Oft-delayed already, commissioner Manfred’s Boston Red Sox cheating report is now due in March. It might or might not mean next week. But still…
“A Boston Red Sox ruling from MLB now expected early next month instead of late this week/month,” tweeted MLB Network’s Jon Heyman Tuesday afternoon. “No big reason seen for slightly later timetable. Time likely needed to inform any affected parties ahead of announcement.”
On the surface, it sounds benign. Especially allowing that next month is only four days away, though Manfred probably isn’t likely to make a Sunday announcement on Soxgate. (Is he?) Below the surface? Beware.
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When Commissioner Rob Manfred finished his Astrogate report and dropped what hammer he had left on subsequently-fired Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, at least two former Astros felt the impact as well. Enough to become unemployed before that January week was finished.
The Red Sox’s manager Alex Cora, who took the job in 2018 and managed them all the way to a World Series conquest, was a key Astro Intelligence Agency party as their 2017 bench coach. Either he resigned before he could be fired on his own, or the Red Sox gave him the choice.
And the New York Mets’s freshly-minted manager Carlos Beltran, a designated hitter on the ’17 Astros, whom we’ve since learned informed those Astros their sign-stealing was quite behind the times, either resigned before he, too, could be canned on his own or the Mets gave him the choice–before he’d had even the chance to manage a spring exhibition game, never mind a regular-season one.
When the final results of Manfred’s probe into the Boston Red Sox’s replay room reconnaissance ring come forth, we’ll see who beyond the Red Sox as they stand now will be affected by Soxgate, too.
The Red Sox operation isn’t thought to have gone half as far as the AIA did. They’re not suspected (so far as we know) of either altering an existing camera off its mandatory eight-second delay or installing a new one to send opposing signs to the clubhouse via monitors, next to which someone would bang a trash can to send the pilfered intelligence to the men at the plate.
What the Red Sox are thought to have done in 2018 and 2019—and, unlike Astrogate, there hasn’t yet emerged a Soxgate version of Mike Fiers to blow the whistle on the record—is deciphered opposition signs on television screens in the replay room, then signal them to a man on base to relay to a batter.
Sign-stealing by men on base is as old as the United Mine Workers, maybe older. The advent of replay in-game decision making and umpire call reviews had the unintended consequence of enabling the Boston Red Sox (and, who knows, another team or two?) to introduce a middle man to a sign-stealing practice. It may not be as dirty as the AIA’s espionage, but it turned mere gamesmanship into cheating regardless.
Manfred’s delayed reporting the final Soxgate result several times already. Presuming that he granted Red Sox players the same immunity as he granted the Astros so controversially, knowing he wouldn’t get them to spill on the replay reconnaissance any more than he might have gotten the Astros to spill on the AIA, minds surely race to wonder.
Minds probably wonder whether the Red Sox operated the reconnaissance ring during the 2018 postseason, a year after their very public dinging over someone using an AppleWatch in the dugout to steal New York Yankees signs, and thus placed a taint on their title the way Astrogate has done to the Astros.
They may wonder whether Mookie Betts, the American League’s 2018 Most Valuable Player who was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers after a few fits, starts, and stops, was a beneficiary at least or a participant at most in the Boston Red Sox replay reconnaissance—during the regular season, at least, considering that Betts wasn’t one of the Red Sox’s bigger 2018 postseason bats.
They may wonder whether Brock Holt, the utility infielder now with the Milwaukee Brewers, who wasn’t exactly a World Series monster, either, had a little extracurricular aid in Game Three of the 2018 division series against the Yankees—when the Red Sox’s 16-1 demolition of the Empire Emeritus included Holt becoming the first to hit for the cycle in a postseason game while driving five of the Red Sox runs home.
Those are what-ifs, not accusations just yet. But minds may also wonder how much aid and comfort the replay reconnaissance ring effected upon a 2018 regular season that saw no Red Sox losing streak longer than three games, only four such streaks all season long, and a team position players’ .792 OPS, en route a 108-54 record a year after they were knocked out of the postseason in round one—by the Astros for whom their 2018-19 skipper Cora served as bench coach.
“It has already been a rocky spring training for the Red Sox,” writes Peter Gammons, the longtime Boston writer now with The Athletic, “with ownership grilled about the Mookie Betts deal and everything from Chris Sale’s illness to Eduardo Rodríguez’s knee issue. New England fans are now used to good days, and if the club is hit with charges of cheating during the regular season in 2018, lose draft choices and international signing pool money . . . ”
The ellipsis indicating a voice trailing away is Gammons’s own. Astros fans are heartsick enough coming to terms with Astrogate’s ramifications. Red Sox Nation will have things just as bad, no matter differing devils in differing details, if Soxgate shows once and for all that the fourth of (who would have thought?) four Red Sox leases to the Promised Land in this century was tainted by cheating.
Something else to ponder. So much talk before spring exhibitions began about assorted players looking for revenge against the Astros. Manfred swore to protect the Astros against knockdown pitches aimed for vengeance, but in three exhibitions thus far seven Astros have been plunked in five games. And several of those players weren’t even Astros during the AIA’s heyday.
Not nice, entirely not fair. Probably not even deliberate. But still.
You might have expected Jose Altuve to see a duster, as he did against the Detroit Tigers on Monday. But Aledmys Diaz? (2017 St. Louis Cardinals; plunked by notoriously known Miami Marlins plunker Jose Urena on the fourth pitch of the game.) Jake Meyers, who hasn’t even had a cup of Show coffee yet? (Astros minor leaguer in 2017; drilled by another Marlins pitcher, Jorge Guzman, later in the game where Diaz wore it from Urena.)
Maybe it’s as Yahoo! Sports’s Jack Baer says: “interpreting nearly every hit by pitch against the Astros as retaliation — as some are doing now — would just lead to a lot of pitchers getting ejected for balls that simply got away from them.” Maybe.
If Soxgate proves the 2018-19 Boston Red Sox once-and-for-all cheaters, their hitters could start wearing pitches instead of getting to swing at them, too, whether or not they were part of that edition. Not nice, entirely not fair.