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Ranking the Absurd Features of This Week in Baseball

The fallout of the sign-stealing scandal this week has been serious. But it's also been quite absurd.

Baseball’s sign-stealing scandal is serious. It is a statement on the integrity of the game, its values and priorities and how secure fans should feel in their trust of it. MLB has approached it accordingly, with sweeping investigations and serious penalties, and that is a good thing.

But, at the same time, it has been absurd. There is plenty that is a bit silly and some that is irrational and some that is just utterly weird. Thursday was one continuous wave of news, with the space between official announcements filled by amateur parsing that ranged from obviously disturbed to undeniably compelling, an incredible froth of game-shaping fury. The day itself felt like a conspiracy theory. There was buzz over a manager fired before he could ever manage, an awkward press conference with Mike Piazza, several big statements from real family members of players, one big statement by a fake family member of a former player, and … other stuff. These actions were valid by varying degrees—some in full and some not at all. But each was, in its own way, absurd. So here are the absurd features of this entire week, ranked:

13. A Mutual Parting of Ways

There’s a natural farce in “mutually parted ways”; the phrase is so commonly used as a joke that its literal meaning has lost its value. To say that it’s mutual only calls attention to a shared understanding: It’s never mutual. But it’s polite, and some partings really are more mutual than others, and so it continues. Even when, say, the parting occurs after the manager in question has been named in a league investigation for his behavior with another team, punishment pending, because the league is currently investigating just how much of that behavior he did with your team. Mutual. Or when the parting occurs before the manager has yet to manage a single game and after he reportedly told the team that he wanted to stay. Mutual!

12. AJ Hinch’s Assault on the Monitors

There’s no one line from the official report that raises as many questions as this: “Hinch attempted to signal his disapproval of the scheme by physically damaging the monitor on two occasions, necessitating its replacement.”

He found it easier to physically damage the monitor to signal his disapproval than to say, “Hey, guys, knock it off”? How did he damage it? (Same technique for both? Did he escalate it for the second one?) Was it planned or done in a fit of pique, anger, disgust? What made him stop, if he was willing to do it twice, and his goal really was to signal his disapproval? Did he damage them in full view of the players to make a statement? (Before a game? After? Early in 2017, when it had just started? Late?) Were the two incidents back-to-back? He broke two monitors to say he was unhappy?

11. José Altuve Walk-Off Video as Zapruder Film

By Thursday evening, a clip of José Altuve after his walk-off home run in the 2019 ALCS had been endlessly scrutinized by the baseball internet’s most zealous would-be detectives:

That he hugged his shirt to his chest fueled rumors that the team had followed up on their trash-can communication with electronic-Band-Aid communication. (The first mention of that as a possibility came shortly after The Athletic’s initial bombshell report.) Naturally, this process involved looking up earlier celebrations from Altuve, to see if he’d removed his shirt in other situations (he had); a comment from his agent, Scott Boras, clarifying that his attachment to his shirt was simply “the shyness of José Altuve”; some lip-reading; and a Microsoft Paint photo analysis shared by … Padres outfielder Tommy Pham.

The Mets should have been fine. They had nothing to do with any of this. And yet they ended up in the middle of a mess. Of the three managers named in the investigation—Carlos Beltrán, A.J. Hinch and Alex Cora— Beltrán was the only one who would not be subject to punishment from MLB, as he’d been a player, not a coach, in 2017.

So the Mets had to decide whether they wanted to fire their new manager before he’d ever have the chance to see a game or whether they wanted to keep him in the face of a scandal that was liable to follow him for months. It was not an enviable position. It was made less so by Jessica Mendoza's becoming the first Mets employee to publicly comment when she said on an ESPN morning show that it was “hard to swallow” that Mike Fiers had spoken out about the cheating, rather than that they cheated. And, naturally, it all came to a head on a day when the team had a previously scheduled ceremony to dedicate a street at their spring training complex in honor of Mike Piazza. This led to Jeff Wilpon shutting down the inevitable questions about Beltrán with “Does that have to do with Mike Piazza? We’re talking about Mike Piazza Drive today,” a phrase that evokes, “Today we’re honoring and supporting Qualcomm,” if ever one did.

Almost exactly an hour after the press conference, the Mets announced that Beltrán had been fired. About 15 minutes after that, Mendoza issued a paragraph-long apology that did not say much of anything. Two hours later, in the conference call on the managerial decision, Wilpon said that the team had not discussed the sign-stealing with Beltrán at any point between this week and November, when the story initially broke and the league’s investigation started.

Does that have to do with Mike Piazza? We’re talking about Mike Piazza Drive today.

9. This Quote From Scott Boras

As told to the New York Post’s Joel Sherman: “Fans need to keep in mind that there are a lot of players who are in the spider web, but they are not the black widow just because they are a member of the team or the league.” Evocative.

8. The Ferocity of Josh Reddick Confetti Analysis

As the José Altuve jersey analysis was picking up speed, a Josh Reddick screenshot also surfaced—on television after the 2019 ALCS, sans jersey, wearing something that looked like it could be a Band-Aid and something that looked like it could be a wire. Photos used to cross-reference showed that the Band-Aid was likely confetti. Or was it?

This ran to its logical conclusion: Josh Reddick’s wife, Jett, tweeting that the “Band-Aid” was indeed confetti and the “wire” was a chain necklace, hashtagging it #youareallidiots.

7. The Lack of Josh Reddick Outfit Analysis

In the significant discussion of the situation mentioned above, there was shockingly little attention called to the fact that these screenshots and photos and videos show Reddick wearing a suit that makes him look like Goku from Dragon Ball Z.

6. Los Angeles City Council’s Resolution

Will MLB respond to the resolution before the Los Angeles City Council, asserting that the 2017 and 2018 World Series trophies should go to the Dodgers, as a matter of “equity and justice”? Please stay tuned.

5. Beltrán’s Fake Niece

And if you were wondering how people knew to start looking at the film of Altuve and Reddick … tweets from Carlos Beltrán’s niece, later revealed not to be his niece at all, who then deleted the account. Obviously! Obviously.

People had been so quick to initially believe that the account really was Beltrán’s niece because she’d been the first to report two pieces of information about him that had been correct—his hiring and his firing. (Phil Hughes helpfully pointed this out.) If that seems like it indicates a certain level of familiarity with the game, Gary Sheffield Jr. guessed that it was a player.

Which leaves several possibilities here. Perhaps it's the fake account of a random person who decided to pretend to be Carlos Beltrán’s niece for months (at minimum) and happened to luck into some well-timed guesses about his employment status before picking up the rumors about the Astros’ buzzers and running with them, only to delete it all hours later. Or perhaps it is the burner account of a player (or another person connected to baseball) who decided that they wanted to pose as Carlos Beltrán’s niece—a phrase so dizzyingly unhinged that I wish to walk into the sea having typed it. Maybe it is really Carlos Beltrán’s niece and the family hid the truth to protect her. Maybe it is Carlos Beltrán. Maybe it is Rob Manfred. Who, truly, is to say?

4. This.

3. “Banging Scheme”

In Rob Manfred’s official report on the investigation, he could have called the whole affair the “trash-can scheme.” It could have been the “sign-stealing scheme,” or the “inappropriate behavior” or “Astros’ plan” or “the subject of this investigation.” But we are blessed, for he decided to forgo those options, and instead landed on banging scheme. (It appears eight times in the nine-page report, for those of you keeping score at home.)

2. Scott Brosius’s Son

Time for some Mad Libs: “[_former-player-turned-coach_]’s son says on [_communication medium_] that [_assertion related to sign-stealing_] and accuses [_current star_] of [_serious claim_].

There is no more absurd combination than “Scott Brosius’ son says on Instagram that the Astros were definitely cheating and accuses Mike Trout of playing on HGH that he obtains with a ‘thyroid condition.’” None.

1. Trash Cans

Please, in all of this, do not lose sight of the fact that it all started with grown men banging on trash cans.