Astrogate: One apology, one crime-fostering culture, more details

Another former member of the Astros has expressed his remorse at being a part of Astrogate.

When Minnesota Twins outfielder Marwin Gonzalez was a 2017 Houston Astro, according to Tony Adams’s analysis of that tainted season, Gonzalez faced at least 779 pitches and was sent electronically stolen signs by banging the can slowly 147 times. Or, 18.9 percent of his time at the plate. He was the seventh most frequent recipient of pilfered intelligence on the team that year, according to Adams’s Astrogate analysis.

Intriguingly, one plate appearance featuring no drumming resulted in Gonzalez contributing to the end of Toronto Blue Jays relief pitcher Mike Bolsinger on August 4, 2017, when he saw a pair of curveballs for balls before hitting a three-run homer on a cutter. Just why the Astro Intelligence Agency man with the can didn’t bang him the breaking balls remains a mystery.

But Gonzalez met the press at the Twins’ spring training camp in Fort Myers, Florida Tuesday and had something to say about Astrogate: “I’m here to tell how I feel and just that I’m remorseful for everything that happened in 2017.” Making him the first hitter on that Astros team to express such remorse, so far. He also expressed remorse toward “the players that were affected directly by doing this and similar things.”

“I wish we could take it back and do it a different way, but there’s nothing we can do,” said Gonzalez, adding that for all the genuine talent on the team it was “hard to measure” whether playing straight, no chaser would have meant the Astros winning the 2017 World Series. “You just have to play ball,” he said. “That’s hard to know; you’re never going to know. That was a great team, great guys too. It’s hard to answer that question.”

Related Story: Hinch fiddles while AstroGate burns

What’s not so hard to know now is how the Astros themselves might have felt knowing the team’s senior player, then-designated hitter Carlos Beltrán, was one of the co-masterminds of the AIA. The Athletic‘s Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, who could be considered to Astrogate as Washington Post legends Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward were to Watergate, have revealed that and a few more details about the espionage.

The concept of the clubhouse culture, for one thing. “Beltrán’s sway over the clubhouse, however, helps explain the inaction of [then-manager A.J.] Hinch and his other coaches and players, even as some who were there say they felt conflicted about the team’s misconduct,” Rosenthal and Drellich write. “The reluctance of anyone in uniform to challenge Beltrán spoke to the power of the accomplished veteran in the sport’s political pecking order.”

“I was in my first year, man,” said Joe Musgrove, a rookie on the ’17 Astros now with the Pittsburgh Pirates, in a January interview cited in the piece. “Along with (Alex) Bregman and a lot of those guys, and in your first year in the big leagues, you’re around guys like Beltrán and (Brian) McCann, some big names. And I’m not going to be the pitcher to walk up and tell ‘em to knock it off.”

McCann hasn’t been very vocal since he retired from baseball after a final tour with the Atlanta Braves last year. But Rosenlich (what the hey, Woodstein worked for the Watergate reporters) say McCann—who was as well known for his Fun Policing as he was for being a brainy catcher and student of the game in his prime—“at one point approached Beltrán and asked him to stop,” citing two unnamed Astros as the sources for that. (The two reporters said Beltran himself didn’t respond to their request for his own comment.)

“[Beltrán] disregarded it and steamrolled everybody,” Rosenlich cites one of those two unnamed Astros. “Where do you go if you’re a young, impressionable player with the Astros and this guy says, ‘We’re doing this’? What do you do?”

Well, you could take it to the skipper, especially since ’17 Astros bench coach Alex Cora was in it up to his kishkes, but then you might have run into just the problem that was there, Hinch doing little more than smashing a pair of clubhouse monitors tied to the illicit sign-stealing camera and washing his hands otherwise.

Or, you could take it to someone above the skipper’s head. Oops. There went that idea: last week, remember, the Wall Street Journal exposed the ’17 Astros front office, including since-deposed general manager Jeff Luhnow, going all-in on an intern’s development of something called Codebreaker, an algorithm designed for more swift decoding of enemy signs. Cora and Beltran apparently decided Codebreaker wasn’t swift enough.

“What happened was Cora and Beltrán decided that this [Codebreaker] video room stuff . . . was just not working, inefficient, too slow,” Rosenlich quoted “a person with direct knowledge” of the Astrogate investigation as saying. “They just had some lower-level guy put up this monitor and did it themselves . . . The real kind of crime here was they didn’t stop [in September ’17] and the banging on the trash can was over the top compared to what happened before.”

Rosenlich say that while some ’17 Astros weren’t exactly comfortable with the AIA the discomfited didn’t exactly make their discomfort known otherwise. As another unidentified Astro told them (those who spoke to them demanded anonymity), “No one ever said anything about how they didn’t agree with the system. They loved hitting with the system.”

The Adams analysis shows who loved or at least tolerated it how often. By the percentages, Tyler White got banged in 26.4 percent of the pitches he saw, the highest such percentage. Jose Altuve, who won the American League’s Most Valuable Player award in 2017, loved it the least, seemingly: he got banged on 2.8 percent of the pitches he saw. White saw 106 pitches and got 28 bangs; Altuve saw 866 pitches and got 24 bangs.

Gonzalez’s 147 bangs led the 2017 Astros. Among players who saw 360 pitches or more, George Springer (933 pitches) got banged 139 times. Beltran (762 pitches) got 138 bangs. Bregman (800 pitches) got 133 bangs. Yuli Gurriel (670 pitches) got 120 bangs. Carlos Correa (594 pitches) got 97 bangs. Jake Marisnick (364 pitches) got 83 bangs. Evan Gattis (427 pitches) got 71 bangs. McCann (507 pitches), the wary veteran, got 45 bangs. Josh Reddick (725 pitches)—whose snide rebuke of New York Yankee pitcher Masahiro Tanaka‘s Astrogate dismay makes him look between a clown and a mountebank—got 28 bangs.

And six Astros got banged for 20 percent or higher of the pitches they saw that season: White, J.D. Davis (28.6 percent of 49 pitches), Max Stassi (25.0 percent of 52 pitches), Cameron Maybin (23.2 percent of 56 pitches), Marisnick (22.8 percent of his 364 pitches), and Juan Centeno (20.0 percent of 65 pitches.)

When Hinch said challenging the culture of the clubhouse to put the kibosh on the AIA was “complicated when you’re talking about a team and all the inner workings of a team,” it resonated with all the veracity of New York City major John V. Lindsay—asked how on earth such police corruption as taken public by clean cops Frank Serpico and David Durk could have flourished—replying, “If you’ve had as long and as delicate a relationship with the 35,000 member police department as I have had, you might understand.”

“Increased scrutiny and attention may prevent a system like the Astros’ from ever sprouting again,” Rosenlich conclude, “but the enduring lesson is that, if unchecked, teams will always seek an edge. And clubhouse dynamics generally do not prepare players to say, ‘enough’.” Or, for the fallout, with Hinch, Cora (as manager of the Boston Red Sox now under probe for their own replay room reconnaissance ring), and Beltran losing gigs as major league managers for their trouble.

Once upon a time, Jim Brosnan, Bill Veeck, and Jim Bouton were excoriated as often as admired within the game for merely exposing baseball’s innards in print. Fiers has been excoriated as often as admired for blowing the whistle on the AIA and perhaps opening a way for baseball to thwart future extralegal electronic espionage. It’s still too well entrenched to want to shoot the messengers rather than contend with the message reasonably.

Next: Bolsinger sues Astros over AstroGate

The Astros, about to begin spring training, have a lot more Astrogate splainin’ to do, Lucy, than just one former Astro’s apology and how the “clubhouse culture” fostered and perpetuated cheating.

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