added 7/29/2014 by Scott Barzilla
Those that pay attention to the Astros on a fairly regular basis have already heard about the recent Mark Appel controversy. The internet bulletin boards, web pages, and twitter have already run with it, so I will try to bring a unique perspective on it. For those of you that may not have heard, let me reset the situation as dispassionately as possible.
It began when top overall draft pick Appel threw six innings and gave up only two runs in his last start at A-ball Lancaster. Yes, such a start would hardly be considered groundbreaking, except, for Appel, that kind of start was hailed as a major improvement. His 9.65 ERA in Lancaster would suggest more development time was needed, but the brass felt this was the right time to promote Appel to AA Corpus Christi. Supposedly, a promotion was planned for him at some point this season and they felt it was best to do it while he had some momentum.
If the story had ended there, we might not be talking about this situation. However, on the way to Corpus, Appel stopped in Houston and pitched a bullpen session at Minute Maid Park on Sunday morning. The Astros had him pitch in front of pitching coach Brent Strom before any of the other players arrived and had Appel quietly exit the stadium through a back entrance. Two anonymous Houston players allegedly bad-mouthed the whole situation to Chronicle writer Jose de Jesus Ortiz and "other reporters." Their complaints included Appel's promotion and his bullpen session.
How common is it for minor leaguers to pitch a bullpen session in a major league park? I honestly don't know the answer. It seems that it would be fairly uncommon simply because the Astros seemed to try to conceal it. However, this is giving the issue far more attention than was desired. At least, now, you're caught up.
Jose de Jesus Ortiz first broke this story on Twitter. Far be it from me to go off on a diatribe about changes in journalism over the past 40 years. The Twitter train has already left the station and it's not coming back.
However, according to his own tweet, these two players approached him and other journalists with their complaints. They asked not to be identified. What I find funny is that no other journalist mentioned the comments. We can only assume that regular Chronicle beat writer Evan Drellich was one of the reporters within earshot. He didn't mentioned it. None of the national reporters mentioned it either. Why did Ortiz feel it necessary to mention it?
Those that know me well know I am not a big fan of Ortiz and his work. In fact, I am usually far less kind on Twitter and on message boards. One of the hallmarks of social media is that people can hide behind screen names and pseudonyms and say things they would never say in person.
So, I'll say it here and now. I don't have a whole lot of respect for Ortiz. I'll admit I've poked more than a few jokes at his name on message boards and Twitter. It goes back to something my parents always taught me: "an ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure." So, in the interest of full disclosure, I'm not walking into this discussion with an unbiased viewpoint.
Ortiz used to be the Chronicle's beat writer during the good ol' days and then was suddenly switched to the soccer beat. I know this may anger some of our compadres from south of the border, but that's quite a demotion to us in the States. Of course, the Chronicle never commented on why there was a change or even if the change was up to them or Ortiz. I can only speculate and since this is my nickel, I'll do just that. Simply put, Ortiz is what polite company would call a "pot stirrer". Since I'm being less than polite today, I'll call it the way I saw it: Ortiz was a race baiter.
Ortiz wrote a whole series of articles back then questioning the Astros on why they had so few people of color in their organization. If one could tie a correlation between then and now, we could simply say that Ortiz loves getting in his jabs at the organization.
There is certainly room for commentary in covering a team and this team has done more than enough to get criticism through the years. However, there is a fine line between calling them like you see them and stirring the pot just to see what boils to the surface. Ortiz not only crossed that line, he leapt right over it.
At the end of the day, Ortiz became like his former colleague Richard Justice. He became a tool. That's a strong attack, so let me elaborate. Justice made his bed when he did Bud Selig's dirty work in exchange for a gig with MLB.com. Justice and Maury Brown ran Selig's media smear campaign for him so that Jim Crane would buckle under to Selig's demand to switch leagues upon purchasing the Astros.
I’m not sure what Ortiz' end game is. He may just be trying to hold onto the baseball job he lost several years ago. However, it is clear that the latest story is one that is continuing a narrative that the Astros are a public relations nightmare.
Naturally, we don't need Ortiz' “muckraking” to tell us that. They've been hacked, lost their first overall draft pick, had a grievance filed against them by the MLBPA and could be on their way to a fourth consecutive 30th place finish in the 30-team major league standings.
Fortunately, most of the people I encounter on Twitter are already onto Ortiz. The general consensus in the beginning was to consider the source. Again, I reference the fact that Ortiz was the only one to report this.
When players say as much as those two did and refuse to put their name on it, it should tell you something. Either they are overreacting or they have an axe to grind themselves. Did I mention something about tools? Ortiz has been in the game a long time and should know better. The two beat writers who have covered the Astros for the Chronicle since Ortiz (Drellich and Zach Levine) certainly knew better. That is, of course, unless it is the goal to sow discord. I have a sinking suspicion that Ortiz was trying to do just that.