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“You guys Codebreaking?”

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

Did not age well

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

Here is a recap of Houston’s punishment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Among the other details that have come to light:

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

Rob Manfred needs to tell us why.

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

Lawsuit filed over sign stealing effect on fantasy baseball

This ought to be interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Documenting the bangs

You have to admire the dedication to craft.

Did not age well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adams, meanwhile, tries to leave interpretations to others.

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

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

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

We have an Astros apology

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

Dallas Keuchel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there an Astros apology coming?

Maybe.

Did not age well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jeter, Walker elected to Hall of Fame

Congratulations.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s not how it works.

Did not age well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update on the little girl hit by the foul ball

Man, this breaks my heart.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luhnnow and Hinch suspended by MLB, then fired by Astros

Wow.

Did not age well

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE: This did not age well.

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not just the Astros

Oh, boy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The robo-umps are coming

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Marvin Miller makes the Hall of Fame

Finally.

Marvin Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t shrink the minor leagues

Bad idea, MLB.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

UPDATE: More as well from Baseball America and Fangraphs.

MLB investigating more than 2017 for Astros’ alleged sign stealing

This sounds ominous.

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

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

[…]

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

MLB has had its eye on the Astros

The story develops.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Astros accused of stealing signs

The post-season is off to a roaring start.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.