TORONTO — Like the majority of baseball, there are ties to the Houston Astros sign-stealing saga in Toronto.
Bench coach Dave Hudgens, who served as the Astros’ hitting coach for four seasons from 2015 through 2018, was cleared by Major League Baseball of any wrongdoing and his name did not appear in the commissioner’s report.
Despite his presence in that clubhouse and the perception that the scandal goes deeper than what MLB went on the record with, the Blue Jays have stood by the 63-year-old that they hired prior to last season.
As the vast majority of Blue Jays players and decision-makers mingled with fans at the club’s Winter Fest extravaganza on a snowy Saturday inside Rogers Centre, the storm that has enveloped the sport this off-season could be felt.
Ken Giles is another Jays tie to the situation.
The 29-year-old closed out 34 games for the World Series champions in 2017, before being sent to the Blue Jays the following July as a part of the Roberto Osuna trade, but Giles maintains he had no knowledge of what was going on, and didn’t seem overly interested in talking about the subject.
Was Giles aware of the documented sign-stealing that was going on during their run to the World Series that year?
“No,” Giles answered. “Honestly, I don’t know anything about it.”
Moving on is Giles’ preference, which should not be a surprise considering the punishment has been handed out and the Astros players that benefited — innocent or otherwise — still own their rings.
“The punishment has been laid on them and there’s not much I can say about it,” Giles said. “It is what it is and I’m just going to move on. Everyone’s gotta move on from it and now we’re focused on on what’s going on here in Toronto right now.”
One player who isn’t moving on as easily is outfielder Randal Grichuk, who calls Houston home in the off-season.
Stripping the World Series win and the rings, NCAA-style, has been a topic of conversation, a punishment that Grichuk fully agrees with.
“I mean, I would like to see that,” Grichuk said. “I bet the Dodgers would like to see that. I’ve got a few friends on the Dodgers that are very disappointed that possibly two years in a row they lost due to a team going against the rules. I think, the bigger the better, just due to the fact that more teams will then say, ‘Hey, we’re not going to risk that.’”
With the chatter extending from trash cans to electronic buzzers in the wake of the investigation, no one’s really sure where this story goes next.
MLB wants it to go away, but many within the game believe this may only be the start.
“There’s definitely things that we’ve heard,” Grichuk said. “I’ve heard this since the 2017 off-season. I know it’s been rumoured about. I’m interested to see what else comes out. A lot of the buzzers and stuff, that’s going to come out, I guess, to a certain extent. I know they did an investigation on that already. It’s frustrating for baseball and it’s bad for fans, to be able to say we’re going to a game to see our favourite player and now realize he might be cheating.”
Another Blue Jays connection to the mess is Cavan Biggio and his father Craig, a longtime Astros legend whose name has now popped up in the conversation to replace fired manager A.J. Hinch.
Cavan was raised in that Astros clubhouse, so the scandal hits home for the Houston native.
“It’s unfortunate,” Biggio said. “I respect the league’s decision on the punishments they decided to do and, hopefully, just kind of move on from here. I think the game of baseball can get better from it and put it behind us and move forward.”
As this story moves forward, we’ll find out exactly what baseball learned about the steroid era and how important the initial reaction is.
Swift and all-encompassing is the goal.
Revelation after revelation slowly escaping baseball’s inner-sanctum is not.
Blue Jays manager Charlie Montoyo said “I hope so” when asked if he believes this is the end of the sign-stealing-via-technology story, but the second year skipper has been in a unique position this week as close friends of fellow Puerto Ricans Alex Cora and Carlos Beltran, two of the four people fired over it.
“Two of those guys are my friends,” Montoyo said. “They know. I already sent them a text, ‘Feel bad for you guys.’ But they know, and they’ll be back in baseball and they’re going to learn their lesson.”
The talk, however, won’t end.
Paranoia in baseball runs deep and whether it’s the Man in White or rumours of electronic buzzers secretly alerting batters to what’s coming, tales will always be told behind the scenes of which organizations, coaching staffs or players are walking the line between old-school sign-stealing and more creative ways of doing it.
“It’s all over baseball and people talk about it,” Montoyo said. “It’s not fair when they say everybody’s stealing signs because that’s just not true. But there’s always talk.”