Dallas Keuchel, and the elephant in the room
Dallas Keuchel was the first of the 2017 Houston Astros to speak after baseball issued its report on the illegal sign-stealing operation. Going first, especially in apologies, does wonders for reputation, but in this case, going first just meant Keuchel did not have to go through the firestorm his former teammates created for themselves at the start of spring training.
Keuchel's apology was clearly not as bad as fake good guy/player Alex Bregman's and definitely better than the fake MVP José Altuve, but Keuchel will forever be a part of that team and their fake World Series rings. Thus, Keuchel still was rationalizing his success. And though it was not widely covered — probably because he was at Soxfest — Keuchel still had atrocious and unprofessional answers, which continued to get worse.
Let's start with Mike Fiers, because apparently being a whistleblower or somebody who takes a risk to expose details on certain injustices is a bad thing now. If anybody is more mad at Fiers than other Astros players (like David Ortiz, for example), there is something wrong with you.
Was Fiers involved in the cheating? Yes.
Did he benefit from the cheating when he was there? Yes.
Did he and the Oakland A's try to tell MLB about it in 2018? Yes.
Because MLB did nothing, did Fiers take a direct route to blow the whistle on the Astros and go to the press to force MLB to do something? Yes.
Without Mike Fiers, would any of this have come to light? Well, judging by the reaction of everybody involved in the cheating and the fact MLB did nothing when they were informed, no. Fiers did baseball and their fans a huge service after he was involved in a great disservice in 2017. As fans, he should be applauded, and none of those other Astros, including Keuchel, should be applauded for anything.
Keuchel is among the current and former Astros angry for getting caught cheating, and now their legacy and standing is broken. This isn't a new scenario. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa will forever be stained by steroid usage. Bonds and Clemens are still active on the Hall of Fame ballot, while McGwire and Sosa seemingly will fall short of induction. Steroids will forever be the first thing noted about any of those players in the history books, just as is the case for the Eight Men Out of 1919 Black Sox infamy. Keuchel and the rest of those 2017 World Series winners, including major award winners like Altuve, know that they and their accomplishments are tainted forever. That is seemingly the true reason for their contempt for Fiers. Instead of being called a Cy Young winner, a World Series champion, a multi-time Gold Glover, and All-Star, Keuchel will be reduced to "cheater." All of those other accolades will just be footnotes, and that's the real reason why the Astros are hiding behind the old trope of "nobody brings locker room talk out of the locker room" to illustrate their disgust with Fiers. Just because Keuchel is not as tone deaf as say Carlos Correa (it is hard to be), does not mean he should get a pass in Chicago, even if he is now on the White Sox.
Now, some might say that because Keuchel is a pitcher he did not benefit from the cheating, and that the true cheaters are Bregman, Altuve and Correa because the sign-stealing and trash-banging helped them directly. That's true to a degree, because if there were a cheating scale, those hitters would be at the top. But what about an indirect or passive advantage for Astros pitchers? The easy one is the simplest stat category: the win. If the hitters are doing better, they are scoring more runs, which helps starting pitchers get wins. However, in this era of advanced attention to metrics, the win does not really illustrate the true edge a pitcher might have.
Then, Jonathan Lucroy came illustrated everything he and his battery mates had to do every time they were in Houston.
From an ESPN story by Joon Lee, Lucroy says of the illegal sign-stealing, it "was a mental challenge to really overcome that. It's easier said than done. But it's a shame, and I'm glad it came out and it came to light."
Lucroy went into more depth about how some pitchers could not handle the extra stress of being in Houston: "[Pitchers] don't want to sit there and try to think about decoding your signs and thinking about your indicators and all the different things that you're doing. They want to sit there and just worry about executing. Some guys can handle it and some guys can't. It was very difficult to do. The guys were calling time and stepping out of the box as you take time to put your sign sequence down, and it was making games long and leaving guys out there. Their system, not only did it work with them having the signs and being able to see them, but it made our guys sit out there longer. You had to put down a more complex set of signs and everything. I'm glad it's been taken care of. It was out of hand and it affected the games in a lot of different ways."
In other words, yeah, pitchers on the Astros had an advantage at home because they did not have to deal with rampant, illegal, and amoral cheaters in the other dugout. (At least none that we know of yet.) Keuchel could go out there on the mound and, as Lucroy says, just execute. Meanwhile, to keep the A's example going, Sean Manaea has to worry about new signs all the time while knowing there was a possibility his opponent could crack the code and pass information to batters via illegal means.
As Lucroy said, some pitchers could handle it and some could not, but what is true throughout is that Astros pitchers did not have the same mental stresses their opposition did. Imagine every time an Astros batter got a hit or clobbered a pitch for a homer, you had to go back to the mound wondering if they'd cracked your pitch code? How could that not be on your mind with every pitch and every failure, and how is that not an advantage for Astros pitchers who don't have to deal with such stress?
A multitude of baseball teams probably cheated with sign-stealing in some way at the same time the Astros won the 2017 World Series. We know the Red Sox did in 2018 to some extent, though unlike the Astros, we do not know if they cheated in the playoffs because no report has come out yet. But even assuming that there are probably a bunch of teams who have cheated in some form or fashion doesn't make what the Astros did OK.
Sure, 2005 happened, the Astros got swept even though every game was close ... maybe the organization felt the need to get the extra edge. However the cheating plan was hatched, it doesn't mean Houston deserves to recognized as 2017 World Series champions.
No, Dallas Keuchel, you and your teammates did not earn that World Series, you stole it, and MLB doesn't even care enough to make you give it back.
But as always, Tim Anderson, the Captain, is right there if you need anything.