Nearly 30,000 people teemed the parking lots at Dodger Stadium on Saturday for the club’s annual FanFest. The event unofficially marks the start of the next season a few weeks before pitchers and catchers report for spring training. Fans are offered a chance to see their favorite players up close. Excitement for another crack at a World Series hums.
But this year was different. On Saturday, the sour stench from the 2017 World Series, not the rosy prospects of winning the 2020 championship, hung in the air. Less than two weeks after Major League Baseball released its report on its investigation into the Astros illegally stealing signs during their 2017 championship season, the Dodgers, who fell one win short of beating Houston for the title in 2017, offered their first public comments on the matter.
They repeated they can’t dwell on the stinging revelations, but disappointment was evident. The word “frustrated” was frequently used. Resentment, at points, simmered.
“They cheated,” Dodgers utility man Enrique Hernández said. “They got away with it. They got a ring out of it.”
Several Dodgers, as well as president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, said they are not sure whether the Astros should vacate their championship, but they emphasized they do not want the title given to them. On Tuesday, the L.A. City Council voted unanimously to ask MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to award the Dodgers the 2017 and 2018 World Series titles as a result of the Astros’ transgressions and as MLB continues investigating the Boston Red Sox for possible wrongdoing. The Red Sox beat the Dodgers in the 2018 World Series.
“I don’t think anyone in the organization wants that,” third baseman Justin Turner said. “We want to be able to experience those things. We want to be able to dogpile. We want to be able to pop the champagne in the clubhouse and spray [the media], and we want to have our parade and we want to do it the right way. I don’t think anyone is asking for that trophy. I don’t think anyone wants that trophy by any means.”
“That’s not the way we want to win a championship,” pitcher Ross Stripling said. “As far as vacating a championship, I guess it already has an asterisk next to it, right?”
One thing some Dodgers seek is more remorse from the Astros.
Last week, José Altuve and Alex Bregman, two All-Star hitters in the Astros lineup, fell short of apologizing for their team’s actions. One Dodgers player said the players’ lack of repentance angered some Dodgers further, spurring them to speak out more Saturday than they had planned. Friedman said he doesn’t believe the Astros have displayed enough remorse.
Former Astros pitcher Dallas Keuchel, now a member of the Chicago White Sox, became the first player to publicly apologize Friday. It was met with shrugs.
“Well, Dallas Keuchel didn’t hit,” Turner said. “I don’t really know why he was the one apologizing. But he’s the first one who’s mentioned anything like that. I guess good for him.”
Manfred banned Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch for the 2020 season at the conclusion of the league’s investigation before owner Jim Crane fired them. The Astros were also fined $5 million and forfeited their first- and second-round picks in the next two drafts.
But only one player — Carlos Beltrán — was mentioned in the report, which concluded the Astros used a monitor placed behind their dugout and a banging mechanism to relay signs to batters at home. None were directly punished, though Beltrán was fired as New York Mets manager before his first game as a result, because the league made a deal with the players’ union, granting players immunity to encourage honest testimony.
“I think it’s a tricky situation,” Friedman said. “Would they have gotten to the bottom of it the way they did without it? I doubt it. ... At this point, it’s about making a deterrent for anyone to do this going forward, and I think that’s been done.”
Tyler White, now a Dodger, was a player on the 2017 Astros. The first baseman appeared in just 22 games, all during the regular season, but his home and road splits were stark. At home, he batted .333 with three home runs and a 1.097 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 33 plate appearances. On the road, he hit .226 with zero home runs and a .617 OPS in 34 plate appearances.
White attended Saturday’s FanFest but was not made available to the media. Friedman said he has not spoken with him since the allegations were made public in November.
“I saw him for the first time yesterday,” Stripling said. “I kind of jokingly asked where he put his buzzer. He had a joke in response back. ... I don’t think it’s awkward. I think Tyler is an awesome guy, a straight shooter. I think he’d tell you anything you wanted to know. Maybe some guys just don’t want to know. They’re mad, and now they’re over it and maybe they don’t want to reopen that wound.”
Stripling has unique perspective on the situation; he calls Houston home and spent the offseason in the area. He said he found himself in conversations about the scandal constantly, stressing to people the advantage hitters enjoy when they know which pitch is coming. He compared it to a middle linebacker getting the offense’s play call ahead of time.
“It’s absolutely game changing,” Stripling said. “I don’t know how else to say it.”
But while the report was jarring, the Dodgers were not shocked by its contents. They suspected the Astros were at least pushing the boundaries in 2017 and took extra precautions during the World Series.
“The last three-plus years [we] have heard the rumors, accusations,” Friedman said. “And to see it at least in a little bit more detail, some of the things we had heard, was helpful to see. But obviously it just added to the frustration at this point. It’s a difficult thing to accurately articulate. And part of it is there’s nothing we can do about it.”
Instead, the Dodgers lost in seven games and legacies were wounded. Yu Darvish, who fled Los Angeles a goat, gave up four runs in 1 2/3 innings in Game 3 at Minute Maid Park. Clayton Kershaw, whose postseason struggles still haunt him, gave up six runs in 4 2/3 innings in Game 5. The Astros’ only home loss the entire postseason was Game 4 when Alex Wood constantly changed his signs to avoid decoding.
Two seasons later, the Dodgers are still without a championship since 1988, wondering what could have been.
“You look at big pitches that could’ve flipped counts or at-bats, or the game or the Series,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “We’re all human. But as far as really trying to go so micro and pick it apart, I haven’t done that. I don’t wanna do that to myself.”