TEMPE, Ariz. — The sentiment by former players, coaches and managers perhaps is not shared by the current rank and file, but they are more outraged and frustrated by Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers – baseball’s most famous whistleblower since Jose Canseco – than the actual exposure of the Houston Astros’ cheating scam.
The Astros’ scandal using electronic equipment may have shaken the baseball world, but it barely created a ripple among former players, managers, coaches and executives gathered Friday at Major League Baseball’s Dream Series in Tempe.
They said cheating has always been a part of the game, and that most everybody, including Major League Baseball, was content to look the other way.
“I played in the steroid era, I wasn’t complaining what some of those guys were doing,’’ said LaTroy Hawkins, a 21-year veteran who is a special assistant with the Minnesota Twins. “Why are so many people upset? I look at it this way, everybody is trying to do something to gain an advantage. They had the opportunity to use technology. They did. And got caught.
“Did they take it too far? Sure. People lost their jobs. Some people might have lost their careers. Major League Baseball did a good job sending a message to the rest of the league that it would not be tolerated. They dropped the hammer.’’
Who knows how much longer it would have gone on without Fiers speaking publicly to The Athletic and to MLB investigators, exposing the Astros’ cheating technology?
Yet, instead of being a hero, there are those who believe he violated the clubhouse code.
“I wish Fiers would have done it when he was on the Astros and not when he left,’’ Hawkins told USA TODAY Sports. “That would have more integrity. You win a World Series with them, go away and now you talk about it? If you had integrity, why didn’t you talk about it while it happened?
“Man, if you want to discuss that with your teammates saying they may be doing something, here’s how we negate that, that’s fine. But to talk to the media about it. It just didn’t feel right to me. I’m different. I grew up in the inner city. You don’t go around snitching on people.
“You got your ring and playoff check, and now you’re going to drop the dime on guys that were supposed to be your friends.
“I don’t work like that.’’
Several others expressed the same sentiment as Hawkins, wondering how Fiers will be treated by opposing players, or even in his own Athletics clubhouse.
“There’s nothing nice I can say about that,’’ said Atlanta Braves third base coach Ron Washington. “When you can’t say nothing nice, you don’t say anything.’’
Certainly, it’s not as if anyone has sympathy for the Astros. Cheating may be as old as the game itself, but the Astros crossed the ethical line by using video monitors, and allegedly buzzers, which MLB has not substantiated.
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“Houston is the most talented team in baseball,’’ Washington said. “And to take it to that extent I’m surprised because they don’t have to do that to whoop your (expletive). They stained their community, stained their organization, they didn’t need to do that because they can beat anybody on their own.
“Now, if a pitcher is tipping a pitch by the way he goes into his glove, you’re damn right I’m going to jump on that. If a pitcher and catcher just puts down one sign, damn right I’m going to jump on that. But to do it electronically, that’s not right.’’
There have been plenty of teams that cheated throughout the years, they believed, but were never caught.
Former Cy Young winner Jack McDowell, who played for the Chicago White Sox, said on Charlotte’s WFNZ-AM radio show Friday that Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa used video equipment from his office to steal signs in the 1980s at Comiskey Park.
This, said several of the former players, coaches and managers on Friday, is why the Astros’ scandal is being used as a crutch for some who believe they won only because they cheated, forgetting they had to win games on the road, too.
The focus now is on Astros second baseman Jose Altuve, who hit the pennant-winning home run in October off Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman. Altuve has been accused on social media of having an electronic buzzer on his body, which he has vehemently denied, with MLB’s investigators finding no proof.
Still, folks are suspicious he knew exactly what pitch Chapman was throwing to him, even if his slider didn’t break as sharply as usual.
“The only thing that popped into my mind is how did he hit that?” Washington said. “Chapman throws 100 mph. He throws a slider down and in. And he hit the hell out of it. Chapman couldn’t believe it.”
Perhaps we’ll never know exactly who did what and who benefited the most.
The Astros and Red Sox won’t be the only teams who’ll be subjected to MLB investigations. There will be more accusations. More whistle-blowing. More scandals.
The $11 billion industry question is how to stop it.
“I don’t think it’s as pervasive as people think,’’ former Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia said, “but we need to put a stop to it. The video room that’s near proximity to the dugout in ballparks, that’s got to go. That’s got to be abolished. No more video rooms anywhere near the dugout. Move the replay (monitors) upstairs by the press box. Ban all communication to the dugout.
“The first step has to be to get all live video away from the dugout because too many teams have a video room close to it, which is a huge temptation. And shut down the video room. It should be in the clubhouse. We can’t have live feed anywhere.’’
Will it stop all cheating?
But, for now, it’s a start.
“It’s baseball,’’ Hawkins said. “They’ll figure out another way to do it. They always do, right?’’
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