WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — After three months of coy defiance, current Houston Astros players are about to become publicly accountable for the sign-stealing scandal that plunged baseball into turmoil this offseason. They could, within the next week, deliver the sport’s most anticipated apologies since the steroid era.
Astros pitchers and catchers reported to their spring training complex here Wednesday and will speak with reporters Thursday. Position players, the ones who directly benefited from the scheme, report Monday, and the full squad will meet with reporters Tuesday. It’s unclear when the Astros will address the situation.
If the Astros do apologize, as owner Jim Crane promised they would in late January, it would be the first time any current players claimed responsibility for their actions. This is important because, as Thomas Boswell pointed out in a recent column, baseball is grappling with “one of the most fundamental and damaging issues any sport can face: an integrity crisis.” (Then again, Boswell also wrote, “don’t expect any Astro — Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa or José Altuve — to confess or even offer a decent apology this week. In 30 years? Probably not even then. They’ll be just like Pedro Martinez, a headhunter in his day, protected by codes, who said the real source of the current sign-stealing scandal was the whistleblower, ex-Houston pitcher Mike Fiers. He had squealed. That’s the wiseguys’ ‘omerta’ code.”)
How the Astros handle their first public, collective comment on the issue will help shape the scandal’s legacy beyond the initial fallout, which led to the firing of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow.
This reckoning matters to the Astros’ peers around the sport. It is their only chance at recourse because, while the deception soiled the game, as well as harmed the livelihoods of other players, the player-driven plot produced no penalties for the involved players. MLB granted players immunity to ensure they spoke freely during its two-month-long probe.
Calls around the game are growing louder.
Players outside the investigation’s scope have fumed since the Athletic broke the story shortly after the World Series. ESPN reported some Astros players reached out to others to assure them that they did not cheat, but some friendships fractured anyway. Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger insinuated he might throw at players linked to the 2017 Astros. Retired pitcher Mike Bolsinger sued the Astros for cheating in the outing that became the “death knell” of his career.
“I would rather face a player that was taking steroids than face a player that knew every pitch that was coming,” Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood tweeted, contextualizing how egregious he found this scandal.
Washington Nationals closer Sean Doolittle anticipated spring training could satisfy what so many players are demanding from those who cheated them and the game.
“We want an apology, some transparency and accountability — real answers from people taking real responsibility for letting down the game of baseball,” he tweeted, adding, “There can be no redemption arc after an institutionalized scandal like this until there’s some accountability.”
Players demand it because no one still with the team has yet taken responsibility. Chicago White Sox pitcher Dallas Keuchel and Minnesota Twins utility player Marwin Gonzalez — two members of Houston’s tainted 2017 team, the one that won the franchise’s first World Series — apologized for the ploy, but those who remain with the team have not.
The Astros’ stars — George Springer, Bregman, Correa, Altuve — double as central conspiring characters, and they have said little so far. What they have said has framed the scandal as outside noise from haters, something they would use as fuel for another World Series run.
“When everyone feels the time is right, it will get taken care of,” outfielder Josh Reddick said back in November, when he was the first Astros player to speak following the scandal.
Bregman and Altuve hardly said more at the team’s winter fan festival in Houston. They deflected all questions regarding the incident, with Altuve declining to address the situation and Bregman repeating, “The commissioner made his report, made his decision, and the Astros made their decision, and I have no further comment on it.”
Bregman, and the rest of the Astros, could be forced to further comment on it this week.