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Astros get to work on catching depth, add backup Dustin Garneau

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HOUSTON — Catcher Dustin Garneau agreed to a one-year contract with the Houston Astros, with whom he figures to compete for a backup role.

Robinson Chirinos and Martín Maldonado became free agents from the American League champions, so the addition of Garneau likely will not be the final catching move. Garneau, 32, hit .244 with three home runs and 14 RBIs in 35 games this year for the Los Angeles Angels and Oakland Athletics, who claimed him off waivers on Aug. 3.

Garneau is a .207 hitter in parts of five seasons at the major league level. He has eight home runs and 38 RBIs in his career.

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Rockies to retire Larry Walker’s jersey on April 19

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The Colorado Rockies will retire the jersey of outfielder Larry Walker on April 19, the team announced Friday.

Walker, the National League MVP in 1997, played 10 seasons with the Rockies, batting .334 with 258 home runs and 848 RBIs. His 17-year career also included stops in Montreal and St. Louis.

“I can’t tell you how taken aback I am by this gesture,” Walker said in a statement. “I am both thrilled and honored.”

Walker ranks first in Rockies history in batting average, on-base percentage (.426) and slugging percentage (.618). He was a five-time All-Star, a seven-time Gold Glove winner and won the NL batting title three times.

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His No. 33 will join the No. 17 of first baseman Todd Helton, the only other Rockies player to have his number retired, on the right-field facade at Coors Field. The Rockies retired Helton’s number in 2014.

“Larry Walker carried all five tools, and was the most instinctive player I have ever seen play the game,” Rockies owner and CEO Dick Monfort said in a statement.

Walker is in his 10th and final year of eligibility on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Election results will be announced on Tuesday.

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Jack McDowell says Tony La Russa had sign-stealing system with White Sox in ’80s

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Former Cy Young Award winner Jack McDowell on Friday accused Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa of having a camera-aided sign-stealing system installed when he was with the Chicago White Sox in the late 1980s.

McDowell, who made his major league debut for the White Sox in 1987 and pitched for 12 seasons in the majors, never played for La Russa, who was fired by the White Sox during the previous season. However, in an appearance on The Mac Attack on WFNZ in Charlotte, McDowell described a system that he said was put in place by La Russa.

“We had a system in the old Comiskey Park in the late 1980s,” McDowell, who coaches at Queens University, told the radio station Friday. “The Gatorade sign out in center had a light; there was a toggle switch in the manager’s office and [a] camera zoomed in on the catcher.

“I’m gonna whistle blow this now because I’m getting tired of this crap. There was that — Tony La Russa is the one who put it in. … He’s still in the game making half a million, you know? No one is going to go after that. It’s just, this stuff is getting old where they target certain guys and let other people off the hook.”

La Russa currently serves as a senior adviser for the Los Angeles Angels. He won three World Series titles as a manager — two with the St. Louis Cardinals and one with the Oakland Athletics — and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2014.

The Angels have not responded to request for comment from La Russa.

On Monday, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred released the findings of an investigation that found the Houston Astros used technology to cheat during their World Series-winning 2017 season. Since then, three managers — A.J. Hinch (Astros), Alex Cora (Red Sox) and Carlos Beltran (Mets) — have lost their jobs.

McDowell alleged in the radio interview that the next day’s starting pitcher would sit in the manager’s office, watch the catcher’s signals and would alert White Sox batters with the light in the Gatorade sign.

“I’ve never said anything about the old system we had because once we got to new Comiskey [in 1991], I didn’t know if there was one or not,” said McDowell, who won the Cy Young Award in 1993. “There were rumors that we had one, but it wasn’t as out there as the first one was where they forced the pitcher who was pitching the next day had to go in there and flip on the toggle switch and stuff.”

McDowell, a three-time All-Star selection who also played for the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Angels during his career, said pitchers used to be the enforcers if they suspected foul play, but stricter MLB rules today keep that from happening.

“You know how it used to be taken care of?” McDowell said in the radio interview. “If they were stealing signs from second base, you just had the catcher call a breaking ball and then throw your fastball off someone’s neck and just say, ‘Oh, you’re gonna keep trying pick up signs, guys? What’s it going to be?’

“There’s ways to go around it. Players could police it back in the day. But now if you throw a ball six inches inside, you’re almost thrown out of the game immediately and everyone wants to fight. Back in the day, it was like, ‘You want to steal signs, yeah that helmet better be working right now.'”

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Buzzers, burner accounts and conspiracies

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BASEBALL LOST ITS mind Thursday. Every sport endures this: part-cleansing, part-reckoning, part-recalibration — a day to release everything, good, bad and otherwise, a full-throated scream into the void. It was inevitable, building up over the previous three days, each unforgettable in its own right. History will treat Thursday as a footnote, even if it said as much about the sport’s current state as Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday combined.

It started with a discussion about whether the player who helped expose the game’s biggest cheating scandal in a century was a whistleblower or a narc, moved on to the firing of a manager who hadn’t even managed a game, degenerated into anonymous Twitter accounts lobbing entirely uncorroborated accusations of even worse cheating, giddily grew into a miasma of conspiratorial, frame-by-frame breakdowns of jerseys and lip-reading and confetti. It was a beautiful, ugly, transfixing, maddening, godforsaken mess, simultaneously addictive and repulsive. For one day, baseball felt like a real modern sport, full of verve, and not one stuck in the morass of its past.

“This is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen,” one general manager said midafternoon, when — and this is a real thing — he called to ask whether the fired New York Mets manager actually had a niece who was tweeting about the 2019 Houston Astros wearing buzzers under their uniforms that let them know which pitch was coming. “I want to take this day and freeze it in time so I can keep living it.”

By the end of Thursday, Major League Baseball and a target of the accusations both had chimed in, players across the sport had offered their feelings on the matter — a matter that still, it is important to note, has zero factual backing — and the 12-hour fire hose of raw, uncut content had satiated the masses with plenty of leftovers for the next day.

On the baseball calendar, Jan. 16 is typically nondescript, just a day to X off on the countdown to spring training, and not a “Real Housewives” episode dressed in a tinfoil hat. The thing is, for all of the drama, the disappointment, the pettiness, the anger — for how so very 2020 the day was — this particular Jan. 16 told a story, and a fine one at that. Of where baseball has been, where it is now and where it is going next.

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EXACTLY 15 MONTHS before Thursday, on Oct. 16, 2018, the Houston Astros hosted the Boston Red Sox in Game 3 of the American League Championship Series. During Game 1 in Boston, a low-level baseball-operations staffer for Houston named Kyle McLaughlin had been removed from a camera well for aiming a cellphone toward the Red Sox’s dugout. The Astros claimed they were worried the Red Sox were cheating. For more than a year before that ALCS, teams around the league had expressed fear the Astros were the ones cheating. Two players told me at the time that Astros players had been hitting a garbage can to share stolen signs. Major League Baseball said it was investigating. Nothing came of it.

Today, both teams are without their managers from that ALCS, which represents the highest-profile meeting between the two teams that have personified the game’s cheating scandal. In 2017, when the Astros won the World Series, they were banging on garbage cans to relay signs filched from the catcher using an illicit center-field camera. And in 2018, when the Red Sox won the World Series, they spent the season, according to a report by The Athletic, using a video-replay room to decode sign sequences and pass them along to hitters to convey while on the basepaths.

What unfolded Jan. 16, 2020, then, wasn’t some anomalous event, a string of accidents and coincidences and happenstance. It was an evolutionary byproduct of a baseball world gone bonkers, one in which the ridiculous — hammering a trash can with a bat — is true. Just because you’re paranoid, Joseph Heller might have said, doesn’t mean they aren’t wearing buzzing Band-Aids.

The fallout from The Athletic’s story in November, which provided a clear picture of how the Astros cheated thanks to on-the-record quotes from former Houston pitcher Mike Fiers, has been unlike anything baseball has seen since the 1919 Black Sox threw the World Series. The MLB investigation prompted by the story included interviews with dozens of witnesses, reviewed tens of thousands of documents and led to a nine-page report from commissioner Rob Manfred that left little doubt of the hubris it took to engage in such systematic cheating.

Released Monday, the report buried the Astros and led to full-season suspensions of general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch. An hour after the report’s distribution, Astros owner Jim Crane went on TV and fired Luhnow and Hinch. Barely a day later, the Red Sox wasted no time in firing their manager, Alex Cora, whom the report had singled out as a mastermind of the Astros’ trash-can-banging scheme when he served as their bench coach in 2017. On Wednesday, Mets executives huddled in Port St. Lucie, Florida, their spring home, arguing over the fate of their manager, Carlos Beltran, who was a player for the 2017 Astros and was named in Manfred’s report. His situation called for contemplation: The Mets were considering firing Beltran even though Manfred had not disciplined him.

It began earlier than anticipated, with ESPN Sunday Night Baseball analyst Jessica Mendoza, who is also employed by the Mets as an adviser, enduring a deluge of criticism for telling the Golic and Wingo radio show that she disagreed with Fiers’ decision to reveal the Astros’ cheating publicly. This is not an uncommon view within the sport, where Fiers is regarded more as a snitch than the person who exposed baseball’s dirtiest secret.

Hours later, the Mets reaffirmed the decision they were leaning toward the previous night despite Beltran’s protestations that he could weather whatever troubles the future might pose: They would fire him 77 days after they hired him. It mattered not whether the decision was right or just or prudent. Scandals are nasty and unwieldy, and their unpredictability incentivizes excision. Rehabilitation is too difficult.

Just look at the reputation of the Astros — of their swift descent from loved to loathed. It was on full display in the aftermath of Beltran’s dismissal, which prompted a Twitter account that purported to be run by a niece of Beltran to accuse Astros stars Jose Altuve and Alex Bregman of wearing electronic buzzers. Such rumors have percolated for months without substantiation. The social media masses, drunk on schadenfreude, nevertheless spread the tweets with glee. ESPN’s Marly Rivera reported that Beltran’s wife, Jessica, said the account wasn’t run by anyone related to the family. It did nothing to stop the speculating. Context is no match for bloodlust.

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Jose Altuve takes Aroldis Chapman deep for a walk-off, series-clinching home run to send the Astros to the World Series.

Look at what the internet had done for the scandal in the first place. Soon after the original story ran, Jimmy O’Brien, a New York Yankees fan who runs Jomboy Media, found video clips of an at-bat between Houston DH Evan Gattis and Chicago White Sox pitcher Danny Farquhar. In it, the audible trash-can bangs provide a soundtrack against which O’Brien illustrates how the Astros’ scheme worked. It was brilliant and damning and birthed dozens more videos that laid bare the Astros’ cheating. MLB didn’t even need to go through tape. The evidence was one Reddit link away.



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