Spies Like us? MLB Investigation Unearths Vast Cheating “Can”spiracy

In the 1964 movie Goldfinger, James Bond, played by Sean Connery, finds himself in the crosshairs of a rather delicate situation after he has been strapped to a table with a laser pointed down at him.

It is while he is in this predicament that Mr. Bond, James Bond utters the famous line, “Do you expect me to talk?” to which his captor Auric Goldfinger, played by Gert Frobe, gleefully gives the equally famous reply “no Mr. Bond I expect you to die.” Before going any further it should be noted that James Bond did not in fact die by being lasered in half and went on to have various other fictional adventures.

Et tu, Orbit? After the findings of a report outlining a far reaching, season long, vast “can”spiracy cheating scandal within the Houston Astros organization one has to wonder, what did the mascot know, and when did he know it? Photo Credit R. Anderson

I was recently reminded of the classic scene from Goldfinger while reading stories about Major League Baseball’s (MLB) investigation that placed the Houston Astros in the crosshairs of one of the largest cheating scandals in the history of the sport.

The details of the findings read an awful lot like something that could have come off of the typewriter of Ian Fleming, the man behind the James Bond novels, and also the author of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We will delve more into the second book in a bit. For those who may not be aware, the MLB commissioner’s office recently completed an investigation into cheating allegations levied against the Houston Astros related to games played in the 2017 season, which also happened to be the same year that the Astros won the World Series.

As a result of those findings, three managers and a general manager who had ties to the Astros during the 2017 season have been fired leaving the Astros, Red Sox, and Mets searching for new leadership mere weeks ahead of the start of Spring Training. The Astros were also forced to forfeit four draft picks.

According to the report, the cheating involved a series of high tech and low tech means to steal signs from opposing teams in order to give the Astros an advantage at the plate by knowing what pitches were coming. As Kevin Costner’s Crash Davis demonstrated in Bull Durham, when the hitter knows what is coming, the ball coming off of the bat travels so far that it ought to have a flight attendant on it. Or to use the sabermetrics lingo, “epic launch angle equals the ball traveling many feet.”

Houston Astros 2nd Baseman Jose Altuve, shown during a 2016 Spring Training game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Osceola County Stadium, was chosen as the 2017 American League MVP. Now, thanks to the release of the findings of the MLB Commissioner’s office, fans will forever be wondering how much of that MVP year was skill based. and how much of it was aided by an intricate cheating scheme that involved a camera, a bat and a trash can to alert batters on the type of pitch that was coming. Photo Credit R. Anderson

Okay, so every ill-gotten hit by the Astros during the 2017 season wasn’t an out of the park dinger, but the scheme did allow them to hit the ball extremely well, and extremely often, when playing in their home ballpark.  

So how does one alter the outcome of the home games they play in the 21st Century?

According to the allegations outlined in the MLB report it involves a couple of fairly simple, albeit highly unethical steps.

Step 1, place a camera in center field and aim it directly at the crotch of the opposing catcher.

Step 2, make sure that the feed from said catcher crotch cam can be viewed within sunflower seed spitting distance of the dugout.

Step 3, find a bat, these are usually lying around most MLB dugouts.

Step 4, find a trash can. This can be plastic or metal depending on preference.

Step 5, take bat and go chitty chitty bang bang on trash can whenever the catcher crotch cam indicates that the catcher has called for an off-speed pitch such as a breaking ball, or a curve ball.

Step 6, repeat Steps 1-5 for all batters on your team. Remember to only bang the can slowly during off speed pitches, no bang on the can means they are bringing the heat.

To be clear, sign stealing is of course as old as the game of baseball itself. However, it is the lengths that the Astros went to, and the use of digital devices that caused them to run afoul of the commissioner’s office.

In Scooby Doo parlance the Astros may have continued to get away with their cheating being their dirty little secret had it not been for what they would likely call a “meddling” former player from the 2017 team going public with what he knew.

By blowing the lid off of the trash can so to speak, he went against centuries of baseball lore where one only whispers about the dirty deeds allowing disagreements to be policed internally and civilly through bench clearing brawls that inevitably involve the poor relief pitchers having to travel the length of a football field just to arrive after the fight is over before traveling another football field’s worth of distance back to their seats in the bullpen.

Many people have gone on record as saying that the cheating should have remained hidden, while others have applauded the whistleblower for sharing a welcome breath of honesty in a dishonest world. As is the case for all things, history will decide how he will be remembered for his actions.

Despite federal protections and other statues whistleblowers often face more blowback than a fastball up and away to keep the batter from crowding the plate. Of course, the 2017 Astros would have known when to crowd the plate, and when to back away thanks to the tone of the two bangs on their trusty trash can.

There is no way of knowing whether the Astros could have won the World Series in 2017 without cheating, but the fact that they did win it while cheating likely leaves many baseball fans in cities like Los Angeles (lost to Astros in World Series) and New York (Lost to Astros in American League Championship Series) wishing they had a laser to strap people to so that they could get some answers.

To be clear I am not suggesting that anyone build an evil lair in an abandoned warehouse and construct a table made out of gold with a high-powered laser attached to it for interrogating people. Instead, just look on a vacation home rental site under the heading of laser equipped evil lairs.

Again, I am joking but if anyone has an under-volcano lair available the third week of March let me know.

Since the initial release of the report, additional allegations have arisen from the vast shores of public opinion that claim that Astros players wore buzzers on their body to tell them what pitches were coming as a way to give the trash can a night off now and then.

Related to buzzergate, the MLB commissioner’s office noted that no evidence of electronic buzzers or other devices being worn by players was established. The players implicated by the buzzer conspiracy theorists also deny using them.

Despite these protestations of buzzer free play, there are likely to be more allegations made as everything done by players on the Astros for the past three seasons is likely to go under the microscope of crowd sourced group think.

While the investigation into the Astros only centered on the 2017 season, MLB is expected to release their findings on an investigation into allegations that the Boston Red Sox cheated during the 2018 season, which coincidentally was the year that they won the World Series.

The loser in both 2017 and 2018 was the Los Angeles Dodgers who very likely could have old wounds opened up that are wider than the Chavez Ravine that holds Dodgers Stadium if it is revealed that the boys in Dodger blue were bested two straight years by teams found to have cheated.

Were it not for confirmed cheating by the Houston Astros in 2017, and the alleged but still under investigation cheating by the Boston Red Sox in 2018, the Los Angeles Dodgers very well could have added to their tally of World Series Championships. Instead the Dodger players and fans will be forever left to wonder, what if? Note, the trash can pictured is not the trash can implicated in the Astros’ web of cheat and is only guilty of smelling of discarded Dodger Dog wrappers. Photo Credit R. Anderson

Regardless of the outcome of the Red Sox investigation it is clear that the public trust in America’s Pastime has eroded somewhat.

Fans will undoubtedly wonder whether the effort they are witnessing on the diamond is from hard work and preparation, or from shortcuts and cheating.

It is not the first time that scandal has befallen the game and in all of the previous cases the game has survived since diamonds are forever.

With another baseball season on the horizon time will tell if the fallout from this scandal merely leaves baseball shaken, or if it gets stirred down to the core.

Copyright 2020 R. Anderson

Wrapping up our Countdown with the Durham Bulls

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be counting down our favorite baseball movies for the next three weeks. Today we reach the end of our journey of baseball on the Silver Screen with the ultimate baseball movie.

After three weeks of counting we have reached the ninth inning and can reveal the final movie on our countdown of our favorite baseball movies. That movie is Bull Durham.

While Bull Durham enjoyed modest success during its theatrical run, it gained wider popularity in the years following to the point that celebrating the quarter century mark since it was released is kind of a big deal.

Our last stop on the cinematic countdown to Opening Day is Bull Durham. Photo R. Anderson
Our last stop on the cinematic countdown to Opening Day is Bull Durham.
Photo R. Anderson

While each of the sides of the Kevin Costner Baseball Triangle are good in their own ways, and each were ranked on our countdown (For Love of the Game #8, and Field of Dreams #2) I have always identified more with the comedy infused Durham.

I suppose Bull Durham resonates with me so well because while I was never a Minor League Baseball player, I was very much a Minor League Baseball fan and was attending games around the same time that the movie came out.

So the movie showed me the parts of Minor League life that I didn’t see from my view in the stands.

The movie also provided several concepts that I use even today as part of my daily life.

The concept of creating your own rain delay when the grind gets to tough and you just need a day to catch your breath is a theme that I have embraced from the movie. While I have never turned on the sprinklers in the office I have certainly found ways to give everyone a rain day here and there.

The movie also provided many timeless quotes with some of them being appropriate for repeating and some best left to the professionals.

In that respect, the members of the Durham Bulls, the real-life team that inspired the team in the movie, made a hilarious video reenacting some of the crazier lines from the film to honor the 25th anniversary of the movie’s release.

What makes the video of the players recreating the lines so funny, and perhaps makes the rest of us feel a little old, is the fact that many of the players were not alive when the movie first came out.

Another interesting aspect of the real life Durham Bulls is that they serve as the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays who were 10 years away from existing at the time of the film’s release.

As a bit of trivia the Bulls were a Single-A affiliate at the time the movie was made and were owned by one of the filmmakers.

But enough about things that weren’t around when the movie came out. It is time to focus on something highlighted in the movie that is no longer around.

In the movie, and in real life, Max Patkin was the Clown Prince of Baseball. For over 50 years Patkin went to Minor League ballparks across the country and Canada performing his baseball clown act.

I was fortunate enough to see Patkin perform during an Orlando Sun Rays game at Tinker Field in Orlando, FL. Patkin’s act was shown in several scenes and Patkin himself got to dance with the leading lady later in the movie.

While it was clear that Patkin was closer to the end of his performing career than the beginning by the time Bull Durham came out it, to this day when I watch his performance scenes it is like I am right there watching him in person and trying to avoid getting sprayed by his water trick.

Although Patkin died in 1999,  he will forever live on in his scenes from Bull Durham. That is both a testament to the man himself and to the filmmakers for recognizing the important role he played in conveying the essence of Minor League Baseball.

Another staple of both the movie and Minor League Baseball in general is road trips on a bus. Unlike the Major League players who travel in first class chartered planes, the Minor League players arrive by bus for all of their road trips.

When Michael Jordan tried to make it as a baseball player in the late 80′s he bought a luxury bus for the Birmingham Barons to use. Still despite the “luxury” bus features it is hard to picture Air Jordan traveling through the cities of the Southern League in a bus.

As for the bus that was used in the movie, that was purchased by a man named Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt is someone who knows a thing or two about motorized vehicles.

While Bull Durham has stood the test of time for over 25 years, every once in a while a rumor surfaces about a potential sequel being made. Sequels can certainly be tricky business as few ever really are as good as the first or meet the lofty expectations set for them.

But, even with all of that being said I would still watch a sequel to Bull Durham. Do I think it could ever be as good as the first movie? Probably not. But, it does not have to be as good as the first movie. It just needs to help show where the characters ended up some 25 years after we left them on the porch and field.

I have my own ideas about what happened to the characters so if a sequel is never made I will still carry on my version of the story in my head. But it would be nice to see the cast get back together for one more trip around the bases.

Now if you’ll excuse me I am off to swing for the fences and see if I can hit the bull to win a steak. And remember “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.”

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson

Today’s Movie on the Countdown Answers What Happens When One Builds it

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be counting down our favorite baseball movies for the next three weeks.. Today’s choice of silver screen Baseball goodness asks the question of whether they really will come if you build it.

Our last entry on the countdown, Major League, was about humor pure and simple.

Today as we inch closer to Opening Day we switch from humor back to more serious subject matter with an added hint of the supernatural rolled in with Field of Dreams the story about an Iowa corn field and what happens when “you build it.”

Field of Dreams was Kevin Costner’s second baseball related movie and celebrated its 25th anniversary on April 21, 2014.

Field of Dreams asks viewers to go the distance in a charming baseball fantasy. Photo R. Anderson
Field of Dreams asks viewers to go the distance in a charming baseball fantasy.
Photo R. Anderson

Following the exploits of an Iowa farmer who hears voices that tell him to plow over his crop of corn and build a baseball diamond to allow the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson and his friends to play on it, the movie deals with second chances and following one’s heart which is a central theme of many of the movies on our countdown.

With superb performances from James Earl Jones, Burt Lancaster, and Ray Liotta rounding out the cast, the film delves into topics of faith and belief in both a simpler time in baseball as well as each of us.

There are of course elements in the movie that could never happen in real life regardless of how many voices we hear in the corn fields of life, but the belief that things like the ones depicted in the movie could happen somewhere are part of what make the movie one of the all-time bests.

Each of our inner children want to believe that somewhere there is a “field of dreams” where we can relive our happiest experiences and perhaps avoid some of the sadder times in life.

For some that field is a baseball diamond. For others the field might be somewhere where we can spend a little more time with a loved one who is no longer with us.

The movie tackles each of those elements perfectly and never really spends too much time explaining the supernatural elements of the film and they never seem too over the top.

It just feels natural that there could be a cornfield in Iowa that is cosmically linked somehow to allow ballplayers to be young once more and enjoy the simple joy of “having a catch.”

There are certainly plenty of emotional moments in the movie and despite Tom Hanks’ proclamation in A League of Their Own that “there is no crying in baseball” there are still certain scenes in Field of Dreams that get me a little watery eyed each time that I see them.

That of course is the mark of a good movie that even after seeing it countless times over the past quarter century the emotional elements still run true and can elicit a reaction despite knowing what is coming.

And of course coming is a central theme of the movie with the whole “build it and he will come approach.”

Or to put it in the words of James Earl Jones’ character…

“Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past.

Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack.

And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes.

And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces.

People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.

This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come.”

While the above monologue has become one of the most memorable elements of the movie, it should be noted that James Earl Jones was convinced that it would never make the final film . Thankfully for the fans of the movie and baseball it did not end up on the cutting room floor.

Perhaps no other sport is as linked with feelings of nostalgia as baseball is and Field of Dreams taps into that nostalgia in a way that is not over the top or judgmental. It just feels as comforting as a worn glove when the leather is broken in at just the right amount or perhaps like a baseball cap where the bill is curved at just the right angle to keep the glare of the sun at bay.

If you have not already done so, you should “go the distance” and add Field of Dreams to your movie viewing habits.

As for the actual field used in the movie, it is still set up for visitors. Plans were even announced to have a professional baseball team play at the complex.

There are questions as to whether that will happen but regardless of whether or not professional baseball comes to the Iowa corn field, fans of the movie will continue to make their way to the hallowed ground from the film that sparked their memories of summer days gone by.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to get ready to go the distance to some Spring Training games.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson

Today’s Baseball Movie Countdown Entry is Winning

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be counting down our favorite baseball movies for the next three weeks. Today’s choice of silver screen Baseball goodness is a Major League triple play.

Sometimes a baseball movie should just be about pure unadulterated humor. Yes, baseball is big business but it is also still a game, and games are meant to be fun.

With the spirit of fun in mind our focus turns to Major League the story of a rag tag group of players uniting for a common goal against a common enemy in the form of their team owner.

Baseball Monday has a triple play of Major League starring Charlie Sheen. Photo R. Anderson
Baseball Monday has a triple play of Major League starring Charlie Sheen.
Photo R. Anderson

For the strict humor baseball movies it is hard to top Major League.

Add to the equation that Charlie “Tiger Blood” Sheen did all of his own pitching in the film and you have the makings of a cinematic classic.

The movie follows the Cleveland Indians as they are in rebuilding mode following the death of their long-time owner.

The late owner’s widow has a plan to move the team from Cleveland to Miami. The catch in that plan is that they have to be the worst team in baseball in order to get out of their stadium lease.

To accomplish this goal the owner invites the worst players she can find to the team thinking that it will be a slam dunk to be so bad that a move to Miami can occur.

Of course at the time that the move came out the Marlins and Rays were not yet playing so the idea of moving a team to Florida was somewhat new and in the years that followed several teams used a move to Florida as a bargaining chip to get a better stadium deal back home.

In the end the players learn of the plot and in true underdog fashion they find a way to make it to the playoffs despite the strong odds against them.

In addition to Charlie Sheen as Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn the movie includes performances by Dennis “That Allstate Insurance guy” Haysbert, Wesley Snipes, Rene Russo, Tom Berenger, and most notably Bob “Just a bit outside” Uecker.

Uecker’s performance as the Indians play by play announcer, Harry Doyle, introduced so many quotable moments that they are forever etched in the lexicon of many fans of both the movie and baseball.

It is hard to watch a wild pitch to this day without uttering the phrase, “Just a bit outside.”

Of course a particularly rough outing from a pitcher with control issues can lead to uttering, “ball eight,” as well.

While I am sure that Uecker’s real life calls of the Milwaukee Brewers are not quite as over the top as his performance in Major League I have often wanted to hear him call a Brewers game just to be sure.

Baseball movies throughout the years have included great performances by real announcers that are able to let loose and play a slightly funnier version of themselves and Uecker definitely used every second of screen time to his advantage.

Major League begat two sequels that while not quite as funny as the original are certainly worth viewing as well.

There are even some rumors floating around of another sequel with the original cast returning but one really wonders how much comedic gas they could have left in the tank although I certainly could go for some more calls from Harry Doyle and am also curious to see if Charlie Sheen can still bring the heat.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson

Today’s Baseball Movie Countdown is a Devil Ray of a Tale about Second Chances

Editor’s Note: In the spirit of seeking sunshine during a gray winter, and to help usher in the upcoming baseball season we will be counting down our favorite baseball movies for the next three weeks. Today’s choice of silver screen Baseball goodness looks at what happens when one gets a second chance to follow a dream.

Today we return to the world of real events captured on film as part of our journey to what we feel are the best baseball movie of all time.

While there is certainly no shortage of baseball movies about real people, the quest for a second chance often rings throughout the narrative of many of these movies which is certainly the case with The Rookie starring Dennis Quaid.

While I never really bought into the fantasy elements of Angels in the Outfield, there was one Disney baseball movie deemed worthy to join my collection and that movie was The Rookie.

The Rookie ells the true life tale of a high school baseball coach from Texas getting to live out his dream of pitching in the big leagues for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays after he thought that his dream had been shattered following an injury.

As a fan of the Devil Rays turned just plain Rays, I try to soak up as much of the team’s history as possible.

The real life story of a Texas teacher turned Major League pitcher portrayed in the Rookie is one of the feel good movies about baseball. Photo R. Anderson
The real life story of a Texas teacher turned Major League pitcher portrayed in the Rookie is one of the feel good movies about baseball.
Photo R. Anderson

Granted there are only about 15 years of history so far but I have lived each one of those years with the team and can remember covering the announcement of their birth into the league so I guess you could say they hold an extra special place in my heart.

After being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, Jim Morris (played by Dennis Quaid), blows out his shoulder ending his hopes of achieving his lifelong dream of pitching in the Major Leagues.

Fast forward a few years to 1999 and Morris is now married with three children, is a high school science teacher, and is the head baseball coach in Big Lake, TX.

After discovering that Morris can still bring the heat, his players offer him a deal that if they make the state playoffs, Morris will try out again for the Major Leagues.

After the Owls make the playoffs, Morris tries out for the Devil Rays and after being signed to a Minor League contract is assigned to the Class AA Orlando Rays (now the Montgomery Biscuits). After a quick stop in Orlando Morris moves up to the AAA Durham Bulls.

In September Jim is told that the Major League club has called him up, and that they will be playing in Texas against the Rangers. In true Hollywood fashion Morris makes his Major League debut against the Rangers in front of many of his friends and family who traveled to see his debut.

Morris pitched for the Devil Rays for a couple of years before finally hanging up his glove for the final time.

The movie and real life story of Jim Morris show that it is never too late for one to chase their dreams, which is an important lesson for everyone to keep in mind and is what makes The Rookie worthy to be on our countdown.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Rays baseball to get ready for.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson