There aren’t many differing opinions when it comes to the Astros sign-stealing scandal: You’re either a Houston diehard tweeting through the debacle that has tarnished your team’s 2017 World Series and reputation, or you’re some degree of upset with the team’s subterfuge—and likely also with how MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has handled the situation. The issue has united parties spanning from Rob Lowe to Bernie Sanders, and LeBron James was compelled to comment Tuesday with a pair of tweets that included the longest hashtag you’ve seen in years.
Listen I know I don’t play baseball but I am in Sports and I know if someone cheated me out of winning the title and I found out about it I would be F*^king irate! I mean like uncontrollable about what I would/could do! Listen here baseball commissioner listen to your.....— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 18, 2020
players speaking today about how disgusted, mad, hurt, broken, etc etc about this. Literally the ball(⚾️) is in your court(or should I say field) and you need to fix this for the sake of Sports! #JustMyThoughtsComingFromASportsJunkieRegardlessMyOwnSportIPlay— LeBron James (@KingJames) February 18, 2020
No group appears more unified on this subject than pro baseball players—specifically those who aren’t on the Astros. Since The Athletic first reported on the team’s sign-stealing tactics in November, people throughout the league have registered their confusion, anger, and disgust. That picked up in January, when MLB released the findings of its investigation into the Astros’ practices. But with full rosters arriving to spring training last week, we’re just now finding out the true level of contempt for Houston.
The vitriol has come from all sides: Players whose teams have lost to the Astros in recent Octobers have been loud, but some of the strongest diatribes have come from guys whose postseason fates weren’t decided in Minute Maid Park. A would-be AL MVP feels particularly aggrieved, and the man who won the award in 2019 is also upset (well, at least by his standards). Some players have had laughs at the expense of the Astros; others have used the scandal as a means to poke fun at themselves. It also sounds like the Astros are going to get beaned a ton in 2020. (You can bet on this, naturally.)
So who’s the most outraged? We at The Ringer have put together a ranking to determine which Big Names have been the most Big Mad since players arrived in Florida and Arizona last week. We’re limiting this to just players who are currently on big league rosters, so you won’t find Mike Bolsinger, the free-agent pitcher who is suing the Astros for personal damages to his career and who wrote a scathing op-ed in The Washington Post. In the interest of science, we’ve graded each player’s comments in three categories: harshness (how much ether each player’s words packed), bias (the effect the Astros’ scheme may have had on each player), and performance (the part where style points come in). For brevity’s sake, we’ll use the letters H,B, and P, so Houston can get properly comfortable with that acronym.
The top of our ranking is dominated by players from teams that have had important showdowns with the Astros (and with the Red Sox, who are the subject of a separate MLB sign-stealing investigation). But anyone is free to feel anger about this; there’s certainly enough to go around.
17. Mike Foltynewicz, P, Atlanta Braves
The comments: “I get it people I gave up 10 runs in a postseason game but this has got to be 100x more embarrassing. Adding that gas to the fire!!”
Folty has never pitched against the Astros. He does, however, know what it’s like to get shelled by batters who hit like they know every pitch that’s coming. I’m glad he has a sense of humor about his disastrous Game 5 outing against the Cardinals in last year’s NLDS, but maybe he should sit this one out.
16. Bryce Harper, OF, Philadelphia Phillies
The comments: “It’s just guys like [2017 AL MVP runner-up Aaron Judge] that really miss out on things, or a guy that comes up for his first start and he hasn’t signed and he gets shelled for seven or eight and they send him back down and they never come back to the big leagues.”
Harper signed one of the richest deals in MLB history last offseason and then watched his former team win the World Series against the Astros in October. He seems to have a healthy perspective on this, and he’s looking out for the little guy. (Given the collateral damage of this ordeal, someone needs to.) Not a lot of bars here, but Bryce is dropping jewels.
15. Noah Syndergaard, P, New York Mets
The comments: “Some assembly required. Buzzers not included.”
This one may be confusing if you don’t have the background. (And may be boring if you do.) Syndergaard showed up at spring training a week before pitchers and catchers were slated to arrive. Since it’s hot in Florida and camp hadn’t begun yet, he spent a lot of time shirtless. On Sunday, his teammates thought it would be fun to show up to workouts shirtless. When the Mets social media team tweeted the video out, Syndergaard decided to have a little fun at the expense of the Astros, whose players have been accused of wearing electronic devices during at-bats.
Some assembly required. Buzzers not included. https://t.co/zJVBa4Yl8y— Noah Syndergaard (@Noahsyndergaard) February 15, 2020
The Shirtless Syndergaard challenge is pretty tame. But if we can start the Shirtless Altuve challenge …
14. Stephen Strasburg, P, Washington Nationals
The comments: “Someday I’m gonna hopefully have some grandkids and sit down and talk to them about the experience of the World Series and not really feel ashamed of it at all.”
The 2019 World Series MVP has nothing to worry about. He has a ring, a new contract, and, according to him, a clean conscience. No controversy here. With comments like that, Strasburg better hope no one ever accuses the Nationals of cheating.
13. Mike Clevinger, P, Cleveland Indians
The comments: “I don’t think it’s going to be a comfortable few at-bats for a lot of those boys, and it shouldn’t be.”
Shortly after making these comments, Clevinger injured his knee. He’s expected to miss six to eight weeks, though he hopes to beat that timetable. Anything that gets him out of this Grateful Dead beanie as quickly as possible.
P: 1 (for the hat)
12. Kris Bryant, 3B, Chicago Cubs
The comments: “What a disgrace that was”; “Just watching their apology yesterday, too, there’s just no sincerity, there’s no genuineness when it comes to it”; “I’m sure they’ll [get hit by pitches].”
In a different world, Bryant losing his service-time-manipulation grievance against the Cubs would be the biggest outrage of the MLB offseason. But we live in the most absurd possible timeline, where trash cans and bad tattoos have captivated the baseball world. The Chicago third baseman won an MVP award and a World Series championship in 2016, one year before Altuve did the same thing, so he certainly has the authority to speak on this subject even if his team’s fate wasn’t directly tied to the Astros. His firm, nuanced remarks stood out among the circus of last week.
11. Gary Sánchez, C, New York Yankees
The comments: “I can tell you this, if I hit a home run to send my team to the World Series, they can rip off my pants. They can rip off anything.”
Anything, he says. Unfortunately, we likely won’t get a chance to figure out what that means given his postseason track record.
10. Nick Markakis, OF, Atlanta Braves
The comments: “What they did was bullshit”; “Every single guy over there deserves a beating”; “[Manfred] should be embarrassed of himself.”
The 36-year-old Markakis has some feelings about the integrity of the game, and he thinks the Astros need to be taught a lesson … with fists? A little violent for a player whose team played only four regular-season games against Houston in 2017, but then again, the Braves lost all four games and were outscored by a combined margin of 38-13. When someone’s been around the game as long as Nick has, you should listen to them. Or else, I guess.
9. Gleyber Torres, 2B, New York Yankees
The comments: “If you cheated in 2017 and won, why wouldn’t you cheat the next year and the next year, too?”
The young guy is wise beyond his years. The Astros have maintained that they stopped stealing signs after the 2018 regular season; the 23-year-old Torres, whose team lost to Houston in the ALCS last October, says that doesn’t make any sense.
8. Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
The comments: “They cheated”; “I don’t agree with the punishment”; “I lost respect for some of those guys”; “It’s sad for baseball”; “Going up to the plate knowing what’s coming … that would be a lot of fun”; “Take my shirt off. If you take your team to a World Series at home? Do whatever you want.”
Is this the Mike Trout we’ve been waiting for? The best player of his generation has always seemed reluctant to be the voice of his sport, but his comments Monday may indicate a shift. Maybe he’s just sick of looking up at the Astros in the AL West standings while his team hovers around .500, but saying he lost respect for guys he plays against nearly 20 times a year seems like a big step. The next step is sounding slightly more human when telling his teammates they have the OK to take his shirt off.
7. Tommy Pham, OF, San Diego Padres
Pham’s Rays lost a surprisingly competitive ALDS to the Astros last fall. But on Twitter, he’s taking no L’s.
6. Kenley Jansen, P, Los Angeles Dodgers
The comments: “Worse than gambling, worse than steroids”; “At least back then [in the steroid era], everyone had to be on steroids. It was a fair game”; “We suspend coaches, managers, and you don’t suspend players. You’re basically telling teams to keep on doing it.”
We’ve officially hit the “pining for the steroids era” segment of the program. Losing back-to-back World Series to teams implicated in this scandal will do that.
5. Trevor Bauer, P, Cincinnati Reds
The comments: “You’re either lying or you’re a fucking idiot. And don’t become a billionaire owner of a team by being a fucking idiot. So, you’re lying.”
Bauer, a former Indians pitcher whose team was swept by Houston in the 2018 ALDS, has not been shy about his feelings—about anything, but especially about Astros owner Jim Crane, who said he believes that his team earned the 2017 championship fairly. “I’m not going to let them forget the fact that they are hypocrites, they are cheaters,” Bauer said on Friday during a 10-minute, 1,500-word diatribe on the scandal. He also set up a Twitter poll seemingly designed to produce a lopsided result:
Let’s say someone messes up. Messes up bigly, even. And the truth is that they really don’t care about messing up. At all. In fact, they would do it all over again, and you know this. Asking for a friend, would you rather receive:— Trevor Bauer (@BauerOutage) February 13, 2020
Unrelatedly, I just stumbled across this old ClickHole article. I wonder whether it applies to any of the guys in this ranking.
4. Justin Turner, 3B, Los Angeles Dodgers
The comments: “I don’t know if the commissioner has ever won anything in his life”; “Calling the World Series trophy a piece of metal … the only thing devaluing that trophy is that it says commissioner on it.”
MLB owners may not care, but Manfred has been a disaster throughout this scandal. Case in point: When speaking to reporters on Sunday, he referred to the Commissioner’s Trophy as a “piece of metal.” For the Dodgers, who were denied that piece of metal twice by losing to teams at the center of MLB’s investigation, the words cut deep. Turner could barely contain his disgust. Manfred has since apologized, but if the Dodgers end up hoisting the trophy in October, expect this comment to resurface.
3. Aaron Judge, OF, New York Yankees
The comments: “I was sick to my stomach”; “To find out it wasn’t earned, they cheated, that didn’t sit well with me.”
Perhaps no player felt the effects of the Astros’ scandal more acutely than the Yankees’ young slugger, who finished second in 2017 AL MVP voting to Altuve and saw his team bounced by Houston in the ALCS that October. (The Yankees fell in seven games, with all four defeats coming on the road.) New York also lost to the Astros in the 2019 ALCS, with the final blow coming on a walk-off Altuve homer that has since become the subject of rampant conspiracy and speculation.
Judge, who thinks Manfred should strip the Astros of their World Series championship, said that he deleted an Instagram post congratulating Altuve on his award after The Athletic first reported on the scheme in November. He also referred to the ordeal as “Tattoogate,” which, can we come up with another suffix for our scandals? Also, there’s already been one Tattoogate, though this current one is much more absurd.
2. Cody Bellinger, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
The comments: “I think what people don’t realize is Altuve stole an MVP from Judge in ’17. Everybody knows they stole a ring from us”; “I don’t know what human hits a walk-off home run against Aroldis Chapman—to send your team to the World Series—and one, has the thought to say, ‘Don’t rip my jersey off.’”
Bellinger’s comments last Friday may seem relatively tame after nearly a week of piling on the Astros, but they were among the first to emerge from spring training. And given that they came from the 2019 NL MVP, who may have missed out on two rings in part because of sign stealing, they carry extra weight.
You can see how visibly pissed Cody Bellinger is when talking about the Astros pic.twitter.com/QUXiNwzbxd— Blake Harris (@BlakeHarrisTBLA) February 14, 2020
1. Yu Darvish, P, Chicago Cubs
Darvish, on Correa’s response to Bellinger: pic.twitter.com/a1rRi48COx— Mark Gonzales (@MDGonzales) February 16, 2020
There’s no more sympathetic figure in this ordeal than Darvish, the erstwhile Dodgers pitcher who saw games 3 and 7 of the 2017 World Series quickly get away from him, as he allowed a combined eight earned runs in 3 1/3 innings. Since then, he’s carried himself with grace, even initially refusing to blame his rocky outings on sign stealing after The Athletic broke the story in November.
Still me.— ダルビッシュ有(Yu Darvish) (@faridyu) November 12, 2019
He still isn’t deflecting blame, but he’s ready to talk about the Stros: “They don’t have to talk,” he said this weekend of the Houston apologies. “They shouldn’t talk like that right now.”
His coup de grâce, however, didn’t come in a press scrum, or in canned remarks about the commissioner. It came in response to a reply guy who tweeted the Astros World Series trophy at a Cubs beat reporter:
Gorgeous trashcan!— ダルビッシュ有(Yu Darvish) (@faridyu) February 16, 2020
I like it!
Yu may not yet have a ring, but he’s a champion in this meaningless competition.