Cheating Astros don’t deserve any vigilante justice

PORT ST. LUCIE — I hope no pitcher who feels wronged by the Astros literally takes the matter into his own hands.

There is real potential for this. The anger toward what Houston players did at least in 2017 to illegally steal signs and the lack of punishment levied at them by the Commissioners Office has left MLB personnel across the major league landscape furious. I cannot remember any other issue in major league history that created this kind of on-the-record wrath, especially among players.

Not steroid users. Not A-Rod on a variety of issues. In spring training sites in Florida and Arizona, these Astros are having their accomplishments — team and individual — vilified, their morality questioned and their status downgraded. By their peers.

Could anger bubble into members of the 2017 Astros being targeted by pitchers who want to exact revenge for themselves or friends wronged by what occurred that season.

“I certainly hope not,” Houston ace Justin Verlander said Thursday when asked if he thinks pitchers will retaliate. He added, “The commissioner has been clear in the past that is not an appropriate form of retribution. I would hope that stands to reason with this as well.”

Agreed. What the Astros did is despicable. How much they have lied and obfuscated and tried to skate away from responsibility makes it worse. But nothing done should expose the 2017 alumni to bodily injury. That is a step way too far.

Here is hoping that players and media challenging the words and sincerity of Astros players will serve as a form of punishment, force further elaboration and — if not — at least leave a permanent stain that those who were involved will have affixed to them going forward.

I have heard a lot of those words. I was in Astros camp Thursday for their weak-tea contrition attempts and with the Mets on Friday when 2017 alums J.D. Davis and Jake Marisnick spoke. The plan has seemed to be speak once in generalities, say they are done talking about 2017 and they are now focused on 2020.

If that is their plan, the counter should be hitting them back — not with a baseball — but by revealing the lack of logic, decency or sincerity in their words:

–Davis and Marisnick were the latest to mention the “talent” of the Astros in suggesting that the team could have or would have still won the World Series in 2017 without cheating. But you know who didn’t believe in that talent? The Houston Astros staff and players. Because if they believed in the talent why cheat? And this was not one or two days of cheating, but months and months in 2017 with an attempt to extend it into 2018. The steroid users did not think they could perform as well without steroids, so they used them. Same logic here.

–Davis on Friday said, “I spoke a little bit prematurely,” referencing his comments from December when he said he was unaware of the Astros’ cheating scam. Here’s a blunter assessment: In December, J.D. Davis lied. Like many Astros did when initially talking to reporters.

Which is why all the “remorse” and “regrets” sound hollow. No truths came out until further lies would have been ludicrous to offer. No one asked seems to be able to answer if they felt this rueful before the cheating became public. I am reminded of a line from Dennis Miller’s “Black and White” comedy special in 1990. He was speaking about a person who went to jail for involvement in Watergate finding God once imprisoned. Miller joked, “Nobody finds Christ on prom night.”

No Astros found regret or remorse in the midst of plundering pitchers. They didn’t until it served their purposes to do so. They seemed most regretful and remorseful about getting caught.

–A lot of 2017 Astros talked about being young and not sure how to resist veteran teammates who were proponents of the cheating or were too naive to essentially know right from wrong. Davis, for example, said, “Obviously as a 24-year-old at the time I was pretty star struck with the whole thing of being around some of the veteran guys and being in a big league clubhouse and everything.”

But Tony Kemp was a 25-year-old rookie when he was called up by the Astros in 2017 and as he related in A’s camp, he was asked if he wanted in on the cheating, said no and never used the system. No reporting has found that Kemp was tipped to pitches.

There was mob mentality and the euphoria of something working, but players with a moral compass could have refused the ploy — like Kemp.

–One of Marisnick’s agents attended his press gathering when the outfielder said, “The thought behind (the sign stealing) was to give us an advantage and I am not sure if it did or didn’t.”

Yep, no one was sure it was working. So they kept doing it anyway. Hundreds and hundreds of times. Here is a question for Marisnick and all the Astros: If there were a legal way to know what pitch is on the way this year would you want to use that? Of course you would. For the same reason you used the illegal method in 2017. Because it is an incredible advantage for a major league hitter to know what is coming.

That said, what should not be coming in 2020 is any pitch designed to hit a 2017 Astro on purpose.

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