Andrew Heaney, a left-handed pitcher with the Angels, is mad.
He’s mad at the Astros, a rival team in the AL West. He’s mad that they cheated, that they used technology to steal signs, that they won the World Series using those nefarious methods. He’s mad that the Astros, already an incredibly talented team, cheated baseball.
Heaney conveyed his feelings to reporters on Wednesday, including The Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya, in no uncertain terms: “I hope they feel like s—t.”
And Heaney’s not alone, of course. His teammate, Noé Ramirez, echoed his sentiments: “They’re kind of playing the victim and it’s bulls—t.”
In another AL West rival camp, A’s pitcher Sean Manaea had thoughts, too, as reported by veteran baseball scribe Susan Slusser.
Manaea compares what the Astros were doing to using a cheat code in a video game – it takes away the fundamental essence of baseball, the batter vs. pitcher game within the game, if the batter knows what’s coming. “That’s messed up,” Manaea says.
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) February 13, 2020
And the feeling is the same with players across the league. The Astros cheated and benefited. Flags fly forever. This isn’t the NCAA. Nothing’s being vacated.
Yes, Houston’s GM and manager lost their jobs, but players were given immunity by baseball. There are no real repercussions for the players, aside from a couple of difficult questions they’ll be asked from time to time. Hard to imagine that’s much of a deterrent. Cheat to win a title, but your punishment is feeling awkward a few years down the road. For players willing to cheat in the first place, that’s a trade every one of them would make.
Here’s the thing: Being outspoken now is a good thing, but if players want to keep something like this from happening again, they have the power to make that happen.
It was, we have learned, pretty well-known around baseball that the Astros were cheating. This thorough Washington Post story details that pretty clearly. Everyone knew it, but baseball did nothing. Baseball let it happen. And it’s not like the powers-that-be weren’t aware.
A’s manager Bob Melvin, getting yet another round of Astros questions, says Oakland HAD called league about possible cheating BEFORE Fiers allegations. “Everyone was fed up with it,” he says of numerous Houston opponents.
— Susan Slusser (@susanslusser) February 12, 2020
Nothing was done, though. The catalyst for something finally happening? A player speaking out, with his name attached to his words, not hiding behind anonymity.
I’ve written about this multiple times, but it bears repeating again. It’s hard to imagine baseball moving so rapidly with the Astros if Mike Fiers doesn’t speak out. As thousands of screaming Astros fans have screamed since that article in The Athletic came out in November, if Fiers was so concerned, why didn’t he say something then?
And it’s a good point. It’s a point Heaney brought up this week, too. Again, from Ardaya:
“Somebody in that locker room had to say, ‘This is f—d up. We shouldn’t be doing this.’ For nobody to stand up and say, ‘We’re cheating the other players. That sucks.’ That’s a s—y feeling for everybody.”
On Thursday, the first time the Astros made all their players available to the media, we heard a parade of current players who were part of that 2017 club express remorse (some appearing more genuine than others) for either participating in the cheating or not stopping it. Remorse in 2020 is a lot different than standing up in 2017, though.
It’s pretty clear that baseball’s preferred option is to keep things quiet, or at least to drag out “investigations” as long as possible, sans public pressure. Rest assured, Melvin and the A’s aren’t the only ones to report what they knew to MLB. If players, managers or front-office types see other teams cheating, the path to stopping that seems pretty clear.
Speak out. Talk to the media. Raise a holy ruckus.
MLB has given players no other viable option. The Astros cheated, but MLB was complicit. And you know who else was complicit? The players on that team who didn’t cheat but stayed silent. And the opposing players/managers/execs who knew of the cheating and stayed silent.
They’re partially to blame, too. I know that’s easy for me to say, as a writer and not a player. I realize that’s an incredibly tough ask of a player, to step up and accuse an opposing team of cheating, publicly. Look at the initial reaction for Fiers.
But also think about this: What if Melvin and the A’s — or any other player or team who knew about the Astros — had registered their complaint with the Oakland media in August 2017, in a live press conference, instead of with baseball?
At the very least, with the eyes of the baseball world on them, the Astros would have stopped banging on trash cans to convey signals, right? Think about how brazen that strategy was: They cared so little about repercussions that they literally made loud noises anyone in the stadium or watching on TV could hear to transmit their stolen signs.
And if the trash-can banging stopped in August 2017, who knows how September and October 2017 would have played out? Maybe the Astros still win. That was an incredibly talented roster, fully capable of winning a title. But maybe they don’t. Maybe one key batter guessed wrong on one key pitch and swung and missed, instead of lacing a base hit on a swing that came with the confidence of knowing what pitch was closing in on the plate.
There are a few things we’ve learned from how this scandal has played out: Baseball is fully invested in doling out punishments for transgressions that happened in the past, but if players want to stop cheating in real time — this isn’t just about sign-stealing, but applies to any sort of similar cheating-the-game issue that could arise — it’s on them to make it happen.
Speak up, players. The integrity of the sport is depending on you.