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Tipsheet: MLB's mishandling of Astros' cheating extends to Kelly suspension

Tipsheet: MLB's mishandling of Astros' cheating extends to Kelly suspension

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Benches clear as Dodgers beat Astros 5-2

Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Joe Kelly (17) looks back at Houston Astros' Carlos Correa (1) after the sixth inning of a baseball game Tuesday, July 28, 2020, in Houston. Both benches emptied during the exchange. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

OK, so now baseball has decided to punish players who benefit from electronics-driven sign-stealing schemes.

MLB and the MLB Players Association agreed to that  – way too late to punish the Houston Astros players who got imnunity during the investigation of their elaborate sign-stealing system.

Meanwhile Dodgers pitcher Joe Kelly is facing an eight-game suspension for taking justice into his own hands with brushback pitches and his special brand of street theater. He figures to get that knocked down a few games through his appeal, but his peers found the punishment excessive.

“MLB siding with/protecting a team that openly and knowingly cheated their way to a World Series,” Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman tweeted after Kelly’s suspension was announced. “He doesn’t deserve to be suspended at all. Hoping he wins his appeal. Looking forward to seeing you back out there JK!”

Cleveland Indians pitcher Mike Clevinger chimed in with this: “And what do the Astros players deserve? Just snitch and walk free and still seem confused as to why everyone is mad?”

So you can see why baseball commmissioner Rob Manfred went into damage control. The Dodgers were unrepentant about their confrontation with the Astros.

“I think it’d be wishful thinking to think that we were just going to come in and play two games and nothing combative (was) to happen,’’ Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling said. “Joe is as good a candidate as anyone to stir something up even though he wasn’t on that 2017 team. You could tell he was as fired up as anyone.”

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts was hardly apologetic afterward.

“You know, this is something that’s been built up over the course of seven months after kind of the findings,” Roberts said. “I think it just sort of, kind of released. I think it was unfortunate, but I guess to spin it, it’s a good thing that we got it out of the way, nobody was hurt and we can move on and play baseball.”

Here is what folks have been writing about all of this:

Michael Baumann, The Ringer: “The Astros cheated, possibly to the extent that they swung at least one championship, and while GM Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were each suspended for a season (and subsequently fired), none of their players were disciplined. In MLB’s estimation, players could offer more detailed testimony if they were offered immunity, and parceling out specific blame to specific players would have involved a nearly impossible ethical calculus. While that reasoning is logical, it also led to a conclusion that carries the undeniable and inescapable odor of wrongdoing unpunished. There’s a visceral allure to the idea of the cheating Astros — their attempts at contrition falling somewhere between clumsy and disingenuous — facing vigilante justice. While the scandal undermined baseball’s competitive integrity, it also provided a shot of entertainment to a frequently poker-faced sport, and offered neutral fans an obvious bad guy to root against. And to be clear, it absolutely rules that Kelly barked and pouted at the Astros, that his chippiness played a part in touching off a near-total loss of emotional control. But vigilante justice is just as illegal in baseball as it is in real life, and clumsy application of discipline in one case does not precipitate the abrogation of all law. And while the suspension looks absurdly long — if Kelly serves the whole thing, he’ll miss 13 percent of the shortened season —'such a draconian-looking punishment is justifiable.”

Alden Gonzalez, “The biggest source of the Dodgers' public anger toward the Astros -- aside from the overarching feeling of having been cheated out of the 2017 World Series -- was the lack of punishment of players for what was clearly a player-driven scheme. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred explained that he needed to offer immunity in exchange for open, honest testimony and that punishments would be too difficult to dole out for transgressions that took place within the secrecy of a clubhouse. But Dodgers players -- and countless others around the league -- were miffed by the unfairness in a larger context. That one of their most important bullpen pieces was hit with such a severe punishment for -- allegedly -- reacting to a baseball crime that several others believe to be ‘worse than steroids’ probably only exacerbated the Dodgers' anger. Kelly, however, is suddenly a folk hero in L.A. after being maligned last season for the same erratic pitching that sparked all this. A popular fan group, Dodgers Nation, has already printed T-shirts celebrating Kelly's facial contortions. The Fox Theater in Bakersfield, California, wrote ‘Thank You Joe Kelly’ on its marquee.” 

Bob Nightengale, USA Today: “MLB sent a heavy message to everyone in the game with Kelly’s lengthy suspension that this is no time to seek vengeance during a pandemic. Maybe it will resonate with Astros’ opponents the rest of the season. We’ll soon find out with the Astros scheduled to play their next nine games on the road against the Los Angeles Angels, Arizona Diamondbacks and Oakland Athletics.”

Tim Brown, Yahoo! Sports: “Joe Kelly has lived the nightmare that is a tainted championship, a league investigation that ensues and a penalty that comes to be viewed as laughably light and misdirected. He made 85 appearances for the Boston Red Sox in 2018, 12 of those appearances in a postseason that ended in a World Series title. Later, it was discovered that those Red Sox had cheated. It was said the World Series was tainted. That all of them, from the star third baseman to the middle reliever, had benefited. The person who was punished for that was a replay room operator. The Red Sox lost a draft pick. By the time it all shook out, Joe Kelly was already a Dodger, for $25 million over three seasons.  Then on a Tuesday night in July 2020, nearly three years since the Astros had cheated their way to a championship, two since the Red Sox had won theirs, and about half a year since both were found to be less than competitively pristine, Joe Kelly looked in at Alex Bregman and considered a three-and-oh count, a three-run lead and the bases empty. This, clearly, was not the time to fold in the face of hypocrisy, but to embrace it.”


“The face that he made is one of the funnier things I’ve ever seen on a baseball field,’ and then obviously it went viral on social media. Now we’re all excited we’ll have new shirts to wear for [batting practice] and stuff like that.’’

Stripling, on Kelly’s antics.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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