SAN DIEGO, CA – Joe Girardi was hardly stunned to learn his firing two years ago as manager of the New York Yankees may have followed a canning by the Houston Astros.
“Word gets around,” he said.
Entering his first season as manager of the Philadelphia Phillies, Girardi said Monday the Yankees suspected Houston was trying to steal signs during the 2017 AL Championship Series. The Astros won the seven-game matchup with four victories at home, then won the World Series — an accomplishment tainted last month when a former Houston pitcher publicly alleged the Astros used electronics to steal opposing catchers’ signs that season.
“I wasn't shocked,” Girardi said.
Major League Baseball has been investigating since right-hander Mike Fiers told The Athletic that Houston was using outfield cameras to steal signs and banged a garbage can in the dugout tunnel to alert players. Fiers played for those ’17 Astros but left in free agency after the season. He’s now with the Oakland Athletics — one of Houston’s AL West rivals.
Girardi’s 2017 Yankees were highly suspicious of sign stealing in visiting ballparks. They reported the Boston Red Sox to MLB for using an Apple Watch in the dugout at Fenway Park during the regular season, and they had plenty of concern about Houston, too. it's unclear whether Houston's trash pail pilfering extended to the postseason.
“I thought we did a pretty good job of combating it,” Girardi said. “I don't know how great of a job we did, but I thought we did a pretty great job.”
Suspicions over sign stealing have only swelled since. The Yankees alleged in this year’s ALCS that Houston was whistling from the dugout to tip off batters during Game 1 at Minute Maid Park. MLB investigated and cleared the Astros of that charge. Houston manager AJ Hinch called the claims “kind of funny.”
Then Fiers went public.
MLB’s investigation into the 2017 allegations could result in punishment for the Astros and repercussions could ripple beyond Houston. Red Sox manager Alex Cora was bench coach for those Astros, and first-year Mets skipper Carlos Beltrán was a player.
Cora acknowledged Monday he has spoken to MLB but declined to address the subject “out of respect to the investigation.”
Beltrán is scheduled to meet with reporters Tuesday.
Fiers’ testimony marked the first time a player has gone public. His colleagues in Oakland commended his willingness to step forward.
“I just thought it was very brave of him,” teammate Stephen Piscotty told The Associated Press on Monday.
“I applaud him,” echoed manager Bob Melvin. “If what has been going on is what we’re reading about is the way it’s been going on, it’s a line, it’s a line that’s been crossed. So we’ll see how it all plays out.”
Piscotty and Melvin both said Oakland has long been leery of Houston, which has won three straight AL West titles.
"I think when hitters take swings that look a little like they were sitting on something, sometimes your mind wanders," Piscotty said.
“It needs to get out of baseball,” he added.
Girardi believes the problem can be fixed with technology. Major League Baseball experimented last spring training with connecting batterymates via smartwatch-like devices. Girardi has also been a proponent of giving pitchers headsets to receive pitch instructions.
“Look at people today. When do they not have headphones?” he asked.
Piscotty is open to that, or anything else that rids the game of the constant suspicion.
“How it gets out of the game, I don’t really care,” he said. “I just want it out.”
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