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Abbott expects there to be college football this fall

Pretty optimistic, if you ask me.

Gov. Greg Abbott said he believes college football will begin on schedule in Texas with some fans in the stands, he told KXAN during an interview Friday.

“My prediction is yes we’re going to have college football beginning as scheduled, on schedule, with at least some level of fans in the stands,” the governor said.

Abbott said what is unclear at the moment is what the capacity level would be.

“Would it be strategic and limited to ensure that we have safe distancing practices, there are factors we simply do not know at this time,” Abbott explained about the potential health risks of reopening UT football in the fall.

Abbott stated that the University of Texas at Austin’s athletic director needs a decision by early August. He said the state thinks it should be able to make a decision by then.

This isn’t out of the blue. In April, the chancellors of Texas A&M and Texas Tech said they expect there will be football when they reopen in the fall, though that story didn’t address the question of fans. ESPN quoted Abbott referring to the reopening plans of MLB and the NBA, though those sports and others like MLS are all talking about fan-free games, possibly at a single location. It’s one thing to imagine the games happening, especially if the campuses are open anyway. It’s another to imagine sixty thousand people or more packed into a stadium screaming their lungs out, especially if the pro sports leagues are still playing before nothing but empty seats. Texas A&M at least is thinking about what this might mean.

“We have not gone down the path of examining every section,” A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said of exactly how many fans Kyle Field will hold with mandated social distancing in place. “There are a lot of scenarios being discussed.”

Like that proverbial glass, Bjork prefers to envision a stadium as half full, not half empty, should restrictions be in place this season.

“We want a full experience, and we’re staying positive — that’s the approach we’re taking right now,” Bjork said. “We know we can pivot quickly if we have to, but we have not mapped that out.”

[…]

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has gradually reopened the state in the past month, but he has held off on potentially crowded events such as county fairs. With that in mind, what exactly would Kyle Field look like at, say, 25 percent capacity?

Roughly 25,000 fans would be spread throughout the stadium, and which fans would be allowed in would be determined in a potentially convoluted process.

“You’ve got 102,733 seats,” Bjork said. “Last year we sold about 85,000 season tickets, including right around 35,000 student tickets. That leaves you about 18,000 empty seats. The great thing about Kyle Field is we have a lot of space. So you would start with your infrastructure and analyze it from there, but we would not (ideally) want to decrease our season ticket base. …

“We have a huge footprint, and we just haven’t had to go down that (downsizing) path yet.”

Should social distancing be required at Kyle Field this fall, not only would fans be spaced at least 6 feet apart throughout the stadium, but multiple measures would be in place to try to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

That might mean everyone but the players and those on the sideline would be required to wear masks (further muffling touchdown celebrations and the Aggies’ tradition of kissing after a score); an abundance of hand sanitizers spread throughout the stadium; and scheduled times for different sections to enter the stadium so there is no squeeze at the gates, where body temperatures might also be checked.

Bjork added that it might be helpful for fans to bring their own beverage containers to limit the number of hands on a cup, making last year’s new policy of selling alcohol throughout the stadium a bit trickier. A&M and its concessions cohort made more than $1 million off alcohol sales at Kyle Field in 2019, according to the university.

“One of the things that we’ve had to do with the alcohol policy is have (employees) pour the bottle or can of beer into a cup (for fans); that’s an SEC policy,” Bjork said. “Does that need to change so you limit as many contacts as possible? Those approaches are being studied right now.”

So are the possibilities of limiting the university-sanctioned tailgating scene around Kyle Field, and the myriad activities in the Aggie Fan Zone on the plaza north of the stadium that create a festival-like atmosphere in the hours before kickoff.

“There’s nothing you can really put in writing right now or have a ‘backup’ plan yet, because there’s too much uncertainty, and it’s way too early,” Bjork said of the Aggies’ plans for Kyle Field starting with the Sept. 5 opener against Abilene Christian.

Which fans would get to attend would also present a knotty question for them. I do expect there to be a lot of pressure for playing college football, for various financial and social reasons. How that manifests remains an open question, and that’s before we take into account the possibility of a resurgence, in which case all of this will seem extremely stupid.

This is an issue that has more than the usual amount of resonance for me. As you know if you’ve been reading this site for awhile or know me in Real Life, I’ve been a member of the Rice Marching Owl Band (MOB) for many years. I don’t know at this point what Rice plans to go regarding its sports teams, nor do I know at this point what the MOB plans to do. (They’ve been busy with the usual end-of-semester activities, saying goodbye to graduating seniors and installing the new drum major and drum minor, that sort of thing.) I really don’t know what I plan to do just yet if everyone is going ahead like normal. On the one hand, we’ll be outside and there will be a reasonable amount of space for us all in the stands. On the other hand, there’s only so much social distancing a band can do and still sound like a band, the deep breathing that playing a wind instrument requires is an extra risk factor for COVID transmission, and everything else about the stadium experience will involve a lot of closer-than-I’m-comfortable-with contact with other people. Maybe if we’ve really got infection rates under control, or there’s true universal testing, I’d be willing to trot out there for another season like it was the Before Times. I’m not feeling that right now. Ask me again in August and we’ll see. The Chron has more.

The NBA inches closer to a return

We’ll know more soon.

NBA teams are expecting the league office will issue guidelines around June 1 that will allow franchises to start recalling players who’ve left their markets as a first step toward a formal ramp-up for the season’s resumption, sources told ESPN.

Teams expect a similar timeline from the league on when they’ll be allowed to expand individual workouts already underway with in-market players to include more team personnel, sources said.

The NBA suspended the 2019-20 season on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The league is discussing a step-by-step plan for a resumption of the season that includes an initial two-week recall of players into team marketplaces for a period of quarantine, one to two weeks of individual workouts at team facilities, and a two- to three-week formal training camp, sources told ESPN.

Barring an unforeseen turn of events, many NBA owners, executives and National Basketball Players Association elders believe commissioner Adam Silver will green-light the return to play in June — with games expected to resume sometime before the end of July, sources said.

The NBA is still considering a two-site format for the return of the season, including Orlando’s Walt Disney World and Las Vegas, sources said.

See here for some background. That story was from Thursday. As of Saturday, things had progressed a bit further.

The NBA is going to Disneyworld. Or at least, it hopes to save its season and declare a champion in a single-site scenario outside of Orlando.

In the most public sign yet that the NBA is hopeful that it can resume its 2019-20 season amid the coronavirus pandemic, NBA spokesman Mike Bass said the league has begun exploratory talks with the Walt Disney Company about using its venue in central Florida to hold practices and games without fans present.

“The NBA, in conjunction with the National Basketball Players Association, is engaged in exploratory conversations with The Walt Disney Company about restarting the 2019-20 NBA season in late July at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida as a single site for an NBA campus for games, practices and housing,” Bass said in a statement.

“Our priority continues to be the health and safety of all involved, and we are working with public health experts and government officials on a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that appropriate medical protocols and protections are in place.”

The MLS is also looking at Orlando, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports facility. I don’t know how much that might complicate the logistics, but one presumes they will figure it out. The Chron had reported earlier in the week that the Toyota Center in Houston had been in the discussion as a potential venue, but that is apparently no longer in play. It’s possible the NBA will go straight into a playoff system, or it may play some more regular season games but eliminate the teams with the worst records to limit the number of people required to be there. I guess we’ll find out soon enough.

As you know, Major League Baseball has also been working on a season-starting proposal, though in typical fashion the owners are making up claims about financial losses in an attempt to back out of the previous agreement with the players and squeeze them on salaries. I suspect this will get resolved at some point, in which case we may suddenly have a lot of sports coming back to us. Assuming, of course, that there isn’t a big post-reopening spike in infections or other insurmountable obstacle. But if things go as the optimists hope, we could go from no sports to a fairly full slate in a hurry. We’ll see.

Arguments due this week in Astros sign stealing lawsuits

Here we go.

Did not age well

Attorneys will submit written arguments May 25 to a Harris County judge in the Astros’ attempt to dismiss a consolidated lawsuit filed by season ticket holders upset by the 2017-18 electronic sign-stealing scandal.

State District Judge Robert Schaffer is overseeing the case, which combines three earlier lawsuits accusing the Astros of fraud and violations of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act.

A hearing to dismiss normally would be held in person but will be conducted in writing because courthouse access is limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The consolidated suit, which was updated earlier this month, expands a proposed class of Astros season ticket holders suing the team to include full and partial season ticket-holders from 2016 through 2020.

It also adds three plaintiffs as prospective representatives for the requested class action.

One represents 2016 ticket holders. A second, the engineering and construction management firm CHA Consulting, would represent Diamond Club customers.

A third, Houston resident Donald Rao, represents 2020 season ticket holders who are seeking refunds from the ballclub for games that are not expected to be played this season because of the Major League Baseball shutdown.

See here for the previous update. With the DraftKings lawsuit tossed, there’s this one and the California lawsuit, which the Astros want either to be dismissed or moved to Texas.

Here’s the MLB season-starter proposal

Make of it what you will.

Major League Baseball owners gave the go-ahead Monday to making a proposal to the players’ union that could lead to the coronavirus-delayed season starting around the Fourth of July weekend in ballparks without fans, a plan that envisioned expanding the designated hitter to the National League for 2020.

Spring training would start in early to mid-June, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because details of the plan were not announced.

[…]

Teams will propose that players receive the percentage of their 2020 salaries based on a 50-50 split of revenues MLB receives during the regular-season and postseason, which likely will be among the most contentious aspects of the proposal during negotiations with the players’ association.

That proposal would take into account fans being able to return to ballparks at some point, perhaps with a small percentage of seats sold at first and then gradually increasing.

Rosters would be expanded from 26 to around 30. With minor leagues shuttered, there likely will be the addition of about 20 players per club akin to the NFL’s practice squad.

MLB officials are slated to make a presentation to the union on Tuesday.

Players and teams agreed to a deal on March 26 that called for each player to receive only a portion of salary, determined by what percentage of a 162-game schedule is played. As part of that deal, if no season is played each player would receive 2020 service time matching what the player earned in 2019.

But that deal is contingent there being no restrictions on mass gatherings at the federal, state, city and local level; no relevant travel restrictions in the U.S. and Canada; and Commissioner Rob Manfred after consulting the union and medical expects, determines there is no risk to playing in front of fans at regular-season ballparks.

Players and teams committed to “discuss in good faith the economic feasibility of playing games in the absence of spectators or at appropriate neutral sites.” Manfred has said about 40% of MLB revenue is tied to gate, including concessions, parking, ballpark advertising, luxury suites and programs.

Union officials and players have cited the March 26 agreement as setting economic terms and say they have no inclination for additional cuts.

See here for the background and some more details about the initial proposal. I’m going to hand this off to Fangraphs for some deeper analysis.

In a half-season scenario, if teams lost nearly all of their stadium revenue, and every other revenue and expense stream (including player payroll) were cut in half, there’s an argument that the owners might lose about $50 million per team this season. While that’s still about $2 billion shy of the profits they’ve made over the previous three seasons ($4 billion including BAMTech money), it’s a significant loss. Of course, the vast majority of those non-stadium revenues will not be cut in half. MLB is still in a very good position with its television partners, and even getting 75% of non-stadium revenue would allow the league to break even without renegotiating the deal it previously agreed to with the players. And that’s before we even get to teams taking lower annual local rights fees in exchange for ownership stakes in regional sports networks, which might send another half-billion dollars or more to teams annually. Those profits aren’t included in the revenue sharing among teams, and similar issues will make revenue sharing with players incredibly difficult to determine.

And even if we were to assume that by playing half a season without fans MLB is going to operate at a loss paying the players half their salaries, and then further decide that players should share a greater part of the burden of potential losses in the form of revenue sharing despite not having received any of the benefits of increasing profitability the last three years, what constitutes revenue in this scenario? Calculating revenues in a normal year is hard; calculating them this year will be near-impossible. We can talk about the under-market local TV deals of the Red Sox, Mets, Yankees, and Cubs, which siphon off baseball revenue in the form of network ownership, as a potential sticking point but even more difficult is determining revenue on national and local television deals and sponsorships.

If a team or the league agrees to take a discounted amount for a television deal or local sponsorship in order to make more money in future years, would such a deal require player approval? After all, the team or the league would be actively negotiating away money that might go to the players this year, but wouldn’t in future seasons when revenue sharing wasn’t in effect. The league and teams have longstanding relationships with their television partners and sponsors and they want to keep each other happy and provide each other with the biggest possible return on those relationships. The players are uniquely disadvantaged when trying to determine revenue due to these relationships and the potential for moving money around to the advantage of the parties already engaged in the deal. Involving the players will only lead to more acrimony and bigger headaches down the line.

So I dunno. I would dearly love to see baseball start again, if it is sufficiently safe, but I have no desire to see the players sacrifice their salaries for the owners’ benefit. I’m sure there’s room to make this work better, if the sides are willing to talk. We’ll see how the players react. ESPN has more.

MLB’s restart plan is coming

Get ready.

According to multiple reports, commissioner Rob Manfred will present a blueprint for the season’s resumption during a Monday conference call with league owners. From there, the first formal proposal for a return to play would be given to the Players Association, perhaps as early as Tuesday.

Reports on Saturday characterized the situation as still extremely fluid, with many hurdles to overcome. Approval is not only needed from the players but also from local governments and medical experts with whom the league has been in constant consultation.

According to reports, the plan presented to owners is expected to contain an 80-game season that begins in early July with the goal of playing as many games as possible in empty home ballparks.

Some form of a second spring training would be required in June — either at home ballparks or at facilities in Florida and Arizona. Active rosters would have to be expanded beyond 26 players, perhaps as big as 45 or 50, according to The Athletic.

Teams would play exclusively against their divisional opponents and against their geographic counterpart in the other league — meaning the Astros could face teams in only the American League and National League West. The postseason would expand from 10 to 14 teams, too.

Concerns about harder hit areas of the country, travel and the availability of widespread testing for COVID-19 are still obvious. What to do if a player or staff member tests positive is still unknown.

In an agreement between the league and its players association on March 26, MLB promised not to resume its season until there were no bans on mass gatherings, medical experts determined there was no health risks for players, team personnel fans or ballpark staff and travel restrictions were lifted in the United States and Canada.

The agreement did offer flexibility for the league and union to discuss playing in empty stadiums, which is now almost a certainty. The economic impacts of such a scenario could offer the most discontent between the league and players union.

The three-divisions plan, with teams playing in their (likely empty) stadia against the teams geographically closest to them is different from the three states plan, which was the last one I had taken note of, but it’s in the same vein. The idea is to minimize travel (which also reduces costs) and make it easier to keep the players close by. Whatever gets proposed will have to be approved by the players, who have their own concerns about safety and compensation and other things. There’s basically no other news out there about this right now, or at least there wasn’t yesterday when I drafted this. I’m sure we’ll see more once the actual plan has been released. In the meantime, I am hopeful that we are on a path to getting baseball back, and more than a little concerned that it’s all an illusion that will not be able to withstand the reality of our situation. I’m sticking with the hope for now.

Hey look, there’s baseball!

Welcome to the KBO:

Those craving live baseball can soon get a fix.

ESPN announced Monday an agreement with Eclat Media Group to televise six live Korean Baseball Organization games per week. KBO Opening Day [was] Tuesday and ESPN [began] its telecasts then, with a midnight game between the NC Dinos and Samsung Lions.

Former Astros outfielder Preston Tucker is among the handful of American-born players set to start his season. Tucker’s Kia Tigers will play at 4:30 a.m. Friday against the Samsung Lions on ESPN. KBO games will not have fans.

ESPN’s deal includes the KBO postseason and best-of-seven championship series. ESPN’s familiar crew of broadcasters and analysts — Jon Sciambi, Karl Ravech, Eduardo Perez, Jessica Mendoza and Kyle Peterson — will call the games remotely from their home offices.

[…]

In an interview last month, Tucker detailed the many steps taken by the KBO to get its season back. Tucker must take his temperature in the morning, at night and before he enters the ballpark. Any player or staff member with an elevated temperature is not allowed to enter the facility.

The KBO issued new regulations and guidelines that included a ban on spitting and cautioned against high-fiving or handshakes. Tucker said players have been advised not to go to malls or movie theaters, but are permitted to go out to dinner or take walks around their home city.

“If you’re on the field, they’ve checked you out 100 percent that you’re at least not sick and not running a fever,” Tucker said. “If you make it into the stadium, they’ve pretty much cleared you if you’re healthy.”

FanGraphs has the first week’s schedule and a bunch of links to acquaint yourself with the league. The times are not great for an American audience, but that’s why God gave us DVRs. You’ll want to check out My KBO and its Twitter feed for English-language stats, history, highlights and more. The one thing my wife and I didn’t get to do that I wanted to do when we were in Seoul about 20 years ago was see a baseball game there. (We did get to see a game in Tokyo on that same trip, which was a phenomenal experience.) It’s been a wish list item for me for awhile now. I’ll probably tune into some games on ESPN, which among other things will help me see how weird this experience will be without a live crowd, since that will probably be what we get when one of the crazy plans being floated gets adopted.

I should note that the KBO is not the only game going on – the Chinese Professional Baseball League, from Taiwan, is also playing games. There are no English language broadcasts of the CPBL that I am aware of, but they will soon have live fans at the games. I’m glad for them, and also super jealous. I’m so ready for baseball here as well.

How about an Arizona/Florida/Texas plan for MLB?

Call it the MLB Plan 3.0 for having a season.

With the spread of the novel coronavirus threatening Major League Baseball’s 2020 season, the league and the union continue to seek ways to salvage the year as best they can. Predictably, that has entailed any number of proposals and contingency plans, including those that would see teams either all isolated in Arizona, or split between Arizona and Florida. On Monday, multiple league sources informed CBS Sports about a different idea that has been discussed in recent days.

In this arrangement, the league would have teams stationed in one of three hubs: Florida, Arizona or Texas. The clubs would then make use of the local major- and minor-league (or spring training) facilities and play regular season games behind closed doors without fans.

One source even expressed guarded optimism about the idea’s chances of coming to fruition.

Ballparks in St. Petersburg (Florida), Phoenix (Arizona), and Arlington (Texas) each have roofs, retractable or otherwise, that would safeguard against rainouts and other extreme weather, allowing for multiple games to be hosted at those sites per day. Theoretically, MLB could also ask teams stationed in Florida and Texas to drive three-plus hours to other MLB parks (Houston’s Minute Maid Park and Miami’s Marlins Park).

It’s unclear if MLB would assign 10 teams to each metropolitan area, or if it would opt for an unbalanced approach that would see 12 teams in one area and eight in another.

[…]

“From our perspective, we don’t have a plan, we have lots of ideas,” [MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred] told Fox Business. “What ideas come to fruition depends on what the restrictions are, what the public health situation is, but we are intent on the idea of making baseball a part of the economic recovery and sort of a milestone on the return to normalcy.”

See here and here for the previous iterations of this idea. The DMN adds more details.

While teams would need to drive as much as two or three hours in Florida to visit certain sites, Texas can offer two Major League stadiums: Globe Life Field in Arlington and Minute Maid Park in Houston. There are also numerous minor league facilities such as Dr Pepper Ballpark in Frisco and The Dell Diamond in Round Rock. There are also numerous top-tier college facilities, if those are made available.

[…]

Among things to be decided if Texas becomes more realistic: How would MLB temporarily realign from two 15-team leagues to three 10-team leagues? Under the Arizona/Florida idea, rather than having teams divided into the National and American Leagues, they would compete in the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues.

Also, which teams would be asked to give up the relative comforts of their own spring training facilities to temporarily plan in Texas? If MLB moves towards a league that is geared simply to be TV-friendly without fans, it might make sense to have leagues set up based on time zones, with East Coast teams in Florida, teams in the Central in Texas and the rest of the teams in Arizona.

There are eight teams with Central Time Zone home bases: Both Chicago teams, St. Louis, Kansas City, Minnesota, Milwaukee, Houston and the Rangers. Colorado is a Mountain Time Zone-based club, an hour behind the Central. A team from the Eastern Time Zone, perhaps Detroit, might need to be added.

Another question: Would the Rangers be able to use all of the numerous state-of-the-art amenities afforded them in Globe Life Field? Or would teams playing in their home stadiums have to give up some access to major league amenities if the majority of teams are playing in minor league stadiums?

Teams would also need some secondary bases for depth options since the minor league season is becoming more and more unlikely. That’s where minor league and college facilities could become more of a point of conversation.

As the Chron notes, Texas A&M has expressed interest in letting its stadium be used in this scenario. I’m sure other colleges would as well. Normally, even the biggest college stadium would be far too small for an MLB game, but with there being no spectators, that’s not an issue. So who knows? One other obstacle, as the CBS story notes, is that some prominent players, like Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw, have said they don’t want to be separated from their families for the four months this would take (assuming no return to regular stadium action in the interim). I feel like that is surmountable if this ever gets past the “there are no bad ideas” stage of the discussion. For now, MLB is just making sure that it has something it can try to execute in the event that things have improved enough to move forward with a season.

Manfred finally disciplines the Red Sox for their sign stealing

Here’s the MLB press release, written as a letter from Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Executive Summary

Following an exhaustive investigation into allegations of improper use of the video replay room by the Boston Red Sox, I have come to the following conclusions:

• I find that J.T. Watkins, the Red Sox video replay system operator, on at least some occasions during the 2018 regular season, utilized the game feeds in the replay room, in violation of MLB regulations, to revise sign sequence information that he had permissibly provided to players prior to the game.

• I find that unlike the Houston Astros’ 2017 conduct, in which players communicated to the batter from the dugout area in real time the precise type of pitch about to be thrown, Watkins’s conduct, by its very nature, was far more limited in scope and impact. The information was only relevant when the Red Sox had a runner on second base (which was 19.7% of plate appearances leaguewide in 2018), and Watkins communicated sign sequences in a manner that indicated that he had decoded them from the in-game feed in only a small percentage of those occurrences.

• I do not find that then-Manager Alex Cora, the Red Sox coaching staff, the Red Sox front office, or most of the players on the 2018 Red Sox knew or should have known that Watkins was utilizing in-game video to update the information that he had learned from his pregame analysis. Communication of these violations was episodic and isolated to Watkins and a limited number of Red Sox players only.

• I find that the Red Sox front office consistently communicated MLB’s sign stealing rules to non-player staff and made commendable efforts toward instilling a culture of compliance in their organization.

Discipline

Based on the findings described above, I hereby issue the following discipline:

1) J.T. Watkins shall be suspended for the 2020 season and 2020 Postseason. When Watkins returns from his suspension, he will be prohibited from serving as the replay room operator during any game for the 2021 season and 2021 Postseason.

2) The Boston Red Sox will forfeit their second round selection in the 2020 First-Year Player Draft.

3) Alex Cora will be suspended through the conclusion of the 2020 Postseason for his conduct as the bench coach of the Houston Astros in 2017. While I will not impose additional discipline on Cora as a result of the conduct engaged in by Watkins (because I do not find that he was aware of it), I do note that Cora did not effectively communicate to Red Sox players the sign-stealing rules that were in place for the 2018 season.

No other member of the 2018 Red Sox staff will be disciplined because I do not find that anyone was aware of or should have been aware of Watkins’s conduct. The Club’s front office took more than reasonable steps to ensure that its employees, including Watkins, adhered to the rules. Notwithstanding these good faith efforts to comply with the rules, however, the Red Sox organization ultimately is responsible for the conduct of a member of its advance scouting staff.

The full report is here. As with the Astros, Manfred did not discipline individual players, in part because he needed their cooperation in the probe, and in part because the collective bargaining agreement did not allow for it. Judging from what I saw on Twitter, the overwhelming response is “that’s it???”, which I can understand. For sure, it seemed like Cora, who was already fingered in the Astros’ 2017 banging scheme and then apparently brought that experience to Boston, would get a harsher sentence. Apparently not. No idea why it took this long to release the report – it was likely ready to go in March, before everything was about COVID-19 – but whatever. It is what it is at this point, and if we can ever get to being able to bitch about it while real games are being played, I’ll be grateful for that. Fangraphs has more.

The NBA is still looking for its way back

Nobody really knows what the next couple of months look like.

On the eve of what would have been the start of the postseason, NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Friday said he could not predict when, if or how it would resume its season or even when the league might know.

“We are not in position to make any decision and it’s unclear when we will be,” Silver said after the league held its annual spring Board of Governors meeting on Friday.

“I don’t mean to send any signals about the likelihood or not of restarting the season. All I can say is we’re still at a point where we don’t have enough information to make a decision.”

Quoting Disney CEO Robert Iger, who made a presentation to the Board of Governors, Silver said decisions were “about data, not the date.”

With that in mind, Silver could not even predict when decisions would have to be made because of the uncertainty in dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. He said many formats to play regular-season games and a postseason would be considered and that the league would be willing to delay the start of next season if necessary.

Still, even the factors that would have to be weighed to attempt to salvage the 2019-20 season showed how difficult it will be to resume the season that had been suspended on March 11.

“We’re looking for the number of new infections to come down,” Silver said. “We’re looking for the availability of testing on a large scale. We’re looking for the path we’re on potentially for a vaccine. And we’re looking at antivirals. On top of that, we’re paying close attention to what the CDC is telling us on a federal level and what these various state rules are that are in place.

“There’s a lot of data that all has to be melded together to help make these decisions. That’s part of the uncertainty.”

See here for some background. I’m less interested in the particulars, which includes something similar to the MLB games-in-a-bubble idea, than I am with the basic concept that no one has any idea when things will return to something sufficiently resembling “normal”. Right now, we’ve got the Governor talking about “reopening the economy”, and we’ve got whackjobs filing lawsuits and engaging in socially-undistanced protests over stay-at-home orders, all of whom want to more or less pretend that things are fine and we can all go back to going about our business. We also have these multi-billion-dollar enterprises, like the NCAA and major sports leagues, who would also very much like to get back to their own business of making money but have to take into account the very real risk to the health of their players, their employees, their fans, and so on. These leagues will act in their own self-interest, but that self-interest is balanced against other forces, which includes the players’ and officials’ unions, and the local governments where their teams are. The fact that a entity like the NBA, which is seeing the calendar run out on its current season, cannot say when it might be able to play its games again tells me more about our ability to “reopen the economy” than any crony-laden gubernatorial task force ever could.

Whither college football?

All NCAA spring sports were canceled due to coronavirus, beginning with March Madness and going through baseball and softball and soccer and everything else. Everyone has been looking forward to the fall when things were supposed to be back to “normal” again, but no one knows for sure what might happen.

NCAA Division I college sports in Texas is a billion-dollar business for the 23 participating schools, and athletic directors estimate 75 percent to 85 percent of that revenue is tied directly to football in terms of ticket sales, sponsorships, media rights fees and, for most schools, direct contributions from the students or the university.

All those revenue streams are in jeopardy with 20 weeks to go before the scheduled football season openers in late August, which is why college athletic directors are game-planning every potential scenario that comes to mind.

“The financial repercussions of not playing a football season are so significant there is going to be a way to do it and play it and do it responsibly,” University of Houston athletic director Chris Pezman said last week on KBME (790 AM), the school’s sports flagship station.

“If you don’t have that revenue stream that is associated with football, it gets dire very fast. … I am confident we are going to find a way through this and we’ll be able to play the season, whether it’s pushed back a little bit or the idea of playing in the spring.”

At Texas A&M, athletic director Ross Bjork is running through similar scenarios involving the mathematics of time and money.

Regular and postseason football requires four months with the addition of the College Football Playoff, and that must be preceded, Bjork said during a conference call last week, by a 60- to 75-day preparation period for players who have been outside the watchful, demanding eyes of strength coaches for several weeks.

John Sharp, Texas A&M’s chancellor, said last week October would not be too late to begin a complete 2020 season, which would presume a return of players, based on Bjork’s time model, in mid-July.

However, what flies in Texas might not work in other states.

As an example, the executive officer of Santa Clara County in northern California, which includes Stanford University and Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, said last week he did not expect “any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving.”

A&M, Bjork noted, is scheduled to play Colorado at College Station on Sept. 19. There’s no guarantee, however, Colorado will be in the same stage of recovery as Texas by mid-September.

Accordingly, Bjork said he expects a “layered” approach to football’s return, based on the advice of conference and university leaders and local and state governments.

“There’s not one trigger point,” he said. “We’re all just guessing, really. We don’t know what the data will tell us. We can model, but until you know when you’re starting or when you can have togetherness, it’s kind of hard to predict.”

It’s hard to imagine how sports like Major League Baseball can contemplate their return if the start of the NCAA football season is in jeopardy. Of course, MLB has the “play their games in hermetically sealed stadia in a small number of locations with no fans” option, which college football does not. I don’t doubt the desire or the intent to bring the games back, even if starting the season in December and essentially playing a spring season is a possible way forward. But as with everything else, there’s only so long you can push back one season before you push up against the next one, and there’s no way to know what the effects will be on fans, who may not be ready to tailgate and pack into venues just yet. It’s good for the leagues to prepare for all possibilities. You never know, things might go better than expected. It’s just all so massively weird right now.

The Arizona/Florida Plan

Let’s call this the MLB Plan 2.0 for playing a season.

Major League Baseball, assessing myriad proposals, has discussed a radical plan that would eliminate the traditional American and National Leagues for 2020, a high-ranking official told USA TODAY Sports, and realign all six divisions for an abbreviated season.

The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the proposal is one of several being discussed.

The plan would have all 30 teams returning to their spring training sites in Florida and Arizona, playing regular-season games only in those two states and without fans in an effort to reduce travel and minimize risks in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The divisions would be realigned based on the geography of their spring training homes.

The plan would allow teams to return to the comforts of their spring training sites for three weeks of training, which would also include exhibition games, before opening the regular season and playing a schedule with wholly different divisional opponents.

[…]

The Arizona-Florida plan has several advantages, including allowing teams to establish home bases with facilities they are familiar with. There would be 26 ballparks available to be used, including three major league domed stadiums – Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida, Marlins Park in Miami and Chase Field in Phoenix.

Financially, it could be a huge boon for the TV rights holders. You could have a captive TV audience the entire day. Games in Florida could begin at 11 a.m. ET and still have games in prime-time for East Coast teams and their fans. The time slots still would permit West Coast teams to play prime-time games in Arizona.

Baseball, even with the realignment, could still play 12 games apiece against their new divisional opponents and six games apiece against the other teams in the state. There would be at least one doubleheader a night when all teams are scheduled to play because of the odd number of teams in each state.

The DH would likely be universally implemented as well.

There could still be division winners and wild-card winners, perhaps adding two more wild-card teams to each league, or a postseason tournament with all 30 teams.

The winner of the Cactus League in Arizona would play the winner of the Grapefruit League in Florida for the World Series championship, utilizing the domed stadiums in late November.

See here for the previous, Arizona-only idea.Plan 2.0 followed pretty quickly, which suggests MLB heard the criticisms of that scheme and either had this in its back pocket or came up with it quickly. One potential problem with this idea is that each of the two “leagues” has 15 teams in it, and since there won’t be any travel between Florida and Arizona, that would lead to scheduling challenges. Those challenges can be overcome in a variety of ways, some more conventional than others. Again, we don’t know what’s truly realistic right now, and we don’t know what will actually work in the real world, but it’s a worthwhile exercise to try and figure out something that could work. It costs nothing to brainstorm, and who knows, we might be in a better position than we think. May as well be ready for it if that happens.

The NBA tries to look forward

Hope + uncertainty = where we are right now.

While expressing a hope that bordered on determination that the NBA would be able to salvage its season in some form, commissioner Adam Silver also said the unknowns in the COVID-19 crisis are greater than even three-plus weeks ago when he suspended the season and that no decisions will be coming soon.

“Essentially, what I’ve told my folks over the last week is that we should just accept that for at least the month of April we won’t be in a position to make any decisions,” Silver said in a Twitter interview with TNT’s Ernie Johnson on Monday. “I don’t think that necessarily means on May 1 we will be.

“That doesn’t mean internally and in our discussions with our players and the league we aren’t looking at many different scenarios for restarting the season. But I think it is just honestly too early, given what is happening right now, to be able to project or predict where we’ll be in a few weeks.”

Silver said he hopes “to try to finish a regular season in some form and then move on to the playoffs” but that the league has not made any decisions.

He said the NBA initially was considering options for regular and postseason schedules based on potential restart days but has learned that even hypotheticals were relying on excessive guesswork.

“We just have too little information to make those sorts of projections,” Silver said. “I will say, though, as we look out into the summer, there does come a point we would start impacting next season. Even there, a few weeks ago nobody thought we were talking about a potential impact on next season independent on what we might choose to do to finish our regular season and playoffs.

“I don’t want to leave anybody under the impression we’re not trying to do everything we possibly can under the right circumstances. Player safety and the health of everyone in the NBA family has to come first. That may mean there is a scenario we can play without fans. That’s something we look a lot at.”

As we know, MLB is also thinking about when it can begin again. Both of these followed a meeting of multiple sports commissioners with Donald Trump, who would really really like it if this coronavirus thing went away ASAP. Again, I’m happy that the leagues are thinking about how this might work for them, but I think May is an aggressively early timeframe for it. The NBA is in some ways more constrained than MLB precisely because they have to start worrying about their next season, which would start in September. If they’re not able to begin playoffs soon, who knows where they’ll be in the fall. It’s just that none of this is really within their control.

MLB begins to contemplate its return

Well, this is interesting.

Major League Baseball and its players are increasingly focused on a plan that could allow them to start the season as early as May and has the support of high-ranking federal public health officials who believe the league can safely operate amid the coronavirus pandemic, sources told ESPN.

Though the plan has a number of potential stumbling blocks, it has emerged above other options as the likeliest to work and has been embraced by MLB and MLB Players Association leadership, who are buoyed by the possibility of baseball’s return and the backing of federal officials, sources said.

The plan, sources said, would dictate that all 30 teams play games at stadiums with no fans in the greater Phoenix area, including the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, 10 spring training facilities and perhaps other nearby fields. Players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from the stadium, sources said. Federal officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the National Institutes of Health have been supportive of a plan that would adhere to strict isolation, promote social distancing and allow MLB to become the first professional sport to return.

The May return date depends on a number of concerns being allayed, and some officials believe a June Opening Day could be more realistic, sources said. Most important would be a significant increase in available coronavirus tests with a quick turnaround time, which sources familiar with the plan believe will happen by early May and allow MLB’s testing to not diminish access for the general public.

While health officials see MLB players as low-risk candidates for COVID-19-related issues because of their age and health, putting protocols in place to ensure the health and safety of older managers, coaches, umpires and other personnel would be paramount to the plan working, sources said.

The logistics to pull off such a plan would be enormous and cumbersome on the league side and require the buy-in of players, who sources expect to be skeptical of separating from their families for an indefinite amount of time — perhaps as long as 4½ months, if the inability to stem the coronavirus outbreak keeps teams from playing in their home stadiums in 2020.

Still, there is hope among leadership on both sides that the combination of receiving paychecks for playing and baseball’s return offering a respite to a nation beset by the devastation of COVID-19 would convince players to agree to the plan, sources said.

[…]

While the possibility of a player or staff member testing positive for the coronavirus exists, even in a secured setting, officials do not believe that a positive test alone would necessarily be cause to quarantine an entire team or shut down the season, sources said. The plan could include teams carrying significantly expanded rosters to account for the possibility of players testing positive despite the isolation, as well as to counteract the heat in Phoenix, which could grow problematic during the summer, sources said. The allure of more players potentially receiving major league salaries and service time would appeal strongly to the union, according to sources.

Both sides acknowledge the uniqueness of the season would not be limited to stadium location or roster size. Among the possibilities that have been discussed among people from both sides, though not in the talks on Monday, according to sources:

• Implementing an electronic strike zone to allow the plate umpire to maintain sufficient distance from the catcher and batter

• No mound visits from the catcher or pitching coach

• Seven-inning doubleheaders, which with an earlier-than-expected start date could allow baseball to come closer to a full 162-game season

• Regular use of on-field microphones by players, as an added bonus for TV viewers

• Sitting in the empty stands 6 feet apart — the recommended social-distancing space — instead of in a dugout

Each option, though far from certain, is likely to be bandied about in the coming days as the viability of the plan for everyone involved takes shape.

That’s a lot, and MLB has subsequently clarified that pretty much everything is still under discussion. A June start date may be more feasible, for one thing. I’m glad they’re willing to consider all kinds of outside-the-box ideas, and I’m glad that they are in discussion with the NIH and not just winging this, but there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about this. I mean, if the goal is to avoid having no baseball at all in 2020 – which, let’s face it, is a real possibility – then this is the sort of thinking that will be required. Nothing is sacred other than the health of everyone involved. If that can be managed, then let’s make something work. I’ll be very interested to see where these negotiations go. Fangraphs has more.

UPDATE: The Ringer is dubious:

But one crucial element necessary for the enactment of any “Baseball Biodome”–style plan is missing from these early drafts. It’s the Maldivian resort workers waiting on one couple, trapped by someone else’s flouting of the COVID-19 danger.

Baseball games don’t just need players and coaches and umpires. They also need grounds crews. They need trainers. They need janitors and laundry workers and security, and clubhouse attendants and team chefs and equipment personnel. Team hotels need almost all of those people, too. And games will likely need some sort of scouting or front office framework, and media members. They’ll certainly need television crews on site—even if announcers might be able to call games remotely, camera operators and producers would have to penetrate the biodome—if the goal is to provide entertainment for the masses without fans in the stands.

Thus, two possibilities present themselves. Either all those hundreds (thousands?) of workers spread across 15 stadiums and numerous hotels in Arizona would come into contact with the otherwise completely isolated players and coaches, risking an immediate piercing of the COVID-free bubble, or else all those hundreds (thousands?) of workers would need to be sequestered as well, in which case the logistical nightmare would amplify exponentially.

Yeah, the sheer numbers involved make it seem much less likely to work. And of course, all these other people are paid much less, and thus have much less incentive to go along with this four-months-of-isolation idea. I don’t know how you make this all work. I still think it’s worth thinking about, but we can’t lose sight of reality.

DraftKings lawsuit tossed

Score one for the Astros.

Did not age well

A federal judge in New York mixed technical points of law with humor and theatrical flourishes in delivering a rousing defeat Friday to a group of baseball daily fantasy players who sued the Astros, Red Sox and Major League Baseball, claiming they were defrauded by the sport’s electronic sign-stealing scandal.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff’s 32-page opinion in the case, filed by fantasy players from Massachusetts, California, Texas, Florida and California, begins by quoting from the 1956 film “High Society” and then dismantles the plaintiffs’ case while delivering a brief scolding to the Astros and Red Sox for their misdeeds.

While Rakoff, according to a 2014 magazine profile, is a Yankees fan who keeps a baseball autographed by Hall of Fame reliever Mariano Rivera on his desk, he nonetheless dismissed the fantasy players’ complaint as “verbose, rhetorical and conclusory” — conclusory referring to a conclusion that is unsupported by facts — in dropping the case against two teams that are hardly on any list of Yankees fans’ favorites.

Rakoff began by noting that baseball celebrates stealing, if only of a base, and noted that it also can “lead our heroes to employ forbidden substances on their (spit) balls, their (corked) bats or even their (steroid-consuming) selves.

“But as Frank Sinatra famously said to Grace Kelly in the 1956 movie musical ‘High Society,’ ‘There are rules about such things,’” the judge wrote. “One of these rules forbids the use of electronic devices in aid of the players’ inevitable efforts to steal the opposing catcher’s signs.

“In 2017, and thereafter, the Houston Astros, and somewhat less blatantly the Boston Red Sox, shamelessly broke that rule, and thereby broke the hearts of all true baseball fans. But did the initial efforts of those teams, and supposedly of Major League Baseball itself, to conceal these foul deeds from the simple sports bettors who wagered on fantasy baseball create a cognizable legal claim?

“On the allegations here made,” the judge concluded, “the answer is no.”

See here and here for the background. A copy of the judge’s ruling is embedded in the story. There are still other lawsuits out there for the Astros to contend with as a result of the sign stealing scandal, but this one is done for now. We’ll see if the plaintiffs try to appeal. ESPN has more.

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.