The Dodgers conducted their first official workout of the 2020 season Friday bursting with optimism. They are loaded with talent — and that was true before they acquired Mookie Betts and David Price from the Boston Red Sox. They are easily the favorites to win the National League pennant. Claiming their eighth consecutive division title should not present much of a challenge.
But before the Dodgers move on to begin their journey to fulfill those high expectations, some of them wanted to make something clear, a day after Houston Astros owner Jim Crane, Alex Bregman, and José Altuve offered apologies at a news conference in Florida: the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal tarnishes that franchise’s recent accomplishments, including beating the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series; their attempts to display remorse have been largely laughable; and the lack of player punishment from Major League Baseball is nonsensical.
“They went beyond the line,” Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling said. “And I think it’s up to us in the locker room as players to, when we get a chance such as right now, to keep reiterating that and saying that it did cross the line. We can’t just forget about it.”
Disappointment and anger were prevalent at varying levels in the Dodgers’ clubhouse at Camelback Ranch.
Cody Bellinger’s thoughts, unfiltered and emotional, were the strongest. The reigning National League MVP did not hold back, criticizing Astros players, Crane, and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred for their roles in the sport’s biggest scandal since performance-enhancing drug use permeated the league.
“I thought the apologies were whatever,” Bellinger said. “I thought Jim Crane’s was weak. I thought Manfred’s punishment was weak, giving them immunity. I mean these guys were cheating for three years. I think what people don’t realize is Altuve stole an MVP from [Aaron] Judge in ’17. Everyone knows they stole the ring from us.”
Bellinger reiterated he “100%” believes the Astros illegally stole signs well beyond the 2017 season, rationalizing that they wouldn’t have had a reason to stop until they were caught. He speculated the Astros were cheating during the 2019 postseason, joining those who have wondered if Altuve used a buzzer to know which pitches were coming when he hit a walk-off home run in Game 6 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees and looked like he told teammates not to take his jersey off in celebration.
“I don’t know what human hits a walk-off home run against Aroldis Chapman to send your team to the World Series and, one, has the thought to say, ‘Don’t rip my jersey off,’ ” Bellinger said. “But to go in the tunnel, change your shirt, and then come out and do your interview — that makes no sense to me. Makes zero sense to me. Because I know me.
“[Yankees catcher] Gary Sanchez said it yesterday. You can rip my shirt off, my pants off. I sent my team to the World Series off Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning, at home. I’m going crazy.”
Justin Turner said the experience has been like ripping open a scab. Alex Wood highlighted the trickle-down effect of the cheating, the money and jobs the trash-can banging cost opposing players. Clayton Kershaw said he thought it was “awesome” that players were honestly expressing themselves, but he still hadn’t processed the Astros’ latest attempts to say sorry.
“Some of those guys seemed remorseful, some of those guys said the right things, gave a good apology,” Kershaw said. “And that’s great. I’ll move on with that. And then you get the owner up there saying some dumb stuff and it’s like, ‘What’s going on? How can you be that ignorant to the situation?’ I don’t really know what to make of it all anymore. So I think, honestly, I really don’t even know what to say about this.”
The players remaining from the 2017 Dodgers team that lost to the Astros were ready to leave the saga in the past until last month when they saw Bregman and Altuve stumble through non-apologies at the Astros’ winter fanfest.
That week, Turner and Wood created a group chat for members of the 2017 club. Players used the space to vent and prepare their remarks on the situation at the Dodgers’ fanfest the following weekend. They were motivated to speak out. They decided it was best to emphasize that the Astros’ transgressions were major, and went above and beyond their peers.
“I think one of the worst things that could happen would be we get through spring and it’s just forgotten about it,” Stripling said. “Or they get pegged for the first two games and then it’s forgotten about. It needs to be reiterated and that might be from our side saying, ’Dude, this was not the norm back then.’ I keep seeing that on Twitter and other places. ‘That was just the norm. That’s the way baseball was and the Astros got caught.’ That’s not true.”
Last week, after word leaked that he was going to get traded to the Angels, Stripling said he wondered whether he would intentionally hit any Astros players with pitches. The Dodgers aren’t scheduled to play the Astros this season, but the Angels play them 19 times and open the season in Houston. Stripling could have had an opportunity immediately.
“I would lean towards yes,” Stripling said. “In the right time and the right place.”
Ironically, Wood pointed out, a pitcher who opts for vigilante justice would likely face a suspension after MLB gave Astros players immunity during its investigation and didn’t punish any of them.
As it stands, Stripling won’t have the chance. He’s still happily with the Dodgers, on a club clawing to reach the summit after coming so close only to learn two years later that the winners were involved in an illegal sign-stealing scheme. The loss still gnaws at them and they aren’t ready to let the Astros off the hook.
“I know personally I lost respect for those guys,” Bellinger said. “I think I would say everyone in the show, in the big leagues, lost respect for those guys.”