Even though exhibition baseball season has begun, the fallout from the sign-stealing scandal that plagued the Houston Astros will likely have a long half-life.

Three managers linked to the 2017 Astros not only lost their jobs, but also gained a radioactive aura that could sideline them forever.

Thanks in large part to social media, which should probably be called anti-social media, the death threats have targeted not only former and current Houston players, but also Mike Fiers, the Oakland pitcher who exposed the scandal in the revealing to The Sportif.

Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has also been lambasted – not only for offering players immunity in exchange for information about the scandal, but for not vacating the 2017 world championship the Astros apparently won thanks to theft of electronic panels. He compounded the crime by calling the handsome commissioner’s trophy awarded to world champions each year a “piece of metal”.

But how far can the commissioner go?

Houston ranks third in payroll with $205,783,333, behind the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers, and is favored to bid again for a World Series berth – for the third time over of the last four years.

It has more competition in the stands than in the American League West.

Asking players to return their World Series rings, or demanding the return of the Most Valuable Player trophy that Jose Altuve won in 2017, could have sparked a war with the Players’ Association – just as tensions mount in negotiations for the next basic agreement between labor and management.

On the other hand, so many players from other teams are furious with the Astros’ quibbling in 2017 that the coming season is shaping up to be a battle certain to ignite the beanballs, fights and bad behavior that will inflate the black eye that baseball has already received. of the emerging scandal.

It’s not since 1919, when members of the Chicago White Sox allegedly took money from players for losing the World Series to underdogs the Cincinnati Reds, that the game has suffered such a setback. With new evidence piling up every day, it seems bigger than Pete Rose’s gambling problem, Alex Rodriguez’s Biogenesis suspension, or the alleged steroid abuse of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens that kept them both down. away from Cooperstown. And there is no end in sight.

When the Astros opened their 2020 exhibition season Saturday against the Washington Nationals in West Palm Beach, many of their own fans booed. Others marched around the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches with signs, including some obscene ones that were confiscated.

Poor dusty baker. Coming out of retirement at age 70 to calm the storm, he is not only the oldest manager in the major leagues but also the most disputed. His team lost Gerrit Cole, who joined the Yankees as a free agent on a nine-year contract worth $324 million, and virtually all of his integrity.

An early spring training press conference called for a mass apology turned into a fiasco that only made matters worse, with Altuve, former All-Star MVP Alex Bregman and even the owner Jim Crane mumbling confused denials.

Baker, who replaced fired manager AJ Hinch last month, will not only have to win games but also protect the psyche and safety of his players.

“I try not to worry about things because there’s no point in it,” he told writers on Friday. “You can anticipate this or that, but you don’t really know until you get there. So I’m not really worried about the reception we’re getting.

The manager has a personal goal this year: to win the first world championship of his 22-year career as a field general. Although the Astros are favored after winning 107 games last year, no one knows how their players will react to the animosity of 29 other clubs – not to mention the millions of fans.

Even the normally stoic Nick Markakis lambasted both the Astros and their punishment, which he felt was too light.

“Every guy out there needs a beat,” said the 36-year-old Atlanta outfielder, who is in his 15th season. “As players, we don’t agree with what they did. We don’t support them and will never support them for their actions. I think they got away with it quite easily. They will be able to go out there and compete with no ramifications at all, which is wrong.

“The commissioner handled it badly. A lot of people disagree with him and the way he handled the situation. He should be embarrassed with himself.

Another even-tempered outfielder, Aaron Judge of the Yankees, had similar thoughts. “I was pretty angry, pretty upset to know that we probably got cheated out of making the World Series,” said Judge, who finished second to Altuve in the 2017 vote for American League MVP. .

“I wasn’t a fan of the punishment either. I thought it was a bit low. “[The sign-stealing] didn’t just affect us as Yankees, but affected the fans of the game, not to mention the guys who lost their jobs because of it. That’s another thing I couldn’t tolerate: guys who went to Houston, fought a little bit and never came back to the big leagues. These guys went to play fair and now they’re out of work. It’s not good.

Mike Trout (Angels) and Cody Bellinger (Dodgers), with four MVP awards between them, also hammered Houston’s violation of MLB’s ban on stealing signs by electronic means. The Astros were accused of stealing signals from opposing receivers to the video playback room and hitting a trash can to alert their hitters.

If the sign-stealing scheme extended beyond 2017, Altuve knew what Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman was planning to throw before hitting the pennant-winning home run for the Astros on Oct. 20, 2019. He will be especially interesting to see what happens in their next meeting – although Manfred has made it clear that intentional bean balls will not be tolerated.

He also offered to provide security for Fiers, who some players consider a snitch. If there is a silver lining to this whole sordid affair, perhaps that is the name by which historians will remember it. Exactly 100 years after the Black Sox scandal came to light, the new one could be called Hit the bobbin slowly. A trash can lid spotted on the roof of Houston’s dugout in West Palm Beach on Saturday suggests it will survive not just in infamy but in perpetuity.

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