This is going to be a fascinating week for Major League Baseball as spring training camps open.
Unlike most years when the media occupies itself telling stories about top prospects and season outlooks, its going to be focused on questioning anyone who may have played a part in the electronic sign-stealing scandal that’s enveloped the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros.
Not only is Astros camp going to be buzzing, but those players and coaches who have moved on to other organizations will also be sought out for questions.
The process began over the weekend in St. Petersburg, Fla., the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. That’s where pitcher Charlie Morton has been since the start of the 2019 season.
Morton was on the mound for the final out against the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series and played an integral role on the team all season. He was 29-10 with a 3.36 ERA in the two seasons with the team and posted a 1.74 ERA in 10⅓ innings against the Dodgers in the World Series. He was asked what he thought of the scandal.
“I certainly have thought about it a lot because it negatively impacted the game and people’s perception of the game, the fans, opposing players, and that doesn’t sit well with me,” Morton told the Tampa Bay Times. “I was aware of the banging. You could hear the banging. Being in the dugout you could hear it. … Where I was at the time, I don’t know where I was, because what’s wrong is wrong. And I’ll never be absolved of that.”
Morton admission is important because it tells us many of those who played on that team understand their success that season will be viewed as illegitimate.
“Good people make mistakes,” Morton said. “It’s as simple as that. I think mistakes were made and everybody is just trying to move on. I think it is one of those things where I know those guys, I went through a lot with those guys, so I feel like I have a little different perspective on who they are as opposed to someone that is just reading that the Astros cheated in 2017.”
Even though MLB announced it will not strip the Astros of the title, and decided no players should be suspended, there will forever be the perception the World Series was won because of the unfair advantage the team created for itself.
“I think the perception of that World Series was negatively affected, at the minimum,” said Morton, who went on to admit he’d done something to stop what was going on.
“I don’t know what that would have entailed,” Morton said. “I think the actions would have been somewhat extreme to stop it.”
Morton probably understood he didn’t have any seniority on the Astros in 2017, so his objection to the sign-stealing, certainly if he’d verbalized it, would not have gone over well with his teammates.
“That’s a hard question to ask because I think there were degrees of involvement that varied,” Morton said. “I think there were guys that were caught up in it that didn’t really have any leverage in that situation. Maybe (they) weren’t really comfortable saying no. (They) weren’t comfortable taking that step. So, I’m not sure.”
Those teammates, primarily guys like George Springer, Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, are going to be asked about this over the next few days and their answers promise to be particularly instructive.
Many in the game are looking for some type of apology from the players for taking such an active role in cheating during the season. Their manager, A.J. Hinch, and general manager, Jeff Luhnow, were suspended for one year by MLB and subsequently fired by owner Jim Crane for their roles in the scandal.
If the cheating didn’t directly impact the outcome of games, it most certainly negatively impacted the careers of many of the young pitchers beat up by the Astros as a result of it. Some may have been sent to the minor leagues after a particularly rough outing against Houston.
“I know what it’s like to struggle in the big leagues,” Morton said. “I know what it’s like to battle for a spot. So, to know that was going on and guys were having to deal with that, pitching in the big leagues is tough enough. That part was difficult.”
The truth of the matter is the Astros likely would have gotten away with all of this had their former pitcher, Mike Fiers, not exposed the scheme to The Athletic.
While Fiers action has been universally praised outside of the game, its hard to know what the reaction will be within if its perceived he broke some unwritten code of silence.
“I don’t know (if clubhouse code was broken). I don’t wanna get into Mike’s head with this because I honestly don’t know,” Morton said. “In terms of a clubhouse rule, there’s no stated rule that says anything in terms of that. I think that when you’re in a clubhouse, the lines for disclosing information of what you hear and what you see can be blurred. A big reason for that is the day-to-day interactions that you have with people in the clubhouse, the smoothness in the clubhouse, the way you work together, is very dependent in everyone’s ability to keep personal information inside the clubhouse.
“The clubhouse is basically the one place we have that’s private, aside from our homes. Everything with social media nowadays is very public, but the clubhouse is a sacred place. Whether or not Mike did violate that, I’m not even gonna get into that. I don’t even know. Having not spoken to Mike and just getting information from what I read, it’s just not something I want to discuss publicly.”