WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Jim Crane should have arrived at the Astros’ Thursday press conference wearing a suit jacket covered with dollar signs and opened it to reveal a lining with the $50 million-ish that winning the 2017 World Series was worth to the franchise.
“It was the Wild West of tech and we were best at it because we removed any moral compass when it came to rules and decency and we won a World Series because of it and earned all this cash, and we are giving neither back nor are we apologizing. Crane out.”
That at least would have been sincere rather than the contrition performance art put on by the Astros owner and those remaining from the tainted 2017 squad. They all met Wednesday night to plan what to say when meeting reporters en masse Thursday for the first time since revelations began to come out last November that they are among the worst cheaters in baseball history.
They emerged sticking to a crisis management-approved script better than any actor in “Parasite.” Well, except when Crane said, “Our opinion is (illegal sign stealing) didn’t impact the game” and then less than a minute later, responded, “Well, I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game.”
Beyond that, if you wanted to accept generalized word cheese — hello, fans in Houston — then it was served amply by Crane and the Crane-ettes. But those words have difficulty withstanding decency or logic:
— All the Astros offered “remorse” that they illegally stole signs and “regrets” they didn’t do more to stop it. But, of course, like all scoundrels, it took being caught to offer those sentiments. And are the sentiments real? Last month at the team’s Fan Fest, Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman delivered neither remorse nor regret. Only once properly p.r.-spun did they find their inner ruefulness.
— Most of the Astros talked about learning from this remorseful, regretful experience. But when asked what he learned, Bregman could have been speaking for all his teammates when he thought and hemmed and mainly came up with “things.” Probably one of those things is: Don’t get caught.
— To a man, all the Astros insisted they would respect any outside judgment on whether the 2017 team would have won without cheating, but internally they believe absolutely they would have come out as champions due to their talent.
So this might be a good time to remind you why we are here. Hundreds and hundreds of times over months and months and games and games, at least in 2017, the Astros signaled to hitters when off-speed pitches were coming. That also means that when there were no garbage can bangs, a hitter in on the scheme could be pretty certain a fastball was coming.
The idea that this didn’t help the Astros win games (plural) is reminiscent of the steroid users telling me no one could be sure how much they helped. The answer was, “You were sure they helped, or else why risk your health and reputation for years?” The Astros, according to that commissioner’s report that the organization leans on so much for overall cover, tried to continue to cheat into 2018. Why do that unless you KNEW the system was working championship-great in 2017?
We are going to have to be able to keep two thoughts in our head at the same time, like knowing Barry Bonds would have neither the single-season nor all-time homer record if not for cheating. Bonds is not being wiped from the record books. Neither is the Astros’ 2017 championship. But we know both are at minimum suspicious and at worst complete frauds.
Despite the word testing and rehearsing, just about no Astro came across well Thursday, and perhaps that would have been impossible with any words or actions. Not only did they do wrong, but they have been so hated as an organization for years because of a general coldness and arrogance that flowed liberally, making it harder to accept contrition now.
Crane, one of the commissioner’s bosses, was exonerated by the commissioner of responsibility. But his Sergeant Schultz act of saying he had no idea what was going on begs the question if he is willfully dumb or dishonest. The sport was rife with cheating complaints about the Astros for years. Did he hear none of them? He hired GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch and empowered them and approved the culture that, among other things, led to former assistant GM Brandon Taubman’s abhorrent behavior during last year’s playoffs and the dismaying initial press releases afterward.
Crane hired James Click as his new GM to replace the fired Luhnow, and Click attempted happy talk Thursday that sounded more and more ludicrous when he could not say definitively that two current Astros executives who have been tied to the cheating would be fired if that were proven true. This is why it is difficult to believe when Astros employees vow there was no cheating last year — buzzers, anyone? — and when Crane promises that this will never happen again under his watch.
The only Astros employee who came across well was new manager Dusty Baker, who replaced the fired Hinch. When asked if he were managing one of the other 29 teams how he would feel toward the Astros, the wise Baker said, “We are always talking about forgiveness, but no one wants to forgive.”
The Astros, with their pre-rehearsed soulless responses, make it hard to forgive. Worse for them is that when it comes to their cheating, they should expect that their 2020 opponents and history will not forget.
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