Rob Manfred offered aloud words that were already in his report released last month about the Astros cheating scandal.
In the report, the commissioner wrote: “The Astros continued to both utilize the replay review room and the monitor located next to the dugout to decode signs for the remainder of the regular season and throughout the Postseason.”
He reiterated that during a press conference in Arizona on Tuesday. And there was power in hearing the words spoken in public, especially in the aftermath of Houston star Carlos Correa insinuating that the Astros did not use the trash can-banging system during the 2017 World Series against the Dodgers.
Manfred said Thursday that he was basing his statement on what Astros players had told his investigators. And it is a reminder how ludicrous it is each time somebody associated with the cheating tries to mitigate the action by saying there was no way of knowing if the Astros were being helped to a title by their scheme.
Think of all they risked to continue to do it — a risk they only would have accepted if they believed the system was aiding them significantly.
They continued to do it in the postseason with the greatest number of reporters and league officials around. They did it after then-White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar had, in September 2017, noticed the banging, which motivated Astros personnel to scramble to hide the monitor with which they were cheating. They did it after the commissioner’s Sept. 15, 2017 edict against the Red Sox and Yankees in Boston’s Apple Watch incident.
The word was that then-Houston GM Jeff Luhnow did not share with his players the edict — which said future use of technology to steal signs in real time would be dealt with more harshly. But come on, the Yankees and Red Sox were two of the teams the Astros were probably figuring they would have to get through to win their first World Series. This was major news. To act like the players were unaware of the edict and, thus, what they were doing was cheating stretches credulity.
Manfred’s out-loud words were yet another reminder that the Astros cheated all the way to a title — an understanding that should persist even without Houston being stripped of the championship or an actual asterisk going next to their name in the record books.
And this is why there is so much fury among players about what the Astros did. And it is not just firebrands known to spout like the Reds’ Trevor Bauer. The biggest stars are hammering away. And that includes Mike Trout and Aaron Judge. They are important because they are renowned for finding the positive in just about anything and staying away from any negative public commentaries. It is why they are so respected.
When Walter Cronkite turned against the Vietnam War, President Lyndon B. Johnson famously said, “If I lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America,” recognizing the wide respect for the newsman. The Astros have lost Judge and especially Trout. That is powerful.
The Players Association must defend its constituents, even when public or internal sentiment is against them. But the wide anger and now the pile on by Trout and Judge only makes this tougher for the union, as its head, Tony Clark, begins his tour to speak to each team.
Manfred also put some further stress on the union by noting it would only allow its constituents to testify before MLB with blanket immunity, the commissioner’s way of pointing out why punishment of players did not come from the findings. Established labor law and precedent might have made it impossible to levy significant penalties anyway, but this not only was an attempt by the commissioner to shift blame amid all the anger about lack of player sanctions, but to force Clark to work through with his ranks what kind of punishments they want in the future.
Because to admit during the investigation with immunity that they cheated throughout the postseason will not bring punishment this time to Astros players. But Manfred saying out loud that they cheated throughout the 2017 postseason reverberated more strongly than his written words and served as some level of penalty about the credibility of the 2017 title.
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