Sunday, January 26, 2020

Monday Morning Hot Links

To me there are two things in this world: there's life, and there's baseball. And one helps you get through the other.
-Jerry Seinfeld.

Been a rough few days at ACHQ. My wife's grandmother passed away and we were in Oklahoma for the funeral. A former student of mine was shot and killed. Let's just get this over with:

*Oakland's "quality control coach" Mark Kotsay was interviewed by the Astros for their vacant managerial opening. That's nine candidates so far:
Brad Ausmus, Dusty Baker, Jeff Banister, Joe Espada, John Gibbons, Mark Kotsay, Eduardo Perez, Buck Showalter, and Will Venable.

Reminder that Jim Crane said he wants to make a decision on the manager by February 3 - which is next Monday, which is also the day after I turn 40 (and I'm not happy about that, either).

*And hey ho the Astros need a new GM (and it should be Kevin Goldstein) and they've interviewed former Giants GM Bobby Evans for that role.


This is going to happen all year, all next year, all the year after that, and the year after that, and the year...forever. Get used to it. Our collective favorite team was caught doing something wrong. It doesn't matter if other teams were doing it - we'd roast them if they were - now they're a lightning rod. It's how it is now. Would have been great if they'd won a home game during the 2019 World Series so we could all have some semblance of facts to counter it, but they went 0-4 at Minute Maid Park (after going 65-21 at MMP from Opening Day through the ALCS), so we don't. It is officially Frustrating to be an Astros fan. All those years of losing, completely discounted, because of what they did, and what Mike F. Fiers said (and, no, I won't be linking to the pedophile rumors at present) two years later.

*Tom Verducci presented Yordan Alvarez with his 2019 Rookie of the Year Award on Saturday night.

*Nolan Ryan reiterated that he's "no longer associated" with the Astros.

*Buster Olney: The sign-stealing fallout could leave the Astros vulnerable in the AL West.

*Former Braves Great Dallas Keuchel was the first 2017 Astros member to apologize for the sign-stealing scandal. Keuchel:
Was it against the rules? Yes it was. And I personally am sorry for what's come about the whole situation....It's just what the state of baseball was at that point in time...It is what it is, and we've got to move past that. I never thought anything would've come like it did. I, myself, am sorry.

Basically what I've been saying: this was far more widespread, and no, it doesn't make it okay that the Astros did it. But the Astros weren't going to get left behind when there were advantages to be made.

*ESPN's Bradford Doolittle: Why the Astros' penalties are harsh enough, despite calls for more.

*Lame-Ass Dodgers Fans are going to take the 30-mile/150-minute trip to Anaheim for the expressed purpose of booing the Astros. That seems extremely cool.

*FanGraphs: A home run rate refresher.

*Verducci: Rob Manfred knows it's time for him to act.

*Bill Plaschke is a Clown, but occasionally Clowns have a good take. Plaschke, on Kobe.

*The Nazis and the Trawniki Men.

*Esquire: Jordan Peele finally explains what The Tethered's plan was at the end of Us.

*The Atlantic: The Enemies of Writing.

*Liverpool had a 2-0 lead and blew it against a Shrewsbury Town substitute in the FA Cup 4th Round. Now League One's Shrewsbury Town gets to play at Anfield and make a ton of money off of ticket sales. You cannot reasonably explain to me how the NCAA Basketball Tournament (Men's and Women's) wouldn't be better off by letting all 350 D1 colleges participate, with qualifying games taking place throughout the season. Like you wouldn't watch Tourney Weekend when Siena and Iona play what would be a qualification game in December and letting all 350 teams have the chance to  advance to fill out the 68 teams (or however many there are) in March for the Actual March Madness.

*A Musical Selection:

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Tuesday Morning Hot Links

*So Dusty Baker interviewed yesterday, and former bench coach (under Bo Porter) Eduardo Perez is to interview today with Houston for the open managerial search. Former North Corsicana manager Jeff Banister will interview this week. Joe Espada has already interviewed.

*Dusty Baker left a "strong impression" on the Astros after his interview.

*SI's Sports Law guy, Michael McCann, answers 20 big legal questions related to the sign-stealing scandal.

*Tyler Kepner: The Rise and Sudden Fall of the Houston Astros.

*The Hall of Fame Class of 2020 is set to be announced today and, while Billy Wagner won't be in it, he's making progress.

*The Hardball Times' Allison McCague: Baseball's crisis of faith.

*At least another team is screwing things up: Nolan Arenado, who signed a 7yr/$260m contract prior to 2019, feels "disrespected" by the Rockies.

*It's officially the end of an era: Felix Hernandez has signed a minor-league deal with the Braves.

*A Musical Selection:

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sunday Morning Hot Links

FanFest was yesterday, and everyone involved received the confirmation for which they were looking, regardless of what was said or wasn't said.

*Chandler Rome: Astros offer smiles for fans but no remorse or regret. Bregman:
The commissioner made his report, made his decision, the Astros made their decision and no further comment on it.

Altuve, on whether or not the actual Astros feel responsible for the firing of AJ Hinch and Jeff Luhnow:
Tough question. Like I said, we are a team. I don't think one is better or worse than another one. We are all in this together, and we're going to move forward.

*On the "Wearable Buzzer" rumors, Altuve:
That's ridiculous. MLB did their investigation and they didn't find anything...Even though it wasn't true, we all know some people made that up. The best thing that happened to me is MLB investigated that and didn't find something. But at the same time, you can't control everything.

*More Altuve:
There's a lot of difficulties in life. Believe me, at the end of the year, everything will be fine. We're going to be in the World Series again. People don't believe it, (but) we will. We well, like we made it last year.

*Jake Kaplan: A glaring omission from FanFest is accountability.

*Yahoo's Tim Brown: Astros stars letting others take the blame for the sign-stealing scandal.

*Something called "A Randal Grichuk" wants to see the Astros' rings taken away. Dude went to Lamar Consolidated.

*Former Astros Great Kenneth Giles said he was not aware of a sign-stealing scheme in the Houston dugout. What

*Don't miss the debut of TexanAlex, with "A Liar Wrote This."

*Ryan Spaeder went on Washington's 106.7 The Fan and said the sign-stealing scandal extends far beyond the Astros.

*The Astros will apparently interview Dusty Baker tomorrow (Monday).

*While the interviewees thus far (with the exception of Will Venable) have leaned more towards the veteran side, the Astros are not limiting their search for a new manager to "those who have managed before," and so Matt Quatraro and Mark Kotsay could get some consideration.

*At Cubs Convention, Astros managerial candidate Will Venable told a crowd of Cubs fans that he's not leaving Chicago. Then he clarified:
Obviously you have to take opportunities seriously and you have to think about those things. I'm a Chicago Cub right now. Until that changes, I'm super-excited to be here and committed to this team. Until someone gives me an opportunity to have a different job, this is where I'm at and I plan on being here for the year.

*Lance Berkman, Cesar Cedeno, Roy Hofheinz, Roy Oswalt, Billy Wagner, and Bob Watson were announced as the 2020 Astros Hall of Fame class. Induction is August 8, prior to a game against the Blue Jays.

*Slate: The credible rape allegation against three members of the 1991 New York Mets.

*A Musical Selection:

Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Liar Wrote This

Baseball has always been a sport by and for the liars.  

For example, the popular origins of the game are manifestly a lie.   Albert Spalding, a former player who became wealthy by selling and packaging the game, invented the myth that the rules of baseball sprung into the mind of Civil War hero Abner Doubleday during his idyllic boyhood in the hamlet of Cooperstown, New York.  As baseball historian John Thorn put it in his excellent book Baseball in the Garden of Eden,  “If in the end no one invented our national game, and its innocent Eden is a continuing state of delusion, he,” meaning Spalding, “as unwittingly as Abner Doubleday invented baseball, invented its religion and its shrine.”  Continuing states of delusion are big business, and always have been.  Anyone who’s gone to Cooperstown can tell you this.  The place is beautiful.  On Hall of Fame Induction weekends, packed.  Does it matter that this place has nothing to do with the origins of the game?  Of course not, but it’s nice to think so.  We love the lie.  The lie feels comforting. 

Integrity is a another lie that baseball has always sold with great success.  After the 1919 Chicago White Sox threw the World Series, organized baseball hired Kenesaw Mountain Landis as its Captain Renault to announce they were shocked, shocked to find gambling in baseball, banning the accused players for life.  Of course, gambling was far more widespread than professional baseball has ever been comfortable admitting, and there is some evidence that Landis had less appetite to punish Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, true icons of the era, for similar antics.  That pattern has repeated itself, in recent times most famously with the steroid scandal.  Baseball willfully avoided what was an open secret until it was impossible to do so when a player finally went on the record about how widespread the problem was. 

The scandal over the use of cameras to steal signs has exploded across baseball and social media.  The Astros have been punished, and deserve it.  This scandal has several similarities to the historical scandals noted above.  Like the steroids scandal, there has been much hand-wringing over the effect of the players not participating in the scheme.  Whistleblower Mike Fiers said as much to Ken Rosenthal about his motivation for speaking up about the Astros malfeasance: “I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing… Young guys getting hit around in the first couple of innings starting a game, and then they get sent down.”  This echoes the lamentations about steroid use: clean players wouldn’t be able to make it in a game full of juiced players.  Like both scandals, MLB would clearly prefer to sell us a new lie: that this was the fault of a few, outed malefactors and to pay no attention to what’s behind the curtain:  it’s only AJ Hinch sitting on his hands while Carlos Beltran and Alex Cora cook the books. 

But an interesting thing is happening:  The mob wants to see what’s behind the curtain for itself.  Maybe it’s social media or the fact that most of us have grown up with a 24/7 news cycle, but we want everything out of any sensational story we can possibly get.  MLB’s refusal to give us that has led to a circus atmosphere on Twitter where everything could be, and might be, true.  Rumors from fake niece accounts are retweeted by respectable journalists.  The son of the Mariners’ former first base coach posts on Instagram that the MLB is hushing up the fact that Mike Trout uses HGH.  Circus, hell, there’s even confetti.

Maybe this is free-for-all is a symptom of us losing our patience for the lie.  As a manager told Ken Rosenthal in the original story, this issue “permeates” the whole league.  MLB doesn’t want to hear that, but Twitter definitely does.  But the truth might be that the Banging Scheme’s best corollary might not be Steroids or the Black Sox, but something more mundane and widespread.  What I’m speaking of is the widely-acknowledged fact that pitchers doctor the baseball, and have always doctored the baseball.  Like electronic sign-stealing, putting a foreign substance on the baseball is illegal.  However, the latter is winked and nodded at.   Rob Friedman, of Pitching Ninja fame, tweets out video of Pedro Martinez snapping off hellacious changeups while also tweeting videos of Pedro joking about Jheri curls.  No one is troubled by this, seemingly not Mike Fiers, but why? Aren’t the careers of young hitters potentially harmed when they fail to perform against pitchers throwing baseballs breaking more than they otherwise would if not slick with pine tar?  Couldn’t young hitters get sent down? 

I suppose the answer is two-fold.  As ESPN’s David Shoenfield has written, “Applying a foreign substance to the ball seems to be an accepted part of the game, unless you're clearly and obviously violating the rule.”  Meaning, it’s possible to cross a visible line to the point where the cheating is impossible to ignore.  This is a weird ethical scheme in which some cheating is okay as long as it’s possible for the other side to check on you that you don’t cheat too much.  The second point is that people have been doctoring baseballs forever, and the longevity of the practice lends it a certain acceptance. 

But how effective are these distinctions? To the first, it seems that players have been policing electronic sign-stealing, monitoring the opposing teams for what is deemed as excessive and obvious behavior.  Perhaps that’s why the rumors of the Astros wearing wearable buzzers have triggered paranoia by even hitters, because this would take an acceptable form of cheating entirely under the table.  After all, even if you use an camera to crack the signs, you still have to get to signal the hitter.  If the other side can’t monitor your signals, all bets are off. And let’s be honest on this Astros fan blog: no one would, or should, put the use of buzzers past them.  It’s notable that in this scandal, it’s mostly been pitchers who have been vocal critics of the Astros' tactics.  The hitters know how widespread this practice has been, and that they have benefited.  Before Fiers went on the record, electronic sign-stealing seemed to be an increasingly accepted part of the game.  Heck, Lance McCullers Jr. openly tweeted about it a year ago.  One of the most honest responses by any player to the Astros scandal came from Logan Morrison, who admitted that he viewed electronic sign-stealing as a “tool in the tool belt” for sign-stealing.  Do we honestly think Logan Morrison is alone in his sentiment among current players?  It’s possible to view Mike Fiers as breaking an unwritten rule of engagement in the Cold War between hitters and pitchers: “We don’t talk about goo, you don’t talk about sign-stealing.” 

But what about the second point, that doctoring baseballs has always been a part of the game, and electronic sign-stealing has not?  That’s not entirely true.

One of the most famous moments in baseball history, one that’s lionized throughout the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, is the “Shot Heard Round the World.”  In 1951, in the third game of a three-game playoff to decide the National League pennant between the Dodgers and Giants at the Polo Grounds, Giants third baseman Bobby Thompson hit a three-run walk-off homerun in the bottom of the ninth inning off of the Dodgers’ Ralph Branca to send the Giants to the World Series.  Broadcaster Russ Hodges hysterical radio refrain of “The Giants win the pennant!” is embedded in baseball lore.  But according to Joshua Prager in his 2008 book The Echoing Green, Thompson knew the pitch was coming.  The Giants third base coach was hidden in centerfield with a telescope, and once he cracked the Dodgers signs he pressed a button to signal the Giants bullpen with a buzzer.  One buzz was a fastball, two buzzes was an off-speed pitch.  The Giants backup catcher relayed the sign to the hitter.  Interestingly, Prager reported that when he first wrote about the sign-stealing scheme in 2001, he was accused by old guard sportswriters of messing with the myth of the American game.  Bobby Thompson never had to worry about a Jomboy.  In the aftermath of Rob Manfred’s punishment of the Astros, we are starting to see more veteran baseball players admit that using cameras to steal signs is way more wide-spread than previously thought. The 2017 Astros were not a team of scheming millennial ballplayers unwise to the unwritten rules of the game: they were led by widely respected veterans, including one infamous for policing those unwritten rules.  This begs the question: if using cameras to steal signs was part of the game in at least the 1950s,  1980s, and 2010s, when was it definitively not being used? Can we say that any particular dramatic moment on a professional baseball diamond didn’t feature electronic sign-stealing?

I’m not writing this to absolve the actions of the Astros.  Despite the fact that it’s widespread and been part of the game for years, electronic sign-stealing is against the rules, and rule-breakers should get punished.  I suppose you could reduce what I’m doing to “adding context.”  But maybe that’s a lie, too.  Even if what the Astros did was not unique, it seems clear from that, as McCullers pointed out: the tech is too far ahead.  The game has slowed down as the diamond has become a presumed surveillance state.  In the end, it’s probably for the best that Rob Manfred came down hard on someone, even if it happened to be the Astros.  Maybe now the owners, general managers, and managers who allowed electronic sign-stealing to permeate will get serious about self-policing a game that is becoming admittedly slower and harder to watch. 

And maybe the only utility of this article is to tell a story to myself about the actions of players that I genuinely like, about one of the best sports moments of my life, to give me the space to feel better about what they did and achieved.  It’s comforting to live in that space, like Cooperstown is comforting.  

Saturday Morning Hot Links

It's FanFest today! Shoutout to everyone who will be at Minute Maid Park today, awkwardly avoiding eye contact. 2020 FanFest Sessions include:

"I'd Like To Comment On That But..." - 10:30am. Mezzanine.
"Hey Look At This Shiny Thing Over Here" - 11:30am. Torchy's Tacos.
"45 Weird Minutes With Orbit" - 12:30pm. Crawford Street.
"Dealing With Other Fans, A How-To" - 1:30pm. KidZone.
"Game 5 Highlights On Loop" - 2:15pm. JumboTron.

*Jeff Passan: Buzzers, Burner Accounts, and Conspiracies - Inside Baseball's Epic Day of Chaos.

*FanGraphs' Kiley McDaniel: What's next for the Astros?

*Current Astros Legend Joe Smith responded to The Athletic's Marc Carig, which said Baseball needs more people like Mike Fiers:
Disagree. Baseball doesn't need whistle blowers 2 years after. You have an issue? Step up address it in house and get it taken care of. (sic)

*Jim Crane told Chandler Rome he wants to have a manager in place by 3 February. The Killer Bs will help out in "any way" they can. Here's McTaggart's summary, in case you're paywalled.

Chandler Rome:
Espada's candidacy could be tainted by his presence on the 2018 Houston coaching staff.

Twenty people have contacted Reid Ryan regarding the managerial opening. Crane is running the show, with an assist from Ryan.

*GM candidates will interview beginning next week.

*Representative Bobby Rush (Democrat - Illinois) requested a Congressional oversight hearing on the Astros' cheating, and MLB's response. And before you lose it, know that Bobby Rush is a 73-year old Congressman from Chicago whose family moved there from Georgia in the Great Migration, joined the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1966, joined the Army, was a founding member of the Black Panthers, got his degree, Master's, and M.Div, and has been a Congressman since 1993. He is the only politician to defeat Barack Obama in an election. Bobby Rush is Actually For Real.

Also, a Congressional Oversight Hearing would also presumably (if Congress is an actual functioning body anymore) require evidence of other teams doing the same thing, which we all so desperately crave, with MLB's Anti-Trust Exemption possibly hanging in the balance. You want the full story? MLB having to do a full investigation at risk of losing that Exemption just might be the best option. Or you're of the opinion that Congress has More Important Things to worry about at best, and Congress is useless at worst. Let's find out.

Of course, there are about 1,329 issues to which Congress could devote its time that would be far more beneficial to the fabric to the country (and I would say this if the subject of the investigation was someone I spend 0.1% of my time thinking about, like the Padres, for instance) than this, but we all have bloodlust right now so whatever.

*The Athletic's Andy McCulloch wrote about The Week That Shook Baseball. TL;DR: The Astros, and Mike Fiers, blew it all up.

*ESPN: How the internet helped crack the Astros sign-stealing case.

*Justin Klugh: Baseball's integrity isn't emotional, it's structural.

*SI: Can MLB stop sign-stealing?

*Billy Wagner won't get elected to the Hall of Fame this year, but he's gaining momentum.

*Dusty Baker is a candidate for the Mets' now-vacant managerial opening.

*Both MLB and the MLBPA issued a joint-statement (presumably regarding Mike Trout) that said there's no therapeutic exemption for the use of HGH.

*Kyler Murray thinks he just might could be the next Bo Jackson.

*Amtrak asked two people in wheelchairs to pay $25,000 for a $16 fare.

*The Disturbing Case of the Disappearing Sci-Fi Story.

*A Musical Selection:

The Hot Links Playlist on Spotify has 254 songs running now for just over 16 hours.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Friday Morning Hot Links

I had a really cool thing happen yesterday and, no, I'm not going to tell you about it. And I will not let what popped up ruin that. Let us also observe that paranoia and conspiracy theories arise out of a place of distrust. And while nobody trusts the Astros, there's an awful lot of distrust getting thrown towards Manfred and MLB. Anyway, just to be on record, let's do this.

*Everyone's favorite YouTube jacknut Jomboy had himself a flawed theory and, since he had a lot of funny Ejection Videos and isolated some trash can banging, everyone went ALL IN

Noted Imbecile Jomboy claimed that there were a couple of tweets from Carlos Beltran's niece saying that Altuve was wearing a buzzer on his shoulder when he hit the Pennant-Winning Walk-Off (and he had five different anonymous parties corroborating it).

Plot Twist: It was not Carlos Beltran's niece. In fact, there's some chatter that the initial tweets came from a player's burner account. Oh, and also that Mike Trout takes HGH and MLB has known this for two years. Sure, let's burn everything down and go back to the days of barnstorming. Of course Altuve denied it.

Jomboy got a taste of the big time when everyone legitimized his spending hours upon hours of watching the Astros beat the Yankees. And now he can just tweet whatever InfoWars douchebaggery he wants to make himself feel better and get instant validation. A great recipe!

*Joel Sherman got a quote from MLB:
MLB explored wearable devices during the investigation but found no evidence to substantiate it.

*Marc Carig said the Astros started the biggest scandal in sports since Steroids.

*Tom Verducci: Baseball is in an ethical crisis.

*Josh Reddick became the first player to speak out about the Astros' Winter of Discontent, saying:
We're not talking much about it...We've got to keep our focus on winning. It's as simple as that. We keep our focus on winning and everything will work itself out.

*The Astros interviewed Buck Showalter on Wednesday, John Gibbons yesterday, and will interview Will Venable today. McTaggart:
A source told the Astros would like to have a manager in place by Feb. 1 before the club turns its attention to finding a new general manager.

Dan Connolly writes that Buck Showalter is a perfect candidate:
...Two of Showalter's best attributes are the two things that the Astros probably need the most right now: He brings immediate accountability and credibility, and he's a maestro at getting a team to believe that it is them against the world.

Dusty Baker said he's interested, hasn't been contacted, but "there's a few questions" he'd want to ask.

*George Springer avoided an arbitration hearing with the Astros when he agreed to a $21m deal for 2020.
*Dean Deetz, who was DFAd last week, was assigned to Round Rock.

*The 2017 Astros are here to wreck all the franchises: Carlos Beltran stepped down before ever managing a game. His statement was strong to quite strong.

*File this under, "I Thought This Happened Two Years Ago:" Carlos Gomez retired.

*Alyssa Nakken is about to become the first woman to be on an MLB coaching staff.

*GQ: Why is Putin's power play so shocking?

*A Musical Selection: