The Houston Astros are Worried About Retaliation

Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker (left) and owner Jim Crane speak at a news conference (Photo Credit: Associated Press)

On Saturday, February 15, Houston Astros manager Dusty Baker urged Major League Baseball to protect Astros players from any potential retaliation from opposing players for the team’s sign-stealing scandal.

Since January 13, when the MLB and Commissioner Rob Manfred released their statement detailing the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme from their championship-winning 2017 season, the team has become baseball’s new public enemy number one. It’s easily the most high-profile scandal in baseball since the steroid era, dragging the game’s integrity through the mud once again. The punishments revealed by the report were nothing short of staggering: GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for one year, the team’s first and second round picks for the next two years were forfeited, and the team would pay the maximum fine of $5 million. The punishments didn’t end there, however, as Luhnow and Hinch were both fired by the Astros, undoubtedly to begin the team’s attempt to distance itself from the scandal. Former bench coach Alex Cora and former player Carlos Beltran, both of whom were implicated in the report, were fired from their managerial positions with the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets, respectively.

But what about the players outside of Beltran? As the report mentions, 23 current and former Astros players were interviewed to assist the MLB in their investigation. In exchange for their testimony, the players were given immunity in regards to the sign-stealing scandal. While the team has had to deal with further controversy, such as players like Jose Altuve being accused of having a buzzer under his jersey to determine the next pitch, no further punishments have been inflicted. Needless to say, that aspect of the commissioner’s decision has not sat well with some players.

Baker’s statement comes after comments from players indicating that they would not be opposed to purposefully pitching at Astros players. When asked whether he would consider throwing at Astros players, Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling, according to a report from ESPN, said “I would lean towards yes. In the right time and the right place.” He is not the only pitcher to express this sentiment, however, as fellow Dodgers pitcher Alex Wood and Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger suggested that players would want to take the issues in their own hands. Other pitchers such as the Los Angeles Angels’ Andrew Heaney and the Cincinnati Reds’ Trevor Bauer went on tirades against the Astros. Even positional players, such as the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger and the Chicago Cubs’ Kris Bryant, have been vocal about their displeasure regarding the scandal.

With retaliation now explicitly being mulled over, Baker’s statement does not come as a surprise. He knew what he was getting into when he took the Astros job, and now he’s been tasked with ensuring that the players don’t use the baseball diamond to hold kangaroo court against the team. It does raise the question: can anyone really blame the players for feeling the way they do? Look at the case of Mike Bolsinger. In his last Major League appearance against the Astros, he was tagged for four runs and only recorded one out before he was pulled. What about Aroldis Chapman? After Altuve hit the home run off of Chapman that sent the Astros to the World Series, he held onto his jersey to prevent teammates from ripping it off, which began the conspiracy theory of Altuve hiding a buzzer. The entire Dodgers team, who the Astros beat in 2017 to win the World Series that year? The Astros should be thankful that they don’t see them in 2020. The list of people and teams with legitimate gripes against the Astros goes on and on, and who knows if we have even seen the end of it yet.

Frankly, the idea of beaning Astros hitters isn’t exactly as black and white as it sounds. Under normal circumstances, most fans would criticize pitchers like Stripling for even thinking about purposefully hitting players. It would end up like baseball’s version of Bountygate, except one team is the victim of many in this case. However, these are far from normal circumstances. For Dodgers fans, in particular, the scandal calls for open season on any player in an Astros uniform. For others, actions that would normally be met with disgust are instead looked on with indifference. The idea of vigilante justice being carried out on the diamond sounds off-putting, but depending on how much karma someone thinks the Astros deserve, it might be tolerated just this once. People get angry, and angry people lash out from time to time. With everything that the Astros have done, the anger is pretty well-justified.

The Astros should be hoping that the anger dies down just in time for the regular season to begin. A clean slate for them is impossible at this stage, but it certainly beats being subject to heckling from hostile crowds during road games. It beats wondering if the opposing pitcher is thinking about throwing a fastball directly at whoever’s at bat. It beats wondering if the base runner is a little more willing to land a takeout slide on Altuve.

The Houston Astros have become must-see TV for at least the beginning of baseball season. But it won’t be just for the talent on the field that bring in the viewers.

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