Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
During the first game of this year's American League Championship Series at Minute Maid Park, as the Yankees started jawing at the Houston dugout about sign stealing, Astros hitting coach Alex Cintron raised his middle finger and directed the gesture toward the opposing bench.
This infuriated New York's third base coach Phil Nevin, who yelled at Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, "Tell your f--king hitting coach I'm going to kick his f--king ass."
Managers A.J. Hinch and Aaron Boone also exchanged words, and the Yankees ultimately asked Major League Baseball to investigate the Astros for using whistling to convey pitches to their hitters (MLB said they found no evidence of wrongdoing in that instance).
On Friday, Nevin confirmed those previously unreported details, which SNY learned through multiple league sources, and added that he was wrong to speak to Bregman.
"I actually told A.J. later that I shouldn't have brought a player into it," Nevin said. "But obviously I wasn't happy with something we saw."
That "something" was the middle finger, not the alleged sign stealing. But the entire incident underscores the level of heat and anger in the industry regarding the Astros. The Yankees believed that their ALCS opponent was cheating, and that, according to a source, Cintron was the one whistling to batters.
According to baseball's oft-cited but ever-shifting unwritten rules, sign stealing on the basepaths represents gamesmanship, but any use of sounds and technology is over the line.
One source said that the Astros' whistling went back to at least 2017, when then-bench coach Alex Cora was a significant part of it -- and when the Yankees lost to the Astros in the ALCS. If you're the Yankees, your anger surely stems from losing out on two of three pennants when you believed your opponent was acting unethically.
Others in the league insist that the Astros' whistling and banging of garbage cans are overblown. But the anger and resentment toward the team has been palpable for years. It boiled over between Nevin and Cintron in Houston last month, and surfaced again at this week's GM meetings, after The Athletic reported on additional sign stealing allegations, and the Twitter user Jomboy found video to verify them.
"If Jeff Luhnow knew about this, he should be banned for life," said one rival general manager.
As rival executives expressed earnest shock and anger -- "It's really wrong what they did," said another high-ranking executive -- the league's department of investigations is proceeding more calmly and methodically.
This February, MLB circulated a memo that put into place new precautions against high-tech sign stealing. Teams now must account for every camera in the stadium. Clubhouse TV feeds operate on an eight-second delay, except the one viewed by the team's designated replay official -- and he is monitored by a person whose job is to ensure he doesn't communicate with team personnel regarding signs.
In part because of those changes, MLB officials are skeptical that the Astros could have employed cameras in their 2019 whistling operation.
The league also doesn't yet know if the team's sign stealing was an organizational scandal, or the rogue actions of several players. Did the GM and coaches organize a conspiracy, or merely turn the other way when players bent the rules?
As SNY reported on Thursday, there is not yet any evidence to suggest that Mets manager Carlos Beltran or Cora will face significant discipline. Video evidence appears to show Beltran benefitting from sign stealing while playing for the 2017 Astros. But that video does not represent proof that Beltran knew of a hidden camera. He denies any knowledge.
These are the questions that give MLB pause about imposing major penalties, at least at this early stage of its investigation.
But the league can't stop its own clubs from feeling continued outrage at Luhnow, Hinch and the Houston players.
"How naïve I was," one longtime team executive texted after watching the Jomboy videos. "I hope MLB buries the Astros."