The Tampa Bay Rays held their annual Fan Fest on Saturday, which serves as the kickoff for the 2020 baseball season. Fanfest offers our first glimpse of the members of the 2020 Rays squad, including Charlie Morton. Morton gave his first interview since the Houston sign-stealing scandal was exposed. Perhaps the most surprising and disturbing takeaway from his remarks? Although Morton had spend all the 2017 with the Astros, and had a prime bench seat from which to follow dugout goings-on those days he was not pitching, MLB investigators never interviewed him as part of their deep dive into the cheating scandal.
It took Jomboy Media less than 24 hours to find footage of the Astros sign-stealing and expose them for their cheating ways.
If Morton was not consulted, just how thorough an investigation was this?
Morton was last seen carving through members of the Houston Astros during game three of the American League Division Series. The Rays would be eliminated in five games, and the Astros proceeded all the way to the World Series, losing in seven games to the Washington Nationals.
Not long after the final out was recorded, the Astros were in the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic broke a story that shattered the baseball landscape; they revealed that the Houston Astros had been blatantly stealing signs with the help of some electronic snooping. Mike Fiers, a former member of the Houston Astros, came out publicly and said the Astros were using a camera in center field to steal and decode signs, and then the hitter would be notified of the upcoming pitch. Three other members of the Astros from the 2017 season, confirmed this, but chose to remain anonymous.
The Houston Astros of course went on to win the 2017 World Series while employing their illegal sign-stealing method.
It was Charlie Morton who recorded the final out that finished off the Dodgers that year, winning the World Series.
About those “punishments”
Now, it’s three years later and the sign-stealing scandal has cost the jobs of three managers and one General Manger. The Houston Astros received a rather minuscule fine of $5M (the highest fine that MLB can issue), and the Astros also have to forfeit their first and second round picks from the upcoming 2020 and 2021 first year player drafts, although their continued ability to sign top international prospects certainly reduces the bit of those lost draft picks.
MLB concluded their two month long investigation and doled out that punishment to the Houston Astros. To ensure player cooperation in the investigation, and perhaps to avoid any run-ins with the Major League Baseball Players Association, any player who cooperated with the investigators received immunity for their part (if any) in the illegal activity.
That brings us to Charlie Morton
Charlie Morton started in 25 games for the Houston Astros during the 2017 season. When he wasn’t on the mound, he took his place in the dugout, as most starting pitchers do between outings. This would make him privy to most of the goings on inside of the dugout and clubhouse; he essentially had the best seat in the house to observe the methodology of his teammates shamelessly stealing signs.
During the Fan Fest at Tropicana Field on Saturday, Morton spoke to the media for the first time regarding the scandal, saying MLB conducted a thorough investigation and also had this to say:
‘’I was aware of the banging. You could hear the banging. being in the dugout you could hear it. I don’t know when it dawned on me but you knew it was going on
The banging that Morton is referring to is now the obnoxiously loud noise of an Astros player or staff member banging a trash can to relay a sign to the hitter at the plate. The banging was loud enough to be picked up on numerous broadcasts and once viewers knew what to listen for, it became incredibly easy to identify how often the Astros employed this method. Spoiler alert, it was A LOT.
Tony Adams, a fan of the Houston Astros, created the site ‘SignStealingScandal.com’ to showcase the research he did to check just how much were the Astros cheating. During his research, he logged a total of 8,274 pitches and heard a total of 1,143 ‘bangs’ which is about 14% of the total incoming pitches. According to the commissioner’s office, the Astros used a number of ways to relay signs, not just trash can banging so the percentage of stolen signs could be significantly higher than an already ghastly 14%.
What could Morton have done to stop his teammates from cheating? There probably isn’t much. Even the Astros’ manager, A.J. Hinch, doesn’t seem to have acted like a guy who had any authority over this behavior: he has publicly said that he smashed the monitors used to steal the signs on multiple occasions but apparently never just said “hey, guys, cut it out.” Morton suggests that it would have taken something even more extreme to halt the sign-stealing, but he does regret not doing anything.
”Personally, I regret not doing more to stop it. I don’t know what that would have entailed. I think the actions would have been somewhat extreme to stop it. That’s a hypothetical.’’
“I certainly have thought about it a lot because it negatively impacted the game, and people’s perception of the game, the fans, opposing players. And that doesn’t sit well with me. ... Where I was at the time, I don’t know where I was, because what’s wrong is wrong. And I’ll never be absolved of that.’’
Morton was aware of the sign-stealing. He was there for the entire 2017 season, with the exception of a rehab stint during the summer. Morton knew what was going on, he knew of the banging and the signs being stolen.
With all of that knowledge, Morton likely would have been a key witness for the MLB investigators.
Morton wasn’t even interviewed by the investigators.
We may never know just what impact the Houston sign-stealing operation had on the outcome of the 2017 season, but even if the impact was marginal, we still have reasons to find the episode both disturbing and only partially resolved. First, we’ve learned that baseball folks, from managers like Hinch to veterans like Morton, did nothing to stop the obvious effort to subvert clear rules.
Secondly, we see that the penalties imposed on the Astros are not a huge deterrent for future misbehavior.
And finally, just this weekend, we find out the MLB’s investigation was not especially thorough. You’d think that every Houston 2017 player would have been interviewed, but that was not the case.
This all leaves fans wondering how much faith to have in players, managers and MLB officials moving forward.