told them that their little hometown ball club would be undergoing a first-of-its-kind experiment. Instead of fielding a typical American Association team of fringe prospects, has-been minor leaguers, and guys trying for one last shot at The Show, the 2018 AirHogs would, in effect, lease out the majority of their roster to players from the Chinese national baseball team. Ten veteran non-Chinese pros—five pitchers and five position players—would supplement the national team squad, acting as on-field ringers and off-field mentors.

The Chinese have long been afterthoughts in Asia’s baseball pecking order, lagging well behind their athletic and political rivals Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Few people in China watch or play the sport; the development system is tiny, and the country has yet to produce even a high-minor-league-caliber player. (Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan have all produced major-league stars.) But with baseball returning to the summer Olympics in 2020 after a twelve-year hiatus, the Chinese government saw a reason to invest in the sport. Shipping their players to North Texas to play one hundred games against American pros would be the first big step.

When Green and Norton first heard about the impending arrival of the Chinese players, they didn’t know anything about the history of Chinese baseball. But they did know about their team in Grand Prairie. The AirHogs had won the American Association championship in 2011, but lately, they’d been more like the Bad News Bears. The team hadn’t had a winning record since 2013, they’d finished in last place two of the past four seasons, and—with barely a smattering of fans attending most home games—it sometimes seemed like they might not be able to stay in business. So when Green learned that China, a nation of 1.4 billion, was sending the “cream of the cream” of their baseball talent, he couldn’t help but get excited. Norton was even more hopeful.

“I wondered what the other teams were going to think when we started bashing the pants off them,” she said.

When the AirHogs’ season began on May 18, Green and Norton quickly recalibrated their expectations. The Chinese national team players that arrived in Texas were young, inexperienced, and far from world-beaters. “They didn’t know what was going on. They would do some things that a Little League team would do,” Green said.

But in August, watching the AirHogs take on the Sioux City Explorers seventy games into the season, Green was pleased with what he saw on the field. “They’re really jiving,” Green said. “And the Chinese guys always run it out, which I like.”

Go read the rest, you’ll enjoy it. As was the case with Rinku Singh and the “Million Dollar Arm” experiment, the population of China is so great that the talent pool for baseball would be very deep even if the sport only developed in a limited fashion. Bringing the Chinese national team here to get their feet wet amid higher-level competition was a super idea, one that I hope leads to something bigger. Now I want to take a road trip to Grand Prairie and see these guys for myself.

The Osuna trade

When I heard that the Astros had traded for Blue Jays closer Roberto Osuna, currently serving a 75-game suspension for violating MLB’s policy on domestic violence (and also still awaiting his day in court for charges relating to said domestic violence), my first thought was to wonder what Chron spotrswriter Jenny Dial Creech would think about it. Now I know.

Based on the acquisition of Roberto Osuna, zero-tolerance policy means something a little different in the Astros organization.

On Monday, the Astros completed a trade that sent pitchers Ken Giles, David Paulino and Hector Perez to Toronto in exchange for Osuna. And even though the closer already has 104 major league saves at age 23, the deal is a head scratcher, considering the Astros have a zero-tolerance policy related to abuse of any kind and Osuna is close to completing a 75-game suspension for violating Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy.

By definition, a zero-tolerance policy is one that gives uncompromising punishment to every person who commits a crime or breaks a rule. Osuna was arrested in Toronto on May 8 and charged with assaulting a woman.

On Monday, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said he was “confident that Osuna is remorseful.”

So the zero-tolerance policy is in effect only for those who aren’t sorry?

This sends a very bad message.

One of the greatest things about last year’s World Series champion Astros was that the team was composed of a lot of “good guys.” They didn’t have attitude, they didn’t have drama, and they were great in the community.

Now the Astros have brought on a player whom MLB deemed guilty enough to serve a 75-game suspension.

And the court proceedings are still going. The newest Astro is due back in court on Wednesday.

Let’s say this up front: Baseball is a business, the Astros are in the business of winning ball games, and Roberto Osuna will help them win those games when he comes back from suspension. The Astros have a better shot today at repeating as World Series champs than they did before the trade.

None of which should make anyone feel good about this. Read more of Creech’s column and you’ll see that several of Osuna’s new teammates don’t feel so great about it. That includes Justin Verlander and Lannc McCullers, who had some salty things to say to a former Astros minor leaguer, whom the team released after he was caught on video hitting his girlfriend. We can talk all we want about how leagues and teams should respond in these situations, and we can talk all we want about rehabilitation and second chances, but do keep in mind that Osuna may yet face legal punishment, and as far as I know hasn’t yet taken any steps towards making amends for his wrongdoing.

There is perhaps one positive to come out of this:

“People are speaking out about it, which I think is actually fabulous,” [Sonia Corrales, interim president and CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center] said Tuesday morning. “People know that this is a problem in our community, when historically, it’s been thought about as private. Something at home. No one’s business. So the fact that the community is talking about it shows that people are aware of the issue, and that it really is a community problem, that’s good.”

At the center, which provides free services that include a shelter, counseling and all-hours hotline, Corrales has noticed a surge in victims and survivors willing to step forward and say they need help since the #MeToo movement picked up steam last fall in the wake of revelations about Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

“There are a few things we’ve seen with #MeToo,” said Corrales. “There’s a public accountability that if you’re doing something, we’re going to hold you accountable. So the message now to survivors is ‘I believe you.’ And that’s a difference, because so many times, they have not been believed.”

One can feel however one wants to about this. One can also make a donation to the HAWC or a similar organization if one would like to make something positive happen. I’ll leave that up to you. Campos, Jeff Sullivan, and Think Progress have more.

Stadiums and sports betting

Sheryl Ring at Fangraphs adds another dimension to the SCOTUS sports betting decision story.

But there is another incentive for states to legalize sports betting aside from just basic tax revenue. We’ve talked about ballpark deals, particularly in the context of the Marlins. If states legalize betting at games and tax those bets, they can guarantee themselves a potentially large revenue stream out of the baseball stadiums they subsidize for teams — which suddenly makes ballparks a much more interesting investment for local governments. It wouldn’t be terribly surprising to see some ballparks look a little more like racetracks in the future, with the ability to place bets at the park itself. The idea of ballparks as entertainment centers, rather than simply sporting venues, is one which lends itself particularly well to this model.

But remember the potential for a patchwork we discussed. Let’s say that Pennsylvania and New York legalize sports betting and allow it at ballparks, and Missouri and Wisconsin don’t. Now you have a situation where big-market teams like the Phillies and Yankees have access to another revenue source, while smaller-market teams like the Brewers and Cardinals don’t. In an era of superteams, state laws could suddenly have a big impact.

On the other hand, sports gambling already happens all the time — and I’m not just talking about racetracks and off-track betting. I’m talking about websites like FanDuel. Many states, partly in response to PASPA, already either make gambling illegal or tightly regulate it, and that has led to a series of lower-profile cases arguing that daily fantasy sports are actually gambling — a proposition which courts have been debating for years. We’ve seen New York settle a case for millions of dollars against FanDuel and DraftKings, and this issue has arisen over and over again in courts throughout the Seventh Circuit, which covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. This constant legal limbo has led to financial trouble for daily-fantasy companies. But the Supreme Court’s decision is likely to grant FanDuel and its industry peers a new lease on life.

Fangraphs is a baseball website so its focus is only on that sport, but there’s no reason to think that the “let’s have sports betting at sports venues” idea would be so limited. I mean, football is the 800 pound gorilla of sports betting, and I have to imagine the idea of creating that kind of enhanced revenue stream will have occurred to Jerry Jones and Bob McNair as well. If they can pitch the idea as being mutually beneficial to the local governments they have fleeced out of taxpayer dollars received stadium deals from, that could make for a strong lobbying team at the Capitol. I’m not saying this will happen – I don’t even know what the NFL’s official position on the SCOTUS ruling is – but it could happen, and if it does it will be a lot more formidable than the usual collection of casino and horse racing interests, which are usually at odds with each other. It’s worth keeping an eye on.

Hall calls for four more

Congrats to all.

Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Jim Thome and Trevor Hoffman were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, it was announced Wednesday.

Jones and Thome were both elected in their first year of eligibility. This is the fourth time that the Baseball Writers’ Association of America has elected four players in a year (1947, 1955, 2015).

“It was waterworks,” said Jones, who drew 97.2 percent of the vote after being selected on 410 of 422 ballots.

The four will join veterans committee inductees Jack Morris and Alan Trammell in entering the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29 in Cooperstown, New York.

It took 75 percent for election, or 317 votes, to be elected into the Hall of Fame. Designated hitter Edgar Martinez came close — falling just 20 votes shy — after a grass-roots campaign. Roger Clemens, who was picked on 57.3 percent of ballots, and Barry Bonds (56.4), both tainted by the steroids scandal, edged up in voting totals but again fell far short.

[…]

[Mariano] Rivera highlights the newcomers on next year’s ballot, once again raising debate over whether any player will be unanimously elected to the Hall. Todd Helton, Andy Pettitte and the late Roy Halladay also will be first-time candidates.

For Martinez, who finished with 70.4 percent of the vote in his ninth time on the ballot, it was the second straight year with a significant jump; he was at 58.6 percent in the 2017 voting.

Martinez remains optimistic about his chances in 2019.

“Getting 70.4 percent is a big improvement, and all I can think right now is that it’s looking good for next year,” Martinez said on a conference call. “It would have been great to get in this year, but it looks good for next year.”

Just four years ago, Martinez was slogging at 25.2 percent in the balloting, but the past few years have marked a major change in how voters are viewing his contributions, even though he rarely played the field after 1992. Martinez’s career .312 batting average, .933 on-base plus slugging and seven All-Star Game appearances created a strong foundation for his candidacy.

“At that time, I thought I would never get to this point,” Martinez said. “It is encouraging to see 70 percent going into my final year. I just feel I still have a good chance. But yeah, 2014, I didn’t think I was going to be at this point right now.”

In addition to Martinez, Clemens and Bonds, pitchers Mike Mussina (63.5) and Curt Schilling (51.2) were named on more than half the ballots but were not elected.

See here for the earlier election. I don’t have any quarrel with the four inductees, though I’m not sure how Hoffman came to be so much more favored over Billy Wagner, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m more pleased by the showings of Edgar Martinez and especially Mike Mussina. The logjam is clearing up a bit, and I feel like that bodes well for their chances. Deadspin has more.

Morris and Trammell elected to the Hall of Fame

The Modern Era committee has spoken.

Fittingly, Jack Morris reached the Hall of Fame in extra innings.

Morris was elected to the Hall by its Modern Era committee on Sunday along with former Detroit Tigers teammate Alan Trammell, completing a joint journey from Motown to Cooperstown.

The big-game pitcher and star shortstop were picked by 16 voters who considered 10 candidates whose biggest contributions came from 1970-87. Morris got 14 votes and Trammell drew 13, one more than the minimum needed.

They will be enshrined on July 29, and they’ll go in together. They both began their big league careers in 1977 with Detroit and played 13 seasons alongside each other with the Tigers.

See here for the background. Like many others, I just don’t have it in me to argue the Jack Morris issue any longer. It is what it is. As Jay Jaffe, the go-to person for all things Hall of Fame, says, whatever else you may think of Morris and the controversy over his candidacy, his election lowers the bar for Hall of Fame pitchers and serves as a slight to numerous contemporaries such as Bret Saberhagen, Dave Stieb, Dwight Gooden, Orel Hershiser and David Cone. I’ll add Kevin Appier and Frank Tanana and Tim Hudson and Wes Ferrell and Tommy John, all of whom have at least a career WAR at least ten wins higher than Morris. And that’s before we get to Mike Mussina, whose career WAR of 83.0 is nearly double Morris’ 44.1. Oh, and the continued exclusion of Marvin Miller is an utter travesty, too. But there I go arguing again. The Hall of Fame is just a museum and none of this matters. I’m going to go find my happy place now. Deadspin, which wisely focuses on Trammell’s well-deserved enshrinement, has more.

The last American baseball glove maker

Cool story, if you overlook the obnoxious Trump references.

Baseball gloves, like many other things, aren’t really made in America anymore. In the 1960s, production shifted to Asia and never came back. It might be America’s favorite pastime, and few things are more personal to baseball-lovers than their first glove — the smell, the feel, the memory of childhood summers. But most gloves are stitched together thousands of miles away by people who couldn’t afford a ticket at Fenway Park.

One company didn’t get the memo. Since the Great Depression, Nokona has been making gloves in a small town outside Dallas with a long history of producing boots and whips for cowboys. There’s a livestock-feed store next door to the factory, which offers $5 tours for visitors who want to see how the “last American ball glove” is made. You can watch employees weave the webbing by hand, feed the laces through the holes with needles, and pound the pocket into shape with a rounded hammer. The American flag gets stitched into the hide — and that, they say at Nokona, is more than just a business matter.

“Made in America means you believe in our country,” said Carla Yeargin, a glove inspector and tour guide at Nokona, where she worked her way up from janitor. “We have the love for the ballglove, because we made it here.”

[…]

Making a glove involves about 40 steps and can take four hours. Hides, mostly from Chicago or Milwaukee, are tested for temper and thickness. Workers lower presses onto metal dies to cut the leather. The pieces — some models require 25 of them — are sewn together, joining the inner and outer halves. The product is turned right-side-out and shaped on hot steel fingers. A grease used during World War II to clean rifles is lathered under the pocket, to keep it flexible.

The company emphasizes the craft that goes into each glove, and that’s reflected in the bill. Rawlings has gloves for all budgets: Its top-end models cost plenty, but you can get a 9-inch children’s version for less than $8. Nokona’s equivalent-sized mitt costs $220, and its pro model runs to $500.

This was from a couple of months ago and it got lost in the pile, but I figured now was as good a time as any to finally put it out. As the story notes, these are niche products, made for discerning customers. The model in the embedded image will set you back $380. A good investment if the game is your passion or your profession, maybe not so much if you just play catch with your kid or the occasional pickup game. They’re a small operation, with 35 employees, but nobody lasts for nearly a century without doing something right. If I’m ever in the area, I think I’ll take a side trip to Nocona – the name of the company is spelled differently because they apparently couldn’t trademark the name of the town – and see about getting a tour.

The Modern Era Hall of Fame ballot

A little bonus baseball content as we head into the long, dark off-season.

Nine former big league players and one executive comprise the 10-name Modern Baseball Era ballot to be reviewed and voted upon Dec. 10 at the Baseball Winter Meetings.

Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Don Mattingly, Marvin Miller, Jack Morris, Dale Murphy, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons, Luis Tiant and Alan Trammell are the candidates the Modern Baseball Era Committee will consider for Hall of Fame election for the Class of 2018. All candidates are former players except for Miller, who was the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association from 1966-82. All candidates except for Miller are living.

Any candidate who receives votes on 75 percent of the ballots cast by the 16-member Modern Baseball Era Committee will earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and will be inducted in Cooperstown on July 29, 2018, along with any electees who emerge from the 2018 Baseball Writers’ Association of America election, to be announced on Jan. 24, 2018.

The Modern Baseball Era is one of four Era Committees, each of which provide an avenue for Hall of Fame consideration to managers, umpires and executives, as well as players retired for more than 15 seasons.

There’s a brief bio of each candidate there, but I suggest you read Jay Jaffe for a more thorough view. I’m here for Ted Simmons, Alan Trammell, and of course Marvin Miller whose exclusion is an ongoing travesty. I fear that what we’re going to get is Jack Morris and maybe Dale Murphy, but there’s no point in worrying about that now. A better thing to ponder is why these candidates and not some alternative choices, but again, that’s the way these things go. Who would you vote for?

Friday random ten: All hail the Astros

I break the pattern once again in honor of the Astros’ World Series win.

1. Born To Win – Hurray For The Riff Raff
2. Playing To Win – Shalamar
3. The Winner Takes It All – ABBA
4. You Win Again – Mary-Chapin Carpenter
5. We Are The Champions – Queen
6. Sittin’ On Top Of The World – Asylum Street Spankers
7. Top Of The World – Bridgit Mendler
8. No Surrender – Bruce Springsteen
9. Heaven Help My Heart – from “Chess”
10. The Magnificent Seven – The Clash

Today is Parade Day. Nobody’s getting much (any) work done. But at least we’re starting that long, dark tea-time of the soul known as the off season in style.

Astros win the World Series

I think you can find some stories about this particular news item on your own.

On behalf of every sleep-deprived Houstonian, congratulations to the Astros! A great achievement, and a huge burden relieved. Now go get ready for a parade.

Saturday video break: The Altuve Polka

We interrupt the procession of cover/same name songs to bring you this, the most important video of 2017:

If the Astros don’t adopt that as their official team song, they are badly mistaken. This is easily the best Houston-centric sports song since It’s a Ming Thing.

Is MLB expansion on the menu?

Before I answer the question in the headline, let me say Congratulations to the Astros, the first team ever to win the pennant in both leagues. (The Brewers, who won the AL flag in 1982, is the only other team to switch leagues, and thus the only other candidate to join that club.) And if the possible expansion plan goes forward, that may become moot as there would no longer be separate leagues.

Ever since the Expos moved from Montreal to Washington in 2005, there has been an ongoing movement in the Canadian city to regain a major league franchise. There has even been talk of support for building a ballpark downtown, which was one of the missing ingredients that led to the Expos’ departure.

In September, the folks in Portland, Ore., were given hope that they, too, could be home to an expansion team when commissioner Rob Manfred, speaking in Seattle, for the second year in a row mentioned Portland as a potential site for a franchise, and was quoted as saying “a team in the West” would be a part of any expansion.

And there is a legitimate ownership group in Portland that has the necessary financing along with support for a stadium, which would be partially funded by a $150 million grant. Approved by the state of Oregon to help finance a stadium when efforts were underway in 2003 to be the site for the relocation of the Expos (who instead moved to Washington, D.C.), the grant is still available.

There seems to be a building consensus that baseball will soon be headed to a 32-team configuration. It will lead to major realignment and adjustments in schedule, which will allow MLB to address the growing concerns of the union about travel demands and off days.

One proposal would be to geographically restructure into four divisions, which would create a major reduction in travel, particularly for teams on the East Coast and West Coast, and add to the natural rivalries by not just having them as interleague attractions, but rather a part of the regular divisional battles.

Click over to read the details, which include a slightly shorter (156-game) schedule, less travel, more days off, and eight wild card teams, who would have to win a play-in game to continue on. Kind of amazing to hear talk of expansion, let alone back to Montreal, a mere 15 years after “contraction” was the buzzword, but here we are, and I’m glad of it. There are many questions to be answered about this – for instance, would this finally mean universal adoption of the DH? – and no doubt a lot of opposition, as is always the case with sweeping change, but I look forward to the debate. SI, Travis Sawchik and Craig Calcaterra have more.

The Rangers and the Astros

Oh, come on.

The historic flooding in Houston caused by Tropical Storm Harvey will displace the Astros for at least three games and most likely the entire six-game homestand they had scheduled for this week.

For at least their three-game series against the Texas Rangers that begins Tuesday, the Astros will play as the home team at the domed Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., home to the Tampa Bay Rays, MLB announced Monday. Their three-game series against the New York Mets that starts Friday also likely will shift to Tropicana Field, though no final determination was made Monday.

[…]

Although it would seem more logical for the Astros-Rangers series to simply be played in Arlington, swapping home series presented logistical challenges that apparently couldn’t be overcome.

The Astros offered flipping this week’s home series for their scheduled visit to Arlington on Sept. 25-27, but the Rangers declined. The Rangers offered to put on a series at Globe Life Park as the visitors with the Astros getting all revenue, Texas general manager Jon Daniels told Dallas-area media. The Astros declined that alternative.

“We didn’t think that playing six games in Arlington was fair to the competitive balance of the wild-card race, not to mention that if we’re not able to play our games in Houston against the Mets that we would be having another trip,” [Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan] told the Chronicle. “So we felt like getting out of Texas and going to a neutral site was in the best interest of our players and in the best interests for the integrity of the schedule this year.”

The Astros will now be on a 19-game road trip, thanks to the loss of the six games at home this week. One reason the Rangers declined the swap was because that would have put them on the road for twelve straight games. Understandable from a baseball perspective, but not very charitable.

In terms of both baseball and business, it’s a perfectly logical decision for the Rangers. But in terms of compassion, it’s pretty crummy. The quick takeaway here isn’t and won’t be that the front office made a measured decision about the welfare of their own team. It’s that they decided to shut out a club forced from its city by natural disaster, putting clear baseball needs over what might be seen as more abstract humanitarian ones. The Astros—with no major damage to their ballpark, their players physically safe, and the financial means as an organization to navigate whatever’s to come—are hardly an equal stand-in for thousands of suffering people in their region who have lost everything. But they still serve as a symbol of Houston, and so turning them away can only make the Rangers look insensitive and selfish.

At one point today, [Rangers general manager Jon] Daniels said he was “almost cringing” when he discussed the Rangers’ baseball-related needs in comparison to those of the Astros. That reaction is reasonable—which should have been enough to make him think that those listening might react the same way, too.

Yeah, pretty much. The Rangers are still chasing a wild card spot – yes, even after trading Yu Darvish – and they have a big advantage over the Stros in Arlington, which I’m sure was a factor in their decision. They’re playing to win, and I can’t crime them for that. But still, this was cold. And people will remember. Sleep well, y’all. Campos, Jenny Dial Creech, and Dan Solomon have more.

(To be fair, the Rangers are making a nice donation to Harvey relief, so kudos to them for that. Kudos also to the Cowboys and Texans, Steve Francis, JJ Watt, Amy Adams Strunk, and especially Les Alexander. We’re really going to miss that guy.)

Who still misses the National League?

The Chron’s Brian Smith makes the case for acceptance of the Astros’ league change.

Those were the days

Admit it: You don’t think about the old National League that much anymore.

I devote a lot of my daily brain space to the Astros, and I rarely do.

Saying “Jose Altuve, American League starting second baseman and leadoff hitter” sounds just fine. Seeing George Springer and Carlos Correa in the AL’s lineup against stars from Washington, San Francisco and Cincinnati felt perfectly normal Tuesday.

“Baloney. Houston has always been a National League town. This was all about money and never about the fans,” wrote Glenn, in the same year the rebuilding Lastros lost a franchise-record 111 games. “I cannot in good conscience root for a team that fields a (choke) designated hitter (i.e. washed-up fat guy) and plays the Noo York Yankees on a regular basis. How far a drive is it to Cincinnati?”

About 1,050 long and boring miles, Glenn. And I guarantee you never would think about making that slog now, especially when you can watch the best team in the American League at home and are just three months away from being able to buy a playoff ticket at Minute Maid Park.

Look, the hate was real. I got it then, and I get it now. One of the greatest things about baseball is its history, and any time that’s threatened – steroids, cheating, realignment – all of us believers get very, very serious.

“It became evident the move to the AL was an issue,” owner Jim Crane said in November 2011, after MLB approved the Astros’ sale and dictated the move to the AL, giving each league 15 teams and all divisions five clubs apiece.

Isn’t time funny? And isn’t it crazy what winning – and players and a team you believe in – can do?

The late-night West Coast games are still a chore. Outside of the Texas Rangers – who are 16½ games back, if you haven’t heard – I’m still not sold on any of the Astros’ other AL West opponents.

But Selig’s move is actually helping the AL’s best team in 2017. Four of baseball’s five best clubs are in the NL, and the Astros actually would be second overall in their old league, trailing the Los Angeles Dodgers by half a game.

Selig also helped push the Astros into the postseason in 2015. The two NL wild cards had at least 97 wins. The 86-win Astros needed until Game 162 to clinch the sport’s last playoff spot and wouldn’t have sniffed a Division Series if they still played in the NL Central.

Smith got some passionate feedback on this, as you might imagine. I’m a Yankees fan from Staten Island, so I have no emotional investment in this, though I can certainly understand why longtime fans would not be over it yet. On the plus side, consider that if the Astros make it to the World Series this year, they could be the first team ever to win a pennant in both leagues. For that matter, if they wind up playing the Milwaukee Brewers, then both teams in the World Series would have that distinction – the Brewers won a pennant in 1982 when they were still in the American League. Given that they’re the only two teams to switch leagues, there’s not much competition for that distinction, but it would be pretty cool nonetheless. Whether it makes anyone feel better, or at least less upset, about the league switch, I couldn’t say.

More about the hack of the Astros

Fascinating stuff.

A federal judge has unsealed details about former St. Louis Cardinals executive Chris Correa’s hacking of the Astros’ email and player evaluation databases, clearing the way for Major League Baseball to impose sanctions against the Cardinals as soon as this week.

Three documents entered into court records but made public by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes on Thursday reveal new information regarding Correa’s intrusions, for which the former Cardinals scouting director is serving a 46-month sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty in January 2016 to five counts of unauthorized access to a protected computer.

[…]

According to the documents, portions of which remained redacted, Correa intruded into the Astros’ “Ground Control” database 48 times and accessed the accounts of five Astros employees. For 21/2 years, beginning in January 2012, Correa had unfettered access to the e-mail account of Sig Mejdal, the Astros’ director of decision sciences and a former Cardinals employee. Correa worked in St. Louis as an analyst under Mejdal, who came to Houston after the 2011 season with Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow, also a former Cardinals executive.

“(Correa) knew what projects the Astros’ analytics department was researching, what concepts were promising and what ideas to avoid,” said one of the documents, signed by Michael Chu, the assistant U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case against Correa. “He had access to everything that Sig Mejdal … read and wrote.”

Correa also attempted to gain access to the accounts of Bo Porter, the Astros’ manager in 2013-14, and pitching coach Brent Strom, and he used passwords belonging to Luhnow, Astros analyst Colin Wyers, and three Astros minor league players to gain access to the Astros system, the documents show.

A third document includes a subpoena from Correa’s attorney to obtain documents from the Astros, based on Correa’s statement that he was combing the files looking for information taken from the Cardinals. Hughes denied the request, which sought access to emails from Mejdal, Luhnow and former Astros assistant GM David Stearns and analyst Mike Fast regarding a variety of topics, including Cardinals minor league pitching coach Tim Leveque, Cardinals assistant general manager Mike Girsch and the Cardinals’ player information database, known as RedBirdDog.

See here and here for some background. The sanctions have since been imposed – the Cardinals will give their top two draft choices and two million bucks to the Astros as redress – but it’s the details of what Correa did that are so riveting. Deadspin, which was a key player in this as well, elaborates:

The sentencing document also points to a motive beyond the obviously useful scouting data: Correa was furious and envious of Mejdal’s acclaim in a June 25, 2014 Sports Illustrated cover story about the Astros’ embrace of analytics, with the cover predicting them as the winners of the 2017 World Series.

The account the feds lay out reads like a downright sinister revenge plot by Correa: On June 27, two days after the SI cover story, Correa attempted, unsuccessfully, to log into Mejdal’s, Luhnow’s, and Wyers’s Ground Control accounts. He then tried to log in via the accounts of Astros pitching coach Brent Strom and Astros manager Bo Porter. Thwarted but not deterred, he tried another tactic.

[…]

The same day, June 28, Deadspin was emailed a tip from a burner email service that linked “to a document on AnonBin, a now-dead service for anonymously uploading and hosting text files.” On June 30, Deadspin published the contents of the document, which detailed the Astros’ trade discussions between June 2013 and March 2014.

A year later, Deadspin deputy editor Barry Petchesky laid out the information we received, and why he believed we were the intended recipients. We had and have no additional information that indicates who the leaker was, and would not reveal the leaker’s identity if we knew it—as Petchesky later explained to an FBI investigator.

Regardless, the feds speculate that Correa himself emailed us the information.

Damn. I will watch the hell out of the eventual 30 for 30 documentary on this. The Press, Craig Calcaterra, and Jeff Sullivan, who thinks the Cardinals got off too lightly, have more.

Bagwell, Raines, Pudge elected to Hall of Fame

Congratulations!

Jeff Bagwell

The most exclusive team in sports has five new members.

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez join John Schuerholz and Bud Selig as the Class of 2017.

Today’s Game Era candidates, John Schuerholz and Allan H. “Bud” Selig were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, Dec. 4, becoming members 313 and 314 of the Cooperstown shrine.

They will join Bagwell, Raines and Rodriguez as the Class of 2017, to be inducted July 30 in Cooperstown as part of the July 28-31 Hall of Fame Weekend. The Weekend festivities will also feature the presentation of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award to Claire Smith for writers and the presentation of the Ford C. Frick Award to Bill King for broadcasting excellence.

Since the inaugural Class of 1936, the National Baseball Hall of Fame has honored the game’s legendary players, managers, umpires and executives. Included in the 317 Hall of Famers are 220 former major league players, 30 executives, 35 Negro Leaguers, 22 managers and 10 umpires. The BBWAA has elected 124 candidates to the Hall while the veterans committees (in all forms) have chosen 167 deserving candidates (96 major leaguers, 30 executives, 22 managers, 10 umpires and nine Negro Leaguers). The defunct “Committee on Negro Baseball Leagues” selected nine men between 1971-77 and the Special Committee on Negro Leagues in 2006 elected 17 Negro Leaguers.

There are currently 74 living members.

Here’s the Chron breaking-news story about the vote, and a longer story with some reactions from the man himself.

Jeff Bagwell has autographed countless baseballs. On Wednesday, he signed his first ball with this inscription accompanying his signature: “HOF ’17.”

Bagwell, synonymous with the golden age of the Astros and one of the best first basemen of his era, was elected Wednesday to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He will be only the second player enshrined in an Astros cap, appropriately joining 2015 inductee Craig Biggio, Bagwell’s teammate for all 15 seasons of his major league career.

Overwhelmed by the news, Bagwell was at a loss for words in describing the feeling.

“It’s just kind of surreal right now,” he said.

Bagwell, 48, spoke emotionally in a terminal at George Bush Intercontinental Airport minutes before boarding an evening flight to New York City, where he and fellow electees Tim Raines and Ivan Rodriguez will share a news conference stage Thursday afternoon. The Astros icon was only two hours removed from receiving his life-changing phone call while at home with his wife and children.

[…]

“I’m still kind of in shock,” said Bagwell, for whom the Astros will hold a public rally at 5 p.m. Monday at Minute Maid Park’s Union Station lobby. “I’m excited. I’m happy. It’s just very cool.”

This year’s induction ceremony will take place July 30 in Cooperstown, N.Y. Bagwell is the 50th Hall of Famer to spend his entire major league career with one team. He and Biggio are the fourth pair of Hall of Fame teammates to accomplish that while playing together for at least 15 years. Their company includes Roberto Clemente and Bill Mazeroski (Pittsburgh Pirates), Carl Hubbell and Mel Ott (New York Giants) and Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle (New York Yankees).

“It’s a great day for him and his family and obviously the Astros organization and his teammates and the fans,” Biggio said of Bagwell. “He was a tremendous player who did some amazing things here, and now to have two Astros be in the Hall of Fame who played together for 15 years, it’s pretty exciting stuff.”

I didn’t realize the teammates angle. In case you’re curious, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig were teammates for 10 years, from 1925 to 1934. Fifteen years really is a long time.

Bagwell was the headliner as he received the most votes, but the even better news was the long overdue induction of Tim Raines, who was on his final year on the ballot. Getting those two plus Ivan Rodriguez in clears the logjam a bit, which may help the candidacies of a few other players who fell short. I feel like I have less to complain about regarding this year’s voting than I’ve had in some time, and that to me is an even bigger win. ESPN, SI, MLB.com, and the Press have more.