Andy Martino, SNY.tv | Twitter |
Imagine if you took the virtually unprecedented step of initiating a partial rebuild in the Bronx, trading major league players for prospects. Then you resisted all temptation to move your own young players.
You cultivated a core of homegrown stars, and they started winning. You did what a responsible team is supposed to do … and then you found yourself defeated in the postseason twice by a team caught in the worst cheating scandal the game has seen in more than a decade.
You would probably feel like you got screwed by an opponent acting in bad faith, and that you had lost opportunities you could never get back.
It's not a familiar feeling to consider the Yankees victims. They are typically the rich team that everyone and their fans love to resent. But in this case, it had become clear that of all the Astros' victims (in the non-locker room harassment category, that is), the Yanks have suffered the most.
Major League Baseball's investigation into the Astros has only made this more clear. The league is looking into credible allegations of Houston's cheating from 2017 to 2019, using many different systems and forms of technology. This goes far beyond the camera that pitcher Mike Fiers revealed in an Athletic report last month.
That system, which involved banging on a garbage can to communicate stolen signs to the batter, was in place for the 2017 season. As we all know, the Yankees lost to Houston in seven games in the ALCS that year.
Even 2018 wasn't free of Astros-related baggage. The Yankees lost in the division series to a Boston team that many league evaluators considered slightly inferior, and which was managed by Alex Cora.
Cora was Houston's bench coach in 2017, and is now part of the league's cheating probe. Although no allegations have surfaced linking the 2018 Red Sox to sign-stealing, the Yankees could be excused for noticing that their playoff losses came to A.J.Hinch-Cora-Hinch.
According to league sources, allegations against Houston in the 2019 ALCS extend beyond hitting coach Alex Cintron's whistling, which inspired third base coach Phil Nevin to tell Houston third baseman Alex Bregman, "Tell your f-cking hitting coach I'm going kick his f-cking ass."
SNY has learned that the Yankees also complained to the league about blinking lights in center field early on in Game 6 at Minute Maid Park -- just days after Hinch responded angrily to SNY's report about the whistling. Imagine the hubris required to keep cheating after that. The blinking ceased after the early innings.
The Yankees also suspected that Houston was alternating whistling and hand signs, depending on the inning, and that the type of whistling varied depending on the pitch.
That's a lot to deal with when you're trying to advance to a World Series for the first time in a decade.
A common argument used to counter any Yankee complaints about cheating is, "What about the steroid era?," an allusion to the several key Yankees from the late '90s and early 2000s -- not to mention Alex Rodriguez in 2009 -- who ended up linked to performance-enhancing drugs.
But that comparison does not work as a parallel to the Astros scandal for one simple reason: In the days when many Yankees were taking hardcore performance-enhancers, so were many of their opponents.
The public came to know about Yankee cheaters like Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte and Chuck Knoblauch in part because trainer Brian McNamee was one of the few steroid suppliers to cooperate with former Sen. George Mitchell's inquiry into the issue.
That left the Yankees disproportionately represented in Mitchell's Report. Yes, they won their championships with the help of PEDs, but this was not in any way a Yankee-specific issue.
The allegations against the Astros are more unique. Sources familiar with MLB's probe estimate that a small handful of teams are accused of employing similar sign-stealing methods -- a far smaller number than teams that employed steroid users in the late '90s.
Not long ago, in a quiet moment on the road, I asked a Yankees person, "If you had the tech and the ability to do what the Astros are accused of doing, would you?"
The person responded with a firm and emphatic, "F-ck no. It's wrong."
I believed that person, who appeared to be answering from the heart. The Astros stand accused of going to lengths that most of the league considers highly unethical, and that one rival GM said was "the worst thing since the Black Sox scandal."
The Black Sox, at least, conspired to throw a series in favor of their opponents. The Yankees have lost multiple opportunities to capitalize on a fleeting championship window -- and those chances are gone forever.