Rick's Space: Cheating in baseball

Wired




In 1993, basketball’s greatest player, Michael Jordan, took a hiatus from the game he loved, ostensibly to try his hand at playing professional baseball. A Montauk fisherman, who will remain nameless, told a few of his closest friends that while running a charter a year earlier he overheard his customers, several powerful men involved in federal law enforcement and the National Basketball Association, discussing Michael Jordan.

They said Jordan was betting on basketball, but because of the huge growth of the game internationally, and Jordan’s popularity, the story that he was retiring was concocted, allowing everyone involved to save face and Nike, Jordan’s sneaker company, to continue unabated its dominance of the world’s burgeoning sneaker market.

Stealing signs has always been a somewhat humorous exercise in baseball. Let’s say you were batting and you had a teammate on second. The base runner would watch the catcher, give the pitcher the sign, and relay it using a facial expression or a body movement to let him know a fastball (one finger) was coming or (two) a curve. It worked once in a while, and it helped. But we are not dealing with brain surgeons here.

Catcher: I think they knew that last fastball was coming; let’s make the signal for it, two fingers.

Pitcher: Like, how many?

Cather: Two.

Pitcher: Then what will a curveball be?

Catcher: One.

Pitcher: One what?

Catcher: Never mind.

To say the Houston Astros got carried away with their cheating would be putting it mildly. With a billion-dollar fantasy industry and Vegas booming, and insiders, professional gamblers, mobsters, and people like me all looking to make a buck on the game, the level of sophistication ratcheted up.

It’s been reported the Astros placed cameras out in the centerfield wall to read the catcher’s signs, and then beat a drum to signal the pitch to the batter.

The Astros said their cheating was limited to 2017 when they coincidentally won the World Series. The manager, general manager, and two other management personnel eventually were fired. No player was so much as fined.

They told us the cheating was over by 2019 when the Astros played the Yankees in the AL Divisional Series. Jose Altuve, five-foot six-inches, had turned in blistering performances during his career when games mattered most — the playoffs.

There were two outs. Aroldis Chapman, baseball’s premier relief pitcher, is the hardest thrower in baseball, and was hitting 102 miles per hour on the radar gun. Jack Marisnick, a reserve outfielder who is a good fielder but lousy hitter, had been inserted earlier in the game.

Chapman threw two fastballs out of the strike zone to Altuve, the hottest hitter in the playoffs. Logic dictated he would simply throw two more hard-to-hit pitches, walk Altuve, and feed Marisnick, who was on deck, fastballs.

Instead, Altuve attacked. His home run was clocked at 106.6 mph, one of the hardest hit balls of all time.

Chapman broke into a broad, toothy smile and walked off the field. Why? He probably realized what the Yankees had strongly suspected — the Astros were cheating, even though they denied the charge only a day earlier. You see, he didn’t throw Altuve a fastball. He threw a slider, knowing Altuve would have no chance at making contact with it — unless he knew it was coming.

Houston, at first, said with so many people in the stands during the playoffs that they couldn’t steal signs, because the batter couldn’t even hear the drum heralding the upcoming pitch. As his teammates mobbed Altuve, he was yelling at them not to rip his jersey off, which had become a team tradition. His agent, Scott Boros, said the player was simply “Bashful.”

But go back and review the game, you’ll see Josh Reddick being interviewed on the field without his shirt, and the evidence is clear — he is wearing a wire, a buzzer. He even tries to hide it while doing the interview, probably because he was being prodded by a co-conspirator off camera. Later, his wife claimed the buzzer was a piece of confetti.

There has been a giant cover up. Players were literally given immunity from prosecution before they were even questioned. It’s because it’s in everyone’s best interests that these things go away.

Epilogue:

Powerful people who get screwed out of their money don’t need the courts to extract revenge.

A year after his son’s forced retirement — rumors swirled he owed gamblers a lot of money — the body of Michael Jordan’s father James R. Jordan was found in a ditch, shot to death.

rmurphy@indyeastend.com