Jan 17, 2020

Astros scandal claims third manager

Carlos Beltrán, the only player named in MLB's investigation of the Astros' sign-stealing scandal, is out as Mets manager, departing less than three months into his tenure and becoming the third manager in four days to lose his job.

Why it matters: Pitchers and catchers begin reporting to spring training in 27 days, and the Astros, Red Sox and Mets don't have managers. What we've witnessed this week is unprecedented — and the fallout has only just begun.Houston Astros fire manager, GM after suspension for sign-stealing

Meanwhile, on Twitter: Speculation surfaced that Astros players José Altuve and Alex Bregman wore devices under their jerseys that buzzed to tell them what pitch was coming, turning an already wild controversy into a full-blown conspiracy theory.

  • Twitter then did what Twitter does best, finding photo and video evidence that could suggest the presence of those buzzers, generating enough noise that MLB felt compelled to respond, saying it "found no evidence" of wearable devices during its investigation.

Between the lines: The buzzer rumors aren't supported by actual evidence, so I don't want to mislead you into thinking they're anything more than internet rumblings.

  • But I do believe it's important to share just how absurd things got online yesterday, because it paints a picture of where baseball currently finds itself.
  • First, it was the balls mysteriously flying farther. Then it was teams using cameras to cheat. Then it was Beltrán — arguably the most revered player of the last decade — being involved in that cheating. And now we're analyzing buzzer technology and Altuve's wardrobe.

Simply put, nobody trusts anything anymore. Fans feel betrayed and players feel cheated. Once spring training begins, the show will go on as it always does, but the stench of this scandal will linger.

  • There will be constant rumors, questions, jokes and internet memes, and fans might boo every single time an Astros player gets a hit on the road.

The big picture: Modern baseball often feels like a "business" where teams are competing to find an edge, rather than a "sport." And when you add this scandal to the mix, it makes you realize how far removed baseball is from its original descriptor: "pastime."

  • "Baseball earned a place in so many hearts on its romance. But it has begun to sound like the insurance and banking industries," writes SI's Tom Verducci.
  • "[P]layers become 'assets' or 'a two-win player.' Relief pitchers are 'fungible.' ... The chance to score a run, win a game or secure a postseason berth are defined as a finite percentage."
  • "We don't want championships that make us do mental gymnastics to decide whether they are inauthentic. We don't want player analysis to be derivative valuation. ... We want a clean game decided by fair competition. Clean it up."

P.S. ... The sign-stealing scandal is serious stuff, but it's important to remember that it's also hilarious. I just feel like that had to be said, as this is ultimately a story about grown men banging on trash cans.

P.P.S. ... In much more positive news, Alyssa Nakken became the first female coach in MLB history yesterday when she was named an assistant under Giants manager Gabe Kapler.

Go deeper: Houston Astros fire manager, GM after suspension for sign-stealing

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The Astros' apology tour

The Astros' Jose Altuve during a press conference in West Palm Beach. Photo: Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Houston Astros are very sorry for cheating their way to a World Series win, even as their owner bizarrely flip-flopped on whether their cheating changed any games.

Why it matters: The sign-stealing scandal is among the biggest since the steroid era, spilling over into other clubs and giving MLB some nasty publicity.

Go deeperArrowFeb 13, 2020 - Sports

Inside the Astros' front office's sign stealing operation

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Over the weekend, a bombshell Wall Street Journal report revealed that the Astros' front office was not only aware of the sign-stealing that was going on but, in fact, created the system in the first place. It even had a name: "Codebreaker."

How it worked: Using an in-game live feed, someone would log the catchers' signs and the type of pitch that was thrown into an Excel spreadsheet. An algorithm would then decipher what each sign meant and that information was communicated to a baserunner, who would relay it to the hitter.

Go deeperArrowFeb 11, 2020 - Sports

How an inconsistent baseball threatens trust in MLB

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Astros' sign-stealing scandal is a huge black eye for Major League Baseball and threatens public trust in the sport, but there is something that poses an even bigger threat to that trust — the baseball itself.

Catch up quick: The "juiced baseball" emerged as a storyline last season, but the inconsistency of MLB's baseballs has been a theme for years.

Go deeperArrowFeb 4, 2020 - Sports