If you thought that the months-long shutdown of baseball due to the coronavirus pandemic would push the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal from this past offseason to the back burner -- well, you thought wrong. We're heading into Week 4 of an abbreviated 2020 season, and the Astros' illegal use of technology to steal pitching signs in real-time along with their perfunctory apologies is still a hot topic.
When the Los Angeles Dodgers faced the Astros for the first time this season at the end of July -- a rematch of the 2017 World Series where the Dodgers lost in seven games -- reliever Joe Kelly threw at a few Astros hitters, including Carlos Correa and Alex Bregman. This sparked a benches-clearing dust-up which resulted in the league suspending Kelly and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts.
On Wednesday, Kelly won his appeal and had his suspension reduced from eight games to five games. Kelly appeared on a previously recorded podcast from Dodgers teammate Ross Stripling's, "The Big Swing," to discuss the sign-stealing and confrontation. The episode was taped earlier in August before the league reduced Kelly's suspension.
"The people who took the fall for what happened is nonsense," Kelly said on the podcast. "Yes, everyone is involved. But the way that [sign-stealing system] was run over there was not from coaching staff. ... They're not the head boss in charge of that thing. It's the players. So now the players get the immunity, and all they do is go snitch like a little bitch, and they don't have to get fined, they don't have to lose games."
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred granted immunity to Astros players in exchange for honest accounts during the league's investigation. The club's punishment for their sign-stealing included a $5 million fine (the maximum allowed under MLB's constitution), Manager A.J. Hinch was suspended for the 2020 season (and shortly fired thereafter by the Astros), general manager Jeff Luhnow also suspended for 2020 and also fired, and the Astros forfeited their first- and second- round draft picks the next two years.
"When you take someone's livelihood ... to save your own ass, that's what I don't like. Cheating? They cheated. Everyone knows they're cheaters. They know they're cheaters. It's over. That's done with. But now they mess it up by ruining other people's lives, so they f----- it up twice. ... When you taint someone's name to save your own name, this is one of the worst things that you could probably do. ... That really friggin' bugs me. I think I'll be irritated forever."
Kelly wasn't on the 2017 Dodgers team, but he was on the Red Sox team that lost to the Astros in the 2017 ALDS. It should be noted that the Red Sox would go on to defeat the Astro in the following year's ALCS on their way to a 2018 World Series title, but the Red Sox were also embroiled in a sign-stealing scandal of their own this offseason.
Former Red Sox manager Alex Cora joined the club as a first-year manager in 2018, and he came to Boston via Houston, where he served as the Astros' bench coach for the 2017 season. In MLB's nine-page report summary of the investigation into the Astros sign-stealing scheme, Cora is mentioned multiple times and viewed as one of the members of the dugout who spearheaded the scheme. The Red Sox fired Cora soon after the release of the report.
Kelly said Cora hasn't explained what happened, "because he's a respectable man. So when [the Astros] lie" -- by deflecting blame onto staffers -- "that doesn't sit right with me."
"Maybe they have called [Cora] and said, 'Hey, I'm sorry.' Or called Luhnow and said, 'Hey, I'm sorry.' Or called Hinch, and Beltran. ... If they had said, 'Hey, I'm super-scared, I didn't know what to do, I didn't want to lose money, I had to rat.' ... Grow a pair of balls and say that."
This past June, Cora refuted the claim that he (and Carlos Beltran, Astros player at the time) were the masterminds of the sign-stealing scandal. "If there is one thing I am absolutely sure of, it is that it was not a two-man show," he said. "We all did it. And let me be very clear that I am not denying my responsibility, because we were all responsible."
When Kelly and Stripling discussed his suspension for the July incident, Kelly said he thought it was "crazy" considering that he didn't hit anybody in the game and was not warned or ejected by the home plate umpire. "It blows my mind, still," Kelly said. "It's so upsetting."
"I socially distanced. I walked away. I didn't get close, and I followed all the guidelines of the CDC, and people on the other side (the Astros) didn't," he said. "... They walked out of their dugout, walked toward us. Carlos Correa f---ing spit at our team. I don't know if it was [at] me. He spit out of his mouth. ... This guy walks over to our dugout and then spits, while I follow all the rules, and I get eight games.
"They have a manager [Dusty Baker] on their side, verbatim, yelling at me, 'Get your little skinny ass on the mound.' So my cuss words get eight games, and his cuss words get zero? That makes complete sense, right? Welcome to planet earth. A debacle."
Kelly also explained the rationale behind his now shirt worthy mocking of Correa. Kelly told Stripling that when he complains to his wife, she'll make a similar face at him, to end his whining.
"When Carlos was tripping back at me," Kelly said, "the boo-hoo face felt right, because it just sounded like he was complaining. I was like, 'Ohhhh, boo-hoo.' For me, it sounded like a bunch of whining, and I know exactly what my wife feels like.
"It just felt right in the moment. It was spur of the moment; it's not like you game-plan for that kind of thing. ... It was my interpretation of him acting like a child at that point, and I wanted to give him a little child's face."
Kelly remains on the injured list with shoulder inflammation, and his suspension will take place once he returns to the active roster. Entering play on Thursday, the Dodgers own a 12-7 record while the Astros are 8-10.