San Diego — Manager Ron Gardenhire vividly remembers Mike Fiers, in his brief four-month stint with the Tigers in 2018, trying to warn him about some of the technologically advanced methods of sign-stealing being used by his former team the Houston Astros.
“Yeah, we talked about it,” Gardenhire said Tuesday. “He tried beating the drum down in our hallway and it didn’t work.”
He was joking, of course. Fiers has since blown the whistle on the Astros — including how they relayed whether a pitch was a fastball or off-speed by banging a bat against the wall in the dugout — which has sparked an MLB investigation.
Teams have been advised not to comment on the matter until the investigation is completed, which is why Gardenhire was being coy.
“Remember the old statement, ‘If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying?’” he said. “Everybody’s trying to steal signs and everybody always has. When it gets into the technology part of it — audio, video — then it’s a little different.”
Astros manager A.J. Hinch addressed a massive throng of media during the Winter Meetings on Tuesday and he tried to sidestep the interrogation with an opening remark.
“To address the elephant in the room, I'm happy to see all of you,” he said. “I know you're all here for obvious reasons, and I have great respect for what you do. If I was in your shoes, I would be on the other side of this table, and I would want to ask questions and find answers and get some more information on the investigation and all the allegations and things like that.
“I know you're probably expecting this, but I can't comment on it. It is an ongoing investigation. What I can say is I've committed my time and energy to cooperate with MLB. I've talked to them a couple times, and we continue to work with them as they navigate the investigation, and now we're waiting with everything in their hands.”
He went on to say he hopes there will be a day when he can answer all the questions, but it wasn’t going to be Tuesday or while the investigation was ongoing. What followed was 14 more questions about the alleged cheating, which he did not answer.
“It's not comfortable,” he said. “It's a stressful offseason in general just because our team's changing. I think that's what I'm stressed about. We had one of the best teams that I've ever been around and ever can imagine being on last season. With the type of pitching staff we had, with the nucleus of the position players, the bullpen that we had, and we got to Game 7 of the World Series.
“So the stress comes with wanting to get back to that same level of caliber of team.”
There was one manager, though, who addressed the situation rather thoroughly — Angels skipper Joe Maddon.
“We've had our concerns,” he said. “Everybody's had their concerns about that. It's not like it's anything new. I want to believe that MLB will do something to eradicate that. I like a level playing field, period.”
Maddon likened it to the end of the steroid era when more stringent drug testing and harsh penalties for using helped mostly rid them from the game. This form of cheating, he said, is just as detrimental to the integrity of the game.
“To me, good old-fashioned sign stealing from your eyeballs, that's not cheating,” he said. “It's just good baseball. When you use electronic cheating, that's not good. It's almost tantamount to steroids in regard to an imbalanced playing field. If we could level that out and eradicate that and you get guys going out there naked every night just based on their own abilities, I'll take it. I'll take us against anybody under those circumstances.
“But to do it from a center-field camera or from banging an object in the dugout or whistles. Whistles were big, too. One city was big on whistling. That's the kind of stuff I want to get rid of.”
Maddon said the Astros weren’t the only team he suspected of cheating.
“Yeah, it’s been out there for a bit, but you have to prove it,” he said. “I'm not going to say something if I don't have specific (proof) — and I didn't, I don't. But hearing this stuff now, it's not a surprise.”