• Danny Picard

LIVING ON THE EDGE

Baseball’s love/hate relationship with technology, and how a chosen few are paying the ultimate price for using iT


BOSTON — There are two sides to every story.


Right now, the side you’re hearing is the one that portrays Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran as the new faces of cheating in baseball, thanks to MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s nine-page report on sign-stealing in the Houston Astros’ organization during their 2017 World Championship season.


Both Cora and Beltran lost their managerial jobs last week, after the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets proactively responded to Manfred’s investigation into the 2017 Astros. Manfred claimed that Cora — the Astros bench coach at the time — was involved in developing and utilizing the team’s use of technology in a sign-stealing scheme, and that Beltran — an Astros player at the time — was involved in the discussion of the creation of that scheme. They’re alleged to have used the center-field camera’s live game feed and the video replay review room to decode and then relay signs to hitters. The relay process, according to the report, included the use of runners, the replay phone, smart watches, and cell phones, as well as using a bat to smash a trash can before an off-speed pitch.


No league punishment was given to Cora or Beltran before they lost their jobs, but Manfred did suspend Astros GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for the entire 2020 season for failing to put an end to the team’s technological sign-stealing efforts. That forced Astros owner Jim Crane to fire both Luhnow and Hinch almost immediately after the league’s suspensions were dished out.


In the days that followed, the Red Sox fired Cora, and then the Mets fired Beltran.


The details of Manfred’s report made it very clear that all the blame was being placed on Cora and Beltran, but mostly on Cora. The commissioner portrayed them as the masterminds of this evil plot. And both are now known as baseball’s biggest cheaters.


But should they be?


It’s fair to also ask the question: Does the punishment — banishment from baseball — fit the actual crime?


I reached out to a few players to find out what they think. One current MLB veteran hitter believes Manfred “fucked up” with how he and the league have handled the situation.


“I don’t know if cutting the head off a snake is the right thing to do, because there’s a lot of snakes,” said the hitter who spoke on condition of anonymity.


It’s a concept the average sports fan hates hearing. You know, the old “everyone’s doing it” excuse. Whether you, as a fan, want to take that literally or not, shouldn’t Major League Baseball’s commissioner at least consider that concept before ruining someone’s baseball career?


“To get rid of [Cora and Beltran] and do it like this, you’re opening up Pandora’s box,” said the hitter. “Because a lot of teams — now they might not be as successful as the Astros at doing it — but a lot of teams do this. And the successful ones are consistently in the playoffs.”


This veteran hitter has played in over 1,000 career games for multiple organizations. None of which were the Astros. He stressed that sign-stealing has and always will be part of the game.


“The average person can’t understand that this is part of baseball, that you’re stealing signs,” he said. “That’s the basis of it. So, like, ok, well we’re going to make that public now, fine. But you just created a whole shit storm. Because since the beginning of time, the beginning of baseball, people are trying to find an edge, trying to find a way to win, to get over on the other guy.”


Problem is, the Astros’ used in-house technology to try and find that edge, according to Manfred’s investigation. However, if you ask hitters on other MLB teams, you’ll find that the use of technology to steal signs is not as clear-cut as Manfred wants to make it sound. And it’s more prevalent than he wants you to believe.



CREATING A MONSTER


There’s a gray area when it comes to a team’s use of technology inside MLB ballparks.


Over the last several years, the league has made it an “ongoing effort to introduce extraordinary technology” into the game. That quote comes from a statement Manfred made in 2016, after Major League Baseball agreed to a multi-year deal with Apple that put iPad Pro tablets — proprietary to each team — inside the dugouts.


Terms of the deal were not released, but to give you an idea as to what kind of money is involved in a partnership like that, Microsoft paid the NFL $400 million in 2013 to put its Surface tablets on the sidelines during games.


The MLB iPads have access to video and scouting reports, but do not have internet capabilities.


“Those are all pre-downloaded, and are audited,” said an MLB spokesman when asked about the league’s partnership with Apple. “You don’t have the ability to all of a sudden go and flip to live game coverage and things like that.”


There’s no evidence to suggest the addition of iPads has helped a team steal signs. But it’s another example as to how Major League Baseball is force-feeding technology into the game.


The hitter I talked to described the increase of technology as a “self-creating monster.” Cameras and monitors are everywhere for league-wide multimedia and replay purposes. They’re just not meant for sign stealing.


By MLB rules, “no such equipment may be used for the purpose of stealing signs or conveying information designed to give a Club an advantage.”


Baseball tells hitters they can’t use technology to steal signs, yet, those signs can still be picked up by that same technology, while it’s being used for other purposes.


“If you don’t want us to use technology in the game, don’t put a camera on the signs,” said the hitter I talked to.


But it’s impossible to not have a camera on the catchers’ signs. Especially in the days of instant replay, which gives each team its own video replay review room.


These rooms have given teams more and more temptation to try and use them to their advantage for sign stealing. So, surprising to absolutely nobody, hitters took a bite of the apple.


According to Manfred, Astros hitters used that technology in those rooms to steal signs throughout 2017 and into the 2018 season. As a result, Major League Baseball placed officials in the video replay review rooms beginning in the 2018 Postseason to try and put an end to it.


But video replay rooms or not, players can still find ways to use technology to steal signs during a game, if they really want to. All they have to do is go into the clubhouse.


“Everybody uses technology, everyone,” said the hitter.


“I’ll go in [the clubhouse], in the middle of the game, and I’ll look at the at-bat that I just had before,” he said, while acknowledging a moment in which he can also unintentionally see the other team’s signs. “So where do you draw the line?”


The idea that Cora and Beltran are the only two people in baseball who’ve found a way to use this technology to steal signs, is absolutely absurd. Yet, Manfred still chose to make an example out of them.


So the question isn’t: What other teams use technology to gain a competitive edge?


The question becomes: Where do you draw the line on the ‘lots’ of teams that find a way to use it?


The hitter I talked to said he uses technology in the middle of a game to put the opposing pitcher “frame-by-frame” to see if he’s tipping his pitches.


“It’s not live, but it doesn’t matter if it’s not live,” he said. “They use the same signs. I guess pitchers are gonna have to just keep switching their signs.”


That’s where the major disconnect between hitters and pitchers comes into play. Hitters say, “change your signs.” Pitchers say, “Stop stealing our signs and we won’t have to change them.”


When it comes to the technology that nearly suffocates MLB facilities, a current veteran pitcher I talked to expressed the same sentiment as all the other pissed off pitchers on social media: Where does the sign stealing end?


“You can have a gun, but that doesn’t mean you should go shoot somebody,” said the pitcher who also spoke on condition of anonymity. “We have certain availabilities, but you have to use your own common sense and your own morality to know what’s right and wrong.”



IT’S COMPLICATED


Sign stealing isn’t as simple as a guy on second base noticing a trend with his own eyes while looking into the catcher.


It comes from the dugout. It gets to the dugout after somebody sees it on a monitor behind the scenes. But the transportation from monitor-to-dugout doesn’t have to be made with a phone, iPad, or Apple Watch. It can be used with a “runner.”


Teams will designate a certain player to run from the replay room or clubhouse to the dugout, relaying sign sequences from the opposing team.


The hitter I talked to described the role of a “runner” that he personally knew in another organization not named the Astros: “That was his job on the bench, and he would run, and he would come back and say, ‘Ok it’s third-sign now,’ or whatever sign it was. So whenever they would get on [base], they would have it.


“So, again, is it live? And even if it’s not live, it still gives you an advantage. You’re still using technology.”


Live, as in, the signs the “runner” steals don’t have to be used right then and there in that very moment. The “runner” — not to be confused with “baserunner” — is stealing the opposing team’s updated sign sequence, which will then be used whenever a baserunner gets on second base.


It’s not exactly the same thing as smashing a trash can before every off-speed pitch; you don’t need a baserunner for that. But it’s still using technology to steal signs nonetheless.


And then there are sign-stealing scouting reports that hitters receive. You read that right. Sign-stealing scouting reports.


As the hitter I talked to put it, these are scouting reports “from a bunch of guys that should be solving cancer, but they’re putting figures down in algorithms and figuring out what’s most likely the sign [the opponent] is going to use that night.”


He continued: “When you have a scouting report because ancillary staff has scouted the signs of a catcher, and you know what the signs are, or you know what percentage the pitcher’s using the ‘second sign’ to start out, and if it’s not the second sign, it’s the ‘fourth sign,’ is that doing it the right way? I’m not sure that’s doing it the right way. Is it against the rules? Well, no, it’s not against the rules. But I don’t know if you can draw the line.


“If you were identifying it with your own eye, and you were coming up with it, then that’s one thing,” the hitter added. “But to have a scouting report be like, ok, he’s 90 percent ‘third sign’ at second base, and then he’s 10 percent ‘fourth sign.’ Or, he’s ‘outs-plus-1’ in even innings, and in odd innings he’s ‘strikes-plus-1.’ Shit like that.


“Signs can be so complicated. Pitchers do a great job of it, but some of them just don’t think too much about it. They want to be in their routine.”


He’s right. Signs can be complicated. The average fan might not even know what “outs-plus-1” or “strikes-plus-1” means.


To clarify, “outs-plus-1” is a sign system where the catcher takes the number of outs in the inning, and then adds “1” in order to tell the pitcher which sign he should use. For example, under this system, if there are two outs, then the third sign in the sequence of signs is what the pitcher should read, because he adds “2 outs plus 1.” It’s the same idea for “strikes-plus-1.”


You can make it as complicated as you want, obviously. But pitchers don’t want to have to get too complicated. They also don’t want to have to change those complicated signs constantly.


“Let’s not get carried away here,” said the pitcher I talked to. “Go fucking hit. It’s a game. You want to know what’s coming? Why? That’s not part of the game.”


The hitter I talked to disagrees. He pinpoints teams like the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Red Sox, and Astros — to name a few — who are just better at stealing signs than others, especially when it comes to using runners and sign scouting.


At the same time, even he acknowledges that the Astros’ strategy of smashing a trash can to let the hitter at the plate know an off-speed pitch is coming definitely takes sign-stealing to a whole new level. But he said it’s so over the top that if you’re getting beasted on by that method, then that’s on you.


“If you’re like banging trash cans, and the other team can’t pick up on that, then that’s the other team’s fault,” said the hitter.



EYE FOR AN EYE


The idea of pitchers and hitters disagreeing on sign-stealing is nothing new. You’re only seeing more public outrage from pitchers right now because someone got caught. And someone only got caught because a former Astros pitcher spilled the beans to The Athletic.


Mike Fiers was the first to leak Houston’s sign-stealing schemes to Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich, who then wrote the scathing report that led to Manfred’s investigation.


Though, I’d like to think my original report (yes, I had it first) of an Astros employee spying on the Red Sox’ dugout with a camera during Game 1 of the 2018 ALCS at Fenway Park opened the public’s eyes to the extent teams were willing to take to steal signs. But that’s for another time.


Still, even when I reported on this shady Astros employee — who Jeff Passan later identified as Kyle McLaughlin — I never thought Manfred would or should dish out season-long suspensions to someone involved in sign stealing, in any capacity.


But it happened. And Fiers can be considered the guy who forced Manfred’s hand.


Fiers said he leaked the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme in order to protect his current Oakland A’s pitching staff, and because he wants to clean up the game.


The veteran hitter I talked to understands Fiers’ motive.


“I know why he did it,” he said. “Because he didn’t want his signs to get picked. He wants to win, and he’s on the other side of it.”


Pitchers are so pissed off at being on the wrong end of sign stealing via technology, that some of them say they’d rather face a hitter on steroids, than face a hitter who knows what’s coming because of somebody relaying signs from a monitor out back.


But the hitter I talked to doesn’t even want to compare sign stealing to steroids.


“MLB fucked up with how they’ve handled this, 100 percent,” he said. “This is not steroids. This is not even close to steroids. Anybody who wants to compare it to that, it’s not true. [The Astros] were just better at [stealing signs] than everybody else, and everybody else got pissed off about it.”


The two can definitely be compared though, when it comes to the old tag line, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying.”


From pitchers using foreign substances, to the steroid era, to what’s happening now with sign stealing via technology, the desire to gain a competitive edge in baseball has existed for as long as we know.


And pitchers aren’t angels. Their use of foreign substances is as common as chewing gum.


Pitchers are only legally allowed to use rosin, in order to improve their grip on the baseball. But once rosin is mixed with something else, it becomes a foreign substance.


That doesn’t stop pitchers from mixing though. The pitcher I talked to buys a substance called “Pelican Grip Dip.” You can buy it on Amazon for $16.99.


“Pelican Grip Dip” is a blend of rosin and pine tar. It’s illegal for pitchers to have it on their glove, but they still use it anyway.


The pitcher I talked to said: “A lot of times, hitters will tell you, ‘I don’t mind if a guy uses a little — but don’t have it on your face like Michael Pineda — because I don’t want that ball slipping out of your hand.’


“But even with that,” the pitcher added, “all of a sudden you’re throwing these ridiculous spin fastballs or breaking balls because you’re loading up with this stuff.”


MLB suspended Pineda for 10 games in 2014 after he was ejected from a game for having pine tar smeared across his neck.


“Ninety-five percent of pitchers have some sort of sticky shit on their fingers,” said the hitter I talked to. “They tell me it helps keep the grip. If that’s the case, then use it, because I don’t want to get hit in the head.”


Whether it’s “Pelican Grip Dip” or “Firm Grip” or “Bullfrog Sunscreen” or a combination of any of these substances, the temptation for pitchers to take it one step further exists just as much as hitters wanting to stretch the boundaries of the rules with sign stealing.


But then there’s the “Goop.”


What’s the “Goop” you ask? Well, for one, you can’t walk into a store and say, “Give me some Goop.”


“Goop” is said to be a Houston Astros creation that their pitchers use to get a better grip on the baseball. It’s a strong mix of pine tar, rosin, and melted Coca-Cola.


“That stuff is legit, but that’s why I think all their spin rates are through the roof,” said the pitcher, who’s never played for the Astros, but admitted to trying it.


Increased spin rates on the balls of Houston’s pitchers in recent years is well documented. Players on other teams will claim it’s because Astros pitchers are using a secret “proprietary blend.” However, other players around the league have still been able to get their hands on it.


And even though the name “Goop” isn’t known by everyone — the hitter I talked to had never heard it called that — the ingredients are no longer a secret.


Just ask Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer, who, earlier this month, tweeted out those ingredients as part of his continued public attack on the Astros organization. Those ingredients were the same ingredients told to me.


It seems Bauer would like to draw the line somewhere, so much so that he’s even willing to go after fellow pitchers, which is not something you see everyday in baseball. Usually the battle of “competitive edge” stays within the “pitcher vs hitter” boundaries. And most of the time, those issues are handled inside the battle lines.


Major League baseball decided to make the 2017 Astros the extreme exception, laying the hammer down on the organization for doing something that “a lot of teams do.”


Justifying it with, “a lot of teams do,” doesn’t sit well with everyone though. And in this instance, current MLB pitchers are applauding Manfred for coming down hard on the Astros the way he did, even if he opened up a can of worms that he might not be able to close himself the way he’d probably like.


“Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, those weren’t the only guys taking steroids,” said the pitcher I talked to, referencing some of the names mentioned in the 2007 Mitchell Report that linked 89 MLB players to steroids and PEDs. “It was prevalent throughout the game, and I think that’s been curved a lot. Harsh penalties were given, people were made examples out of, and I think it’s changed the game for the better.”


But did this latest Astros punishment — which has led to the banishment of Cora and Beltran, and possibly others down the line — really change the game for the better?



DAMAGE CONTROL


The fallout of this latest “cheating scandal” has resulted in social media rumors linking Jose Altuve and the Astros to sign-stealing schemes involving electronic buzzers worn underneath their jerseys.


It has since been denied by both Altuve and Major League Baseball. But perhaps a rumor like this is just the beginning, now that Manfred has, as the hitter I talked to put it, “cut the head off a snake.”


An MLB spokesman told me, “This was the craziest week,” in the days following the Astros’ punishments. It was crazy because now the league has every rumor in the book being thrown at them from all angles.


“You followed the whole trail,” said the MLB spokesman. “We had everything. From Mike Trout and HGH; every hour it felt like there was some new story.”


Mike Trout was not actually caught taking HGH. But it was another dangerous and vicious social-media rumor in the aftermath of Manfred’s crazy punishments.


Also, no player I talked to had heard about the Astros’ “buzzer” rumor before they saw it on Twitter like everyone else. But the hitter I talked to did admit that if he was on a team utilizing that strategy, he’d probably buzzer-up too.


“I’m not excusing myself from it,” he said. “If I was on [a team using buzzers], I guarantee you I’d have a fucking buzzer, because I want to win.


“Are you kidding me? I’m not going to let my guys down by not doing something I could’ve done to help my team win.”


Again, nobody has confirmed the Astros’ “buzzer” rumor to be true. But that “do anything to win” mindset has some players wondering why Manfred decided to make such a spectacle of only one team’s sign stealing.


“For me? I don’t understand the outrage,” said the hitter.


Those who come to the defense of Cora and Beltran aren’t necessarily saying they shouldn’t be punished. They just think it could’ve been handled in a much less exaggerated fashion.


They also point out other potential sign-stealing situations in MLB over the last 10 years. Most recently, in 2017, the Yankees were fined by the league for illegally using the video replay review room phone.


Also in 2017, the Red Sox were fined for illegally using smart watches in the dugout to receive sign-stealing information that was transported from the video replay review room.


The Arizona Diamondbacks were also fined for the presence of smart watches in the dugout in 2017, as coach Ariel Prieto was caught wearing an Apple Watch during a National League Wild Card game.


And in 2015, Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost got a warning from the league after he was seen wearing an Apple Watch during games. Yost received the watch as a gift from Major League Baseball for being manager of the American League All Star team, just a month prior to being warned.


These are just some of the more recent examples we know about. But imagine what we don’t know?


The next two examples of sign stealing came before Manfred replaced Bud Selig as commissioner in January of 2015. Technology wasn’t necessarily involved, but it’s the same concept.


Multiple players confirmed the belief that Major League Baseball caught Victor Martinez stealing signs in 2014 while he was with the Detroit Tigers, through a scheme that involved men with binoculars and different colored T-shirts in center field, both home and away.


Martinez’ 2014 season is well documented for his home run-to-strikeout and walks-to-strikeout ratios. He finished that season, at the age of 35, with a career-high 32 homers, 70 walks, and just 42 strikeouts in 151 games.


For the first two months of that season, Martinez actually had more home runs than strikeouts. Then, at the official midway point, Martinez had 21 home runs and struck out just 23 times.


“That doesn’t fucking happen,” said the hitter I talked to. “Guys are throwing way too fucking hard. It doesn’t happen. He was a great player, don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t happen. So, how’d he do it?”


Allegedly, Martinez had people set up in center field wearing different colored T-shirts. One person had binoculars, saw the sign, and then they did their thing to let Martinez know what pitch was coming.


Martinez’ numbers in 2014 are staggering. Just Google it. There are many stories written about Martinez’ “historic” season. But this story from Fangraphs titled, “Victor Martinez is One of a Kind,” digs a little deeper into his crazy numbers that year.


Martinez and Toronto’s Jose Bautista (ironically enough, we’ll get to him in just a moment) were the only players in baseball to walk more than they struck out in 2014.


And not to get too analytical on you, but Martinez had an O-Contact rate of 90 percent, meaning 90 percent of his swings at pitches outside of the strike zone resulted in contact. According to Fangraphs in September of 2014, “That’s the highest mark in the league and it’s not even close.” Those who were closest to Martinez in O-Contact percentage were players who did not hit for power. It makes sense, because most hitters who have a high contact rate outside the strike zone are not putting it out of the park.


At the same time, Martinez’ O-Swing rate was 33 percent. O-Swing rate is the percentage of pitches outside the strike zone that a player swings at. Fangraphs compared Martinez’ 33 percent O-Swing rate to the 33 percent O-Swing rate of Ryan Howard that season, meaning both Martinez and Howard were chasing pitches outside the strike zone at the same rate. In the same amount of games, Howard hit nine less home runs than Martinez that season, and Howard struck out a league-high 190 times compared to Martinez’ league-low 42 strikeouts.


To sum it up, and as Fangraphs perfectly put it, Martinez was “swinging at everything, making contact with everything, and crushing everything” in 2014.


Well, perhaps we know why.


An MLB spokesman said he had no knowledge of the Martinez allegations, but current players insist the league caught him without any punishment.


Don’t believe it? In the highlight below from MLB’s Youtube channel, Chris Sale — while with the Chicago White Sox — intentionally hits Martinez with a fastball in the sixth inning of a September afternoon game in Detroit, in 2014.


Martinez grilled Sale as he slowly made his way to first base, which caused Sale to start yelling at him, while pointing out to center field: “HEY, WHY YOU LOOKING AT YOUR BOY OUT THERE, HUH?”


Both benches emptied, and they had to calm Sale down. It all came just three innings after Sale struck out Martinez swinging. Following that third-inning strikeout, Sale took off his hat, raised it in the air, and pointed out to center field. In the sixth inning, we found out what he was implying.



Over the years, some players also found out why the Toronto Blue Jays used to crush home runs in their own building, allegedly.


“At the Rogers Centre, there was always a strong belief that [Edwin] Encarnacion, [Jose] Bautista, all those guys had somebody in center field with binoculars,” said the pitcher I talked to.


“Back in the early 2010’s, we would go to Toronto, and everybody swore that there was a guy that would always sit in a different seat, he wore a white shirt, he sat in center field, and he had binoculars. Our bullpen was always up there. We’d always be looking for him.”


This one is more documented than Martinez’ binocular scheme, as I later found a piece buried in ESPN’s archives, which revealed the paranoia surrounding sign stealing in Toronto. I, for one, had not remembered this specific story. And an MLB spokesman I talked to also claimed to have no knowledge of it.


The pitcher I talked to remembers it clearly though.


“Those guys would mash there at home,” he said. “Encarnacion, Bautista, they had a murderer’s row in that lineup.”


Bautista hit a career-high 54 home runs in 2010. In his four full seasons in the majors prior to that, he never hit more than 16 home runs in a single season.


According to a 2010 Baseball Prospectus report, “the power differential between home and visiting hitters at Rogers [Centre] in 2010 was the third largest of any park in any season over the past 60 years.”


Look, nobody is saying that the Toronto Blue Jays should be investigated, or that Martinez should have an asterisk next to his stats. What’s done is done. And if they actually were doing what other players accuse them of, then it’s probably because they believed other teams were doing the same thing to them. And they were probably right.


The point is, players have been finding creative ways to steal signs for years. And these are just a few of the many eye-opening examples.


But now, baseball has chosen to put its foot down because it believes the Astros have taken their sign stealing too far.



WHAT NOW?


As we wait for the next shoe to drop, and the next name or team to get thrown into the sign-stealing rumor mill, I’m reminded of a quote from former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer during the Super Bowl XLIX pregame show on ESPN in February of 2015.


It was a mic-drop moment, for sure, as he sat in between Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young and Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis and ripped open his chest about the Deflategate allegations that had attempted to tarnish the legacy of one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Tom Brady.


“I feel like [the Patriots] got a mark on them, because they’ve been so successful, that, we’re ignoring that the league, in general, stretches the boundaries of the rules,” said Dilfer.


“A lot of players and coaches are watching right now going, ‘Oh man, I really hope they don’t find out what we did during our stretch.’”


It’s a different sport, but the same sentiment.


And it’s easy to forget, amidst all the sign-stealing commotion and outrage, how devastating a loss this is for baseball lifers like Cora, Beltran, and Hinch, who might never be trusted by the game or its fans ever again.


Though, there is some hope, I guess. For that, you don’t have to look any further than Alex Rodriguez.


Rodriguez will go down as one of the poster boys for PEDs in Major League Baseball. Throughout his 22-year career, A-Rod was not a very a well-liked figure by baseball fans. But since retiring in 2016, Rodriguez has been able to re-create his image as an analyst for both ESPN and FOX Sports.


Watching baseball flaunt A-Rod while burying Cora, Beltran, and Hinch next season and beyond, will piss off a lot of people in baseball.


“A-Rod is celebrated now, and he’s on fucking FOX, and Alex Cora’s gonna be a fucking ghost,” said the hitter I talked to. “That’s fucking bullshit. That’s absolute bullshit.”


It’s a somewhat hypocritical move by Major League Baseball, which ultimately controls the moves of its broadcast partners, according to players. But the league’s reaction to this latest “scandal” is nothing more than PR-driven, according to the hitter I talked to.


That hitter also says MLB’s reaction is owner-driven, claiming Houston’s Crane and Red Sox owner John Henry, among others, are aware of everything that’s going on with their ball clubs, even sign stealing.


“The owner doesn’t not know anything that’s going on anymore,” said the hitter. “The game is no longer the players’. The front office is always in the clubhouse. The front office is always around. So if the front office knows, then the fucking owner knows. That’s just the way it is.”


Knowing that makes it even harder for some players to accept all these punishments and firings as fair, especially when they know sign stealing — via technology or not — will remain prevalent in the game.


“[Manfred]’s already really hurt the league by ruining Carlos Beltran’s name and Alex Cora’s name,” said the hitter. “Those are good people from a proud island in baseball.


“I can empathize with them I guess, because I feel like this is part of the game. They might have taken it too far, but for what’s happening to them right now, I don’t think that punishment fits the crime at all.”


For what it’s worth, neither do I.


Follow Danny on Twitter: @DannyPicard