The Astros Experience

OK, so our older daughter, Elizabeth, is overcome by Senioritis and ready to leave for college and our younger daughter, Katie, is taking driving lessons, and the other day I went for a painful stretching session at the gym, and, no, I’ve never felt older.

Yes, age, as Satchel Paige probably said, is a matter of mind over matter, if you don’t mind, it don’t matter.

But I do mind. Ow.

In the Athletic

We are up to No. 38 on the Baseball 100. A couple of people have said, “Wow, you’re almost home free.” Well, that’s not true. But I can now confirm that this thing will definitely go deeper than my previous effort, which ended at 30.

But that’s all I can guarantee.

It is looking like we will be announcing a new PosCast format in the next week or so. I can’t go into details just yet, but let’s just say that we’re keeping the nonsense. In fact, I guess it’s fair to say that we’re expanding the nonsense.

Astros Talk

I do not believe that the Houston Astros used a buzzer system to steal signs in 2019. I just don’t. I’m not saying they were morally incapable of it or that they deserve benefits of doubt or even that Jose Altuve’s bad neck tattoo excuse makes sense — all that stuff is hypothetical and emotional.

But I do not believe they used a buzzer system. There is no tangible evidence that they did. Major League Baseball looked into it and determined they didn’t. The charge that they did use a buzzer comes from shadowy whispers and dubious video study; nobody has put any weight or factual force or behind the charge.

No, I don’t think the Astros used buzzers.

And I do think that it is time for Major League Baseball to forcefully, explicitly and unequivocally say exactly that, to say that the Astros did not cheat in 2019 and all statements to the contrary are false and irresponsible unless they come with new evidence.

We are in the middle of the feeding frenzy portion of this Astros cheating thing. Every crisis has one. It’s the point where everybody — the media, the others in the industry, everybody — piles on and tries to push the story as far as it can go. One person suggests taking away the 2017 World Series, the next person suggest barring the Astros from postseason play for three years, the next person suggests giving all the players involved a one-year suspension, the next person suggests it should be a five-year suspension, the next person suggests pulling the Astros off television, the next person suggests taking the Astros away from Houston, on and on, there will be no end to the wrath, not until this portion of the crisis fades.

And it is the responsibility of MLB to try and get to the point where the crisis starts fading. There’s only so much the commissioner Rob Manfred and his people can do … but my argument here is that they have to do EVERYTHING THEY CAN to get baseball moving forward.

Take a look at this Twitter poll I did:

Now, please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here — it’s a stupid Twitter poll with only my followers and it does not have any credibility. But 88% of the people in this poll — in this feeding frenzy part of the crisis — voted that they think the Astros definitely or probably used a buzzer system.

Now, what are the chances that 88% of the 4,350 people who voted on Twitter feel this way but, say, only 30 percent of actual baseball fans do. I’d say the chances are pretty small. Fifty percent of fans? Again, I’d say pretty small but let’s go with it; if 50% of baseball fans think that the Astros cheated in 2019 (based on only the flimsiest of accusations) that is an enormous problem for the game. Everyone knows baseball’s most precious commodity is credibility. If someone believes the Astros cheated in 2019, they also believe one of two other things.

  1. MLB is too incompetent to catch them.

  2. MLB does know but is covering it up somehow.

Both are very bad.

And that’s why I think it’s imperative for MLB to come out and defend the 2019 Astros. You have baseball players all around the league just saying, point blank, that they think the Astros used buzzers. You have players all over the league screaming that MLB should withdraw the immunity they gave the players and punish them. You have an endless stream of media questions and stories about it. Social media is overwhelmed by it all.

There are many who think that MLB did not punish the 2017 Astros hard enough — I would agree but nobody can say that there were no punishments. Three managers lost their jobs over it as did a general manager. There were fines and draft-pick penalties. The players were given immunity, and you can argue about that. The Astros did not get stripped of their 2017 title, and you can argue about that too.

But I think sooner or later people will move on from 2017.

They will not move on from 2019, though, not as long as people believe that the Astros got away with it. Yes, MLB has sort of, kind of, halfway, cautiously suggested that they believe, at least at this time, that the Astros did not cheat in 2019. The commissioner said at one point in his report that the investigation “revealed no violations of the policy by the Astros in the 2019 season or 2019 Postseason.”

And the other day Manfred said: “I can tell you the evidence on this issue was as consistent in the direction that nothing was going on as the evidence was consistent in the direction that there was inappropriate behavior in '17 and ‘18.”

But people aren’t buying it because MLB is not putting any thunder behind the statement. Whatever force was behind the convoluted “evidence on this was as consistent as evidence on that” statement was lost entirely because it began with Manfred saying “Can I tell you for 100 percent certain that it didn’t happen? No, you can never know that.”

I don’t think that’s right. Sure, you can never know anything for sure, but you can come pretty damn close to knowing. MLB needs to be confident enough in the veracity of its investigation, in the truthfulness of its witnesses and in basic common sense to say to everyone (perhaps in a joint statement with the MLBPA):

We all know that the Astros cheated in 2017. It is regrettable and it has hurt the game immensely. The Astros have been punished for that. People will disagree on the terms of that punishment, and we respect that, but we believe that we have been both firm and fair.

However, MLB will not stand for unsubstantiated allegations thrown against the Astros in subsequent years. MLB has investigated and found that the Astros definitively did not use buzzers or any other form of sign-stealing equipment in 2019. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, they are more than welcome to present it. But for people, particularly those inside the game, to unfairly throw around charges based on nothing but speculation and anger is irresponsible and goes against what MLB stands for.

I will make this as clear as day: The Astros did not illegally steal signs in 2019.

It would take some courage for the commissioner to do that — he would be sticking his neck out there a bit. But that’s what the situation calls for: Someone sticking their neck out there. for the game.

Now, you might say: Well, maybe he doesn’t believe that. And if that’s the case, then baseball has an even bigger problem. If MLB even slightly suspects the Astros of cheating in 2019, they must get to the bottom of it because sooner or later that will come out and the damage could be irreversible. There is no room for ambiguity on this.

But I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think the Astros used buzzers. I think this is a made-up story that sounds somewhat plausible while the Astros’ trustworthiness is at an all-time low — there is almost NOTHING you could charge the Astros with at this moment that would give people pause. Did the Astros actually cause global warming? Sure. Wouldn’t surprise me.

And look, I don’t like what the Astros did any more than anybody else, and I think they’ve handled it about as poorly as possible. I would have preferred a stiffer punishment for 2017. I would have preferred owner Jim Crane to take responsibility and reshape his franchise beyond just firing a couple of guys named in the report. I would have preferred that the Astros didn’t retain essentially the same front office that might have been behind the whole thing.

But I don’t think the Astros used buzzers, and I think Jose Altuve’s homer off Aroldis Chapman was real and genuine, and in my view, it’s time for Manfred and others in MLB and the MLBPA to stand up and say so.