By Rick Sarro
Maybe Hollywood had it right all these years.
It’s pretty clear the Houston Astros love the game of baseball and winning.
They love it so intensely, I guess, that they feel you never have to say you’re sorry.
I saw and listened intently as team owner Jim Crane, All Stars Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve said the word “sorry” many times while addressing the media collectively for the first time since the sordid sign-stealing scandal broke baseball’s tenuous code of silence a few weeks ago.
They all apologized and expressed some form of regret over the now revealed and infamous shenanigans from the 2017 World Series, in which they won in 7 games over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
But all the Astros’ penitence and forlorn faces just seemed so insincere and disingenuous.
I heard them say, “I’m sorry,” but it felt like a 10-year-old brother being made to apologize to his little sister for giving her prized Barbie dolls to the dog to chew on.
I just didn’t buy it on any level.
Let me start with the players.
I really like former LSU All American Alex Bregman. Met him after his rookie season while he was appearing on our TV sports show Soundoff 60. Very nice and engaging. Over the last couple of seasons of success and awards, Bergman has turned a bit smug, curt and cocky.
And that describes his 30 seconds at the podium as he attempted to satisfy his obligation as team leader and address the assembled press in Florida as the Astros opened spring training.
“I am really sorry about the choices that were made by my team, by the organization and by me. I have learned from this and I hope to regain the trust of baseball fans.” Bregman tried to read from a note card that the wind blew from the podium. He ended with something about the team being totally focused on moving forward to the 2020 season.
I bet young Alex and his cohorts are anxious to move on and sweep this whole sign-stealing disaster under the nearest and biggest layer of Astro Turf they can find.
The diminutive Jose Altuve came across as being much more sincere as he stood with his hands on his hips and spoke freely with no script or notes. “The whole Astros organization and team feels bad about what happened in 2017. We especially feel remorse about the impact to the fans and the game of baseball. We are determined to move forward and play with intensity to bring back a championship to Houston in 2020. Thank you.”
Thanks Alex, Jose, Justin Verlander, Josh Reddick, Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers for pouring your hearts out to explain to all of us that you can’t go back and change what happened. You just have to move on and move forward.
Tell that to the Dodgers, Yankees and a number of other teams wondering if the Astros used those centerfield cameras, dugout communications and trash can banging on them.
Neither Bergman or Altuve said why they were sorry by explicitly detailing the cheating conspiracy, who devised the plan, how long it went on, whether they knew it was against the rules and why they didn’t question it or simply stop it.
How about digging deep into your baseball soul for any regrets over not playing the game the right way? For not only cheating your opponents, but cheating the game you love.
If Bregman, Altuve and a few other Houston players would have sincerely owned up to the scheme, their roles in it and shunned the attempt to say little in favor of saying too much, then maybe, in time, the court of public opinion would eventually be more forgiving.
No promises of course, but it would have been a better start then what the Astros served up.
Clearly Crane and the players were rehearsed and briefed by team public relations specialists. Still, it was a point-blank P.R. train wreck.
More on the oxymoron that is public relations and the Houston Astros later.
Astros owner Jim Crane sounded like someone testifying before a Congressional subcommittee and avoiding self-incrimination. Decide on a key phrase like … “it will never happen again on my watch,” and keep repeating it until the press can no longer repeat the same questions themselves.
Time and again Crane leaned on the MLB investigation and commissioner’s report to deflect direct and specific questions.
A turning point for me during this lousy attempt at a mea culpa was when Crane responded to one question by saying “our opinion is that this didn’t impact the game. We had a good team. We won the World Series. We’ll leave it at that.”
A short time later, when he was pressed over that ridiculous assertion, Crane crawfished. “It’s hard to determine how it impacted the game, if it impacted the game.”
If a batter knows what the opposing pitcher is about to toss his way then, yeah, maybe, I think, that knowledge will impact a game. Don’t you think?
He repeated his belief that the players should not be punished for their involvement in the cheating, which is beyond my comprehension.
The $5-million dollar fine is chump change for Crane. The loss of several first-round draft picks will hurt the team and was a good start at league blowback. The one-year suspension and subsequent team firing of Houston GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch was expected and correct.
But Manfred is coming off way too soft by not penalizing the players in some form or fashion.
If you listen to one Astros player to determine intent and guilt, then decide for yourself based on the comments by Carlos Correa. “Yes, I used the trash can, and I’m here like a man and I tell you I used it because my credibility, right here — this is what I live for. Every time I speak, I want you guys (the media) to believe me when I tell you, yes I did it. A lot of players used it (to get signs of pitches while at bat) and that’s why we’re going through this right now, because of what happened in 2017.
“We feel bad and we don’t want to be remembered as the team that cheated to get a championship. What we did in ‘17 was wrong. I’m going to be honest with you: when we first started doing it, it almost felt like it was an advantage. But it was definitely wrong, and we should have stopped it at the time.”
Correa defended Altuve, Reddick and Tony Kemp, saying those three did not use the trash can banging to signal what pitches were coming. Correa also said there were no secret buzzers under uniform shirts to communicate incoming pitches.
But it is clear from Correa’s remarks that a number of his teammates benefited from sign stealing against the Yankees in the 2017 ALCS and in their victory over the Dodgers in the World Series.
The players were not being forced to cheat by their “leadership who led them astray,” according to Crane.
The players were willing and complicit. They’ve admitted as much without actually saying the words “cheating” and “sign stealing.” The MLB report is clear on who participated and how.
What more do you need to punish the guilty players?
Major League Baseball suspends players for steroid use, drugs, corked bats, off-the-field infractions and throwing at hitters, to name a few.
What makes this cheating situation any different?
It isn’t, according to Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle and many other players, who are now bothered enough by the facts and are speaking out.
“In the long run, some of their actions will speak louder than words, and being sorry that you got caught and being sorry for what you did are two different things. It’s not going to go away in one day. This is going to be an ongoing process, unfortunately. This is something that all of baseball has to reckon with.”
The Commissioner, Crane and the Astros just want this scandal to fade away once the season starts. But it won’t.
It has taken on a life of its own. And the Astros didn’t help the matter in their official media response when they opened spring training in West Palm Beach.
You had an owner who continually made contradictory remarks. He brushed off the legitimate questions over a tainted World Series title and refused to apologize to either the Yankees or Dodgers. The players were not transparent and didn’t really take ownership of their role in the cheating. It was all about … “Well, you now know what we did. It wasn’t cool, but let’s all forgive and forget and move on to a new season.”
The Houston Astros media and public relations crew seem to make more messes than they can avoid or clean up quickly.
Remember the Verlander/reporter in the locker room brouhaha? Then the dazed and confused PR/media department claimed Sports Illustrated made up a story about sexist comments from the team’s assistant general manager during a locker room postgame celebration last season.
The comments were ill-advised and the PR department was proven wrong. They looked like the idiots they were.
That team official was soon fired.
I would have thought the Astros publicists would have learned and advanced beyond PR 101 if they saw the recent blunders by the NFL, NCAA and White House. Yeah, I had to go there.
In the meantime, Manfred, who called the Astros’ attempt at an apology unsuccessful, should check on how many decent everyday position players Houston has in Triple A before he does what needs to be done: either suspend the guilty Astros players for at least 80 games this season or vacate the 2017 World Series championship.
Doing one of these will leave the Houston Astros with serious scar tissue. But it’s the right thing to do.
Maybe then the game can heal itself and move forward as the Astros so desperately want it to.
Rick Sarro’s perspectives and commentary can be heard on Soundoff 60 Monday through Sunday evenings at 9 pm on Suddenlink cable channel 4 and Saturday and Sunday on CBS Lake Charles/KSWL. Check local listings.