Posted by: Mike Cornelius | January 16, 2020

Blame The Cheaters, Not The Whistleblower

Thank you, Mike Fiers. The 34-year-old right-hander should hear that everywhere he goes with the Oakland Athletics this season, from fans and fellow players alike. Of course in sports, as in life, human emotions are complex, and visceral reactions to events are seldom neat and tidy. So while there will surely be fans who greet Fiers warmly and players who go out of their way to wish him well, there will also be occasions when he’ll hear catcalls as he takes the mound, or finds others wearing a major league uniform going out of their way to avoid him. For it was Fiers, a member of the Houston Astros pitching staff from the trading deadline in 2015 through the end of that franchise’s championship season in 2017, whose on the record interview with The Athletic last November broke the news of the Astros using live video feeds to steal opposing teams’ signs in violation of Major League Baseball’s rules.

That initial story, by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drelich, led to an investigation by MLB that this week resulted in some of the stiffest penalties every meted out for cheating. Commissioner Rob Manfred fined the Astros $5 million, comparative pocket change for a major league franchise but the maximum amount Manfred is allowed to assess. Far more serious than the fine was docking Houston its first and second round picks in each of the next two drafts, and suspending GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch through the end of the upcoming season. Within an hour of the release of Manfred’s report on Monday, both were fired by Astros owner Jim Crane.

The fallout from the nuclear bomb that Fiers dropped on the Great Game didn’t end there. The commissioner’s nine-page report specifically mentioned the involvement of Houston’s bench coach Alex Cora and designated hitter Carlos Beltran, the only Astros player named by Manfred. Cora, the Red Sox manager since 2018, and Beltran, named manager of the Mets last fall just days before publication of The Athletic’s article, both soon “parted ways” with their current employers, as the overused euphemism for executive beheadings so delicately puts it.

Beltran’s firing on Thursday was probably the last termination directly related to the Houston scandal. But MLB is still investigating a separate charge against the Red Sox for similar activity the year Cora arrived, and there are plenty of pundits who argue that with the placement of video feeds close to all major league dugouts to facilitate replay challenges, not to mention the ubiquity of smart phones and watches, the temptation to use technology to cheat has likely led many clubs to cross the line. If the claims against Boston are substantiated that franchise can expect to pay a similarly heavy price, and if the media speculation is borne out, still more clubs may be subject to Manfred’s discipline. Still, the assumption of widespread technology-assisted cheating is reminiscent of some of the more extreme assertions about the extent of steroid use fifteen years ago, and one of the obvious intents of the penalties doled out by Manfred on Monday was to shut down such other schemes as might exist.

Which brings us back to the journeyman pitcher who was willing to put his name to the charges he made to Rosenthal and Drelich, something three other anonymous sources referenced in their article would not do. Fiers is not a blameless hero, since whatever his personal objections at the time he did nothing in 2017 to stop the madness in the Houston dugout. He says that he did tell his new teammates in Detroit after signing with the Tigers the following year, and again when he was traded to Oakland in the middle of the 2018 season. But Fiers was two years removed from the video feed and the coded trashcan banging at Minute Maid Park before he went public.

Yet that he did so even then is remarkable. The reaction of ESPN baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza demonstrates why. Interviewed on an ESPN Radio talk show, Mendoza said, “I get it if you’re with the Oakland A’s and you’re on another team I mean heck yeah, you better be telling your teammates look, hey, heads up if you hear some noises when you’re pitching, this is what’s going on for sure. But to go public, yeah, it didn’t set well with me. Honestly it made me sad for the sport that that’s how this all got found out. This wasn’t something that MLB naturally investigated or that even other teams complained about because they naturally heard about it and then investigations happened. It came from within, it was a player that was a part of it, that benefitted from it during the regular season when he was a part of that team. That, when I first heard about it, it hits you like any teammate would right it’s something that you don’t do. I totally get telling your future teammates, helping them win, letting people know. But to go public with it and call them out and start all of this, it’s hard to swallow.”

Mendoza is a gifted analyst, but she has also put her journalistic integrity at risk by moonlighting as a paid consultant to the Mets. Whether she was speaking in that latter role during the interview, which took place before Beltran was fired, or truly believes every word she uttered, the attitude she endorsed is sadly common in team sports. The notion that players should put loyalty to their team above all else is why Fiers, while deserving of applause, will instead meet with opprobrium from some. But it is also absurd.

It seems reasonably safe to posit that Mendoza would not endorse a player going along with a plot to murder an umpire simply because his teammates decided it was a good idea. The real question is under what circumstances does one’s loyalty to the team yield to one’s moral code. By that standard, even if done belatedly, publicly calling out organized cheating doesn’t seem like a particularly tough call.

Across nine seasons with four different teams, Mike Fiers has compiled an unremarkable record of 69-59 with a career ERA just a tick above 4.00, while also throwing a pair of no-hitters. For the good of the Great Game even those two dates with unexpected glory weren’t nearly as important as what Fiers did by saying to The Athletic that what happened in Houston was “not playing the game the right way.” That, after all, is the fundamental compact with fans – that the game will be played the right way. Those who would do otherwise deserve to be fired, and Mike Fiers deserves our thanks.


Responses

  1. Someone please find Jessica Mendoza’s moral compass. She misplaced it somewhere.

    • Well stated. Thanks for reading.
      M-


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Categories

%d bloggers like this: