Amidst death threats and certain booing and trash can banging, the Astros will take the field Saturday evening in their spring training opener at the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches home they share with the World Champion Washington Nationals. Fans will finally get their chance to voice their displeasure at the sign-stealing incident that largely took part in 2017 but was only exposed to daylight after Mike Fiers' went on record back in November.
Diaz: Richer by 600k
(c) Associated Press
Hey, we get it. In a sport where everyone seeks a competitive advantage including corking bats, doctoring pitches and using body-altering chemicals, only the 2017 Astros took it too far and have incurred the wrath of countless folks who try to teach their children to play hard but play fair.
Nick Markakis of the Atlanta Braves said every Astros player needed "a beating". Pitchers have admitted wanting to throw beanballs at the offending players. Houston batters may be smart to wear more body armor than HBP champion Craig Biggio use to wear 20 years ago.
Such talk may be reckless and I have a hard time believing MLB and the Players Union (MLBPA) understand the increasing stain they are making on their sport talking of retaliation as if these were UFC fighters. Bad blood may sell tickets but real blood is a turn off to most of the fans to whom baseball is marketed.
Houston manager Dusty Baker has asked Commissioner Rob Manfred to protect his players from violence, just as he said would be provided to Fiers, who has also claimed to receive death threats. MLBPA President Tony Clark held a four-hour closed-door meeting with Astros members Friday (his usual meetings last half that long) and the players relayed to him some of the safety concerns they have.
My concern isn't so much that the players will go postal as much as fans will try to take vigilante justice into their own hands using guns, knives, bats or other weapons they can sneak through security. The sports media have breathlessly fanned the flames since January, whipping players and opposing fans into a frenzy over something more common and widespread than just the Astros.
If you think your favorite team is innocent, this little slideshow chronicles a myriad of cheating scandals throughout the history of the sport. There's been far more covered up than even these instances document.
In the early going, the regular players will be making token appearances, most often at home, and then are replaced by bench players and scrubs after a few innings. Most "star" players don't ride the rickety buses to play in road games. For the uninitiated, this is a common practice for all teams and is not evidence of the Astros "ducking" hostile crowds.
Hopefully, actual on-field action will take the attention away from the angry rhetoric this incident has fueled. It does baseball no good to portray their product the way it has been lately.
In other news, Aledmys Diaz was awarded $2.6 million for the 2020 season in arbitration. The Astros had offered $2 million, the same as he made the year before. Diaz was good as a utility player when healthy. The unfortunate part was his injuries often coincided with shortstop Carlos Correa's, which left a glaring hole at shortstop most often filled in by Alex Bregman shifting over from third.
Brad Peacock's neck soreness returned early in camp. The righthander missed parts of last season due to neck and shoulder woes. He is expected to compete for a starting rotation spot this year if he can stay healthy.
As bonkers as Houston went as defending World Champions in 2018, expect a very low-key celebration this year as defending American League Champions. On the one hand, that will be a shame not to celebrate. On the other hand, you can expect the scandal to reduce the price of 2019 A.L. Champions gear.
- Bob Hulsey