“There’s no crying in baseball,” manager Jimmy Dugan says in the 1992 movie, A League of Their Own.
Until recently, it looked like there also was no apologizing in baseball. At least not by baseball players caught cheating.
Maybe that is why the crisis over the Houston Astros’ 2017 sign-stealing scandal continues to boil on. The players are violating one of the cardinal rules in crisis management: quickly admit it when you are wrong and sincerely say you are sorry. You can’t resolve a crisis until you take that first step.
Last November, former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers alleged the team was illegally stealing signs of opposing teams during their 2017 championship run. He said the Astros had a camera in centerfield at Minute Maid Park and used it to spy on opposing catchers.
Major League Baseball investigated Fiers’ allegations. As a result, MLB suspended Astros manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow, fined the team $5 million and took away picks in the 2020 and 2021 amateur player drafts. The Astros fired Hinch and Luhnow. Two other big-league managers, Alex Cora of the Boston Red Sox and Carlos Beltran of the New York Mets, subsequently lost their jobs for being implicated in illegally stealing signs.
Hinch did say he was sorry. “I apologize to (Astros team owner Jim) Crane for all negative reflections this may have had on him and the Astros organization,” he said in a statement. “To the fans, thank you for your continued support through this challenging time ̶ and for this team. I apologize to all of you for our mistakes.”
Luhnow released a statement accepting responsibility for the rules violations but not apologizing, stressing that he was not involved in the creation or implementation of it.
Both Hinch and Luhnow said the cheating was initiated by and executed by the players and lower-level employees.
But none of the players – the ones who benefitted the most from the cheating – said they were sorry about any of it.
That finally changed last Friday when former Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel made a public apology. Now a member of the Chicago White Sox, Keuchel said, “First and foremost I think apologies should be in order for, if not everybody on the team.”
But even in apologizing, Keuchel tried to minimize it.
“It was never intended to be what it is made to be right now,” he said, according to the Associated Press. “I think when stuff comes out about things that happen over the course of a major-league ball season, it’s always blown up to the point of ‘Oh, my gosh, this has never happened before.’ “
This came after Astros owner Crane said days earlier that he expects the players to “come out with a strong statement as a team and, I think, apologize for what happened and move forward” once they get together for spring training next month.
“Everyone is split up. It’s a team,” Crane said. “We’re going to sit in a room and talk about it, then we’ll come out and address the press. All of them will address the press, either as a group or individually. Quite frankly, we’ll apologize for what happened, ask for forgiveness and move forward.”
Not so fast, said super sports agent Scott Boras. Counter to what Hinch and Luhnow said, Boras places the blame on team management. The players were only following orders and should not apologize.
“I’m doing what my organization is telling me to do,” is how Boras described the players’ thinking. “You installed this. You put this in front of us. Coaches and managers encourage you to use the information. It is not coming from the player individually. It is coming from the team.”
While Boras doesn’t argue that the players weren’t cheating, he says they “were not given the latest state of the rules.” Apparently, they did not know if it was cheating to steal signs using a camera and a trash can. “To suggest players violated rules that were withheld from them is a false incrimination of players.”
Whether the players do or don’t apologize at this point is almost moot. The damage is done. If they don’t apologize, they legitimize cheating and draw the integrity of the game into question. If they do apologize, there is no way they can sound sincere saying they’re sorry three months after they got caught and three years after the cheating happened.
The one interesting thing to watch in 2020 is how vociferously the implicated players argue when an umpire makes an honest mistake. Will they have the guts to yell, “I was robbed?”