The Houston Astros attracted a fresh round of ire from around Major League Baseball as they opened spring training Thursday with an attempt to apologize for the illicit sign-stealing operation that has shaken the sport. Many rivals found their answers and apologies lacking or misguided, particularly owner Jim Crane’s assertion that the team’s sign-stealing did not affect outcomes and should not taint Houston’s 2017 World Series title.
The Astros opened their camp with a morning news conference that included brief statements from team leaders José Altuve and Alex Bregman and featured Crane taking questions from a horde of reporters. Crane clumsily said the Astros’ cheating “didn’t impact the game,” only to retract the sentiment a minute later without saying the 2017 championship should be seen in a different light.
Astros players roundly agreed with Crane that their title should not be diminished, and players provided few details on how and why the scheme pervaded. The baseball world wanted more from the Astros — more remorse, more accountability, more explanations.
“I saw a couple of interviews, and they all said pretty much the same thing. They skated by everything. They swept everything under the rug,” Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sean Manaea, who has competed in the same division as the Astros for his entire four-year career, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “They didn’t own up to anything and they’re trying to move on, which is like" ‘What are you guys trying to move on from? You haven’t even said what it is you did.’ They just now said they’re sorry, but what about this entire offseason? It was like, deny, deny, deny. When the time comes, you have to say what you’re trying to move on from. It’s crazy.”
The Astros attempted to use Thursday to cleanse their season of the vitriol they faced all winter. It left most within the baseball universe unsatisfied.
“That’s it?” 11-year veteran David Freese wrote on Twitter late Thursday afternoon. “What a f*#*!!! joke. I’m old, retired, out of the game so [disregard] my thoughts but damn. … All people want is something from the heart if it’s there. Something!!”
Commissioner Rob Manfred’s report on Houston’s sign-stealing operation found no evidence the Astros cheated during the 2019 postseason, which ended for them with a Game 7 World Series loss to the Washington Nationals. But the raft of evidence — and years of scuttlebutt — about Houston from before 2019 led to ample speculation.
New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who surrendered a series-clinching, walk-off home run to José Altuve in the American League Championship Series last year, provided his first public reaction to the Astros’ scandal Thursday morning, calling Altuve’s actions “a little suspicious.”
After Altuve pounded his slider over the left field fence at Minute Maid Park, Chapman smiled as he walked off the mound. As Altuve crossed the plate, he told teammates not to rip off his jersey and clutched the buttons with his hands, video of which was widely circulated amid speculation Astros hitters had used buzzers affixed to their bodies to alert them to coming pitches.
“Yeah, I’ve seen that video,” Chapman told reporters through an interpreter at the Yankees’ spring training complex in Tampa. “I think a lot of people have seen that video. It’s a popular video right now. And yeah, if you look at his actions, they look a little suspicious. But at the end of the day, I just don’t know” whether Altuve knew what he was throwing.
Chapman said he believed the Astros’ cheating cost the Yankees a World Series in 2017, when the Astros beat the Yankees in seven games in the American League Championship Series, winning every game at home.
“I believe so,” Chapman said. “It was very close, and everything, all the details that come out, I think it was the extra edge that allowed them to move on.”
Chapman spoke to reporters before Crane expressed his belief the Astros’ sign-stealing didn’t impact games. Afterward, the pitcher stood before reporters again to say he disagreed with Crane.
“When you know the signs and you know what’s coming, especially at this level of baseball — we have some of the most talented baseball players in the world,” Chapman said. “As hitters, if they have an edge, an advantage in knowing what’s coming, it’s just going to make them stronger. Was that the sole reason they won the World Series? I don’t know. But what I can say is, when you have an advantage like that, it’s definitely going to make you a stronger team.”
Yankees Manager Aaron Boone also took issue with Crane’s belief that the Astros’ sign-stealing operation did not affect outcomes, particularly the 2017 American League Championship Series.
“That’s quite a stretch, I think,” Boone said. “Clearly, on what level did it impact things, I guess we’ll never know, and that’s for people to draw their own conclusions on. But clearly when we’re talking about some of the things that went on, those things have an effect on games, clearly.”
Journeyman left-hander Brett Anderson, who competed against the Astros with the Athletics in the American League West the past two seasons, expressed doubt on Twitter about Crane’s assertion. Above a tweet of Crane’s quote, Anderson posted a video of Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” character Ron Burgundy saying, “I don’t believe you.”
https://t.co/C9wgD5Rr1A pic.twitter.com/OX5O5EiNhk— Brett Anderson (@_BAnderson30_) February 13, 2020
Texas Rangers outfielder Willie Calhoun agreed. “Let us know what pitches are coming and let’s just see how much it ‘doesn’t impact the game,’ ” Calhoun wrote on Twitter.
Many current and former Astros had previously expressed regret for standing idle as the team conducted their sign-stealing system. Former major league reliever C.J. Nitkowski, now a Texas Rangers television broadcaster, took aim at those players.
“And for the ‘I wish I would have said something,’ crowd, spare us,” Nitkowski wrote on Twitter. “You turning that ring in or giving back that $438,000 [World Series] share?”
Astros players uniformly denied wearing buzzers that signaled what pitches were coming. Former Astros pitcher Gerrit Cole, who was not a member of the 2017 World Series champions, told reporters he believed Astros hitters did not use buzzers. This offseason, Cole signed as a free agent with the Yankees. He joined Houston in 2018 and told reporters he “didn’t see any of” the sign-stealing scheme and therefore felt no need to apologize to his new teammates.
It could be argued that no team suffered more from the Astros’ cheating than the Los Angeles Dodgers, whom the Astros beat in seven games in the 2017 World Series. For the Los Angeles fan base, it remains a bitter topic. Local station KTLA broadcast the Astros’ news conference and used the news chyron “ASTROS CHEATER” to identify Altuve.
jose altuve - astros cheater lmao pic.twitter.com/K4Q9ArwEli— arati (@ayoarati) February 13, 2020
Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts had a muted reaction to Houston’s news conference, telling reporters simply that he believed in karma. Roberts said he watched Dodgers pitchers throwing bullpen sessions while the Astros’ news conference unfolded, avoiding Houston’s apologies and explanations altogether.
“Our story is moving forward, and that will be our stance for 2020,” Roberts said.
The Astros tried to take the same approach. It will be much tougher for them.
What to know about the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal
The Houston Astros engaged in an extensive sign-stealing scheme throughout the 2017 season, including during their World Series victory, and in the 2018 season, using cameras and video monitors. Former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers revealed the scheme to The Athletic in November.
What is sign stealing? It’s a long-standing baseball practice in which one team tries to decode the signs of its opponent. It’s not illegal, but the way the Astros went about stealing signs is.
What’s happened since? The Astros fired manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow in January after MLB suspended both for their roles in the scheme. Dusty Baker and James Click were hired to replace them. Owner Jim Crane and several Houston players, including stars José Altuve and Alex Bregman, apologized at the start of spring training; Crane said players shouldn’t be punished.
• Read more: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred defends his decision not to punish Astros players
How does the rest of baseball feel? Many around the league weren’t satisfied with the Astros’ apology, and some opponents have been outwardly angry, saying they’re ready to dole out justice of their own. Here’s what baseball’s stars are saying about the Astros.
Go deeper …
• The Astros want to ‘move forward.’ The rest of baseball isn’t eager to let them.
• This was the time for the Astros to own their cheating. Maybe they missed the sign.
• Cheating ruins everything about sports. The Astros got what they deserved.