What I’m hearing: The Astros may be apologizing, but they are not giving up on this championship. USA TODAY
HOUSTON – Jim Crane, with the Houston Astros 2017 World Series trophy displayed in front of him, looked out his office window on Wednesday, saw the rain leaves beating against the glass and once again felt overwhelmed by contempt and contempt outside the office walls.
Astros didn’t send anyone to throw 140 km / h fast balls over anyone’s head in a game this week. They have not had a player suspended for eight games for Major League Baseball. Indeed, they were at their best in the two-game series against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
However, just as the MLB announced that Joe Kelly, the Dodgers, would be suspended for his actions, precipitating a COVID-19-style bank cleaning incident, anger and hostility from the outside world arose again.
Crane said he received no death threats as he did earlier this year, but he and his team were attacked by radio waves and social media.
How Astros can create one of the biggest cheating scandals in baseball history, with its players being given immunity so that none of them are punished and then a Dodgers player is punished for trying to police his game if no one else would do it for them ?
Astros owner Jim Crane speaks to the media before spring morning training. (Photo: Jim Rassol, USA TODAY Sports)
Six months have passed since the Astros cheating scandal was exposed, costing general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager AJ Hinch their jobs, and the team a $ 5 million fine and the loss of their first two draft choices in 2020 and ’21, but it is not enough.
The public, even in the middle of a pandemic, and a country struggling for social justice, refuses to forget.
“People are aggravated because the players were not suspended,” said Crane, “but I had nothing to do with it. That was (commissioner) Rob (Manfred )’s decision. Listen, it will always be what you want to call it. A black mark. An asterisk. It happened. It is not good for anyone. It is not good for the game.
“We broke the rules. We were penalized. We were punished. There is no doubt that it weighs on us every day.
“But I don’t know what else they want us to do. I mean, you couldn’t do much more. We made a penalty. Rob (Manfred) sent a message. We accepted the message and went further.
“We are sorry. We apologize. But no matter what happened, it would not be enough. People wanted me out of baseball. They wanted players to be suspended. They wanted everything. ”
Crane, 66, discussed a wide range of topics with USA TODAY Sports, his first comprehensive interview since the cheating scandal went public.
He profusely apologized for the organization’s fraud scandal in 2017 and part of 2018. He spoke about the layoffs, settlements and complaints involving Hinch, Luhnow and GM assistant Brandon Taubman. He talked about the risk and adverse reaction in negotiations with Roberto Osuna, who was suspended for violating MLB’s domestic abuse policy while at the Toronto Blue Jays in 2018. He discussed the ace Justin Verlander arm injury. He defended the team’s culture.
And he expressed remorse for the disastrous press conference in February, which only provoked public and player anger around the game.
The infamous press conference
It was at the February 13 press conference in front of the Astros spring training complex in Florida, where Crane said the stolen signal “did not change the game”, and Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve read the brief and emotionally brief causing resentment in all baseball clubs.
“We didn’t do as I wanted,” said Crane on Wednesday. “If I had to repeat it, I would do it differently. The press conference did not go well. I didn’t handle it as well as I should have.
“I said (signal theft) did not affect the game. What I should have said is that I cannot impact the decision that Rob (Manfred) made not to change the record. He would not change the game. He wasn’t going to take the World Series trophy.
“I’m not stupid enough to think that I couldn’t have changed the game. How it changed the game, no one will ever know. Did it affect the game? That is certainly a reasonable assessment. ”
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Crane paused over lunch, took a bite of salmon and said, “If we had to repeat it, we would have tried to do a better job of apologizing and tried to be more sincere. But you are under the gun. You try to answer the same question 18 times. It’s not a place I want to be in again. ”
“A bigger problem than anyone imagined”
Crane may be a villain for most, but he did something good during the pandemic. Astros are one of the few teams that have not dismissed or dismissed any member of the team and are paying minor leagues for an undisputed season. And the founding of the team increased donations under Crane, spending more than $ 50 million over the past nine years in the community.
But Crane said he is not seeking sympathy.
Of course, he wants people to remember that the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees were punished for cheating during the 2017 season. The Red Sox was also penalized in May for signal theft in 2018, losing the choice of the second round while video playback operator JT Watkins was banned during the postseason. And the Yankees are in a legal battle to prevent a letter from Manfred from being unlocked, detailing their findings in the 2017 investigation.
“I think MLB had a bigger problem than anyone thought,” says Crane. “Two other teams (the Yankees and the Red Sox) were doing things and were caught, but we were the ones who caught the bullet. That’s how it works. I’m not trying to blame anyone. The problem was ours. We deal with it. “
The Red Sox fired manager Alex Cora before the MLB released its findings, but not for its actions in Boston. He was fired for his role in the Astros scandal as Hinch’s bank coach. Carlos Beltran was also fired as manager of the New York Mets for being one of the scheme’s architects in Houston.
“It didn’t surprise me at all,” said Crane. “The other teams had to do the same thing.
“I don’t know if this is all over. I think that after this year it will calm down. But it will always be out there. “
The Astros had the option to keep Luhnow and Hinch, bringing them back after the year-long suspensions, but Crane said he had no choice but to fire them abruptly on the same day as the MLB report. Hinch had a contract until 2022 and Luhnow until 2023.
Astros and Hinch negotiated an agreement for the remainder of their contract. Luhnow and the Astros never agreed to buy, Crane said, letting Astros argue that he was fired with “just cause” in a case that could lead to a complaint and decided by the courts.
“You hate to see what happened to these guys,” said Crane, “because they didn’t instigate this. It all started in the background, but they both knew it. So I had to do what I thought was best for the franchise. What if I leave it in there? How much (things) did I get? It was the only choice. We had to move on. “
“I hope these guys get back to business, but as it happens, it can be more difficult.”
Crane said he also sympathized with Taubman, the former GM assistant who was fired after Astros won the American League Championship Series. Taubman shouted “Thank God we have Osuna” and swearing at a group of reporters at the clubhouse.
“Brandon Taubman did not commit domestic violence,” said Crane. “He just made a comment. It is nothing you can defend. He had some cocktails. He was happy. There were people constantly coming to him (Osuna), and he overreacted. Did he do the right thing? No. Everyone makes mistakes. But is he a decent person, genuine and good and smart? Absolutely.
“I hated to see him lose his job, but we had no choice.”
Astros, of course, had the option of not switching to Osuna, an agreement that was made two years ago on Thursday. Osuna was completing his suspension for allegedly hitting his son’s mother while playing at Blue Jays, and the Astros believed he deserved a second chance.
In addition, they needed much closer.
“We didn’t anticipate that the Osuna thing would get so hot,” said Crane, whose organization donated $ 200,000 last year to domestic violence education and awareness. “But when it happened, the players were concerned. I said to the guys on our team, ‘Listen, we made the decision. He paid the price. We think he deserves a second chance. If he messes up, he’s out of here. You don’t have to worry about that.
“After that, everything was fine. That’s up to the players. Not so much with the audience. It was just a guy’s lightning rod. ”
The MLB investigative report on the Astros scam scandal specifically mentioned that the organization had an “island culture” problem.
“No one can dispute that Luhnow’s baseball operations department is an industry leader in its analysis,” wrote Manfred in his report, “(but) it is very clear to me that the culture of the baseball operations department manifests itself in the way how staff are treated, their relations with other clubs and their relations with the media and external stakeholders have been very problematic. “
The characterization irritated Crane when the report was released and, six months later, it still occurs.
“People say we had a culture problem,” he said. “We didn’t have a culture problem. These are isolated and unrelated incidents.