CLEARWATER, Fla. – Pitcher Mike Fiers, who blew the whistle on the Houston Astros for cheating during the 2017 season, has a fan in Phillies president Andy MacPhail.
“I'm delighted this has come out,” MacPhail said during his annual spring-training address Friday. “I have all the respect in the world for Fiers for coming out and talking about it. I think the game's better as a result of it.”
MacPhail, a third-generation baseball executive, had no words of praise for the Astros organization.
“The Commissioner's office did a pretty exhaustive study,” MacPhail said. “They made their decisions. I have no reason to doubt it. I do think that the Commissioner went to some length to talk about the culture that was there that was disturbing. This wasn't, in my view, the first instance. How they treated some of their employees in the past is not something that would be tolerated by our ownership. You had the whole Taubman thing that went on and their reaction, and this was just another example.”
The Astros have spent plenty of time in the news – for all the wrong reasons – over the last five months.
In October, Brandon Taubman, one of their assistant general managers, was fired for directing an expletive-filled tirade toward a group of female reporters during a clubhouse celebration after the American League Championship Series.
In November, Fiers, now a member of the Oakland Athletics, went public in a story published by The Athletic with details of how the Astros used illicit methods to steal signs during their run to the World Series title in 2017. The firestorm led to an investigation by Major League Baseball and stiff penalties for the Astros, who ended up firing manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The scandal resulted in the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets letting their managers go.
The Red Sox remain under investigation by MLB for possible cheating infractions during their run to the 2018 World Series title. Alex Cora, the Red Sox manager that year, was Houston’s bench coach in 2017 and one of the alleged ringleaders in a scheme that used technology to steal signs. Carlos Beltran, an Astros player, at the time, was another ringleader. The Mets last month fired him as manager before he ever managed a game.
The use of technology around dugouts has increased in recent seasons as Major League Baseball has introduced instant replay as a way to challenge disputed umpire calls. Some players like having a video area close to the dugout so they can watch their at-bats and make adjustments in real time.
But the proximity of this technology and these video areas to the dugout can create problems, as evidenced by the Houston scandal and the black mark it has put on that organization and on baseball, in general.
MacPhail offered a potential solution.
“As far as I'm concerned, you could lock that video room at the first pitch and not open it up again until the last pitch,” he said. “We don't need to be going in there every five minutes. Am I confident that that's going to put an end to it? I think you have to be vigilant. There's always going to be some people that try to get an edge and bend the rules no matter what you do, and you have to be aware of that and you need to dam up every place you can where water's coming down because they'll try to find a way.”
MacPhail was asked if he would set a trend and order the Phillies’ video room locked at the start of games.
“I’m not going to do it if we’re one out of 30 and then MLB decides that they’re going to allow it,” he said. “I’m hopeful that MLB is going to create an even playing field and lock it down. If not, do other things in addition to that.
“I know they’re looking at a variety of things. I’m just speaking for myself. I’m probably going to get myself in trouble. But yeah, I’d lock the darn thing.”