Category Archives: Major League Baseball

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

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

Presidents and Baseball are as American as the Fourth of July

Today is President’s Day, or Washington’s birthday as it is also known, which was set aside as a way to honor the first person who held that job .

The holiday was first thought of as a way to recognize the two presidents with birthdays in February, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington, but it has grown to include a time to honor all of the people, who have served in the nation’s highest office.

Monday we celebrate Abraham Lincoln's Birthday along with honoring every other person to occupy the Oval Office. Photo R. Anderson
Monday we celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday along with honoring every other person to occupy the Oval Office.

Through the years President’s Day has also become a time to buy furniture, appliances and cars at unheard of savings as many companies have sought to capitalize on the fact that many people have the day off of work.

While the founding fathers wanted us to enjoy various freedoms, I doubt they had no interest financing on washers and dryers in mind when they spoke of “self-evident truths.” Then again maybe they did.

So for our purposes let us not focus on the retail aspects of the holiday. Instead let us try to focus on the office of the President and what that entails.

To date, 44 men have served as President of the United States.

Later this year the United States will elect the 45th person to hold the office of President.

I was fortunate enough to come face to face with two of the men who would go on to become president although I was only old enough to remember one of them

I have been told by my mother that my first encounter with a future President was during a rally for Jimmy Carter.

Of course at the time of that rally I would have been perhaps just turning 1 so needless to say I do not recall meeting him but I am sure it was a lovely time for all.

As for the encounter with a Commander in Chief that I do recall, in 1992 I met Bill Clinton at a campaign event in Orlando, FL. While the election was still months away, and Governor Clinton had not yet become President Clinton, there was still something cool about meeting someone on the campaign trail.

Years later, meeting candidate Clinton is still one of the more memorable moments of my journalistic career. I am sure that reporters that cover the Presidents on a daily basis lose some of the wow factor at some point but there always needs to be a respect for the office at some level.

The other day I also came face to face with a Presidential motorcade as the 41’st President, George Herbert Walker Bush, had stopped for lunch at a local Italian restaurant near me.

Although other Ballparks have been used for Presidential pitches, the home Ballparks of the Washington Senators and now the Washington Nationals hold the distinction of hosting the most presidents due to the proximity to the White House. Photo R. Anderson
Although other Ballparks have been used for Presidential pitches, the home Ballparks of the Washington Senators and now the Washington Nationals hold the distinction of hosting the most presidents due to the proximity to the White House.
Photo R. Anderson

Beyond getting to close down a restaurant so you can eat pasta in private, there are many other perks that come with residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington D.C.

One of those perks is throwing the ceremonial first pitch each year on Opening Day.

President William Howard Taft started the ceremonial first pitch tradition in 1910 linking the Commander in Chief with the National Pastime ever since.

While the first pitch did not occur until 1910 the link between Presidents and baseball actually goes back to post Civil War America when Andrew Johnson invited the first team of professional ballplayers to the White House.

The first presidential first pitch occurred on April 14, 1910, at National Park in Washington, DC. during a game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Athletics with Taft connecting on the pitch to Walter Johnson.

The Senators moved to Minnesota to become the Twins and the Athletics packed up and headed west to Oakland but the one constant for over a century has been presidents and baseball.

From 1910 to 1971 the President traveled to the home ballpark of the Washington Senators to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day.

To put that streak into perspective it stretched from Taft to Richard Nixon.

While Presidents had thrown out first pitches at the World Series as well President Nixon became the first president to throw out an Opening Day pitch outside of Washington D.C. in 1972 when he threw out the pitch in Anaheim, California since there was no longer a team in Washington.

Before becoming the 41st President of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush was a baseball player at Yale University. Photo R. Anderson
Before becoming the 41st President of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush was a baseball player at Yale University.
Photo R. Anderson

Various other ballparks were used for Opening Day after 1972 but Baltimore and Washington D.C. were the most widely used due to proximity to the White House.

For around 70 years the first pitch was thrown from the stands. Bill Clinton became the first president to throw from the mound and each president since has also toed the rubber on their pitch.

The Presidential links to baseball are not limited to first pitches alone however. Both President Bush 41 and President Bush 43 also have deep baseball roots.

George H.W. Bush was a baseball player in college at Yale and can often be seen behind home plate at Houston Astros games, when he is not having lunch at local Italian restaurants that is.

Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, George W. Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who relocated from Washington D.C. in 1971. Photo R. Anderson
Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, George W. Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who relocated from Washington D.C. in 1971.
Photo R. Anderson

It is also a given that if both President Bush and his wife, Barbara, are seated together they will end up on the Ballpark’s kiss cam.

George W. Bush also has a baseball pedigree. Before becoming governor of Texas en route to the White House, the younger President Bush served as the owner of the Texas Rangers who, as one may or not know were once the expansion team that replaced the first version of the Washington Senators who left town to become the Minnesota Twins. It is sort of a neat bow to tie it all together.

So during this time that we honor our Presidents, let us not forget that soon it will once again be Opening Day and when the President steps onto the mound to throw that first pitch he will be continuing a long standing tradition that honors both the past, present and future of both the Oval Office and the game of baseball itself.

Now if you’ll excuse me I think I need to practice my pitching just in case I am ever called on to throw out a first pitch. After all, no one wants to be the person who inadvertently hits the mascot during the opening pitch a la Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh of Bull Durham fame.

Copyright 2016 R. Anderson

Superstitious Day for Some, Just Another Day for Others

Today is Friday, November 13, 2015.

For some people this means nothing more than the fact that yesterday was the 12th and tomorrow is the 14th.

For the superstitious among us today means all of the things above in addition to it being an unlucky day all the way around.

As we do every Friday the 13th it is time to state the facts about the origins of the day and uncover why some people just really do not like it.

While many may think that the Friday the 13th craze started with a certain movie character named Freddy, the roots of Friday the 13th actually run much deeper than late 20th Century cinema.

For many people a black cat crossing their paths is a sign of bad luck. Photo R. Anderson
For many people a black cat crossing their paths is a sign of bad luck.
Photo R. Anderson

Since the 19th Century Friday the 13th has been considered an unlucky day in Western and Eastern superstition.

Friday and the number 13 were considered unlucky by some on their own so it was only logical that both occurring at the same time would be even unluckier.

In fact fear of Friday the 13th even has a name; friggatriskaidekaphobia (Frigga being the name of the Norse goddess for whom Friday is named in English and triskaidekaphobia meaning fear of the number thirteen).

Personally I have never feared Friday the 13th and am among the people who consider it just another day.

But the arrival of Friday the 13th is another opportunity to think about sports and the superstitious rituals that many athletes seem to follow.

Bull Durham
The movie Bull Durham did a very good job showing the superstitious side of baseball through chants over bats, breathing through one’s eyelids, chicken, and of course a garter belt where the rose goes in the front. Photo R. Anderson

There are players who will eat the same pregame meal because they feel that to eat anything else would risk certain disaster on the field.

Hitters on a hot streak in baseball are notorious for continuing whatever “routine” it is that they feel is behind their streak since they feel any deviation will likely mean the end to the streak.

The movie Bull Durham did a very good job showing the superstitious side of baseball through chants over bats, breathing through one’s eyelids, chicken, and of course a garter belt where the rose goes in the front.

Baseball is not the only sport with superstitions. Across all levels of sports there are athletes who have a lucky shirt, or other article of clothing that they can’t go onto the field of battle without.

The link between superstitions and sports can start at a very early age.

Back in high school I did a feature article on the goalie of my school’s woman’s soccer team, who attributed her on-field success to a lucky argyle sock that she wore during every game.

Although he could be moody and liked to bite my nose to wake me up each morning, my dearly departed black cat, Lucky, was mostly a sweetheart and was certainly nothing to be superstitious of. Photo R. Anderson
Although he could be moody and liked to bite my nose to wake me up each morning, my dearly departed black cat, Lucky, was mostly a sweetheart and was certainly nothing to be superstitious of.
Photo R. Anderson

Granted it was not a pair of socks but one single sock that took over when her “magic shoes” fell ill.

Throughout my career I have been around many other superstitious athletes, and I am sure I will meet many more.

To date though a single “lucky” Argyle sock has been the most memorable athlete superstition I have encountered.

So on this Friday the 13th beware of those around you who are extra cautious of their surroundings.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to see if I can find a black cat while walking under a ladder and holding a broken mirror while stepping on all of the sidewalk cracks I can find.

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson

 

Today is Set Aside to Honor Those Who Have Served, Sacrificed

Today, the eleventh day of the eleventh month, also known as November 11th, is set aside as Veteran’s Day in America.

The holiday got its start on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War.

Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning in 1919, November 11th became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938.

In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day was renamed Veterans Day, and became a holiday dedicated to American veterans of all wars.

So while this has long been a day set aside to honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who have served in the armed forces to protect the freedoms that we all enjoy, the way to honor those troops has changed in many ways through the years.

Americans still put out their flags on this holiday. Some towns still hold parades and the banks and post office are still closed.

The honoring of veterans has moved into the nation’s sporting events as well allowing thousands of people to celebrate and remember in mass.

Large American Flags have long beena tradition at sporting events. This past weekend stadiums across the country honored Veterans and America with flags and tributes. One tribute let a sour taste however. Photo R. Anderson
Large American Flags have long been a tradition at sporting events. This past weekend stadiums across the country honored Veterans and America with flags and tributes. One tribute left a sour taste however.
Photo R. Anderson

Watch almost any sporting event over the past weekend and there were displays of patriotism and honoring of the troops as far as the eye could see.

As troops have not always received warm welcomes on the home front it was especially nice to see how the men and women of the armed services are respected and appreciated for their sacrifice.

Had the honoring of the troops stopped at the pregame ceremonies it would have been the perfect way to say thanks. Unfortunately many teams and in some cases leagues took things a tad too far for my taste.

Many teams added camouflage flourishes to their uniforms as an homage to the troops. These flourishes in many cases included camouflage wristbands and towels as well as camo windbreakers and caps for the coaches.

The camouflagication of the sidelines even went so far as putting a camo pattern on the headphones the coaches used to communicate.

While I agree that honoring the troops on Veteran’s Day is a good thing I often cringe when I see people wearing camouflage without “earning it.”

Now, I know this is hunting season in most of the country, or at least down in Texas. So to be clear I am not trying to take away anyone’s right to wear camouflage and a bright orange vest while channeling their inner Elmer Fudd by going hunting for wabbits, deer, or ducks for that matter.

What I am saying is that over the past few years I have become more and more sensitive to people wearing the current style of military camouflage when they are out and about in their daily lives.

Flyovers such as this one by the United States Navy's Blue Angels are perfectly good at sporting events. Players wearing camouflage, not so much. Photo R. Anderson
Flyovers such as this one by the United States Navy’s Blue Angels are perfectly good at sporting events. Players wearing camouflage, not so much.
Photo R. Anderson

I have no issues with people wearing old school green camo since that can usually be determined not to be current issue and looks nothing like what the troops are currently wearing.

I even have a pair of camouflage cargo pants that are extremely comfortable but I made sure that I did not buy the “official” pattern when I got them.

So this weekend when I saw the various players with camouflage towels, and coaches with camouflage hats and headphones, I questioned once again if that was really the best way to honor the veterans.

By comparison when sports teams honor police and fire fighters they do not don S.W.A.T. patterns or simulate a firefighter’s bunker gear proving that one can honor our vets and first responders without dressing like them.

For years baseball players have worn camouflage uniforms a couple times a year to honor the troops so the trend is certainly not limited to football.

I certainly can be in the minority opinion here but to me the camouflage the troops wear is earned through the sacrifice of making it through basic training and then further tested through battle.

Using a camouflage towel to wipe up sweat between plays on the field just seems wrong to me.

In one of the games I was watching one of the camouflage towels fell to the turf and was stomped on as the players moved to that area of the field.

I know that the towel was not dropped intentionally, but seeing the image of that fallen towel had the same reaction for me as if I was seeing an American flag on the ground.

I guess I look at the camouflage that the troops wear as an extension of the flag that they are sworn to protect.

It would be deemed highly inappropriate for a football player to have a sweat towel that looked like the American flag on the field so in the same way the camouflage towels just seem equally inappropriate to the point of being offensive.

Again, I know that the intent of the teams and league is completely honorable and meant to pay tribute to the troops but the execution just strikes me as wrong.

Honor the troops with the 100-yard flags that are rolled out for the National Anthem and held by real soldiers in uniform.

Honor the troops by having people stand and cheer when a vet is on Jumbotron screen.

Honor the troops by thanking a veteran for their service.

These are perfectly fine ways to honor the troops without trivializing the uniform.

Again, I may be completely out on a limb here and perhaps the masses see no issues with the camouflage being used by athletes and coaches.

But to me it screams out like a cheap gesture and also a way to make money as the camouflage caps are often available for purchase by fans.

I have never served in the military and do not pretend to be able to speak for the troops.

To do that a few years back I asked an Army reservist their thoughts on the uniform pattern being worn by non-soldiers and they said, “Camo is a uniform worn by the military and should be given the proper respect. Too many have died with the uniform on for it to be the latest fashion trend.”

And again before I get angry replies from hunters neither I, nor the soldier quoted above, are referring to the camouflage cap you can get at Walmart with your hunting camouflage pattern and favorite team’s logo on it.

I am talking about the use of the current military camouflage pattern and nothing else.

So, on this Veteran’s Day if you see a soldier, make sure you thank them for their service which makes your freedom possible. For that matter thank a veteran any time you happen to cross paths with them since thanks should not be limited to a single day of the year.

And if you see an athlete wearing camouflage know that their heart is likely in the right place. But try not to go out and buy the same camouflage cap they are wearing since there was a price paid and a sacrifice made every day by thousands of Americans in that pattern and wearing that comes with a willingness to make the ultimate sacrifice for your country.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a flag to place on the patio

Copyright 2015 R. Anderson