DUNEDIN, Fla. – Derek Fisher hears all the back-and-forth about the 2017 Houston Astros and the cheating scandal that continues to envelope the sport. He understands and accepts the fallout, even takes responsibility, even though he was only a 23-year-old call-up at the time.
"You’re not surprised," the now Toronto Blue Jays outfielder says of the strong reaction during an interview. "You look back and regret what happened and you regret the place you were in to possibly do something. … I apologize and I regret everything."
Fisher was among the players interviewed by Major League Baseball during its investigation into the electronic sign-stealing plot first exposed by The Athletic back in November.
He refused to discuss how he felt about the scheme when he was first introduced to it, and declined to reveal details of his usage, saying he was a part of a team that cheated and "everything should be treated as a whole."
"I don’t want to speak on my own," he adds. "I am sorry. I was present. We’re all adults and could have done something about it."
Based upon data from signstealingscandal.com, which examined every pitch thrown to the Astros during 58 home games in 2017 to track how often trash-can bangs could be heard, Fisher seemed a minimal participant, getting tipped off on only 16 of the 211 pitches he faced.
At a rate of only 7.6 per cent, he was among a very small handful of players in the single digits, and 16 pitches could theoretically be localized to a game or two.
Regardless, Fisher’s situation underlines some of the inherent challenges a young player in his position would have faced under the circumstances.
A well-regarded prospect, he joined the team briefly in June before being called up for the rest of the year in late July, logging a total of 53 games before appearing in five playoff contests off the bench (he scored the winning run in Houston’s epic 13-12, 10-inning Game 5 win over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series).
The prospect of him, or any other rookie for that matter, calling out an operation Major League Baseball largely pinned on then-Astros bench coach Alex Cora and influential slugger Carlos Beltran is absurd.
"Right, but in the same sense, we’re all adults," says Fisher, accepting no excuses. "I was 23. I know I was a rookie but we’re all adults, we all have an open voice. Everybody had their own voice in the situation. You could do what you want out there."
Players around the majors continue to use their voices about the scandal, and the discipline handed down by commissioner Rob Manfred seen by some as insufficient. One particular point of anger is that Astros players were granted immunity in exchange for their co-operation, an issue that led to some back-and-forth between MLB and the union Tuesday.
Speaking at a news conference in Arizona, Manfred told reporters that the union rejected his initial attempts to make some players subject to discipline, demanding the blanket immunity that he eventually granted.
The union rejected that assertion in a statement that claimed MLB’s intention was never to punish players, which "was not surprising because the applicable rules did not allow for player discipline."
Amid the tug-of-war over narrative, the sides are discussing a framework for how similar situations are to be handled in the future. Public venting by players and debating whether the Astros’ 2017 World Series championship should be rescinded is understandable, but eventually that must give way to progressive talk about preventing future attempts at systemic cheating.
In the interim, Fisher is finding comfort in a Blue Jays clubhouse that also includes Dave Hudgens, the Astros hitting coach from 2015-18, along with several players who have been outspoken about the sign-stealing.
"Completely fine," Fisher says of his status in the clubhouse, and of hearing comments from his teammates. "Everybody is entitled to their own opinion. You’re allowed to feel however you want, especially in this case. Other than that, it’s nothing different than any other day."
To that end, Fisher has a lot riding on this spring.
Both he and extra outfielder candidate Anthony Alford are out of options, meaning neither can be sent to the minor leagues without first clearing waivers. The Blue Jays could try to trade one or break camp with both on the roster, but the competition for playing time is on.
Fisher struggled after coming over from the Astros in the deadline deal last year that sent Aaron Sanchez and Joe Biagini to Houston, batting .161/.271/.376 with 43 strikeouts in 107 plate appearances over 40 games.
When he returned to his Jupiter, Fla., home, he said for the first time he had an understanding of what "I wasn’t doing right, and what I needed to go through the entire off-season working on."
In simple terms, hitting coach Guillermo Martinez says Fisher had too many extra moves attached to his swing "that put him in a bad spot, and he had to abort mission right away with his bat path."
To address those issues, he visited a hitting specialist in Los Angeles "to try and listen to a different voice," said Martinez, who along with triple-A Buffalo hitting coach Corey Hart joined Fisher on the trip.
The most noticeable change is that Fisher’s hands are now lower, which has his bat starting in a more upright position. More generally, his swing is far simpler.
"I wanted to have my bat in a different spot," said Fisher. "In recent years I’ve had my bat flatter behind my back and I’ve realized earlier in my career I was better with my bat more vertical. So why not go back to what worked for me? It just works for me best. It makes me get from Point A to Point B faster than if it’s flat."
Testing his progress begins Saturday, when the Blue Jays open Grapefruit League play against the New York Yankees. That’s when the chase for a roster spot really gets underway and Fisher starts working toward leaving his part in the Astros cheating scandal, whatever it was, behind.
"I could have said something," he says. "I regret that I was involved."