Astros apol­o­gize

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAVE SHEININ

Play­ers ex­pressed re­gret over the sign-steal­ing scan­dal but stopped short of say­ing that it tainted Hous­ton’s 2017 ti­tle.

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. — On the day they came to apol­o­gize for their past ac­tions, the 10 holdover mem­bers of the 2017 Hous­ton Astros each drove past a gi­ant, three-di­men­sional Astros logo on a grassy berm out­side their sta­dium, be­low which were the words, “2017 World Cham­pi­ons.” They walked through hall­ways dec­o­rated with framed, three-foot-high photos of their most glo­ri­ous mo­ments: greet­ing each other at home plate af­ter a homer, sprint­ing to the mound for a post-clinch scrum, lifting the World Series tro­phy over their heads.

And when the mo­ment came to stand in front of re­porters and put their re­morse on dis­play, the Astros did so in tones that veered from scripted and me­chan­i­cal to heart­felt and hon­est. With­out ever say­ing the words “scheme” or “sign-steal­ing” or “cheated,” they copped to the ba­sics: They had made bad choices. They had bro­ken Ma­jor League Base­ball’s rules. They were sorry.

“The re­al­ity is we are re­morse­ful,” short­stop Car­los Cor­rea said. “We feel sorry. I don’t even want to think about what hap­pened back then, be­cause it was straight-up wrong.”

But if the Astros’ one-day apol­ogy tour, held Thurs­day at their spring training

com­plex at Ball­park of the Palm Beaches, felt un­sat­is­fy­ing to an outsider, it was in part be­cause of the in­vis­i­ble line the Astros re­fused to cross. They would ad­mit what they did — steal­ing signs from op­pos­ing catch­ers us­ing a cen­ter field cam­era and a video mon­i­tor — was wrong. Some would even ac­knowl­edge they gained an ad­van­tage through it.

But they would ac­cept no insin­u­a­tion that their 2017 cham­pi­onship was in any way tainted.

“Ev­ery­body’s en­ti­tled to their opinion, and in my opinion it’s not,” out­fielder Josh Red­dick said. “[ The ti­tle] is here in Hous­ton to stay.”

Astros owner Jim Crane, in a brief news con­fer­ence that pre­ceded the player avail­abil­ity in the club­house, set the tone for this stance. It was Crane who, in the wake of MLB’S Jan. 13 in­ves­tiga­tive report into the elec­tronic sign-steal­ing scheme the Astros were found to have used in 2017 and 2018, took MLB’S one-year sus­pen­sions of man­ager A. J. Hinch and gen­eral man­ager Jeff Luh­now one gi­ant step fur­ther by fir­ing both.

On Thurs­day, Crane took a de­fen­sive stance when ques­tions turned to the le­git­i­macy of the Astros’ ti­tle.

“Our opinion,” Crane said, “is that this didn’t im­pact the game. We had a good team. We won the World Series, and we’ll leave it at that.” Asked whether what the Astros did amounted to cheat­ing, Crane said: “We broke the rules. You can phrase that any way you want.”

Crane also de­fended the sys­tem of dis­ci­pline, as meted out both by MLB and Crane him­self, that fell squarely on the team’s brain trust but no one else. Asked whether he should have been held ac­count­able him­self as the team’s top of­fi­cial, Crane said: “No, I don’t think I should be held ac­count­able. I’m here to cor­rect it. And I’m here to take this team for­ward.”

Then, when asked whether play­ers should have been dis­ci­plined for their roles: “Our play­ers should not be pun­ished. There are a great group of guys who did not re­ceive proper guid­ance from their lead­ers.”

Crane’s absolution of ev­ery­one ex­cept those who al­ready have paid for the Astros’ sins un­der­scored the glar­ing lim­its of the apolo­gies of­fered Thurs­day. The lack of specifics and the lack of in­tro­spec­tion made it some­times seem as if the Astros were read­ing from a list of talk­ing points.

“To­day,” third base­man Alex Breg­man said, “was about apol­o­giz­ing and say­ing I’m sorry and mov­ing for­ward as a team and as an or­ga­ni­za­tion.”

They would apol­o­gize, but they couldn’t say specif­i­cally what for.

They said they were re­morse­ful, but they couldn’t say whether they felt re­morse as the scheme it­self was oc­cur­ring.

“Ev­ery­one learned a lot from this,” Breg­man said. But what did he learn, he was asked? Breg­man stam­mered, then of­fered a vague word salad. It gave the dis­tinct im­pres­sion the Astros were not re­morse­ful so much for the cheat­ing they per­pe­trated but rather that they had been caught.

Asked whether the play­ers knew what they were do­ing was wrong at the time, sec­ond base­man José Al­tuve said: “Yeah, kind of. That’s why we feel bad.”

The Astros di­verged some­what over the ques­tion of how much of an ad­van­tage they gained through the sign-steal­ing scheme. Red­dick would not ad­mit that it gave him an edge — “I can’t re­ally say it did [or] it didn’t,” he said — and said he felt no need to reach out to op­po­nents the Astros beat along the way to the 2017 World Series ti­tle.

Why not? “I think it goes back to it not be­ing a tainted cham­pi­onship. We were still a good team,” Red­dick said. “[ The scheme] wasn’t the nec­es­sary point of us win­ning. We still won on the road as well.”

Cor­rea, by con­trast, owned up to the ad­van­tage that in­di­vid­ual Astros hit­ters gained through the scheme.

“It’s an ad­van­tage. I’m not going to lie to you,” he said. “If you know what’s com­ing, you get a slight edge. And that’s why people got sus­pended and people got fired be­cause it’s not right. It’s not right to do that. It was an ad­van­tage. But ... it’s not going to hap­pen mov­ing for­ward.

Cor­rea said when he sees play­ers on other teams who may have been vic­tim­ized by the Astros’ scheme, he will apol­o­gize in the same way he did to re­porters Thurs­day. “We af­fected careers. It was bad,” he said.

“There are things in this game we can all hang our hat on. And the re­spect of your peers is one of the big­gest,” out­fielder Ge­orge Springer said. “For the guys who are obviously up­set, I un­der­stand.”

The Astros’ group apol­ogy came on the day pitch­ers and catch­ers con­ducted their first work­out of spring training. Man­ager Dusty Baker and Gen­eral Man­ager James Click, both freshly hired from out­side the or­ga­ni­za­tion, took far more ques­tions about a scan­dal they had noth­ing to do with than about the 26-man ros­ter they are charged with con­struct­ing for 2020.

“They’ve learned their les­son,” Baker said of his new play­ers. “. . . The only way to achieve for­give­ness is to apol­o­gize for what you’ve done wrong, and we’ve apol­o­gized for what we’ve done wrong.”

The 10 Astros re­main­ing from the 2017 team — some of whom, as po­si­tion play­ers, weren’t re­quired to report to camp un­til next week — all con­verged Wednesday night at the sta­dium for a meet­ing with Crane and other team of­fi­cials. It was the first time they had all been to­gether since the story broke in the Ath­letic in mid-novem­ber, less than two weeks af­ter the Astros lost the 2019 World Series to the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als. Ev­ery player was given a chance to speak.

“The en­ergy in that room was great,” Breg­man said. “Ev­ery­one was re­morse­ful. People voiced their opin­ions.”

Judg­ing from the play­ers’ an­swers to re­porters’ ques­tions, it wasn’t dif­fi­cult to fig­ure out the talk­ing points the play­ers were given. They re­fused to dis­cuss de­tails of their scheme. They re­peated cer­tain words and phrases: I’m sorry. Re­morse­ful. Learned from this. Mov­ing for­ward.

They also uni­formly de­nied that the scheme con­tin­ued into 2019 or that it at any time in­cluded the use of wear­able de­vices — or buzzers — to tip off bat­ters as to which pitch was com­ing, as has been al­leged.

But oc­ca­sion­ally a player would be tripped up by an un­ex­pected and art­fully phrased ques­tion — such as when Red­dick, in a small group of re­porters, was asked whether the scheme had been worth it.

“Was it worth break­ing the rules? I don’t think so,” he said. “I think it’s a mat­ter of, num­ber one, we were a good team. It’s hard to say whether it was worth it or not, be­cause you did break the rules and here we are talk­ing about it. So it’s def­i­nitely some­thing that we’re prob­a­bly going to re­gret for the rest of our careers.”

Then an Astros pub­lic re­la­tions of­fi­cial broke up the scrum, and Red­dick re­turned to his locker, now and for­ever a World Series cham­pion.

JEFF ROBERSON/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

MICHAEL REAVES/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

Astros in­field­ers Alex Breg­man, cen­ter, and José Al­tuve watch owner Jim Crane read a state­ment about the team’s sign-steal­ing scan­dal. Astros play­ers apol­o­gized but said their 2017 cham­pi­onship is not tainted.

MICHAEL REAVES/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IM­AGES

Astros Man­ager Dusty Baker and owner Jim Crane ex­pressed to re­porters a de­sire to move for­ward.

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