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Why MLB players are frustrated over Astros’ lack of punishment

The fallout from a major cheating scandal in Major League Baseball continues. After investigators found that the Houston Astros used an elaborate sign-stealing scheme in 2017, when they won the World Series, members of the team's front office were disciplined. But players, and the championship title, remain unscathed, prompting resentment within the league. John Yang talks to ESPN’S Jeff Passan.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    At baseball spring training, the talk is usually about hopes for the season ahead.

    John Yang reports that, as exhibition games get under way this weekend, the focus is on 2017, the year of one the game's biggest scandals.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, that was the year the Houston Astros won the World Series and, investigators say, the year the team used an elaborate scheme to tell their batters in advance what pitches the opposition was about to throw to them.

    Last month, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred punished the team, its field manager and its general manager, but didn't discipline any players or do anything with the team's World Series title. And that has players on other teams speaking out.

  • Aaron Judge:

    I just don't think it holds any value. You know, you cheated, and you didn't earn it. That's how I feel is, it wasn't earned. It wasn't earned the way of playing the game right and fighting until the end.

  • Cody Bellinger:

    I thought Manfred's punishment was weak, giving them immunity. I mean, these guys were cheating for three years.

  • John Yang:

    A former Toronto Blue Jays pitcher who lost his job after a bad outing against the Astros in 2017 is even suing the team for unfair business practices.

    Jeff Passan covers Major League Baseball for ESPN. He joins us from the Astros training camp in West Palm Beach, Florida.

    Jeff, it's been six weeks since the commissioner issued his report on the cheating scandal, handing down the punishment. Why are the players still so angry about this, that they're still speaking out?

  • Jeff Passan:

    You know, John, they're angry for a number of reasons.

    First off, they feel that the Astros' apologies were hollow, that the contrition was fake, and that they're not really mad or sad or even feeling bad about the fact that they cheated.

    And, beyond that, I think it's the fact that there has been a lack of punishment. Now, you can argue that the Astros paying a $5 million fine or giving up some draft picks was good enough for the team. You can argue that Jeff Luhnow, the general manager, and A.J. Hinch, the manager, losing their jobs was punishment as well.

    But the prayers got no suspensions whatsoever. And between that and the World Series title not being stripped, the ire in players has been significant and rally has not abated at all.

  • John Yang:

    Talk about that punishment. The commissioner in his report said that this was a player-driven scheme, a player-driven plan. So why were no players punished?

  • Jeff Passan:

    Yes, it's interesting that you have a player-driven scheme with zero punishment for the players, but that was really the reality, the catch-22 that Rob Manfred was facing here.

    Back in September of 2017, when the Boston Red Sox had a light punishment for sending signals from their video room to an Apple Watch on their bench, the commissioner sent out a notice to all 30 teams saying that it is incumbent on you, as the general manager and the manager, to tell your players that discipline can happen.

    That message was never relayed to Astros players. And, accordingly, under labor law, the lack of notice for potential punishment is grounds for a case being thrown out via grievance.

  • John Yang:

    So, now that the anger is here and evident, are there any indications that commissioner Manfred understands this, is getting this anger, and what can he do about it?

  • Jeff Passan:

    You know, his back is against the wall at this point, John, because so much of the animus is guided toward him from both players and fans.

    And there is certainly the possibility that he could reverse his decision on stripping the Astros of the 2017 championship. Now, it would go against what he has said publicly, which is that he doesn't want to start a slippery slope of rewriting history.

    And it's understandable, considering baseball's history, in which the single season and all-time home run record holder, Barry Bonds, did so under the suspension of using steroids. So if you take away the championship from the Astros in 2017, why aren't you going to take away the home run title from Barry Bonds?

    That's not something Rob Manfred wants to do, but it's certainly something he has to be thinking about at this point and something that people in his inner circle have suggested he consider.

  • John Yang:

    Exhibition games begin this weekend. Could this anger and frustration spill out onto the playing field?

  • Jeff Passan:

    Yes, it's a possibility, certainly, and I have spoke within a number of players who said, we're looking forward to playing the Astros this year to try and mete out frontier justice by hitting them with a fastball.

    But Rob Manfred has already pulled teams and players on alert, saying that, if you intentionally throw a baseball at a player, not just an Astros player, but any player, the discipline is going to be significantly higher than the typical three-to-six-game suspension.

    Of course, this in itself angers players, because they understand, if they throw at Houston Astros batters, the suspensions they get for doing so will be longer than any of the Astros served for cheating during their World Series-winning season.

  • John Yang:

    Ironic, indeed.

    Jeff Passan of ESPN, thanks so much.

  • Jeff Passan:

    Thank you, John.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Interesting.

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