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Astros owner Jim Crane says sign-stealing scheme ‘didn’t impact the game’

Astros owner Jim Crane says sign-stealing scheme ‘didn’t impact the game’

Houston Astros owner Jim Crane told reporters at a press conference Thursday that he didn’t believe the team’s illicit sign-stealing scheme that operated across the 2017 and 2018 seasons had a direct impact on the games they played.

The club organized the press conference on the second day of spring training to address the scandal that forced the firings of manager A.J. Hinch and GM Jeff Luhnow and compelled MLB to hand down fines on and strip draft picks from the organization.

“Our opinion is that this didn’t impact the game,” Crane said. “We had a good team, we won the World Series and we’ll leave it at that.”

A few minutes later, however, Crane backtracked on his previous statement.

“I didn’t say it didn’t impact the game,” Crane said. “Basically, as the commissioner said in his report, he’s not going to go backwards. It’s hard to determine how it impacted the game, if it impacted the game, and that’s how we’re going to leave it.”

The Astros’ owner went on to say that the ability “to determine the effect [of the scheme] and the cause is, in my opinion, almost impossible.” He also mentioned that he didn’t “feel it necessary to reach out to the Dodgers” and apologize for the scandal that played a role in their title-winning 2017 season that culminated with a win over Los Angeles in the World Series.

“We’re apologizing that we broke the rules,” Crane said, in lieu of apologizing for the effect the scandal had on other teams. In reference to the scheme, he said “it could possibly [affect the game], it could possibly not.”

But mitigating the effect the scheme raises another question: If it didn’t affect the game, why did the Astros do it? When asked if he should’ve been held responsible like Luhnow and Hinch were, Crane referred to commissioner Rob Manfred’s report on the MLB investigation of the scheme.

“Clearly, the report states that I didn’t know about,” Crane said. “Had I known about it, I certainly would’ve done something about it. I did hire Jeff and I think Jeff did a lot of great things for the organization over the years. No, I don’t think I should be held accountable. I’m here to correct it and I’m here to take this team forward…it won’t happen again on my watch.”

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Maximizing games while maximizing safety is MLB’s biggest conundrum

Maximizing games while maximizing safety is MLB’s biggest conundrum

Early Tuesday morning, just after midnight, an ESPN story on a location and timeline for the resumption of baseball caused a stir. The reported proposal: All 30 teams in Arizona, the season starting around late May or early June.

From front to back, the ideas floated were loaded with caveats. They also illustrate baseball’s primary problem as it hunts solutions to become the first major pro sport to resume: it needs to maximize games and revenue while assuring safety. As the first swing showed, it’s not an easy task.

The ideas included playing without crowds at various facilities sprinkled around Phoenix; teams going only from the hotel to the park; the almost comical idea players would sit in the stands six feet apart as opposed to in a dugout; and other far-flung possibilities which seemed to prompt one response: Why bother?

If that’s what’s necessary for a minimal season, why would either side go through with it?

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Major League Baseball followed with a statement Tuesday morning.

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan,” it read in part.

Everyone wants baseball to come back. It's how to bring it back safely in a timely manner that is so difficult to find a path.

Commissioner Rob Manfred stated on the eve of what would have been Opening Day that he expects baseball to be part of the healing process, comparing its resumption to the unity provided post-9/11 when the local nine returned to the field. That ideal is the wind behind a push for resumption.

The calendar is also an enormous factor for a sport based on a 162-game season. Max Scherzer, a member of the union’s eight-person executive subcommittee, told NBC Sports Washington last week he viewed June 1 as a target date to work around. Scherzer stressed nothing was firm. But, he did say the union looked at a possible resumption of spring training in May, then games -- in some form -- in June. That would push the playoffs into November, presumably at a neutral location where weather can be controlled (“Welcome to the Cubs-Yankees 2020 World Series live from Miami…).

Scherzer also said something else to remember: “I think everything’s absolutely on the table of what we want to be able to do to get the most amount of games in.”

Baseball’s core is structured around playing every day. Grinding it out. Hiding injuries in order to be on the field. Sleep deprivation. Never-ending travel. Slow-moving games. Pitch by pitch by pitch. The league is caught between maintaining the integrity of that idea and continuing to follow logical guidelines in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

There’s no perfect plan. And there won’t be. As Scherzer said, everything is on the table, which includes many of the ideas floated on Tuesday. However, the league would need to get the union to agree. The league would need to get local, state and federal authorities to agree. The league would need to be willing to absorb risk -- resumption will never be a zero-sum game no matter how diligent the approach -- when the first pitch is thrown.

So, everyone continues to wait and watch. Human nature is in a tussle with pragmatism. Everyone wants to play as soon as possible -- as soon as it’s safe. But at what risk? At what prospective cost now and later? Those are the unanswerable questions in any plan.

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MLB says it hasn’t settled on contingency plan to play out season in Arizona

MLB says it hasn’t settled on contingency plan to play out season in Arizona

Not yet.

At least that’s what Major League Baseball announced Tuesday morning in response to an overnight ESPN report which detailed a possible plan for the season to be played out in Arizona.

Here’s the statement:

“MLB has been actively considering numerous contingency plans that would allow play to commence once the public health situation has improved to the point that it is safe to do so. While we have discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option or developed a detailed plan.

"While we continue to interact regularly with governmental and public health officials, we have not sought or received approval of any plan from federal, state and local officials, or the Players Association. The health and safety of our employees, players, fans and the public at large are paramount, and we are not ready at this time to endorse any particular format for staging games in light of the rapidly changing public health situation caused by the coronavirus.”

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ESPN’s report outlined a possible plan for all 30 teams to play their games in and around Phoenix. It was littered with contingency plans, what-ifs and far-reaching ideas to assure the health of players and everyone involved.

At the core of the report was the idea baseball could restart as soon as May or early June. And, it seemed to be an overnight trial balloon to test response to the idea.

For now, baseball has no start date and remains in the same holding pattern as the rest of society while the coronavirus pandemic continues. Spring training games stopped March 12. The Nationals’ spring training facility has been converted into a coronavirus test site. Players dispersed to work on their own. And the league has postponed things until at least mid-May.

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