PEORIA, Ariz. — Players around baseball have been spitting out venom toward the Houston Astros all spring, ignoring the code of silence that traditionally governs such dealings.
For MLB, it is the story that simply won’t die. Oh, Commissioner Rob Manfred would love to pour the dirt, but instead all he’s done is pour gasoline on a raging fire with some ill-chosen words.
When Mike Trout, both the most talented and controversy-averse player in the sport, starts throwing jabs, you know you’ve lost the hearts and minds of the masses.
Not much noise has come from the Mariners, however. They are, after all, one of the youngest teams in baseball, which means the majority of their players are singularly focused on making the team and making their mark, not on making waves. Nor were many of them even around to experience the Trash Can-Banging Heard ‘Round The World.
Kyle Seager doesn’t fall in that category. Seager is the ranking veteran in Seattle’s clubhouse, one of the most respected players in baseball, and right in the middle of 19 games against the Astros in the tainted years of 2017 and 2018.
He also has the unique perspective of being the older brother of Corey Seager, the starting shortstop of a Dodger team that firmly believes it was cheated out of the 2017 World Series title.
So, you’d best believe Kyle Seager has thoughts. It will not come out with the fire-breathing scorn of, say, a Nick Markakis, who said this week that “every single guy over there needs a beating.”
That’s not Seager’s style.
He won’t say the Astros “stole” his brother’s championship, as Cody Bellinger did, or deem the Astros’ apologies “a disgrace,” like Kris Bryant, or say what Houston did “was worse than steroids,” like Kenley Jansen.
But Seager’s measured words speak multitudes. He said the Mariners were well aware that something funky was going on in Houston, in real time. (In fact, sources say they were one of the “10 to 12 teams” that, according to The Washington Post, reached out to MLB to complain about the Astros before the sign-stealing investigation.)
Seager said the belief the Astros were cheating was a source of frequent discussion in Seattle’s clubhouse. And that they even confronted the Astros on it.
“It’s certainly disappointing,’’ Seager said. “It’s not a good look for baseball. It’s something that’s terrible. I can’t say we’re surprised, because we’ve kind of thought it’s happening for years. It’s a bad look all around. Hopefully they can figure out a way to clean it up soon.”
On the link between the cheating in 2017 and the Astros’ seven-game triumph over the Dodgers in the World Series that year, Seager said, “I remember there were issues with us that year. Those discussions were happening then. You hear them banging on the trash can. And that is sad …. I spoke to Corey about it. It’s a tough spot, and a really bad look for baseball, and specifically them.”
I asked Seager to elaborate on the audible trash-can banging he mentioned.
“It was talked about then, and it was acknowledged then,’’ he said. “A lot of times you couldn’t hear it from third, so I didn’t hear it that often, but I remember the catchers would hear it. And I remember the catchers saying stuff to hitters. There would be little altercations that probably never came out. There’s a lot of sketchy things that were going on that’s not good.”
Carlos Correa said the Astros did not use any sign-stealing mechanisms in the 2017 World Series, but Manfred countered that as recently as this week. He said that despite conflicting evidence, “it was my view that the more credible evidence was that they continued to use the scheme for the postseason.”
That would absolutely invalidate the Astros’ title. And despite the commissioner’s faux pas that the World Series trophy is nothing more than “a piece of metal,” that’s actually a massive, huge deal and an ongoing blight on baseball.
In fact, the more I mull over this matter, and the more I see the unending outrage, the more I think it’s incumbent upon the commissioner to take away the Astros’ ill-gotten title.
True, it would be merely symbolic at this point. But in light of the fact that Houston’s players escaped without punishment, a little symbolism would be welcome. It’s a question that might have to be revisited as soon as next week when Manfred’s ruling comes down on the Red Sox, champions in 2018 and immersed in their own cheating allegations.
“It’s literally everyone’s goal,’’ Seager said. “Everyone here wants to take care of their family, and then when you’re playing, you want to win a World Series. That’s what everyone is playing for. To feel like you got cheated out of that would be a pretty tough pill to swallow.”
I asked Kyle point-blank if Corey feels he was robbed of the World Series.
“I would imagine he’s not too pleased about it,’’ he said.
Speculation is rampant that pitchers will take matters into their own hands and exact retribution in the time-honored baseball fashion — with a high, hard one to the ribs. Manfred has already warned that such retaliation won’t be tolerated. That also didn’t sit well with players and executives who feel that merely gives the Astros another advantage. Just wait until the furor when the first pitcher is suspended for throwing at an Astros’ batter and thus gets a penalty more severe than any Astro player did for cheating.
“There’s not really a good answer there,’’ Seager said of the potential for vigilante justice. “There’s no good answer. There’s nothing good that’s going to come out of it, period.
“I completely understand why people want to do that. I completely get that. The thing with us here, we knew it was happening and we knew all the other stuff, but it never cost us a World Series. So you’ve got to feel for them 100 percent, or the team that they beat in the playoffs. It’s just a bad look.”
It’s a terrible look, actually. It’s true the Mariners didn’t lose a World Series because of it; they finished eight games out of the second wild card in 2018, when the Astros used sign-stealing at least part of the season, according to MLB’s report. Though the investigation couldn’t find evidence they used the scheme in 2019, there is widespread skepticism that they would have stopped, considering how successful it was.
What’s hard to measure for the Mariners, as with every other team, is how individual careers were impacted. For instance, a young pitcher named Chase De Jong was called up for his major-league debut in Houston on April 5, 2017. He entered in the bottom of the 13th to protect a one-run Seattle lead, and promptly gave up a walkoff three-run homer to George Springer.
Who knows if that was impacted by nefarious means? And who knows what that game did to the psyche of De Jong, who has been unable to solidify a spot in the major leagues?
And who knows what to make of the startling numbers by since-departed Mariners reliever Reggie McClain, who last year appeared in 14 games as a rookie? In 11 appearances against teams other than the Astros, he had a 1.50 earned-run average (three earned runs in 18 innings). In three games at Houston, McClain’s ERA was 33.00 (11 earned runs in three innings).
Maybe it’s a mere coincidence, but that’s what the Astros have brought upon themselves: Constant suspicion. And that’s why players will continue to speak out against them, and why Kyle Seager shook his head and said, one more time, “It’s a bad look for baseball.”