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Won’t you join our lawsuit?

This is going to keep giving me content for years.

Did not age well

After filing two sign stealing-related lawsuits against the Astros on behalf of Houston season-ticket holders, a Corpus Christi law firm is asking Dodgers and Yankees fans who attended 2017 postseason games in Houston if they, too, are interested in suing the ballclub.

The websites yankees-astros-scandal.qualified-case.com and dodgers-astros-scandal.qualified-case.com were launched by the firm Hilliard Martinez Gonzales. Both sites were advertised on Facebook in an effort to contact fans of the teams that traveled to Houston for playoff games in 2017, when the Astros beat the Yankees and Dodgers en route to the World Series title.

“We’re trying to find people who traveled to Minute Maid Park, Yankees or Dodgers fans, who spent money in flights, hotel rooms, rental cars, to watch a game that was not fair,” said John Duff, an associate with the Hilliard firm.

“They didn’t get their money’s worth, and we wanted to see if any of those potential clients want to get compensated.”

The Yankees website asks, “Are you a Yankees fan that traveled to Houston for the ALCS in 2017?” The Dodgers site asks, “Were you a Dodger ticket season holder during the 2017 season?”

Both sites note that the Astros were penalized by Major League Baseball for using electronic methods to steal catcher’s signs and adds, “This is unfair to paying Yankees (or Dodgers) fans and compensation should be demanded.”

Any potential suits on behalf of Dodgers or Yankees fans would be filed in Texas state court or in federal court in California or New York, Duff said. He declined to estimate how many answers the firm had received in response to the inquiries.

“There was confirmed cheating during the ALCS and World Series, and those tickets are more expensive and the damage model is higher,” Duff said.

See here and here for the background. As this story notes, the three Harris County lawsuits have all now been consolidated and moved into one court, the 152nd Civil Court. I don’t have anything to add, I just look forward to the next chapter in this highly entertaining story.

Another lawsuit the Astros want tossed

It was the first one filed against them relating to the banging scheme.

Did not age well

The Astros have asked a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the team, owner Jim Crane and baseball operations employee Derek Vigoa by former Blue Jays pitcher Mike Bolsinger, who says his career was ruined by the Astros’ 2017-18 sign-stealing scheme.

The motion, filed by Los Angeles attorney John C. Hueston, says the case is “utterly devoid of merit.” More critically, however, it says California is not the proper venue and that Bolsinger’s suit should be dismissed or stayed until it can be resolved by a court in Texas.

[…]

While asking that the case be dismissed, the Astros’ attorneys say that Texas is the proper forum, if the case proceeds, because the Astros are based in Texas and Bolsinger resides in Texas, They add that Texas would be a more cost-efficient venue because virtually all witnesses and documents are in Texas and because the sign-stealing occurred in Texas.

In addition, attorneys say, California has little to no stake in the matter because no allegedly harmful activity occurred in California and no California residents claim to have been harmed.

They also say the case would clog California’s already-overburdened court system and that forcing the Astros to defend the case in California in a case “with such limited connections to California” could dissuade other out-of-state businesses from doing business in California.

“Texas courts are well-equipped to address the relief sought by (Bolsinger), and all private and public interest factors demonstrate that Texas is a far more convenient forum than California,” attorneys add.

In a separate filing, the Astros’ attorneys say California courts lack jurisdiction in the case because the defendants lack sufficient minimum contacts with California. The case, they add, is “objectively frivolous for a host of reasons.”

See here for the background. There will be a hearing on the motions on June 12. I tend to agree that this lawsuit is more or less without merit, but as we know I Am Not A Lawyer, so take that for what it’s worth.

The conditions under which baseball can return

If coronavirus cooperates. Cross your fingers and hope for the best.

Major League Baseball owners have approved a plan to address salary and service-time issues amid the indefinite delay to the start of the regular season, according to ESPN and multiple reports.

The owners completed an agreement reached between MLB and the players’ union Thursday night, which came after nearly two weeks of morning-to-night negotiations that involved players, owners, agents, executives, union officials and commissioner’s office staff.

As part of the agreement, obtained by ESPN’s Jeff Passan, the players and MLB primarily agreed that the 2020 season will not start until each of the following conditions are met:

  • There are no bans on mass gatherings that would limit the ability to play in front of fans. However, the commissioner could still consider the “use of appropriate substitute neutral sites where economically feasible”;
  • There are no travel restrictions throughout the United States and Canada;
  • Medical experts determine that there would be no health risks for players, staff or fans, with the commissioners and union still able to revisit the idea of playing in empty stadiums.

While there was no formal framework in the agreement, owners and players both want to play as many games as possible. The flexibility of both sides was seen in the willingness to extend the regular season into October, play neutral-site playoff games in November and add doubleheaders to the schedule.

That’s the basic gist of it, though I’d recommend you read the whole story. There are a lot of moving parts, and who knows under which conditions Commissioner Manfred might reach for that “appropriate substitute neutral sites” clause. You also have to wonder when leagues like the NBA and NHL, which are in the middle of suspended seasons, will come out with some similar document for their own return. (The NBA is watching the Chinese basketball league to see how their efforts to restart go.) This agreement between MLB and the players’ union will also have profound effects on amateur players and potentially the minor leagues – I recommend you read this Fangraphs article for the details on that. We should all also remember that we’re still on the upslope of this curve. There’s an ending out there and it’s good to look forward to it, but we can’t yet see it from here.

Astros move to dismiss season ticket holder lawsuits

How about some non-coronavirus baseball-related news? I got some for ya.

Did not age well

The Astros have asked Harris County district judges to dismiss the three lawsuits filed against the ballclub by ticketholders who claim they were defrauded by the sign-stealing scandal in 2017-18.

In each case, attorneys for the ballclub say ticketholders lack standing to file suit, that their claims against the team are barred by the statute of limitations and that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which a court could grant a judgment against the Astros.

Each answer describes the Astros’ system of electronic sign-stealing as “a source of great disappointment to Astros fans as well as to the Astros organization” and notes that individual players and owner Jim Crane have offered apologies.

“There is, however, no legal standing for season ticket holders … to recover damages for their disappointment over the Astros’ performance for any of the seasons they may have been implicated in the controversy,” the filings add.

“As many courts have held, a ticket holder has only the right to enter a venue and to have a seat for the ticketed game, and cannot complain afterwards that the game should have been played differently.

“The plaintiffs here do not allege that they were deprived of those rights, and they were not. Therefore, defendants deny that the plaintiffs are entitled to any relief in a court of law.”

The Astros seek dismissal of all three lawsuits and ask that they be awarded costs for their defense.

See here for the background, and listen to this episode of Effectively Wild for actual legal analysis of these and other lawsuits related to the banging scheme. As noted in my previous post, each was filed in a different court in Harris County, which may possibly be a complicating factor. I still think these will all ultimately be dismissed, but you never know. The Astros and others still face the fantasy baseball lawsuit, which they have also moved to dismiss. Hey, I didn’t say this was baseball-content baseball news, just that it wasn’t coronavirus-related baseball news. Gotta take what you can get these days.

Further delay for Opening Day

Mid-May at the most optimistic, and that’s very likely too soon.

Major League Baseball pushed back opening day until mid-May at the earliest on Monday because of the new coronavirus after the federal government recommended restricting events of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks.

Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred made the announcement following a conference call with executives of the 30 teams.

“The clubs remain committed to playing as many games as possible when the season begins,” the commissioner’s office said in a statement.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Sunday that gatherings of 50 people or more be canceled or postponed across the country for the next eight weeks.

“The opening of the 2020 regular season will be pushed back in accordance with that guidance,” Manfred said.

No telling at this point when games will start. The All-Star Game at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on July 14 could be in jeopardy.

“We’re not going to announce an alternate opening day at this point. We’re going to have to see how things develop,” Manfred told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch at Cardinals camp in Jupiter, Florida. He didn’t want to speculate about the possibility of playing in empty stadiums, saying part of that decision would depend on timing.

See here for the background. This assumes that after eight weeks we will not be under a general directive to greatly limit public gatherings, and that MLB players will be more or less ready to go as soon as that happens. I’ll take the over on this best and assume that sometime in June is a more realistic target. The NBA is currently aiming for mid-to-late June, and if that is how it works out for MLB as well, I’ll be reasonably satisfied. That could yield an MLB season of between 90 and 120 games, depending on when in June things could start and whether the end of the season could be pushed back and/or whether there might be more doubleheaders. I’m sure there will be plenty of discussions between the league and the union, as there are now about pay and service time and what have you. Three months seems like forever now, but if we’re at a point of normality again where sports have returned, I for one will be pretty damn happy. I mean, there are plenty of worse alternatives at this time.

Let’s not play ball

Not just yet, anyway.

Major League Baseball has cancelled the remainder of its Spring Training games, also announcing that the start of the 2020 regular season will be delayed by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic.

The decision was announced following a call with all 30 Clubs and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association. Opening Day was originally scheduled for Thursday, March 26.

MLB said the action “is being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans.”

The league will continue to evaluate ongoing events leading up to the start of the season. Guidance related to daily operations and workouts will be relayed to Clubs in the coming days.

MLB and its Clubs have been preparing a variety of contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular-season schedule. The league plans to announce the effects on the schedule at an appropriate time, though MLB also said it “will remain flexible as events warrant, with the hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible.”

“Nothing is more important to us than the health and safety of our players, employees and fans,” the league said in its announcement. “MLB will continue to undertake the precautions and best practices recommended by public health experts. We send our best wishes to all individuals and communities that have been impacted by coronavirus.”

The National Hockey League and Major League Soccer also announced Thursday that they have suspended their seasons. The National Basketball Association suspended its regular season on Wednesday night for at least 30 days, a move which came after Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus. Thursday, a second Utah player — Donovan Mitchell Jr. — also tested positive.

Additionally, the NCAA announced that all winter and spring sport seasons have been cancelled, meaning that there will be no men’s or women’s NCAA basketball tournament this year, and no men’s and women’s College World Series.

These are scary times, and we won’t have a lot of familiar comforts to get us through them. But get through them we will, eventually. Stay strong and wash your hands.

MLB, Astros, Red Sox respond to DraftKings lawsuit over sign stealing

It’s motion to dismiss time.

Did not age well

As baseball’s electronic sign-stealing case joins the long list of sports-related court cases, attorneys for the the Astros, Red Sox and Major League Baseball all say that while fantasy sports bettors may be angered by rules violations, that doesn’t mean they’re entitled to monetary damages as a result of cheating.

All three parties filed responses late last week in a proposed class action case filed in a New York City federal court against the two teams and MLB over purported damages resulting from the 2017-18 sign-stealing scandal.

The two cases filed in New York have effectively been rolled into one case as bettors have joined forces against the MLB entities.

All three responses to the lawsuit filed by DraftKings customers cite court decisions in such past brouhahas as the New England Patriots’ “Spygate” case in 2010, boxer Mike Tyson’s ear-biting assault upon Evander Holyfield in 1997 and the New Orleans Saints’ “Bountygate” scandal of 2009-11 in asking U.S. District Judge Jed S. Rakoff to dismiss this case.
“Every court that has been faced with similar claims by disappointed fans … has soundly rejected such a claim recognizing that these types of issues are best resolved on the field and not in the courtroom,” attorneys for MLB wrote. “The same result should obtain here.”

In similar fashion, attorneys for the Astros wrote that fans “have no express or implied right to an event free of penalties, undisclosed injuries, rules violations, cheating or similar conduct. … There is no legal claim for a violation of a sports league’s internal rules.”

See here for the background, and here for more sign-stealing-lawsuit stuff. A copy of the Astros’ motion to dismiss is in the story. I don’t have anything to add to this, but if you’d like to hear an actual lawyer give real lawyer-like opinions and analysis of the various sign-stealing lawsuits and their merits, I recommend you listen to this episode of Effectively Wild, which will give you a firm footing on the subject. Courthouse News and the Associated Press have more.

More Astros lawsuits

This one was filed by a dissatisfied customer.

Did not age well

An Astros season ticket holder has filed suit in Harris County District Court against the ballclub, accusing the team of negligence, breach of contract and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act in conjunction with the 2017-18 electronic sign-stealing scandal.

The suit, filed Friday by Beaumont attorneys Mitchell A. Toups and Richard L. Coffman on behalf of season ticket holder Adam Wallach of Humble, seeks class action status for Astros full and partial season-ticket holders from 2017 through 2020 and damages in excess of a million dollars.

The Astros are accused of “deceptively overcharging (fans) for season tickets while defendants and their employees and representative knowingly and surreptitiously engaged in a sign stealing scheme … and secretly put a deficient product on the field that could result (and now has resulted) in severe penalties” from Major League Baseball.

As a result of the scheme, the lawsuit claims, season ticket holders are owed refunds of what attorneys say were inappropriate increases in ticket prices for the last four seasons. The suit also seeks treble damages for the Astros’ “knowing, willful, intentional, surreptitious, wrongful and unconscionable conduct.”

In addition, attorneys seek an order that would prevent the Astros from increasing season ticket prices for at least two years.

There were already two other lawsuits against the Astros over the whole sign stealing thing; this story notes yet another, a hand-written (!) lawsuit from a guy in Nevada who lost money in both 2017 and 2018 betting on the Dodgers to win the World Series. The day will come when this sort of story will end, but today is not that day. I Am Not A Lawyer, and I have my doubts that this will survive a motion to dismiss, but the Chron asked some actual lawyers, and maybe it can.

With three potential class action lawsuits pending against the Astros in Harris County courts, the scene is set for what attorneys say is a multi-layered, landmark legal battle that could test the wits and knowledge of lawyers, judges and jurors and perhaps extend beyond information disclosed in Major League Baseball’s report.

“This is a complicated mess,” said Talmage Boston, a Dallas attorney who has written two books on baseball’s history and is a member of the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. “We have never seen anything like this before. There will be nothing easy about this case.”

Two additional lawsuits were filed against the ballclub Tuesday, bringing to at least seven the number of cases in state and federal court stemming from the electronic sign-stealing scheme in 2017-18 that resulted in Major League Baseball sanctions against the ballclub.

In the two latest suits, filed by the Hilliard Martinez Gonzales law firm in Corpus Christi, attorneys will seek authority to collect testimony that could go beyond details collected by the MLB probe that led to the firing of Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow by team owner Jim Crane.

John Duff, an associate with the Hilliard firm, said attorneys for the ticket holders will attempt to question not only current and former Astros players and management but also MLB executives and players and managers from other teams, extending the boundaries of the MLB probe.

[…]

Sports-related lawsuits are not uncommon, with examples including the NFL’s “Spygate” affair with the New England Patriots and cases filed by disgruntled New Orleans Saints fans over officiating decisions that affected playoff games.

None of those cases proceeded to trial. Boston, however, said he believes the three Harris County cases, each of which seeks to represent season ticket holders who say they were defrauded by the Astros’ misdeeds, have a chance to proceed.

“The Astros will try to get them dismissed, but I think they will get teed up in front of a jury,” Boston said. “There are some compelling facts, and the evidence discovery will go deeper than anything we know in terms of what (MLB commissioner Rob Manfred) had in his investigation.

“It really is a can of worms.”

So who knows what might happen. Each case is in a different court, and there may be an effort to move them to federal court, which the plaintiffs will resist. I still have my doubts, but it sure would be interesting to see what the discovery process might uncover.

Astros offer an apology

We’ll see how it goes for them.

From a local newscast in LA

Astros players issued their first public apology after being involved in a cheating scandal that rocked baseball in the offseason.

“I am really sorry about the choices that were made by my team by the organization and by me,” Astros third baseman Alex Bregman said in a press conference at the team’s spring training facility in West Palm Beach, Fla. “I have learned from this and I hope to regain the trust of baseball fans. I would also like to thank the Astros fans for all of their support. We as a team are totally focused on moving forward to the 2020 season.”

Jose Altuve followed up with a similar apology and said the team had a meeting Wednesday to talk about how they should move forward.

“I want to say that the whole Astros organization and the team feels bad about what happened in 2017,” said Altuve in a 38-second statement. “We especially feel remorse for the impact on the fans and the game of baseball, and our team is determined to move forward, to play with intensity and to bring back a championship to Houston in 2020.”

[…]

“At that meeting last night, the players showed tremendous remorse, sorrow and embarrassment for their families, organization, city of Houston and baseball,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “I want to ask for the baseball world to forgive them for the mistakes they made.”

Astros owner Jim Crane, who fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow when baseball released its report on the Astros’ cheating scandal, also apologized.

“I want to say again how sorry our team is for what happened,” Crane said. “I want to repeat this will never happen again on my watch.”

I’ll get to Crane in a minute, but suffice it to say not everyone was convinced. I do think this will simmer down over time – if nothing else, the Red Sox punishment is coming, and that will provide a distraction and another target for fans to aim their displeasure – but it will be present for the season, if not longer. Every first meeting against another team, every time an Astros player gets hit by a pitch, any time someone pops off on Twitter, the whole saga will get rehashed. And if there are further revelations, well, as the man once said, hold onto your butts.

As for Astros owner Jim Crane, maybe he should have hired a better apology-writer.

The Astros, who now stand, in the words of one analyst, as “baseball’s unfaithful spouse,” tried to address the 2017-18 sign-stealing scandal Thursday with a hybrid communications strategy that observers say left questions unanswered and failed to mollify the team’s critics.

While observers were more generous toward comments by Astros players in the spring training clubhouse at West Palm Beach, Fla., they were less complimentary of the 30-minute news conference staged by owner Jim Crane, which included brief remarks by players Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman.

Gene Grabowski, a partner at the crisis communications firm kglobal in Washington, D.C., said the Astros were ill-served by advisers in planning the opening news conference that got the morning off to a rough start.

“The core of the problem is that the team’s owner and players tried to declare the crisis over before it’s really over,” Grabowski said. “They sounded arrogant when they said they are moving on. That’s for the fans and sports writers to say — not guilty players and owners.

“The team’s news conference was ill-conceived and poorly presented. It was a horrible performance that has actually made the situation worse for the Astros.”

Mike Androvett, who owns a public relations, marketing and advertising firm that works with attorneys in Dallas and Houston, said the news conference failed to put the past to rest and, instead, “reinforced that the 2017 World Series win will likely be forever tainted.”

[…]

Marjorie Ingall with the website sorrywatch.com, which tracks and rates messages of public contrition, said the Astros news conference “was spectacular in its horridness. It’s the way not to apologize. It’s every example of terrible corporate policy.”

Among Crane’s failures during his news conference, Ingall said, was refusing to acknowledge the damage the Astros inflicted on their opponents.

“You have to apologize to the people you’ve harmed,” she said. “If you’re not doing that, you’re not really apologizing.”

She did, however, have good words for Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who began his remarks in the clubhouse with the phrase, “We were wrong for everything we did in 2017.”

“That’s the first sentence of a good apology: ‘We were wrong,’” Ingall said.

Well, maybe the worst is now over. Gotta think positive, right? Sports Illustrated has more.

Former MLB pitcher sues Astros

Good luck with that.

Did not age well

A pitcher who has not appeared in a major league game since getting shelled by the 2017 Houston Astros filed a civil lawsuit against the ballclub on Monday, according to USA Today.

In the filing made Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, Mike Bolsinger accused the Astros of unfair business practices, along with negligence and intentional interference with contractual and economic relations, the report said. Bolsinger is seeking unspecified damages and wants the team to forfeit its 2017 playoff bonuses toward Los Angeles charities.

[…]

Toronto designated Bolsinger for assignment following its 16-7 loss that night. Bolsinger has not thrown a major league pitch since — ending a major league career that spanned 230 2/3 innings and three teams. He threw in the Japanese League in both 2018 and 2019.

Data compiled by Astros fan Tony Adams showed there were 54 bangs during the game in question — more than any other contest Adams charted.

See here for more on Tony Adams, and here for that USA Today story. Bolsinger was never a particularly good major leaguer, so it seems safe to call this a reach, but that doesn’t mean this will have no effect.

In other words, he could have company. Worth keeping an eye on, in any event.

“You guys Codebreaking?”

You thought the Astros sign stealing saga was over? It’s not over.

Did not age well

Roughly four weeks ago, Major League Baseball disciplined the Houston Astros for what commissioner Rob Manfred called the “banging scheme.” The Astros were busted illegally stealing signs in 2017 and 2018. The scheme involved banging a nearby trash can to relay the signs to the hitter at the plate.

Here is a recap of Houston’s punishment:

  • $5 million fine (maximum allowed by MLB Constitution)
  • Manager A.J, Hinch suspended one year (he was then fired)
  • GM Jeff Luhnow suspended one year (he was also fired)
  • Top two draft picks in 2020 and 2021 forfeited

In his nine-page report detailing the investigation, Manfred explained the Astros stole signs illegally throughout their 2017 World Series season and early in 2018 as well. The report says the investigation “revealed no evidence to suggest that Luhnow was aware of the banging scheme.” There appears to be more to the story, however.

According to a bombshell report by the Wall Street Journal‘s Jared Diamond, Manfred sent Luhnow a letter 11 days before the discipline was announced saying “there is more than sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that you knew — and overwhelming evidence that you should have known — that the Astros maintained a sign-stealing program that violated MLB’s rules.”

Diamond reports an intern showed Luhnow an algorithm used to decode signs in September 2016. The spreadsheet, nicknamed “Codemaker,” was fairly rudimentary — someone would manually input the sign sequence and the pitch, and the algorithm would decipher the pattern — but illegal nonetheless. The system was also referred to internally as the team’s “dark arts.”

The Astros used Codebreaker to decode signs during home and road games, according to Diamond, and the information was passed on to the dugout. As Manfred detailed in his report, the information was initially used by runners at second base. Eventually the Astros started banging on garbage cans to cut out the middle man and relay signs even with the bases empty.

See here and here for some background. There’s more:

Among the other details that have come to light:

  • The use of Codebreaker continued into 2018 and not just at home games, but also on the road. Until this point, it was assumed that the Astros only used their system at home. This story suggests they used at least some version of it on the road.
  • Luhnow, however, told MLB that he thought the use of Codebreaker was only for decoding signs after games, not in real-time.
  • The Codebreaker system was developed by Derek Vigoa, then an intern and now the Astros’ senior manager for team operations.
  • Tom Koch-Weser, the team’s director of advance information, plays a central role in this latest story. He told MLB investigators Luhnow would “giggle” at the name “Codebreaker.” Koch-Weser said Luhnow would sometimes say, “You guys Codebreaking?” when he came to the Astros video room during road games. Luhnow denied this to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Koch-Weser would often call the system the Astros’ “dark arts,” according to e-mails obtained by MLB. He said once in a team Slack channel, referring to Luhnow: “I know the secrets that made us a championship team, some of which he[’]d definitely feel a lot safer if they were kept in-house.”
  • Another Astros front-office staffer Matt Hogan told MLB investigators that no one tried to hide their actions from Luhnow. “It would have been something to show we were working and get validation of our work,” Hogan told investigators.
  • Luhnow was updated via e-mail by many in the front office about Codebreaker, the investigation shows, however Luhnow’s defense was that he didn’t read the full e-mails.
  • Regardless of Luhnow’s claim he didn’t know about any of this, Manfred’s letter said, “there is more than sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that you knew—and overwhelming evidence that you should have known—that the Astros maintained a sign-stealing program that violated MLB’s rules.”

I’m not sure what’s worse at this point, the new details about how entrenched in the organization this all was – you saw that this was happening on the road, too, right? – or how pathetically incomplete the Manfred report was. We can think of it as more like the Barr-summary-of-the-Mueller-report rather than the real report, because as before, it pointed us in a totally wrong direction. We need to be asking Rob Manfred a lot of questions about this.

The Journal states that the league’s evidence included knowledge of the existence of Codebreaker, yet the league’s report completely omits it and exonerates Astros non-uniformed personnel. The league’s report also somewhat pointedly omits any mention of actions prior to 2017, even though Manfred apparently knew about the Codebreaker implementation and that program’s 2016 origins.

Why?

Why did MLB not punish any personnel besides Lunhow? The intern who reportedly originally presented Codebreaker to Lunhow, Derek Vigoa, is now Houston’s senior director of team operations. For that matter, why has nothing become of Kevin Goldstein, who according to a report from Jeff Passan asked his scouts to point their cameras into other teams’ dugouts? That information became public before the conclusion of the league’s investigation. Is the front office-driven nature of the scheme the reason that AJ Hinch never put a stop to the banging?

Beyond that, what happened in 2018 when the use of Codebreaker stopped? Was it because there was a better system implemented, and was there front office-driven cheating in 2019? Tom Verducci point-blank asked Hinch whether there was truth to the rumors that the Astros used buzzers to convey signs during the interview that aired tonight on MLB Network. Hinch stated that the league found that no buzzers were used (h/t to Brendan Kuty for transcribing the full exchange). That’s not exactly a “no.”

It’s also worth noting that the Journal states that the aforementioned euphemism “dark arts” was used in the Advance Scouting Department’s 2019 budgeting spreadsheet. Is that a reference to the initiative Goldstein proposed, a new sign-stealing scheme, or something else entirely?

A lot of things about this whole story never added up. Why didn’t Hinch ever flat-out tell the players to cut it out? Why didn’t they get the message when he went as far as to smash the monitors, and did so twice? How could Luhnow – and owner Jim Crane, for that matter – not know about any of this?

The picture is becoming clearer now. We still need more information, and the question of Crane’s knowledge of these matters is still not satisfyingly resolved. But for some reason, MLB decided to conceal this side of the story, and decided to leave everything that happened before 2017 out of the report. Baseball deliberately shielded everyone in the Astros’ front office besides Jeff Luhnow.

Rob Manfred needs to tell us why.

Yes, he does. Also, maybe people need to ask AJ Hinch some more questions, too. We’re about to find out the fate of the Red Sox, as well as MLB’s plan for avoiding this kind of scandal in the future. My advice is to treat this in the same way the large organizations that are serious about cybersecurity treat that threat to their business: Hire people whose mission it is to monitor for this activity in real time, who proactively review past data for signs of misbehavior, and who use intel and other techniques to hunt for bad actors and actions proactively. I’m sure MLB already has cybersecurity experts on their payroll. They need to take that to the next step and treat this as a threat to their business, because it is. Rob Arthur and ESPN have more.

Lawsuit filed over sign stealing effect on fantasy baseball

This ought to be interesting.

Major League Baseball (MLB) teams secretly distorted player statistics and deprived fans of an “honest fantasy baseball competition,” a lawsuit filed by a fan alleges in the fallout to a sign-stealing scandal involving the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox.

The lawsuit, which named MLB, the Houston Astros and the Boston Red Sox as defendants, was filed in a Manhattan federal court on behalf of all fans who participated in DraftKings’ fantasy baseball contests, which plaintiff Kristopher Olson claimed were tainted by the sign-stealing scandal.

“At the very least, all of DraftKings’ fantasy baseball contests from early in the 2017 baseball season through the end of the 2018 regular season and into the 2019 season, were tainted by cheating and compromised, at the expense of DraftKings’ contestants,” according to the filing on Thursday.

DraftKings’ fantasy sports and betting operations are big business; it said in December it would go public this year in a deal putting its value at $3.3 billion.

The complaint claimed MLB has actively promoted fantasy baseball competition through its equity stake in fantasy sports and gambling company DraftKings.

CBS News and ClassAction.org have more details about the lawsuit if you want a deeper dive. I don’t play fantasy sports, but the basic idea is you draft a team, you designate which players “start” in a given game that is actually being played, and you get points based on the statistical performance of your players in those games. The idea here is that pitchers on fantasy teams who were designated to start against the Astros did worse than they would have because of the sign stealing, and since MLB knew about the sign stealing and didn’t do anything about it at the time, while they were also promoting and profiting from fantasy baseball, they were essentially defrauding the fantasy team owners. It seems a bit of a stretch to me, but there’s real money at stake. It’s also pretty clear that there’s more to the sign stealing story than what has been made public so far, and if this suit is allowed to proceed there’s a good chance we’ll learn a lot more about what really happened. So I’m very interested to see what happens.

Documenting the bangs

You have to admire the dedication to craft.

Did not age well

Like so many in Houston, Tony Adams and his family had to flee their inner-Loop home when Hurricane Harvey pushed Houston’s bayous out of their banks in August 2017.

Weeks later, Adams watched the 2017 World Series from the couch at a friend’s house, celebrating the Astros’ victory. Last fall, though, he was left crestfallen by allegations that the Astros had resorted to electronic sign-stealing en route to the 2017 championship.

Adams, however, did not fret in silence. As a web developer and graphic designer, he had the skills to discern what the Astros had done and the ability to document their actions in a comprehensive fashion that not even Major League Baseball chose to provide.

Accordingly, Tony Adams’ signstealingscandal.com website, which documents 8,274 pitches of 58 Astros games in 2017, has become a milestone of baseball scholarship — a public footprint of how the Astros did or, in some cases, did not, abuse technology for their own benefits in 2017.

“This is a difficult subject for Astros fans,” Adams said. “I think any reasonable fan has hurt feelings about it. The fact that it happened during our one World Series championship, I can’t help but think differently about that World Series.

“The Astros were so good in 2017 that I expected them to win the World Series, which you never want to do as a fan. I don’t think they needed to do this, which is what makes it so tragic.”

Adams devised a computer program that allowed him to discern 1,143 pitches at Minute Maid Park in 58 games that were preceded by banging sounds. The bangs were delivered by Astros players hitting a trash can after picking up signs captured by a centerfield camera to signal the batter that a breaking pitch or off-speed pitch was on the way.

Baseball scholars already are parsing Adams’ data for clues and trends, which he said was his goal. A portion of the website logs each pitch and the result of the at-bat, using his observations linked to data from MLB’s Statcast pitch-tracking system.

A writer for Baseball Prospectus determined that the sign-stealing caper may have hurt the Astros as much as it helped them. Writers for The Athletic speculate that data for at-bats by George Springer, Evan Gattis, Carlos Correa and Jake Marisnick could help explain why each batter reduced strikeout totals significantly in 2017.

Adams, meanwhile, tries to leave interpretations to others.

“People are able to see that there are certain players who probably had less involvement with the banging scheme,” he said.

Chief among that group was 2017 American League MVP Jose Altuve, who ranked near the bottom of the list in terms of the percentage of pitches on which banging sounds were recorded. Adams said he was meticulous about his research but was particularly precise regarding Altuve, giving each of his at-bats a second listen to make sure he wasn’t missing anything.

I’m really glad he did this, because the efficacy of many well-known ways of cheating in baseball – spitballs, corked bats, PEDs – is very much an open question. The best solution to sign stealing may well be an abundance of evidence that it doesn’t help the teams that try it. This isn’t conclusive, of course – not all of the pitches were charted, other teams may have been more efficient at this than the Astros, other methods of cheating or further refinements to this type of cheating may pay greater dividends – but it’s at least a pragmatic argument against the practice, for those times when the moral and ethical arguments fall short. Gotta start somewhere. A recent episode of the Effectively Wild podcast contains a thirty minute interview with Adams if you want to know more about this. Kudos for the good work, Tony Adams.

We have an Astros apology

From a former player, not a current player. It’s still something.

Dallas Keuchel

Twelve days later, an apology appeared on the south side of Chicago, from a bearded face that was constant throughout the Astros’ now-ruined renaissance.

“Was it against the rules? Yes it was,” Dallas Keuchel said. “And I personally am sorry for what’s come about the whole situation.”

Keuchel, now a member of the White Sox, became the first Astros player past or present to formally acknowledge and apologize for the electronic sign-stealing scandal that’s rocked the sport and cost four men their jobs.

The 2015 Cy Young winner spoke Friday at White Sox FanFest, directly addressing many topics his former Astros teammates have avoided. Keuchel, who left Houston as a free agent after the 2018 season, was an All-Star who threw 1452/3 innings during the 2017 World Series-winning season.

“It’s just what the state of baseball was at that point in time,” Keuchel said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “… It is what it is, and we’ve got to move past that. I never thought anything would’ve come like it did. I, myself, am sorry.”

Of the five current Astros players who’ve spoken since Major League Baseball released its findings Jan. 13, none have expressed remorse or assumed any culpability. Owner Jim Crane said this week he expects the team to come together at spring training, discuss its next steps and perhaps issue “a strong statement” of apology.

“First and foremost I think apologies should be in order for, if not everybody on the team,” Keuchel said. “It was never intended to be what it is made to be right now. I think when stuff comes out about things that happen over the course of a major-league ball season, it’s always blown up to the point of ‘Oh, my gosh, this has never happened before.’”

Keuchel said that he’s spoken to some of his former Astros teammates and reported “there is sorrow in some guys’ voices.”

Most, Keuchel said, are unhappy at Mike Fiers’ decision to speak on the record about the ploy to The Athletic in November. Fiers’ on-record account was the catalyst for MLB’s investigation.

“A lot of guys are not happy with the fact that Mike came out and said something or the fact that this even happened,” Keuchel said. “But at the same time, there is some sorrow in guys’ voices. I have talked to guys before and this will be going on for a long time and I’m sure in the back of guys minds this’ll stay fresh.”

I mean, was that so hard? It’s not even that abject, doesn’t really admit wrongdoing, but it at least acknowledges that an apology is called for. Keuchel gets a bit of a discount, for being a pitcher and thus not a beneficiary of the banging scheme, and for being a former Astro, but if you start from there and are sincere about it, what you end up with should be fine. But the longer this drags on, the less it will mean. Don’t keep us waiting.

Is there an Astros apology coming?

Maybe.

Did not age well

A “strong statement” of apology could be forthcoming from the Astros players involved in electronic sign-stealing during the 2017 and 2018 seasons, owner Jim Crane said Tuesday.

In response to interviews given by Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman on Saturday at FanFest, Crane said his players are “just getting some advice to take it easy.”

Neither Altuve nor Bregman addressed specifics of the sign-stealing scheme — one Major League Baseball determined was “player-driven” — nor did they accept culpability for the fallout when presented the option. Manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were fired after the league released its investigative findings.

“When we get down to spring training, we’ll all get them together and they’ll come out with a strong statement as a team and, I think, apologize for what happened and move forward,” Crane said Tuesday prior to the Houston Sports Awards.

Crane said the players who’ve spoken have been “holding back a bit” and are apparently awaiting spring training to formulate a response.

“Everyone is split up. It’s a team,” Crane said. “We’re going to sit in a room and talk about it, then we’ll come out and address the press. All of them will address the press, either as a group or individually. Quite frankly, we’ll apologize for what happened, ask for forgiveness and move forward.”

You know my opinion. I just hope that if and when they do offer an apology, it’s genuine and heartfelt and not one of those “if anyone was offended” abominations. Better to fully embrace being the heel than to half-ass it, that’s my advice. Joe Holley has more.

Jeter, Walker elected to Hall of Fame

Congratulations.

Derek Jeter received the second-highest plurality in the history of Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting for the National Baseball Hall of Fame in being elected Tuesday along with Larry Walker in the 2020 balloting verified by Ernst & Young.

Of the 397 ballots cast by select 10-year members of the BBWAA, Jeter was named on 396 (99.7 percent), second only to former New York Yankees teammate Mariano Rivera’s 100 percent in 2019, and ahead of third-place Ken Griffey Jr., who received 99.3 percent of the vote in 2016.

Whereas Jeter was elected in his first year of eligibility, Walker made the grade in his 10th-and-final year on the BBWAA ballot. They will be honored as part of the Hall’s Induction Weekend July 24-27 in Cooperstown, N.Y., along with catcher Ted Simmons and the late Major League Players Association executive director Marvin Miller, who were elected in December by the Modern Baseball Era Committee.

[…]

Walker, whose 22-percent jump in support from 2019 was the highest for a player in his last year of eligibility in 65 years, also becomes the first player who ever wore a Colorado Rockies uniform to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Falling 20 votes short of the total needed for induction was pitcher Curt Schilling with 70 percent of the vote in his eighth year on the ballot. The only other players who were named on more than half the ballots were pitcher Roger Clemens (61.0), outfielder Barry Bonds (60.7) and shortstop Omar Vizquel (52.6). Players may remain on the ballot provided they receive mention on five percent of ballots cast. Other than Jeter, the only one of the 18 first-ballot candidates to achieve that level was outfielder Bobby Abreu (5.5).

Jeter, 45, spent all 20 of his major-league seasons with the Yankees from 1995-2014, was a member of five World Series championship teams, captained the Yankees from 2003 through the end of his career and finished with 3,465 hits, the sixth highest total in history. His other career rankings include seventh in at-bats (11,195), 11th in runs (1,923), 23rd in total bases (4,921), 29th in games (2,747) and 35th in doubles (544). Jeter never played a position other than shortstop in his 2,674 games in the field, which ranks second all-time at the position only to Vizquel. Jeter was the American League Rookie of the Year in 1996, was the runner-up for the AL Most Valuable Player Award in 2006 and finished third in AL MVP voting twice, in 1998 and 2009.

The 14-time All-Star was the MVP of the 2000 game at Atlanta, and later that year was also the World Series MVP in the Yankees’ five-game triumph over the New York Mets. Jeter had eight 200-hit seasons, batted .300 12 times, scored 100 or more runs 13 times and won five Gold Glove Awards for fielding.

He participated in 33 series and 158 games in postseason play, both records, and also holds postseason marks for at-bats (650), runs (111), hits (200), total bases (302), doubles (32) and triples (5). In essentially the equivalent of a full regular season, Jeter in postseason play batted .308 with 20 home runs, 61 runs batted in and 66 walks. He won the Hank Aaron Award for hitting in 2006 and ’09, the Roberto Clemente Award for community service in 2009 and the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for philanthropy in 2011.

Walker, 53, batted .313 with 383 home runs over 17 seasons with Montreal, Colorado and St. Louis. He was the National League MVP in 1997 when he hit .366 with league-leading totals in home runs (49), total bases (409, the 18th -highest single-season total in history), on-base percentage (.452) and slugging percentage (.720) for the Rockies. The three-time batting champion won seven Gold Glove Awards for fielding and three Silver Slugger Awards as an outfielder. Walker was a five-time All-Star who ranks 12th in career slugging percentage (.565) and 15th in career on-base percentage plus slugging (.965). He batted .357 with a 1.366 OPS in his only World Series appearance, in 2004, a four-game sweep of the Cardinals by the Boston Red Sox.

Jeter’s election was a foregone conclusion – the only suspense was whether he’d be unanimous or not. (He wasn’t – one voter, whose ballot was not made public, left him off.) Walker was a longer shot and was the sabermetric darling of the bunch. Baseball Twitter was delighted by his election, and I’m there with them. Jeter and Walker join Marvin Miller and Ted Simmons, elected earlier by the Modern Era Committee, making this a strong, well-rounded class. Congratulations to all the new inductees. CBS Sports has more.

You can’t move on from something you haven’t faced up to

That’s not how it works.

Did not age well

Neither Jose Altuve nor Alex Bregman, two principal players on a 2017 team that executed what Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred described as a “player-driven and player-executed” system to violate baseball’s rules and defraud the game, chose Saturday to address specifics of a nine-page report on the scandal that led to the dismissal of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch.

If there is remorse and apology, that will come later, perhaps next month after the ballclub gathers at West Palm Beach, Fla, for spring training. But for the moment, if there are fences to be mended, feelings to be reconciled or trust to be regained, Astros fans apparently will be left to their own devices.

Until the players speak, the focus of the Astros’ efforts to cope with and move past what some have described as baseball’s worst performance-related scandal in a century remains on owner Jim Crane, who made the decision last Monday to fire Hinch and Luhnow rather than settle for the suspensions imposed by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.

By firing his manager and general manaager, said Gene Grabowski, a principal with the public relations firm kglobal, the Astros have made the appropriate sacrifice for their sins to the Lords of Baseball.

“They have thrown the virgin into the volcano,” Grabowski said.

With that, he said, the most important task facing Astros management is to move ahead, as Crane has done by apologizing to season ticket holders, contacting sponsors and receiving what he described as messages of continued support.

“You have to get past this,” Grabowski said.

[…]

Astros alumni Jeff Bagwell and Lance Berkman also emphasized the need to look ahead.

“When I get a spanking from my dad, he doesn’t quit loving me and I don’t quit being his son,” Berkman said. “The Astros aren’t going to stop being part of Major League Baseball. You have to accept the punishment and move on.

“This is a clean organization. This is not a dirty organization. This is not a tricky organization. All these things notwithstanding, this is a great organization, and I think it will continue to be.”

Bagwell agreed with Altuve that it’s too early for players to react to the specific charges outlined in the commissioner’s report.

“Everyone is still trying to wrap their heads around it,” he said.

Others, however, favor a more direct approach. Jeff Van Gundy, the former Rockets coach who now works for ESPN, said the forgiving nature of Houston fans and the old saw that confession is good for the soul would be a better avenue than silence.

“You don’t have to get into specifics, but you can say, ‘I’m sorry for the role that I played in this, and I promise the Astros fans that not only will I promise not to do it again, I won’t tolerate anybody else doing it,’ ” Van Gundy said.

While some fans will scoff at the idea that players did anything wrong by violating the rules in a sport where competition is everything and winning is the only thing, Van Gundy said, “The earlier you deal with it, the more forthright you are, the better.

“Saying ‘I screwed up’ is the hardest thing to do. But it’s the simplest way to be forgiven.”

I’m with Van Gundy here. Look, the main thing we know here is that other than then-coach Alex Cora, the whole “banging scheme” was player-devised and player-driven. Yet for a variety of understandable if debatable reasons, MLB chose to punish only the manager and GM. This has not only left the public wanting players to be held accountable as well, it’s also left every member of the Astros team from 2017 and 2018 under a cloud. That cloud isn’t going anywhere until the players themselves talk about their own role in what happened, whether as a ringleader, beneficiary of the scheme, or just someone who didn’t care for it but didn’t speak up about it. This isn’t complicated. The Astros themselves can feel however they want about all this, but if they want other people to move on, they need to own what they did and apologize for it.

Update on the little girl hit by the foul ball

Man, this breaks my heart.

The 2½-year-old girl who suffered a skull fracture when hit in the head by a foul ball at an Astros game May 29 continues to be treated for a brain injury that has left her at lasting risk for seizures, an attorney representing the girl’s family said.

Attorney Richard Mithoff, who represents the child’s family, said the girl continues to receive anti-seizure medication more than seven months after she was struck by a line drive off the bat of Chicago Cubs player Albert Almora at Minute Maid Park.

“She (the child) has an injury to a part of the brain, and it is permanent,” Mithoff said. “She remains subject to seizures and is on medication and will be, perhaps, for the rest of her life. That may or may not be resolved.”

Mithoff said the child’s brain injury has affected her central nervous system in a manner that doctors described as being equivalent to a stroke. Areas of the brain affected, he said, include those in which injuries can result in seizures, loss of sensation and loss of spatial awareness.

Doctors and the child’s parents say other results of the injury include staring spells, periods of unresponsiveness, night terrors and frequent headaches.

“They (doctors) say this is consistent with the kind of injury she suffered,” the attorney said.

Mithoff said doctors have been unable to determine if the child, who turned 2 years old in May, has cognitive deficits as a result of the brain injury and skull fracture. She was struck in the back of the head while sitting in her grandfather’s lap along the third-base line in the ballpark’s lower bowl.

“She is able to continue with much of her routine as a girl her age would do, but her parents have to be particularly vigilant, as they are,” they attorney added. “She has wonderful parents and is receiving wonderful care. They obviously are concerned, but she is blessed with a family that is doing relatively well, considering everything.”

See here, here, and here for the background. I have a hard time just reading these stories; I cannot imagine what the family is going through. All 30 MLB ballparks will now feature extended netting, which is both welcome and overdue, and will hopefully greatly reduce the odds of further injury like this. I know some people don’t like that, and that this will reduce the viewing experience for them. All I can say is that the alternative is not acceptable. Let no one else suffer the way this little girl has suffered.

Luhnnow and Hinch suspended by MLB, then fired by Astros

Wow.

Did not age well

Astros owner Jim Crane fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow on Monday shortly after Major League Baseball announced the pair would be suspended for a year as part of the penalties for the investigation into alleged electronic-sign stealing.

“Today is a very difficult day for the Houston Astros,” Astros owner Jim Crane said in a press conference Monday. “MLB did a very thorough investigation and the Astros fully cooperated and we accept their decisions and findings and penalties.”

The franchise also was stripped of its first- and second-round picks in both the 2020 and 2021 drafts and fined $5 million.

MLB’s report detailed the Astros’ efforts to steal signs in 2017 and laid out the punishment handed down to the Astros. Crane opted to go a step further.

“I have higher standards for the city and the franchise,” Crane said.

Well, at least the Astros found a way to make everyone forget about the Texans’ playoff disaster. The full report is embedded in the story, and it’s not long, so go read the whole thing. (Or just read the highlights here, but really, read the whole thing.) I’d say this was on the high end of what I thought might happen, but it’s not out of line with my expectations. The key is that the activity continued to occur after the 2017 Red Sox Apple Watch incident, in which Commissioner Manfred (the author of the report) explicitly promised strong punishment if anyone was caught doing stuff like that again. If I’m Alex Cora, who was directly named as a mastermind behind the scheme and is now the manager of another team under investigation I’m probably not sleeping well right now. We can debate at length whether this was fitting or not, or if any punishment is worth winning a World Series, or just put on some oven mitts and read Twitter about it. Let’s just say 2020 is off to a rough start for Houston sports fans.

This also wrapped up the Brandon Taubman investigation – he too was suspended for a year, and will have to apply to the Commissioner’s office for reinstatement. He was also singled out in the report for some sharp rebukes. I’ll be thinking about all this for some time. The Press has more.

UPDATE: This did not age well.

Allegations of electronic sign-stealing “surprised” Astros shortstop Carlos Correa, who acknowledged Saturday he has participated in and cooperated with Major League Baseball’s ongoing investigation into his team.

Appearing at an autograph show alongside Alex Bregman and George Springer, Correa offered the most elaborate comments of any Houston player since the scandal broke last November.

Correa expressed little worry about the organization’s reputation and no thought the 2017 World Series title is in any way tainted. He revealed subtle antipathy toward former teammate Mike Fiers, whose on-the-record allegations about the 2017 team’s actions spurred the investigation.

“He’s a grown man, and he can do whatever he wants to do. It’s a free country,” Correa said. “Knowing Fiers, it was surprising, because we were a team. We were a team. We were all together, and we had a bond, and we won a World Series championship. But this is America, the land of the free. You can say what you want to say.”

I’d say at least a little worry about the team’s reputation is in order at this time. There’s no evidence to suggest that the sign stealing actually benefited the Astros, but that doesn’t matter. Fair or not, this scandal will forever be associated with that title.

It’s not just the Astros

Oh, boy.

The Dodgers have not won the World Series since 1988. They have only appeared in the World Series twice since then, in 2017 and 2018.

Both teams that beat them — the Houston Astros in 2017 and the Boston Red Sox in 2018 — now are under investigation by Major League Baseball over allegations they improperly using technology to steal signs.

During the 2018 regular season, according to a story posted by the Athletic on Tuesday, the Red Sox visited the replay room during games to review signs flashed by opposing teams.

“It’s cheating,” one person who was with the 2018 Red Sox told the Athletic. “Because if you’re using a camera to zoom in on the crotch of the catcher, to break down the sign system, and then take that information and give it out to the runner, then he doesn’t have to steal it.”

The league monitored replay rooms during the 2018 postseason, making it unlikely the Red Sox would have been able to use the system during the World Series.

The Red Sox said in a statement Tuesday: “We were recently made aware of allegations suggesting the inappropriate use of our video replay room. We take these allegations seriously and will fully cooperate with MLB as they investigate the matter.”

See here and here for the most recent updates on the Astro investigation. As a Yankees fan, I’m torn between stifling a giggle, and lighting a thousand candles in the fervent hope that my team isn’t the next one in the barrel. I can believe that some teams may have been doing this more (and more egregiously) than others, but I have no trouble believing that most if not all of them were at least dipping a toe into this kind of illegal activity. In the meantime, Astros fans, enjoy the schadenfreude while you can.

The robo-umps are coming

Not right away, but you can see it from here.

Computer plate umpires could be called up to the major leagues at some point during the next five seasons.

Umpires agreed to cooperate with Major League Baseball in the development and testing of an automated ball-strike system as part of a five-year labor contract announced Saturday, two people familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. The Major League Baseball Umpires Association also agreed to cooperate and assist if Commissioner Rob Manfred decides to utilize the system at the major league level. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because those details of the deal, which is subject to ratification by both sides, had not been announced.

The independent Atlantic League became the first American professional league to let a computer call balls and strikes at its All-Star Game on July 10. Plate umpire Brian deBrauwere wore an earpiece connected to an iPhone in his pocket and relayed the call upon receiving it from a TrackMan computer system that uses Doppler radar.

The Atlantic League experimented with the computer system during the second half of its season, and the Arizona Fall League of top prospects used it for a few dozen games this year at Salt River Fields.

MLB has discussed installing the system at the Class A Florida State League for 2020. If that test goes well, the computer umps could be used at Triple-A in 2021 as bugs are dealt with prior to a big league callup.

[…]

It is not clear whether the Major League Baseball Players Association would need to approve computerized ball and strikes.

“We are aware the umpires and MLB are in negotiations over a new CBA,” said players’ union head Tony Clark, a former All-Star first baseman. “MLB will have their negotiation with them, and they will need to discuss with us.”

See here for the background. Everyone agrees that robot umps are coming, at least for ball/strike calls, we’re all just arguing about the timeline. One of the things we’ve learned from the Atlantic League’s experience, is that the low-and-away part of the rulebook strike zone is generally not called a strike by human umpires but is by the robo-umps, and there’s a good argument that the automated system should be adjusted to be more like the human umps. Another thing we’ve learned is that accurate height data for the players is needed, else the automated zone, which is calculated based on those measurements, is not a true reflection of what it should be. There are still refinements to be made, and there’s no rush to get there. I’ll be a little surprised if we have this system in place in five years, but I’ll be even more surprised if we don’t in ten years.

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.