No anger management from players upset over the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal

They want their World Series rings. They want their at-bats and pitches back. They want the money owed them. They want their game back.

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Chicago Cubs Photo Day

Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant is one of the players angry about the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal and Major League Baseball’s response to it.

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The enormity of the Astros’ cheating scandal can be found in the voices of big-league players, a group known for keeping its collective lips zipped.

We’re not hearing the dismissiveness that often accompanies unethical behavior in the game.

We’re not hearing that cheating has been around forever, that boys will be boys or that mountains are being constructed out of molehills. We’re not hearing silence.

We’re hearing anger. Real anger, banged over fire into a sharp point. We’re hearing the anger of players who, knowing something elemental has been attacked, want a reckoning. They’re angry because they sense that whatever that reckoning should be, it can’t be had.

They want their World Series rings. They want their at-bats and pitches back. They want the money owed them. They want their jobs back. They want Houston to pay more for using a center-field camera in 2017 to steal signs from opposing catchers. They want anyone who benefitted from knowing the next pitch to be punished.

They want their game back.

All this anger because the Astros perpetuated a massive fraud on the sport and because Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred didn’t do nearly enough to punish the guilty. All this anger because Manfred, trying to dispel the possibility of the Astros being stripped of their title, called the World Series trophy a mere “piece of metal.’’ He later apologized. Too late.

“I don’t think people are accepting it,’’ Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said. “When you say something like that, I just genuinely believe he really meant that. He really meant that it was just a piece of metal. Not to me.

“I have one in my office back home, right in the middle of the center of attention. This was something that was very important to me and very important to this whole organization because we hadn’t had one in 108 years. That piece of metal meant a lot to this whole city.”

That’s how it has been since players started arriving for camp last week. We’ve heard an unprecedented torrent of anger. We’ve heard it from players who lost something because of Houston’s decision to cheat its way to the 2017 World Series title and from others simply disgusted by the damage done to the game.

Bryant called it “worse than steroids.’’

“It’s really easy to compete . . . when you know what [pitch] is coming,” the Yankees’ Gleyber Torres said.

The Angels’ Mike Trout said he has “lost respect’’ for Astros players.

“Taking a trophy away, taking the rings away, I think they should definitely do something,” he said.

And then there’s the Braves’ Nick Markakis, who was asked for his reaction to the scandal and MLB’s response.

“It’s anger,” he said. “I feel like every single guy [with the Astros] needs a beating. It’s wrong. They’re messing with people’s careers.”

Markakis didn’t elaborate on what kind of “beating” the cheaters deserved, but considering that Manfred didn’t fine or suspend any players involved in the scandal, you can bet that it involves 95-mph fastballs to Astros’ body parts.

Since news of the scandal broke in November, people have been playing a game of relativism. One scandal is worse than another but not quite as bad as that other one. But I see no difference between the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme and the decision by Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire to bulk themselves up with performance-enhancing drugs. Bad is bad, and cheating is cheating.

The idea that Pete Rose is some sort of corrupt ogre who looms larger than a sign-stealing scandal is ludicrous. The Astros have tainted the game as much as one gambler ever did. But Rose is banned from baseball, and Houston’s players get to carry on as if nothing happened.

I never thought I’d back the dirty Rose for anything. When our Maximum Leader supports Rose in a tweet, as he did recently, it makes you question everything about yourself. But the scales of justice are broken here. That appears to be obvious to everyone except the people charged with protecting the game.

It’s why players are so upset about the scandal itself and Manfred’s pale, sickly response to it. They believe the Astros got away with baseball murder. Something indeed died when Houston was able to keep its trophy and its players went unpunished. An ideal. The merging of fair and square, as corny as it might sound.

There were profound ramifications. Yu Darvish’s reputation as a delicate head case started in earnest after he failed to get out of the second inning in either of his two starts for the Dodgers in the 2017 World Series. It’s impossible to shake the idea that Houston knew what pitches were coming from him. Darvish’s reputation followed him to the Cubs in 2018. Whenever he struggled with an injury (and there were many), the whispers followed: He’s soft.

Would those whispers have been there had he pitched well in the World Series? No. He would have been like a lot of other players who had a string of injuries. Bad luck, we would have said. The poor guy, we would have muttered.

Very few players want to give the Astros a pass on their behavior. It’s a fairness issue, something that strikes at the heart of what sports are supposed to be about. No one is naïve.

We’ve been through the Steroid Era, when much of what we saw was one, big sham. But this scandal had a sound to it: Bang. It was a bat hitting a garbage can in the Astros’ dugout, a sign to the hitter at the plate that a breaking ball was coming.

Armed with that information, the Astros smacked their way to the playoffs, the World Series and a parade.

That eventually produced other sound waves, the ones being sent out now. Angry ones. Ones that can’t find any relief.

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