- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 13, 2020

First, Alex Bregman stepped to the lectern to deliver a short statement. Then, Jose Altuve did the same. When the two teammates were finished, Houston Astros owner Jim Crane and new manager Dusty Baker fielded questions.

Thursday was the day MLB and its fans had been waiting for: Finally, the chastened Astros, in the aftermath of a sign-stealing scandal that rocked the sport, would step up and address — and apologize for — the controversy in a full press conference setting.

A day of contrition. A day to ask baseball for forgiveness. A day for owning up to the damage and betrayal done to the integrity of the game.

Instead, there were bland prepared statements. Hedged comments. And even worse: Crane’s bone-headed claim the team would have won the 2017 World Series even if his players hadn’t cheated.

“We had a good team,” Crane said. “We won the World Series and we’ll leave it at that.”

The tone-deaf press conference did little if anything to soothe the increasingly angry reaction around baseball to the cheating scandal. 

“They crossed the moral line and cheated,” Nationals ace Max Scherzer told reporters in West Palm Beach. “But they got to answer to it. It’s not really for us to speak for them. They need to speak for themselves. They need to talk to the fans of baseball and explain what happened.”

Said closer Sean Doolittle: “One day of answering questions is not going to make this go away.”

MLB opted not to discipline any players for participating in the scandal, though manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow were suspended and later fired for failing to stop it. On Thursday, Crane said his players should not be punished, adding Houston is “fully committed to moving forward in the right way.”

Throughout the 2017 season and for a portion of 2018, the Astros used a camera to relay pitching signs and relay them to batters. Since the MLB unveiled the investigation, others have called for the Astros to be stripped of their 2017 World Series.

After Crane said he did not think the scheme impacted the games, Athletics reliever Brett Anderson tweeted a GIF of Will Ferrell’s “Anchorman” character Ron Burgundy saying, “I don’t believe you” in response to Crane’s explanation.

Inside the Nationals’ clubhouse, pitcher Patrick Corbin said while sign-stealing has always been a part of baseball, the Astros’ scheme went beyond the pale because teams often “couldn’t do anything about it to defend themselves.” He added that during last year’s World Series, the Nationals changed their signs up every inning out of precaution.

“I think everyone knows what they did is wrong,” Corbin said.

Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said he did not watch the Astros’ press conference because there was nothing he could do to change the result of the 2017 World Series. Yankees manager Aaron Boone said he thought it was “quite a stretch” for Crane to assert their actions had little impact on the outcome.

Athletics pitcher Sean Manaea told the San Francisco Chronicle that Houston’s apology was insincere. “They didn’t own up to anything,” he said.

When the Astros’ clubhouse opened to reporters, players like pitcher Justin Verlander were cautious in addressing the scandal, telling the press he wished he had tried to stop the scheme.

Centerfielder George Springer said “every member” of the 2017 Astros has to take responsibility for their actions.

But shortstop Carlos Correa offered a detailed apology. He said sign-stealing was “definitely an advantage” and gave the Astros an edge.

“There’s no excuse for that. We were wrong for everything we did in 2017,” Correa told reporters. “It’s not what we stand for. It’s not what we want to portray as an organization. We’re definitely wrong about all of that and we really feel really sorry. We know we affected careers. We know we affected the game in some way. And looking back, it was just bad. We wish we would’ve stopped it at the time.

“We didn’t, and for that we’re paying the price now. It’s not where we want to be coming into the season but we have to take responsibility for our actions.”

• Matthew Paras can be reached at mparas@washingtontimes.com.

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