Houston Astros: Dallas Keuchel on Astrogate — “mea sorta culpa”

New Chicago White Sox pitcher Dallas Keuchel is interviewed on opening day of SoxFest at McCormick Place West in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
New Chicago White Sox pitcher Dallas Keuchel is interviewed on opening day of SoxFest at McCormick Place West in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) /

Dallas Keuchel says the 2017 Houston Astros were wrong for electronically sign-stealing but so was Mike Fiers for exposing it.

What at least two Houston Astros didn’t do at their fan fest last weekend, a former Astro turned Chicago White Sox pitcher did do, on day one of the White Sox’s fan fest. Pitcher Dallas Keuchel, who pitched well on the 2017 regular season but not so well in that year’s World Series, said he was sorry about Astrogate, and that his former teammates should be, too. But oh, yes, Keuchel added, it was kinda sorta just as bad that Mike Fiers blew the whistle as it was that the electro-cheating went on in the first place.

“I think first and foremost, apologies should be in order,” the former Cy Young Award-winning lefthander told reporters. “For everyone on the team. When the stuff was going on, it was never intended to be what it’s made to be right now.”

Related Story. Houston Astros: Ranking among other cheaters in history. light

Never intended to be made what?

More than just boys being boys?

More than an occasional leg up on the first of their three marches to the postseason?

More than just a little tomfoolery turned public scandal?

“When stuff comes out over the course of a big-league ball season, it’s always blown up to the point of, ‘Oh my gosh, this has never happened before’,” Dallas Keuchel continued.

"I’m not going to go into specific details, but during the course of the playoffs in 2017, everyone was using multiple signs. For factual purposes, when there is no one on base, when in the history of baseball has there been multiple signs? There was probably six out of eight teams using multiple signs. It’s just what the state of baseball was at that point and time. Was it against the rules? Yes, it was, and I personally am sorry for what has come about, the whole situation."

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For decades, at least in my baseball experience, pitchers and catchers have switched signs up several times in the course of a game, whether they suspected baserunners were catching on and relaying to hitters, whether they thought a particular hitter was getting a little too comfortable at the plate and needed to be removed from that lounger.

They’d even done it when they suspected the other guys were up to a little espionage from the stands or behind the fences with telescopes, binoculars, even the occasional rifle sight.

But now they were maybe catching onto the Astro Intelligence Agency and whoever were the little drummer boys pa-rum-pa-pum-pumming the can send Astro hitters the intelligence gathered from the center field camera that was either installed independently or taken off the mandates eight-second feed delay.

If that was “just what the state of baseball was at that point in time,” inquiring minds might want to know just who all else—aside from the Boston Red Sox and their replay room reconnaissance ring—might have had similar electronically abetted codebreakers at work.

“I could tell you, not every game there were signs being stolen,” Dallas Keuchel continued. “Sometimes we did, as a group, have signs, but we still couldn’t hit the pitcher. Not like every game we had everything going on. So at that point, that’s when the whole system, it really works a little bit, but at the same time, there was a human element where some guys were better than our hitters.”

Well, the Watergate burglary was actually a failure, too, but that didn’t mean five associates of Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign apparatus had any business or right to breaking and entering Democratic National Committee headquarters.

Sign-stealing by way of off-the-field devices of any sort was considered merely unsportsmanlike until then-National League president Warren Giles made it a formal rule in 1961. Months later, as Paul Dickson reminded us in The Hidden Language of Baseball, pitcher Jay Hook—an expansion New York Met but a member of the Cincinnati Reds’ 1961 pennant winner—said those Reds had a spy in the Crosley Field scoreboard using binoculars to get the other guys’ signs and a telephone inside the scoreboard send them to the dugout for the hitters. Puts a sneaky spin on phoning it in, no?

In 2000, Sandy Alderson, at the time MLB’s executive vice president for baseball operations, sent every major league club a memo: “No club shall use electronic equipment, including walkie-talkies and cellular telephones, to communicate to or with any on-field personnel, including those in the dugout, bullpen field and—during the game—the clubhouse. Such equipment may not be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a club an advantage.”

Even before the Red Sox’s AppleWatch incident and the Yankees’ concurrent dugout phone one in mid-September 2017, it’s not as though baseball wasn’t on notice regarding high-tech heists.

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The Alderson memo is what commissioner Rob Manfred referenced when he spanked the Red Sox and the Yankees over Applegate: “All 30 clubs have been notified that future violations of this type will be subject to more serious sanctions, including the possible loss of draft picks.” That’s the point at which the AIA should have been shuttered and decommissioned. But wasn’t. And you suspect that in his heart of hearts Dallas Keuchel knows it.

His mea sorta culpa would take a lot more powerful hold if he didn’t go forth to not so much shoot as try to send the messenger a veiled advisory. “A lot of guys are not happy with the fact that Mike came out and said something or the fact that this even happened,” Keuchel said. “At the same time, there is some sorrow in guys’ voices . . . This will be going on for a long time, but I’m sure in the back of guys’ minds, this is still fresh. I don’t think anyone is going to come out from other teams. They see what happens now.”

The sorrow in guys’ voices, as you could tell for almost two weeks worth of tweeting following Manfred’s judgment on the Houston Astros, was indeed a combination of dismay and disgust over the AIA and that Fiers blew the whistle in the first place. If you were living in the Delta Quadrant from the moment Fiers sang until the moment Manfred dropped the Astrogate nuke, you’d have had a difficult time deciding which was worse, the AIA being in business at all, and maybe compromising the Houston Astros 2017 postseason run and beyond; or, that Fiers finally stood athwart it publicly yelling “Stop!

For his part, Fiers isn’t inclined now to talk about his whistleblowing very much. On Friday, in advance of an Oakland Athletics fan event, the right-hander said he, too, didn’t want to be a distraction to his team, never mind that his team, at least his manager Bob Melvin, has his back. When Fiers talks about looking to the future, it’s from a very different vantage than when assorted Houston Astros such as Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman say it as they did at the Houston Astro fan fest.

“A lot was reported to the league,” said Melvin, “but it’s tough to get something done unless a player that was there comes out and says something. It wasn’t going to go down any other way. And this is significant enough that it needed to be addressed. And as time goes on, [Fiers]’ll be revered for doing this, for making the game a better place.”

As it should be. Fiers, I repeat, is to baseball’s electronic cheating what New York police legend Frank Serpico was to deep, rampant police corruption in the 1960s and early 1970s: the one man willing to expose it (with help from his well-connected friend David Durk and the New York Times) outside his indifferent department. And when he arrived for day one of the A’s fan fest, he was cheered as a hero.

Dallas Keuchel has always seemed like one of baseball’s more thoughtful players. Which is why you can’t help wondering since he’s sorry at once for Astrogate and its eventual revelation, what he thinks about Houston Astros owner Jim Crane—who’s said on the record that there’ll be apologies forthcoming “once they can be on the same page at spring training”—receiving 2019 Executive of the Year honors at the Houston Sports Awards.

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As decisively as Crane acted in sending general manager Jim Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch to the unemployment line after Manfred suspended them, that still seems a little like an honorarium naming Bonnie and Clyde as bankers of the year.