The Astros’ reaction was essentially a collective shrug. Thursday had been for apologies. Friday was for baseball — with a little bit of image rehabilitation sprinkled in.
Third baseman Alex Bregman and second baseman José Altuve — two of the stars of the 2017 Astros, whose World Series title was tarnished this winter by revelations they used electronic devices to steal signs illegally — signed autographs for a good long while, then fielded grounders on a half-field behind the Astros’ complex at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches. Pitchers threw bullpen sessions. Every roster pitcher was on hand except Zack Greinke, who has indicated he won’t be arriving until the contract-mandated report date of Feb. 22. Why? “Because he’s Zack Greinke,” Manager Dusty Baker explained.
No one in an Astros uniform was talking about sign-stealing unless a media member brought it up, and even then only grudgingly.
“We’ve put it behind us,” pitcher Brad Peacock said. “… We’re moving forward.”
“It’s in the past now,” said Baker, who last month replaced A.J. Hinch after the latter was suspended and then fired in the wake of Major League Baseball’s report on the sign-stealing scandal. “I’m hoping the players don’t have to answer any more questions about it — because how many times can you say the same thing? It’s time for us to get to work, put it behind us, ask for forgiveness. The guys said they were sorry. …
“Just like if you have an argument in your household: Everybody get it out. Now it’s over with, and don’t mention it [again] or else it lingers. And we’re trying not to let it linger.”
Clearly and understandably, the Astros want to be able to focus on the 2020 season and get back to the familiar rhythms and routines of spring training. Unfortunately for the Astros, that seems impossible in the short term — and it is fair to wonder whether, for the players stained by the scheme, things can ever be normal again.
Across the rest of baseball, Friday was another day devoted to ripping the Astros. Rather than smooth things over, as intended, Thursday’s team-wide apology tour only seemed to make things worse, with owner Jim Crane claiming the sign-stealing scheme did not affect the outcome of games — thus maintaining the validity of Houston’s 2017 World Series title — and players refusing to discuss specifics of the scheme and retreating to a handful of talking points when pressed for details.
“I thought the apologies were whatever,” said Bellinger, whose Dodgers lost to the Astros in the 2017 World Series. “… I would say everyone in the big leagues lost respect for those guys.”
“I definitely think [the scheme] had an effect on things, without question,” said New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman, whose team lost to the Astros in the American League Championship Series in 2017 and 2019. “The Houston Astros were dealing with a distinct advantage, more so than their opponents. That’s a fact.”
Asked Friday about the ongoing criticism from opposing players, Astros pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. said: “We’ve all addressed it. We all stand by what we individually said, and we’re looking forward to moving forward with a good 2020 club.”
When Altuve was asked Friday for his reaction to people across the game saying the Astros’ apologies sounded insincere, he said, “I haven’t seen the reaction yet.”
How much longer can the Astros-bashing go on? Well, most report dates for position players aren’t until the middle of next week, which means there will be at least a few more days of aggrieved, big-name position players being asked about the Astros as they trickle into their respective camps for the start of spring training.
It is also not a good look for the Astros when members of their 2017 championship team who now play for other teams are more forthcoming and heartfelt publicly than the holdovers still with Houston. On Friday, the former category included Tony Kemp, J.D. Davis and Jake Marisnick, bit players on the 2017 Astros now with the Oakland Athletics (Kemp) and New York Mets (Davis and Marisnick).
Davis used the word “ashamed” — a word that did not emerge from the lips of any current Astros on Thursday — to describe his feelings over having participated in the scheme. He also seemed to grasp more than his former teammates the damage their actions inflicted upon the sport.
“It’s terrible for baseball,” he said. “Baseball took a couple of steps backwards because of these events.”
Kemp provided more details about the scheme than any of the current Astros, saying he was approached in 2017 by a veteran player (whose name he would not reveal) asking whether he wanted to participate in the scheme — in which the Astros used the devices to intercept the signs from opposing catchers, then relayed the type of pitch to the hitter by banging on a trash can. According to Kemp, he replied no.
“I just tried to put my head down and play hard and not really concern myself with it,” said Kemp, whose teammates in Oakland include Mike Fiers, the former Astros pitcher-turned-whistleblower who exposed the scheme in a story published by the Athletic in November.
Marisnick came closer than any of the current Astros to accepting the viewpoint expressed frequently across the game: The 2017 World Series title is now tainted.
“It’s hard to say if that team would’ve won the World Series with or without [the scheme],” he said. “It was a special team. But, honestly, I can see why people would view it that way.”