CHARLOTTE, NC – Mired in the Houston Astros, and to a lesser degree, the Boston Red Sox, sign-stealing controversy, the 2020 season will throw out the first pitch with far more questions than answers still to be resolved. It’s beginning to look like major league baseball may be facing its most contentious season in memory when opening day rolls around in late March.
Based upon the media’s feeding frenzy and the responses from players arriving at training camps, the scandal runs considerably deeper than many experts initially expected.
What that could potentially mean for the Astros is a season filled with a higher than the usual number of brushback pitches, at least early on. A not-so-friendly reminder from opponents that you don’t mess with their bread and butter.
Dusty Baker, the new Houston manager, says his ball club will have to get used to the resentment from opposing players and fans at a minimum the first time around the league.
For as long as anyone can recall, players have preferred to handle their differences on the diamond without interference from umpires. This season could put that philosophy to test as never before. If so, how will the Astros handle it? How long will it be before Houston says “enough is enough” and begins to retaliate?
One character trait that is especially true with baseball players is that players often have short fuses and long memories.
How long the Astros stamina holds out will be their biggest test.
Former Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame pitcher, John Smoltz, says that the best thing for everyone to do is to ride out the storm and let time heal the wounds. Smoltz could not put a time frame to his theory but, like anything else, he believes the story’s shelf life is directly related to the Astros ability to cope.
The Red Sox role in the drama, though not as severe, may, in its own way, be more interesting. It is certainly more confusing thanks to the common denominator of Alex Cora.
Cora was the bench coach for the Astros during their championship season and is a key figure in the scandal because of his ties with both Houston and Boston.
Cora’s involvement is arguably the most confounding aspect of the controversy. At some point during the Astros march to the World Series trophy in 2017, Cora, then the Astros bench coach, began stealing opponent’s signs with the use of telephoto television lenses. Astros’ hitters were then informed whether the next pitch would be a fastball or a breaking ball from the dugout by using the sound of a trash can lid beating against the side of the can itself.
But here’s where the water gets muddy.
Following Houston’s championship, Cora was hired as the new Red Sox manager. The move was greeted with rousing enthusiasm. Cora was young and dynamic but more than anything else, he was popular with his players, the fans and the media; a nearly impossible trifecta in a savvy sports market that practically demands perfection.
When the Sox answered the bell to start the 2018 season at 17-2 en route to a franchise-record 108 regular-season wins with a World Series crown added in, the future never seemed brighter for Fenway’s faithful.
Call it a “sophomore slump” or some other odd explanation, the Sox magic of 2018 quickly faded the following season, when the same cast of characters with the same manager proved to be nothing more than adequate at best.
So now the questions:
- Why would a manager with the youth, talent, and charisma of Alex Cora jeopardize his future by stealing signs in Boston?
- As the bench coach in Houston, and a key suspect in the scandal, why would Cora attempt to repeat the scheme in Boston since the Astros were already familiar with how it worked?
- How do you explain Boston’s merely adequate record in 2019 if the sign-stealing operation was so successful?
- When Houston played Boston last season, which team had the edge if both teams were stealing signs illegally?
On Sunday, where coincidentally last year’s World Series opponents, the Astros and the Washington Nationals, share Spring Training facilities, the exhibition season opened with a game against vying the Astros and the Nats.
In a weird bit of irony, some of the Nationals’ fans showed up with protest signs to flash at the Astros, but the signs were stolen before the fans got into the park.
Astro pitcher John Smoltz has it right.
Keep the status as quo without asterisks and chalk it up to another black period in baseball history. To do anything else only adds to the confusion.
Inflict heavy fines, punishments and restrictions on the offenders.
Let the drama run its course and eventually fade away.
Alert every team there may head hunters on the prowl and to remain cool.
And finally, change Houston’s nickname for the 2020 season from the Astros to the “Ducks.”
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor is an award-winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is the founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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