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Astros accused of stealing signs

The post-season is off to a roaring start.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firing Taubman wasn’t enough

Just putting down a marker.

Major League Baseball’s investigation into the Astros will stretch beyond the World Series as the league looks into “aspects that go beyond” Brandon Taubman’s clubhouse incident.

Taubman was fired on Thursday, five days after he unleashed a profanity-filled tirade toward three female reporters in the Astros’ clubhouse following the American League Championship Series.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said Friday the Astros “reacted quickly and in an appropriate way” with their decision to terminate Taubman, the team’s 34-year-old assistant general manager. Manfred said results of the ongoing investigation “will be public.”

Manfred said his office began its current investigation because it was “concerned” about the Astros’ initial statement in response to the incident, one that falsely claimed Sports Illustrated reporter Stephanie Apstein “attempted to fabricate” Taubman’s actions.

[…]

After the two exchanged unreturned voicemails earlier in the day, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and Apstien met for about 15 minutes at Nationals Park on Friday night. Apstein requested a written retraction of the team’s first statement. It is unclear if the Astros will oblige.

On Thursday, Luhnow repeatedly declined to reveal who wrote or approved the statement. The general manager acknowledged he saw the 76-word writeup before it was released. The Athletic reported on Friday that Anita Sehgal, the team’s senior vice president of marketing and communication, oversaw it.

See here and here for the background. Let me remind you, that first statement by the Astros accused reporter Stephanie Apstein of making the whole thing up. If even a little bit of that were true, her career would be over. It’s not just that the Astros were completely wrong about that, it’s that they didn’t care enough to be concerned about it before going ahead and smearing her. The Astros did finally formally retract that statement, five whole days later. To say the least, we are here now because that statement was issued in the first place, then left to fester for the entire work week.

Let’s be clear: This wasn’t a slip-up committed by some underpaid low-level employee. General Manager Jeff Luhnow saw that statement before it was released. The senior vice president of marketing and communication, Anita Sehgal, oversaw and thus presumably approved it. Brandon Taubman is deservedly unemployed now, but he’s far from the only sinner here. The Astros didn’t have a Brandon Taubman problem. They have a whole-organization problem. That remains true even with that apology and retraction from Jim Crane to Stephanie Apstein. That’s MLB’s problem now, and I hope they are considering that as they do their investigation.

After I started writing this post, I came across this story, which notes the Crane letter to Apstein and moves things along a little bit.

How Houston’s original statement was crafted remains vague. Who wrote it remains a mystery. Senior vice president of marketing and communications Anita Sehgal refused to “name names” in a six-minute interview with three reporters prior to Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday.

“This statement really is owned by the entire organization,” Sehgal said. “This team needs to wear this statement. We screwed up. And we’re going to own it as a team. We’re going to share responsibility for it and we’re not going to point fingers at any one person. We’re going to own it as a team. And that’s the right decision.”

The Athletic reported this week that Sehgal, an Astros employee since 2015, had oversight of the statement. Asked if that report was true, Sehgal said “I oversee all of (public relations) and communications. Lots of people were involved.”

“Listen, this statement was wrong and it was wrong on a number of fronts,” Sehgal said. “It’s disappointing. It’s embarrassing for the organization and we are very, very sorry that it happens. But the team owns it. The entire organization owns the decision that that statement went out. We’ve apologized. We’ve recognized it. And we feel really, really bad.”

That’s better, and it’s good that she recognizes this is owned by the whole organization, but it doesn’t address the question of how the whole organization should be held accountable. Again: Jeff Luhnow and Anita Sehgal have responsibility for the original statement. Likely other senior executives do as well, not to mention Jim Crane. Firing Brandon Taubman doesn’t get all of them off the hook as well. What, if anything, are we going to do about that? I’ll be honest and admit I don’t know what a just outcome to all this should be, but the Astros and MLB need to figure it out. This will remain a stain on the Astros organization until they do.

Astros fire Taubman

It’s something.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

For shame, Astros

I hate to harsh anyone’s World Series buzz, but this was and still is appalling.

Astros assistant general manager Brandon Taubman apologized to “anyone that was offended by my actions” after directing an expletive-filled tirade toward a group of female reporters in the team’s celebratory clubhouse following the American League Championship Series.

As Sports Illustrated first reported Monday night and the Chronicle later confirmed, Taubman yelled ““Thank God we got (Roberto) Osuna! I’m so (expletive) glad we got Osuna! about a half dozen times” toward the group. Osuna had just blown a save in the ninth inning of Houston’s 6-4 win against the Yankees.

“I used inappropriate language for which I am deeply sorry and embarrassed,” Taubman said in a statement on Tuesday. “In retrospect, I realize that my comments were unprofessional and inappropriate. My overexuberance in support of a player has been misinterpreted as a demonstration of a regressive attitude about an important social issue.”

[…]

Sports Illustrated reported that one of the women to whom Taubman directed his vitriol was wearing a purple domestic violence awareness bracelet. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Sports Illustrated offered both the Astros and Taubman a chance to comment before the story published on Monday. Both parties declined. In a statement released after Sports Illustrated’s story ran on Monday night, the Astros called the piece “misleading and completely irresponsible” while adding they were “extremely disappointed in Sports Illustrated’s attempt to fabricate a story where one does not exist.”

Sports Illustrated released a statement on Tuesday in which it “unequivocally” stood behind the reporting of Stephanie Apstein, the article’s original author.

Not once in the statements released on Tuesday did the Astros deny that Taubman used offensive language. Eyewitnesses told The Chronicle that no players were in the area of the female reporters who were yelled at, disputing the Astros’ assertion that Taubman’s rant was about “an Astros player was being asked questions about a difficult outing.”

Literally everything about this incident, which MLB is now investigating and for which the Astros were thoroughly dragged on the internet, is awful. The “apology” is utter bullshit – the offending statements were not “inappropriate language” but an honest representation of what Brandon Taubman believes, because no one says stuff like that without having thought about it first. The Astros’ initial response was monstrous and a libel against reporter Apstein. There’s not enough bleach in the state to wipe clean this stain.

I’m not going to tell you not to root for your Astros. The players you love (minus Osuna, of course) aren’t responsible for this, the underlying misogyny is a societal problem, and domestic violence is a problem that sports in general and MLB in particular have not come to terms with. Plenty of other teams have dirty hands on this issue as well. But all of us need to deliver a loud and clear message to our favorite teams that this shit is not acceptable. They need to clean up their act, and they need to do it now. Jenny Dial Creech has more.

Astros to extend netting

Glad to hear it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on stadium netting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

The case for a second MLB team in the Metroplex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stadium netting

You may have heard about this last week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Eight Myths Out”

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

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

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

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

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

The Orbit lawsuit

Now here‘s an interesting case.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How different would baseball be, if baseball were different?

We’re about to find out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s unanimous for Mariano Rivera

Outstanding, and truly deserved.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harold Baines? Seriously?

I’m stunned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Hall of Fame 2019 ballot

It’s that time of year again.

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

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

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

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

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

The Osuna trade

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

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

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

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

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

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

This sends a very bad message.

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

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

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

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

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

There is perhaps one positive to come out of this:

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

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

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

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

Hall calls for four more

Congrats to all.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

Martinez remains optimistic about his chances in 2019.

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

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

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

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

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

Morris and Trammell elected to the Hall of Fame

The Modern Era committee has spoken.

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

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

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

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

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

The Modern Era Hall of Fame ballot

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday random ten: All hail the Astros

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

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

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

Astros win the World Series

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

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

Is MLB expansion on the menu?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rangers and the Astros

Oh, come on.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who still misses the National League?

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

Those were the days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More about the hack of the Astros

Fascinating stuff.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

Bagwell, Raines, Pudge elected to Hall of Fame

Congratulations!

Jeff Bagwell

The most exclusive team in sports has five new members.

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

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

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

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

There are currently 74 living members.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

Bud Selig elected to MLB Hall of Fame

Ugh.

Bud Selig, the folksy former commissioner of Major League Baseball who presided over an unprecedented period of expansion, innovation and turmoil in the sport, was elected to the Hall of Fame on Sunday by the hall’s restructured veterans committee along with John Schuerholz, the World Series-winning general manager with the Atlanta Braves and the Kansas City Royals.

“To say this is a great day in my life would be an understatement,” Selig said on a conference call Sunday. “I’ve looked forward to this day for a long time and I’m really honored to say the least.”

Selig was named on 15 ballots and Schuerholz on all 16 from a new version of the veterans’ committee created to consider not only older players but also candidates who are not eligible for election through the traditional process, a vote by baseball writers. The group, the Today’s Game Era Committee, is made up of eight Hall of Fame inductees, five M.L.B. executives and three writers and historians. Inductees needed a minimum of 12 votes at baseball’s winter meetings outside of Washington.

Selig and Schuerholz will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., in July.

[…]

Selig, the original owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, led baseball from 1992 through 2014, one of the most dynamic and controversial periods in its history, in which the sport grew into a $10 billion-a-year industry. He governed, in part, through his ability to build consensus among the owners, perhaps his greatest skill.

“We were a sport resistant to change,” Selig said. “I believe in those years that is the most change in baseball history.”

Selig, 82, was the acting commissioner during the worst strike in baseball history, a work stoppage that wiped out the 1994 World Series, and the so-called steroid era that so badly tarnished the image of the game. But baseball has now gone 22 years without a work stoppage, and, after great upheaval and acrimony, it has instituted a stringent drug policy.

“Yes, it was terribly painful, broke my heart,” he said of the 1994 strike. “But it served as a great lesson and we took it. The same thing with the steroid thing. Yes it was painful, yes it had its ups and downs. But we solved that problem. We now have the toughest testing program in American sports.”

Selig is credited with introducing popular innovations including the wild-card playoff system, realignment, interleague play and television replay of umpires’ decisions, as well as with the creation of baseball’s lucrative internet presence, M.L.B. Advanced Media.

More than anything, Selig was a tireless supporter of small-market and midmarket teams, pushing through revenue-sharing policies that redistributed millions of dollars from the larger market teams to the smaller ones. That, combined with the increased number of playoff spots, gave clubs from cities like Detroit, Houston, Kansas City and Tampa Bay entrée into the World Series in recent years.

Actually, Selig was an advocate of contracting small market teams out of existence, all the while engaging in what Joe Sheehan called an “anti-marketing campaign” on baseball. Guess all that is down the memory hole now, so here we are. If you’ve read my blog for more than a few years, you know I am not now and have never been a fan of Bud Selig – “Beelzebud” was my preferred nickname for him. So let me just endorse what Craig Calcaterra says.

Bud Selig has been credited with and has eagerly taken responsibility for every positive development in baseball under his watch. But he has never taken an ounce of responsibility for the “environment which developed” with respect to PEDs in baseball. Indeed, he has actively shirked it. Remember what he said in 2009, after Alex Rodriguez admitted he used PEDs?

“I don’t want to hear the commissioner turned a blind eye to this or he didn’t care about it. That annoys the you-know-what out of me. You bet I’m sensitive to the criticism. The reason I’m so frustrated is, if you look at our whole body of work, I think we’ve come farther than anyone ever dreamed possible. I honestly don’t know how anyone could have done more than we’ve already done . . . A lot of people say we should have done this or that, and I understand that. They ask me, ‘How could you not know?’ and I guess in the retrospect of history, that’s not an unfair question. But we learned and we’ve done something about it. When I look back at where we were in ’98 and where we are today, I’m proud of the progress we’ve made . . . It is important to remember that these recent revelations relate to pre-program activity.”

Beyond that he has only talked of baseball’s efforts to combat drug use from the mid-2000s on. Never once explaining why it took Jose Canseco’s tell-all book and not baseball’s obvious knowledge of PED use by players to act. Never once explaining why its initial response was so weak and why it was only ratcheted up in direct proportion to how much bad publicity baseball received in terms of players and PED use. Bud Selig did nothing for years and then only did the bare minimum he was required to do until it became untenable to do so. After that he used the Mitchell Report to change the subject from baseball’s drug problem as a whole to a decade-long parlor game in which naming names and scapegoating individual players for drug use became the order of the day, turning scrutiny away from MLB’s Park Avenue offices and shining the spotlight on players and players alone.

It has been a wildly successful strategy. Today only the players have paid the price in terms of their legacy and reputation. Only players associated with performance enhancing drugs — or even baselessly accused of performance enhancing drug use — have had the doors to the Hall of Fame barred to them despite their other accomplishments. Barred by the very language on the ballot which asks voters to weigh in on their character. A clause which the Hall of Fame, on who’s board Selig sits, has made no effort to clarify or explain vis-a-vis PED use. As such, the Hall endorses the BBWAA’s continued holding of players responsible for the Steroid Era.

Yet Bud Selig, a man who held more unilateral power in baseball than anyone since Judge Kennesaw Mountain Landis died, has ben allowed to get away with pleading ignorance and innocence when it comes to baseball’s greatest black mark since the game was integrated in 1947. He is allowed to accept baseball’s highest honor this week and again in July when he is inducted in Cooperstown. The loud and clear message this week and next July will send is that the buck only stops with the Commissioner of Baseball when the buck makes the Commissioner of Baseball look good.

It’s a bad look for baseball. It’s a disgrace that so many deserving players are denied induction because of mistakes they made while Bud Selig, a man who presided over the Steroid Era and is thus due the ultimate responsibility for its existence, is gong to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Calcaterra argues that Selig was a great commissioner, though mostly in comparison with other Commissioners and keeping in mind who Selig’s actual stakeholders were, but I will concede the game has done very well since Selig was elevated into office. There’s no question about who has gotten the blame for the PED issue, however, and it ain’t Bud. That’s how you get into the Hall. David Schoenfield has more.

MLB All Star Game will no longer determine World Series home field advantage

Hallelujah.

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12944222

By Source, Fair use

The Associated Press reported early Thursday morning that, as a part of the new collective bargaining agreement, home-field advantage in the World Series will no longer be determined by the All-Star Game. Home-field advantage will now be awarded to the pennant winner with the better regular season record.

After the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a 7-7 tie, Major League Baseball and the players’ union agreed to allow the “midsummer classic” to decide home-field advantage for the 2003 and ’04 seasons. That agreement was extended to ’05 and ’06 and then was made permanent.

Critics have rightfully said that the All-Star Game is a rather capricious way to determine home-field advantage, which can sometimes be a big factor in the outcome of the season’s final series. Compared to regular season and playoff games, players are oddly used as position players tend to stay in for about three innings and pitchers only get an inning or two on the mound. Players don’t tend to take the game as seriously as they would a regular season or playoff game.

Thank goodness. This was such a dumb thing to do, done in a panicked way after that tie game and the nonstop chatter about it in 2002. The All Star Game has always been an exhibition game, originating in a time when the American and National Leagues were truly separate entities. Even if there was a legitimate need to make a for-funsies game more competitive and meaningful – which I have always argued was baloney – tying its outcome to the World Series made no sense. This is a much more rational way to determine home field advantage. Kudos to all for finally getting it right. Deadspin and Fangraphs have more.

Hall of Fame 2017 ballot

The end of the year always brings a new Hall of Fame ballot with it.

Prominent names, old and new, highlight the annual ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which was released Monday and mailed to eligible members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Outfielders Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez and catchers Ivan Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are the prominent newcomers. First baseman Jeff Bagwell, outfielder Tim Raines and closer Trevor Hoffman missed election in the 2016 vote by slim margins. And with the lack of a first-ballot lock, Bagwell, Raines and Hoffman all have good chances again this time around.

The announcement of the Class of 2017 is scheduled for Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. ET, live on MLB Network and MLB.com. The induction ceremony will be held on July 30 behind the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, N.Y.

“I do think about it,” Rodriguez said when asked about his first time on the ballot. “Now that the year gets closer, I think about it almost every day.”

The ballot will grow tighter again during the next three years, with first-ballot certainties Chipper Jones (2018), Mariano Rivera (’19), and Derek Jeter (’20) set to enter the mix. Jim Thome, who hit 612 homers in 22 seasons, will also be on the ballot for the first time in ’18.

The complete ballot:

Jeff Bagwell
Casey Blake
Barry Bonds
Pat Burrell
Orlando Cabrera
Mike Cameron
Roger Clemens
J.D. Drew
Carlos Guillen
Vladimir Guerrero
Trevor Hoffman
Jeff Kent
Derrek Lee
Edgar Martinez
Fred McGriff
Melvin Mora
Mike Mussina
Magglio Ordonez
Jorge Posada
Tim Raines
Manny Ramirez
Edgar Renteria
Arthur Rhodes
Ivan Rodriguez
Freddy Sanchez
Curt Schilling
Gary Sheffield
Lee Smith
Sammy Sosa
Matt Stairs
Jason Varitek
Billy Wagner
Tim Wakefield
Larry Walker

I’ve highlighted my choices in bold, which includes all of the still-eligible holdovers from last year plus Pudge. Unlike last year, I have room for two more candidates, and will add Vladimir Guerrero to Jeff Kent, Edgar Martinez, Curt Schilling, and Billy Wagner as my list of Others To Think About. I love Jorge Posada and may consider him going forward, but I think there are enough concerns about how his defense affected his overall value to defer that for a year. As for Manny Ramirez, he’s got the stats and I care less about PEDs than your average HOF obsessive, but he was suspended twice for PED usage, and I do see a distinction between people who may have used PEDs before they were formally banned and people who got caught using them after that. And yeah, that standard will have to apply to Alex Rodriguez too, which bums me out personally. No one ever said life was fair, and I may change my mind later, but for now ManRam is off the list.

This is Tim Raines’ last year on the ballot thanks to the change to ten years of eligibility instead of 15, and I will be Very Upset if he doesn’t get in. Results will be announced on January 18. Craig Calcaterra and Jay Jaffe have more

Hall of Fame revamps Veterans Committee

Sounds reasonable, but we’ll see.

Baseball’s Hall of Fame has again revamped its veterans’ committees to increase consideration for more contemporary players, managers, umpires and executives.

Under the change announced Saturday by the Hall’s board of directors, there will be separate committees for Today’s Game (1988-2016), Modern Baseball (1970-87), Golden Days (1950-69) and Early Baseball (1871-1949). Today’s Game and Modern Baseball will vote twice every five years, Golden Days once every five years and Early Baseball once every 10 years.

“There are twice as many players in the Hall of Fame who debuted before 1950 as compared to afterward, and yet there are nearly double the eligible candidates after 1950 than prior,” Hall chair Jane Forbes Clark said in a statement. “Those who served the game long ago and have been evaluated many times on past ballots will now be reviewed less frequently.”

Today’s Game will vote in 2016, ’18, ’21 and ’23; and Modern Baseball in 2017, ’19, ’21 and ’23. Golden Days will vote in 2020 and ’25, and Early Baseball in 2020 and ’30. The Hall’s Historical Overview Committee will decide which committee will consider those players who span eras, based on the time or place of their most indelible impression.

[…]

Committees will remain at 16 people, with a vote of at least 75 percent needed for election. The ballot size will be 10 for each committee; it had been 12 for Expansion Era and 10 for the others.

Yes, the Hall is too heavily weighted towards pre-WWII players. A big part of the reason for that is the Veterans Committee and the excesses of Frankie Frisch in the 1970s, stuffing the Hall with his pals from the 1920s and 1930s. Any list of “least valuable players in the HoF” will include multiple representatives from that group. There’s not much we can do about that, but we can try to correct the mistakes of more recent BBWAA members and their refusal to embrace better metrics as well as their bizarre inconsistencies on PEDs. I don’t really expect much here, but the potential is there for some good work to be done, beginning this year. I look forward to seeing what the first ballot for the Today’s Game group looks like.

Astros hacker sentenced to 46 months

Away he goes.

Former St. Louis Cardinals executive Christopher Correa was sentenced Monday to 46 months in prison for illegal incursions into the Astros’ computer database, wrapping up a case of sports-related cybercrime that a federal judge and prosecutors summed up as plain, old-fashioned theft.

Correa, 35, will report within two to six weeks to begin his sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes, who accepted the government’s recommended sentence in the wake of Correa’s guilty plea in January to five counts of illegal access to a protected computer.

Now the case moves into the hands of Major League Baseball, where commissioner Rob Manfred will decide if the Cardinals will face sanctions because of Correa’s actions in 2013 and 2014.

Manfred also may be asked to consider a heretofore undisclosed element: that Correa intruded into the Astros’ system 60 times on 35 days, far more the five reported cases to which he pleaded guilty, according to an Astros official.

[…]

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said he was pleased with length of the sentence. Correa could have been sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison on each count, although prosecutors agreed in return for his guilty plea that sentences would be served concurrently.

“This is a serious federal crime,” Magidson said. “It involves computer crime, cybercrime. We in the U.S. Attorney’s office look to all crimes that are being committed by computers to gain an unfair advantage. … This is a very serious offense, and obviously the court saw it as well.”

Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe, who also attended the hearing, described Monday as a “sad day for baseball” and emphasized that the Astros were the victims of Correa’s unauthorized access into a computer database that included scouting reports and other information.

Referring to Correa’s statements in January, he added, “I don’t know what Mr. Correa saw in our system or what he thinks he saw in our system, but what I can tell you is that the Astros were not using Cardinals’ proprietary information.”

Kibbe, for the first time, also acknowledged that Correa’s intrusions into the Astros computer system were more frequently than the instances set out in the information to which he pleaded guilty – 60 intrusions over 35 days, he said, from March 2013 through June 2014.

He also said the Astros would rely on Major League Baseball to complete its investigation of the Cardinals, with the possibility of sanctions against the team.

“We have full faith in his actions,” he said, referring to MLB commissioner Manfred.

See here for the background. Correa had previously claimed to have found Cardinal information on the Astros’ system while he was hacking around. There could be some effect from that if there’s anything to it when MLB wraps up its investigation and imposes any sanctions on the Cards. In the meantime, I’d say this will serve as a pretty strong deterrent to any other baseball front office folks who may have been tempted to take an unsanctioned peek at what their rivals are doing. No one can say they haven’t been warned at this point.

Stop the “Save America’s Pastime Act”

Pay minor league players a livable wage, I saw.

When you think of overpaid athletes rolling in the dough at the expense of others, baseball players in the minor leagues are not usually the first people that come to mind.

That is, unless you happen to be U.S. Representatives Brett Guthrie (R-KY). Last week, he introduced a bill misleadingly called the “Save America’s Pastime Act,” with the sole purpose of keeping Minor League Baseball (MiLB) players from federal minimum wage and overtime requirements.

Initially, this was presented as a bipartisan bill along with Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL). However, on Thursday she announced that due to the backlash, she was withdrawing her support after “several concerns about the bill have been brought to my attention.”

According to a release on Guthrie’s website, Major League Baseball (MLB) should be given credit for offering a “paid path to the Major Leagues,” rather than relying primarily on the NCAA to serve as a developmental league.

“If the law is not clarified, the costs to support local teams would likely increase dramatically and usher in significant cuts across the league, threatening the primary pathway to the Majors and putting teams at risk,” the statement warns. “The impact on teams could also have a significant, negative economic impact on businesses and workers that rely on Minor League baseball.”

This reasoning is alarmist at best. After all, minor league baseball players barely make enough money to get by as it is. According to Deadspin, “Since 1976, MLB salaries have risen 2,500 percent while minor league salaries have only gone up 70 percent. Players in low-A ball start at $1,100 a month, while AAA players earn $2,150 per month.”

While baseball games only last a few hours, between travel and training, practices, and promotional appearances in the community, most players in the minor leagues are working far more than 40 hours a week. Minor league players work five months a year chasing after their major-league dreams, and yet very few of them earn enough to cross the federal poverty line. Apparently, though, they’re the ones who are threatening the future of baseball as we know it.

The “Save America’s Pastime Act” insists that ticket sales and local community sponsors pay the salaries of the players in the minors. In fact, it’s actually billionaire MLB owners that are financing these salaries, as a way to develop future talent for their lucrative big-league teams.

“It’s despicable. You have billionaire major league owners working with millionaire minor league owners to add to their pockets more, and at the same time you have minor leaguers who are making below the poverty wage,” Garrett Broshuis told Sporting News. “You’re talking about a group of guys whose salaries start at $1,100 per month, and they’re only paid during the season. They’re not paid during spring training. They’re not paid during instructional leagues.”

There was a lawsuit filed in 2014 alleging that pay in the minor leagues violates fair wage and overtime laws in California; Broshius is of of the attorneys involved in that. There’s really no argument I can think of for this legislation, and plenty of arguments in favor of paying minor leaguers a salary they can live on. Sure, some of them will strike it rich in the big leagues, but the vast overwhelming majority of them won’t even get close to that. They deserve to be able to make a living. MLB and its owners have more than enough to make that happen. Pinstripe Alley, the Sporting News, SB Nation, For The Win, and the Press have more.

Are we finally headed towards a universal DH?

Maybe.

Those in favor of the designated hitter becoming universal in Major League Baseball were given new reason for hope on Saturday.

Speaking at the St. Louis Cardinals Winter Warmup event on Saturday, general manager John Mozeliak says there’s increased momentum building among general managers and owners to bring the DH to the National League. According to Derrck Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Mozeliak further noted the topic of the DH in the NL used to be a “non-starter” with officials, but now it’s become more of a topic, which perhaps indicates actual movement within those ranks.

Mozeliak, of course, is privy to such conversations, so this isn’t just hearsay. It’s likely he has an increased interest in this topic now considering what happened to his ace, Adam Wainwright, last season.

During a game at Miller Park in Milwaukee in April, Wainwright suffered a torn Achilles after taking an awkward step out of the batter’s box. Obviously, there’s an injury risk that comes with every pitch and every play, especially for pitchers, but for such an injury to happen while a pitcher is batting makes it a little more difficult to swallow. That’s especially true when the other league isn’t exposed to such risks on a regular basis because of the DH.

[…]

If the universal DH is truly gaining momentum, then it’s something [MLB Commissioner Rob] Manfred will have to take on head-on at some point during his tenure. At this point though, it seems like we’re still a good distance away from it gaining enough momentum to motivate change. If there’s a silver lining for DH backers though, it’s that it’s also difficult to see the tide ever shifting back in the other direction, meaning the universal DH is an inevitability at some point in baseball’s future.

As the story notes, Manfred has previously said that he wasn’t considering expanding the DH to both leagues, but if the owners want it – and the MLB Players Association will likely be on board as well, given that DH jobs pay better than bench or bullpen jobs – it’s going to happen eventually, maybe even in the next round of labor talks. With the virtual elimination of league presidents and the full-time interleague schedule, the “differences between the leagues” argument is getting thinner. Obviously, this is a religious issue for a lot of people, and as such I don’t expect it to go quietly, nor with too much haste. But it does appear that we are headed that way, however trudgingly. Craig Calcaterra and FanGraphs have more.

Astros-hacker pleads out

One chapter closes in of one of the stranger sagas I’ve seen in sports.

The former scouting director of the St. Louis Cardinals pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to hacking into the player database and email system of the Houston Astros in an unusual case of high-tech cheating involving two Major League Baseball clubs.

Chris Correa pleaded guilty to five counts of unauthorized access of a protected computer from 2013 to at least 2014, the same year he was promoted to director of baseball development in St. Louis. Correa, 35, was fired last summer and faces up to five years in prison on each charge when he is sentenced April 11.

“I accept responsibility in this case,” Correa told U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes. “I trespassed repeatedly.”

“So you broke in their house?” Hughes asked Correa, referring to the Astros.

“It was stupid,” replied Correa, who is free on $20,000 bond.

U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson said the hacking cost the Astros about $1.7 million, taking into account how Correa used the Astros’ data to draft players.

“It has to do with the talent that was on the record that they were able to have access to, that they wouldn’t have otherwise had access to,” he told reporters. “They were watching what the Astros were doing.”

MLB could discipline the Cardinals, possibly with a fine or a loss of draft picks, but said only that it looked forward to getting details on the case from federal authorities. The Cardinals, whose chairman, Bill DeWitt Jr., had blamed the incident on “roguish behavior,” declined comment.

See here, here, and here for the background. Given that he pleaded out, I don’t expect Correa to get jail time, though perhaps a suspended sentence might be in the works. He’ll never work in baseball again, that’s for sure.

There’s still a lot more to this, however. As Craig Calcaterra notes, Correa claimed to have found Cards information on the Astros’ system when he was traipsing around in there.

That may not raise to a criminal level — there is no allegation Astros people hacked into the Cardinals’ system — but it could be relevant to Major League Baseball in a larger team-to-team information security matter. All of that depends on what Correa is saying he saw, which we do not know yet.

That aside, the level and the amount of information Correa got from the Astros is extraordinary. The defense some have offered — that he was merely checking to see if the Astros stole something — seems like a tiny part of this compared to what he accessed. And the argument I have heard from some people that, “hey, Correa was just walking in an unlocked door, so it’s not a big deal,” is not really true. He walked in, the Astros locked it, so then he broke into Jeff Luhnow’s office, as it were, and stole the keys so he could walk back in again. That is not just idle perusing. That is a concerted effort to carry out corporate espionage.

All of which is to say that this is far from over, especially from a baseball perspective. Correa performed his duties as Cardinals scouting director for over two years while in possession of extensive amounts of Astros’ confidential information. That benefitted him personally and, by extension, benefitted the Cardinals via the acts he took on their behalf with that information in his head. And that’s the case even if he was the sole person involved. If anyone else accessed Ground Control or was made privy to the information Correa obtained, it makes the Cardinals’ collective informational advantage all the greater.

Major League Baseball needs to find out what, if anything the Astros have of the Cardinals, as Correa claims. They need to learn — as they may still learn given that the investigation and the case is not over — what law enforcement knows about anyone else’s involvement. There is still a long way to go. However, based on what is known at the moment, the data breach here was extensive and extraordinary and the Cardinals will likely be facing some stiff, stiff penalties as a result. Maybe financial penalties. Maybe draft pick penalties. Maybe some combination.

Either way, this case is way bigger than people thought it to be yesterday.

We’ll see what MLB does once they have all the information that the prosecutors gathered. Hair Balls and the Chron have more.

Pete Rose remains banned from baseball

No argument from me.

Rob Manfred, the commissioner of Major League Baseball, has decided not to lift the permanent ban imposed on Pete Rose more than a quarter-century ago, meaning the player with more hits than anyone else in the sport’s history will continue to be kept out of the Hall of Fame.

The decision by Mr. Manfred, who succeeded Bud Selig as commissioner last January, was announced on Monday after The New York Times reported that the ban would be kept intact.

Mr. Manfred’s decision comes less than three months after he met with Mr. Rose, 74, at Major League Baseball’s headquarters on Park Avenue in Manhattan to discuss the ban, which was first imposed in 1989, when baseball concluded that Rose had bet on baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds and that some of the bets had been placed on his own team.

In the report, which was released on Monday and accompanied his decision to uphold the ban, Mr. Manfred said Mr. Rose informed him at the September meeting that he continues to bet on baseball, which he can legally do in Las Vegas, where he lives.

That disclosure clearly concerned Mr. Manfred, as did what he described as Mr. Rose’s inability, at the meeting, to admit that he not only bet on games as a manager but also as a player.

“In short,’’ Mr. Manfred concluded in the report, “Mr. Rose has not presented credible evidence of a reconfigured life either by an honest acceptance by him of his wrongdoing … or by a rigorous, self-aware and sustained program of avoidance by him of all the cirucmstances that led to his permanent ineligibility in 1989.”

Yeah, Pete Rose, who was banned for life for violating the very clear and simple rule not to bet on baseball, still bets on baseball, and lied about betting on baseball while he was still a player. Any questions?

I’ll say what I said before, that I’d be okay with the idea of Rose being posthumously elected to the Hall. In terms of his on-field accomplishments, he’s a no-brainer. Put Shoeless Joe in with him – it’ll surely have been a century since the Black Sox scandal by the time this would be relevant. Along those same lines, I’d love to see everyone knock off the stupid arguments about PEDs and just evaluate everyone’s cases on their statistical merits. Until then, Rose can continue to not learn from his mistakes. Joe Posnanski, Craig Calcaterra, and Jayson Stark have more.