DUNEDIN, Fla. – As an emerging franchise cornerstone for the Toronto Blue Jays, Bo Bichette is being counted on to help establish a healthy and productive culture for the clubhouse. What he says, and the way he acts carry tremendous influence, which is what makes the thoughts he shared Saturday on the Houston Astros’ cheating scandal so important.
Would he have done what the tainted 2017 World Series champions did, he was asked.
“No. Absolutely not.”
So, you would have said, no banging on the trash can for me?
“I would hope that I would have made a pretty big ruckus that we were doing that in the first place,” he replied.
If you’re the Blue Jays, or a fan jaded by the Astros’ incredible tolerance for malfeasance, that’s the answer you wanted to hear. The sports world is rife with temptations for skullduggery and rewards for those who do it well, and baseball has always walked an absurd line, the phrase “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying,” lovingly embedded in its lexicon.
But the widespread anger at the Astros across the game – encapsulated brilliantly by National League MVP Cody Bellinger and Cincinnati Reds ace Trevor Bauer on Friday – is an indication of how far they crossed the line.
Typically, players are reluctant to speak with such candor, cognizant of how the news cycle can reverberate their words. Still, each prominent player that voices an opinion helps create the space for others to do the same, and as the initial decision to speak out by Mike Fiers showed, sometimes public pressure is needed to force action.
“First off, I’m glad that I wasn’t directly impacted by it. I definitely think those guys that were, there are so many people not just the Dodgers, not just (Aaron) Judge. So many, guys that got hit hard for an inning, all that, so I’m glad it’s not me that was directly impacted,” said Bichette. “But I don’t necessarily think that cheating is bad for the game. I think the way it was handled is probably bad for the game, the fact that those guys aren’t getting in trouble, per se.
“I’m glad Cody Bellinger stepped up and said something. I think more guys in his position need to. But like I said, I think it’s more the punishment that’s bad for the game and not necessarily what happened.”
Commissioner Rob Manfred granted the players immunity in exchange for their honest testimony during his investigation into the Astros, which resulted in a $5 million fine for the club, the loss of two first round and two second round draft picks along with season-long suspensions for GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch, who were subsequently fired.
That hasn’t sat well in some corners, with Vladimir Guerrero Jr., while noting that he was reluctant to discuss the Astros and has no control over the discipline, saying “it has been a while for them to be doing that. They should get some kind of punishment.”
Added Bichette: “The cheating is the cheating, people are going to do it, it happens in football. But when there are no consequences for it, that’s probably a problem. People do things they regret. But when you get away with it, it just becomes a bit bigger than it is. We’ll move on from it, but it’s a tough pill to swallow.”
So, too, is what was widely perceived as a disingenuously scripted collective apology from the Astros on Thursday. Particularly irksome was Astros owner Jim Crane saying “our opinion is this didn’t impact the game,” a claim he tried to walk back moments later.
“I believe if I know what’s coming, I will hit .500,” said Guerrero, speaking through interpreter Hector Lebron. “It is what it is. For myself, I don’t know. I don’t like what happened. I’m not really going to think about it.”
Others continue to be infuriated by the Astros’ ongoing attempts to downplay their own culpability, along with an apparent lack of real remorse.
“It’s been tough to watch, honestly,” said Bichette. “I don’t know what they’re really thinking. I don’t know what their true intentions behind the apologies are. I don’t know. From the outside looking in, it doesn’t seem too apologetic. They got away with it, we’ll move on and hopefully that’s behind them and behind everybody.”
Moving on, clearly, won’t be that simple.
Blue Jays bench coach Dave Hudges, the Astros hitting coach from 2015-18, started camp with his own mea culpa about not doing more to stop the cheating, while every new detail that emerges reignites the anger and increased the difficulty in reconciling what happened.
Solutions on how to prevent another team from executing a similarly intricate sign-stealing operation offer one pathway to that, with limitations on in-game access to technology under consideration, according to a report by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic.
“In a way, it would be dumb to not take advantage of what we have (to improve performance within the rules), but at the same time, personally, I’d be fine if there was no technology in there whatsoever,” said Bichette. “I mean they did it back in the day, why can’t we do it now? So I’m sure part of the reason (the Astros) did what they did is because of how easy the access was to it. And for me, I’d have no problem taking every bit of it away.”
Opinion is sure to be split on that, and the naval-gazing over what happened is sure to continue for weeks, if not months, and perhaps beyond.
There were failures in leadership at multiple levels of the Astros, within the commissioner’s office when the Boston Red Sox were caught using smartwatches illicitly in 2017, and, depending on your viewpoint, in meting out discipline over the winter.
Bichette implied the same won’t be tolerated in the Blue Jays clubhouse on his watch.
“I’m pretty reserved,” he said of his approach to leadership. “But when it comes to cheating, I don’t think I would be a part of that. I’m sure there are some players that didn’t do anything and said, ‘I’m not going to engage in that.’ To us, seeing it, we just assume they did. I wouldn’t even want to be around it. I wouldn’t anyone to even assume I was a part of anything. With just normal clubhouse things, I’m pretty reserved. Something as big as that, I don’t think there’s a place for it.”