By Tim Dahlberg, National Sports Columnist for Associated Press
Ah, the Houston Astros.
Good at stealing signs. Not so good at pretending they’re sorry about it.
The team’s official mea culpa Thursday in Florida turned out to be as predictable as it gets. From owner to star players the message was the same, almost as if it had been rehearsed the night before.
A few words of remorse for the worst scandal to hit baseball since the steroid era. Then it’s on to 2020 and, just maybe, a World Series title without having to cheat to get it.
Why even try?
If the Astros were as bad at stealing signs as they are at apologizing for it, there might be championship flags flying in Los Angeles and New York now. If they were getting paid for being honest and forthright, they would be driving Toyota Corollas to spring training instead of Range Rovers.
Instead, they put on a dog and pony show, minus the pony. Well maybe not, because Astros owner Jim Crane was there to make the absurd claim that his team would have won the 2017 World Series even without cheating.
“We had a good team,” Crane said. “We won the World Series and we’ll leave it at that.”
Good luck explaining that to Yu Darvish, Clayton Kershaw and the rest of the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers. Trying to defend the indefensible is not a good look, and Crane might have been better served simply keeping quiet.
If not for manager Dusty Baker looking very cool behind sunglasses in his new job, it would have been a total disaster.
Need more proof? Just listen to Justin Verlander, who expressed his regret that he didn’t say more about what was going on in Houston.
And what exactly did Verlander say at the time?
“That’s between myself and my teammates,” Verlander said. “I don’t want to get into specifics. As a team we’ve expressed our remorse, myself included, and I’ll leave it at that.”
Just millionaire ballplayers being millionaire ballplayers. Accountability is for losers and, besides, we have a season in front of us that everyone should focus on instead.
Not so fast. The Astros still have some explaining to do, and a lot more to apologize about.
The fact they don’t seem terribly interested in doing so should make a lot of people around baseball — players included — even madder than they currently are.
“It is what it is,” outfielder Josh Reddick said. “It happened, and we ask for forgiveness from everybody and to try to move forward in 2020 and focus on that.”
If only it was that easy. The upcoming season will be like no other for the Astros, beginning with the first road game on April 3 in Anaheim, where Dodger fans have bought tickets by the thousands to boo the Astros against the Angels.
There will be many other uncomfortable days for players to deal with like they did Thursday in Florida. The Astros will surely be regaled by loud banging sounds wherever they go, a constant reminder of the scheme to steal signs that helped win them a World Series title they didn’t deserve.
Regrets, sure, they have a few. Chief among them would be the regret that they got caught.
And then, of course, there’s regret that a former teammate turned them in.
But with entitled baseball players, there’s usually no remorse unless there are consequences. And apparently there are no consequences for players cheating in baseball — at least as long as Rob Manfred is in charge of the game.
The scandal has cost three managers and one general manager their jobs. But for the players the only real penalty was having to utter a few well-practiced sentences to reporters when they arrived for spring training.
Not a game missed. Not a dollar lost.
They’ve already cheated the game. Now they’ll be cheating the fans — not to mention some of their fellow players who have already signaled they aren’t going to follow the unwritten rules of baseball silence on this one.
“I think it’s worse than steroids,” Cubs slugger Kris Bryant said last week in Las Vegas.
No, the Astros scandal is not going away, as much as Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and company want it to. It can’t until Manfred steps up and punishes those actually responsible for the scheme.
Vacating the World Series title would be a start. No need to give it to the Dodgers because they didn’t win it on the field. But there was no World Series champion in 1994 because of the strike, so there’s precedent already.
Next would be suspensions that make it clear cheating won’t be tolerated in baseball. I’d suggest every member of the 2017 Astros should sit — without pay — for the same number of games he played for the team that season.
Then there’s Crane, who needs to find a new hobby to spend his money on. He’s either out of touch or so ignorant about what was happening that he doesn’t deserve to be an owner.
Finally, other owners need to look at Manfred himself. His decision not to discipline players is baffling at best and what he knew and when he knew it are critical to understanding the entire scandal.
No one is moving on, no matter how much the Astros talked about it Thursday. No one can until we finally get something the Astros weren't willing to give as they opened spring training.
Real action instead of empty apologies.