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Nightengale: MLB Needs to Step Up on Cheating Allegations Against Astros

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The Astros celebrate their 5-1 win over the Dodgers in Game 7 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in Los Angeles. Photo: Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle

By Bob Nightengale |

Finally, the name of the whistleblower has been revealed.

Oh, not that whistleblower.

Oakland Athletics pitcher Mike Fiers has nothing to do with Donald Trump.

He has everything to do with the Houston Astros making the news again, for all of the wrong reasons.

It has been an awful few weeks for the Astros, both on and off the field.

Their assistant general manager was fired for an obscenity-laden tirade directed towards a female reporter. 

Then they lost to the Washington Nationals in the World Series, blowing a 3-2 lead.

And now the report that Fiers revealed to The Athletic that the Astros were electronically stealing signs during the 2017 season, which ended with the team winning the World Series.

“I know these past couple of weeks there’s been a lot of news surrounding the Astros and it’s not all good news,’’ Astros GM Jeff Luhnow said.

“It’s disappointing. If there’s an issue that we need to address, we’ll address it.’’

Fiers, who pitched for the Astros from 2015-2017, said that the team stole signs using a center-field camera, which violates MLB rules. He warned his Detroit Tigers team in 2018 and The Athletic in 2019 of the Astros’ sign stealing.

“I just want the game to be cleaned up a little bit because there are guys who are losing their jobs because they’re going in there not knowing,” Fiers told The Athletic. “Young guys getting hit around in the first couple of innings starting a game, and then they get sent down. It’s (B.S.) on that end. It’s ruining jobs for younger guys. The guys who know are more prepared. But most people don’t. That’s why I told my team. …

“That’s not playing the game the right way. They were advanced and willing to go above and beyond to win.”

Major League Baseball and the Astros announced after Fiers’ allegations that they would immediately launch an investigation on whether the Astros cheated.

Even if the Astros are cleared , it badly sullies their reputation.

Once again.

“I hope it doesn’t,’’ Luhnow said. “We have a lot of good players. We have a great manager. We have a good fanbase. And we accomplished a lot. I think that stands for itself. I’m hopeful we’ll find out exactly what happened, and we’ll address it if there’s something that needs to be addressed, and we’ll move on.’’

Suspicions that teams are using technology to cheat remains a widespread concern in baseball, but some, including Luhnow, believe it’s been overblown.

“There’s a certain level of teams wondering what other teams are doing,’’ Luhnow said, “and trying to prevent them from gaining and edge, particularly when it’s something that goes against the rules. …

“I know it’s a topic that surfaces every year among the coaches, among the players among the people in the industry. I’m sure it’s an issue. I just don’t know how widespread it is.’’

Still, the epicenter of the conspiracy is in Houston.

“We’re going to find out as much as we can, whatever there is to find out,’’ Luhnow said, “and make a determination after that. I think at this point, we are going to investigate it, figure out what the facts are, and we’ll respond after that.

“We take the allegations seriously. If you’re not following the rules, it’s a serious matter.

“But I think the best course of action is not to speculate right now.’’

Still, this isn’t the NCAA. It’s not as if MLB will force the Astros to vacate the World Series title. They won’t be placed on probation. If penalized, it will likely involve nothing more than a monetary punishment, and at worst, loss of a draft pick.

Again, it’s more about the image of the franchise, which has won at least 100 games in three consecutive seasons including two American League pennants and a world championship.

“The reason we won the World Series in 2017 was Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Justin Verlander and a lot of great players,’’ Luhnow said. “They do things the right way. We, as an organization, that’s what we aspire to do as well.’’

Still, just as players find it virtually impossible to reshape their image, it’s perhaps even more difficult for organizations to do it..

The Astros’ reputation for illegally stealing signs was rampant enough that Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said Tuesday at the General Manager Meetings that he told his staff to ignore all the rumors and speculation, and just play baseball.

“We eliminated that from our thought process,’’ Rizzo said. “The coaching staff told the players we’re not dealing with that, we’re not worrying about that. We just go out and play the game. We didn’t want that splitting our focus, and getting away from preparing for the team.

“There’s way that players police that stuff on their own, and we certainly didn’t acknowledge it, and we specifically said we’re not dealing with that.’’

Well, if nothing else, the Astros can at least point to this year’s World Series and prove to Major League Baseball they weren’t cheating.

They didn’t win a single game at Minute Maid Park, losing all four, making this the first seven-game series in North American team sports history that not a single team won a home game.

“If we were both cheating,’’ Rizzo said, “we were pretty bad at it.’’

Really, if anyone had a legitimate complaint, it’s the Los Angeles Dodgers.

They were the ones who lost to the Astros in the 2017 World Series.

Then again, the Dodgers lost Game 7 at home.

“It’s speculation for me at this point,’’ Dodgers president Andrew Friedman said. “There was scuttlebutt about it being beyond just the things at home. I don’t know the answer. This is more for Major League Baseball than it is for me.

“From our standpoint, being one of the teams involved, it sounds like sour grapes for us to comment too much on this.

“I’m a person who looks forward way more than I look back, so it’s not something that has been front of mind for me. It’s not productive.’’

Still, it’s time MLB launches a full investigation.

The league needs to interview Fiers. It needs to interview former Astros players and coaches. It needs to locate all of the evidence possible.

It’s time to put a stop to it once and for all.

If not, all of the doubts, distrust and skepticism will forever be linked to this entire Astros era of greatness.

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter and Facebook.

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